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THE RIVER WE REMEMBER by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

It’s 1958, and memories are long in Black Earth County, Minnesota.  It is barely a generation since World War II, and the town of Jewel is holding the annual parade celebrating its freedom and honoring its veterans on Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day.  But discrimination against Native American Noah Bluestone and his Japanese wife Kyoko is ever-present.

Sheriff Brody Dern is in his office when a man enters with staggering news.  “They ate him, Brody.  They ate him right down to the bone.”

The “him” is James Patrick Quinn, the largest land owner in the county and probably its most unpopular citizen.  The “they” are catfish.

Despite the dislike that most people in Black Earth had for Quinn, many in the town are not unhappy to learn that Noah Bluestone, a member of the Dakota tribe, is suspected of the crime.  There is a long, difficult history between the whites and the Native Americans in Jewel, and for many the murder confirms their belief that an Indian is not to be trusted.

When Noah retired from the Marines, he went to work for Quinn although the two already had a strained relationship.  Bluestone admits to the sheriff that he and the deceased had an argument that resulted in his firing on the day of Quinn’s death.

Dern is working hard to convince himself that the death was an accident.  He doesn’t believe that Noah is the guilty party, and he knows if he calls the death a suicide, Quinn won’t be able to be buried alongside his family members in the cemetery belonging to the Catholic Church.  But the town’s sentiment against Bluestone is building, and there’s not much that the sheriff can do to counteract it.

In addition to the riveting plot, the author draws his characters so carefully that we understand what motivates them and explains their behaviors.  The secrets in Jewel are many.  Dern and his sister-in-law Garnet are carrying on a clandestine love affair, something that torments them both but are seemingly unable to stop.  Marta Quinn, the deceased’s widow, is trapped both by a terminal illness and her role in a loveless marriage.  Angie Madison, a war widow with a young son, writes in a journal that she keeps locked, with the key around her neck.  Her son Scott’s best friend Del is dealing with his stepfather’s frequent beatings, and that leads the two boys into danger.

Then there’s the most baffling secret of all–what is the reason Noah Bluestone refuses to enter any plea on his own behalf after his arrest?

William Kent Krueger has written another brilliant novel in The River We Remember, featuring a story and characters that are moving and real.  Among his many awards are two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award, the most coveted prizes in the genre.  You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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