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Book Author: William Kent Krueger

LIGHTNING STRIKE by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

William Kent Krueger is one of the most lyrical authors around, a fact that he proves once again in Lightning Strike, a look back to the childhood of Cork O’Connor, the protagonist of many of his novels.

It’s 1963 in the small town of Aurora, Minnesota.  Although there isn’t much in the way of major crime in the North Country, there are ethnic tensions that are either close to the surface or bubbling above it.  The area is home to its white, Christian population descended mainly from Irish and Scandinavian settlers and its Native Ojibwe people.

There is distrust in both cultures, and it all comes to a head when Cork O’Connor and his friend Jorge come upon the body of Big John hanging from a tree in the area called Lightning Strike on the shore of Iron Lake.

Because of Big John’s many battles with alcohol, the authorities aren’t too surprised that there are two empty bottles of Four Roses on the ground near his body, although “I thought he’d kick the booze for good,” Cork’s father, Sheriff Liam O’Connor, tells his two deputies and the mortician who come to Lightning Strike after Cork runs home with the news of his discovery.  It looks like an open-and-shut suicide, but Liam wants to be sure.  So he asks for a toxicology report, “just to be on the safe side.”

However, that’s not enough for the Iron Lake Band of Ojibwe, living on a reservation just outside of Aurora and under the jurisdiction of the Tamarack County Sheriff’s office.  Not surprisingly, members of the tribe have little confidence in any form of the official government, even when the forensics report confirms that Big John was intoxicated when he died.

To them the sheriff is just another chimook, a white man, without understanding or reverence for Ojibwe customs and beliefs, even though he is married to Colleen, the daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a white father.  They have lost belief, if they ever had it, in Liam’s trustworthiness and ability to conduct an impartial investigation.

One of the most vociferous voices raised against Natives in general and Big John in particular is Duncan MacDermid.  He has a virulent dislike of Indians and a violent temper, something his abused wife can attest to.  With MacDermid on one side and Liam’s mother-in-law on the other, every move the sheriff makes alienates one of the groups.

There are other threads in Lightning Strike in addition to Big John’s death, including a missing teenage Native girl and the feelings of Natives after they leave the reservation.  The author writes about the Relocation Act of 1956, an act of Congress that pays for relocation for Indians to encourage them to leave their reservations and move to locations where there are better schools and jobs.   On paper it sounded good, Cork’s grandmother Dilsey tells him, but the reality was different.  It was, she tells him, “another attempt to eradicate the Native cultures.  They tried blankets tainted with smallpox.  They tried guns.  They tried boarding schools.  Now they’re trying this.”

Lightning Strike is an outstanding mystery and a poignant novel.  As always the author’s characters are completely believable, and the story will tug at your heartstrings.

You can read more about William Kent Kruger 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.

SULFUR SPRINGS by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

A stranger in a strange land is how Cork O’Connor feels when he finds himself far from his beloved Minnesota woods, thrust into the desert of southern Arizona.

Cork and his bride, Rainy, have known each other for several years but married only a few months ago.  The first time Cork met his wife’s son and daughter was at their wedding, and Cork admits to himself that he doesn’t have strong feelings toward them.

But when Rainy gets a garbled message left on her cell phone from her son, saying that he’s killed a man, Cork and Rainy are thrust into a search for Peter that leads them into a deadly web of international crime.

The couple leave for Arizona the following morning, and on the trip Rainy tells Cork that there are many important things he doesn’t know about her, one being that if her son did kill someone in Arizona, he’s not the only one in his family who has done that.  Obviously that’s a major secret, and it turns out to be not the only one that she has kept from Cork.

Peter had gone to Arizona to recover from an addiction to pain medication, the result of a sports injury.  After he was clean, the Goodman Center, an alcohol and drug treatment facility, hired him, and as far as his mother and stepfather knew, he was still on their staff.  But after they arrive in Tucson and drive to the Center, they discover that Peter hasn’t worked there in over a year.

The Center’s director tells them that she believes he has been working at a vineyard owned by Jayne and Frank Harris, so Cork and Rainy head to the vineyard’s location in Sulfur Springs.  The Harrises acknowledge that Peter is employed there but tell Cork and Rainy that although he’s been an extremely reliable worker, he hasn’t been at work that day.  And visits to the Sulfur Springs post office and police station turn up no further information on the missing man.

The issue of immigrants trying to enter the United States from Mexico ties into the racism faced by Rainy, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, when a sheriff stops Rainy and Cork while they’re driving and examines her closely to make certain she actually is the Native American she says she is and not someone trying to get into the country from Mexico.  As Rainy says to her husband after they continue on their way, “If I was white, he wouldn’t have taken a second look at me.”

Cork is a former sheriff and a quarter Native American, and he brings to the search for his stepson his law background, his feelings about racism, and his love for his new wife.   This is a masterful novel, with issues that resonate all-too-clearly in today’s world.  There’s a lot going on–drug addiction, illegal aliens, Mexican drug cartels, blended families, and racism–with each part adding to the whole.

I’ve reviewed two of William Kent Kruger’s earlier books, Trickster’s Point and Ordinary Grace, the latter the winner of the 2014 Edgar for Best Novel.  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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

Ordinary Grace is a wonderful, brilliant novel.  I’ve written about William Kent Krueger’s earlier book, Trickster’s Point, and Ordinary Grace surpasses even that excellent one with its beauty and understanding of family and human dynamics.

The book’s narrator, Frank Drum, is thirteen during the summer of 1961.   Frank’s father is a Methodist minister in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota, a man of God in the best sense.  Frank’s mother conducts the choir in New Bremen and in two other small churches where her husband is the clergyman.  Although she has a beautiful voice and had hoped for a professional career, she is now resigned, but not happily, to living the life of a minister’s wife.

Frank’s eighteen-year-old sister Ariel is a talented pianist and composer who has been accepted to the Julliard School of Music, her lifelong dream.  But now, for some unstated reason, she tells her family she doesn’t want to go, that she would rather stay home and go to the local college and study music.

Frank’s younger brother is Jake, eleven years old.  Jake has a terrible stutter, making him the object of teasing and bullying to the point where he almost never speaks in public or in school.  At home his stutter disappears, but outside that safe environment he becomes almost mute.

Ordinary Grace opens with two deaths in a matter of hours.  The first is that of Bobby Cole, a young developmentally challenged boy who was killed on the town’s railroad trestle.  Did he simply not hear the train coming, or did something more sinister happen?  The next day Frank and Jake find the body of an itinerant man in nearly the same place.  That’s a lot of death for such a small town, but there are more deaths to come.

There’s a great deal of tension in New Bremen.  The relationship between Ruth and Nathan Drum is not an easy one, and she is unable or unwilling to understand the importance of God in her husband’s life, how he can keep his faith no matter what tragedies befall the town or the family.

There is an uneasy relationship between Ruth and her daughter’s piano teacher, Emil Brandt.  Ruth and Emil had been engaged very briefly years earlier, but he abandoned her and fled to New York City to pursue his career.  Now he’s returned home, badly scarred and blinded in a fire, his house kept by his sister Lise.  Lise is autistic, and her devotion to her brother is extreme.

But ordinary grace is seen throughout the book, especially in the person of Nathan Drum.  As a clergyman he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers when bad things happen to good people, but his faith in God remains secure. And through his goodness his family and his town manage to survive.

William Kent Krueger has written another outstanding novel, a coming-of-age story that will resonate with the reader long after the last page is read.  His characters are beautifully drawn, and life in a small town in the mid-twentieth century is detailed and accurate.

You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

TRICKSTER’S POINT by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

A small Minnesota town, next to an Ojibwe reservation, is the site of the killing of Jubal Little, independent candidate for governor of the state. And former sheriff Cork O’Connor was with Jubal while he lay dying with an arrow in his body.

In the remote area of Minnesota where the novel takes place, hunting is a major pasttime.  Serious hunters, like Cork and Jubal, make their own arrows.  Each hunter creates a unique design, called fletching, that makes the arrows immediately identifiable to other hunters.  The arrow protruding from Jubal’s body has the markings that are on all of Cork’s arrows.

Although those townspeople who know Cork don’t believe he had anything to do with Jubal’s death, all concede it is strange that Cork made no attempt to get help but stayed with Jubal for the three hours it took him to die.  And Cork’s comments that Jubal asked him to stay and not leave him alone to die ring a bit hollow to the state detective who is called in to handle the investigation.

Cork and Jubal go way back, back to childhood when Jubal and his mother moved to the town of Aurora. Tall, good-looking, and smart, Jubal was outstanding in everything he did, in every sport he played.  But it was his relationship with Winona, an Ojibwe girl, that was to rule his life.

It seems as if nearly every boy in Aurora was a bit in love with Winona Crane.  Cork and Jubal were two of them, but it was obvious to Cork that Winona’s heart belonged to Jubal and vice versa.  They were, according to a tribal healer, two parts of the same broken stone.  That’s a beautiful image, but a disturbing one as well.

Trickster’s Point has narratives in the present and in the past.  Secrets long held by Cork, Jubal, Winona, her twin brother Willie, and others in the town are slowly revealed, and as mystery readers know, the longer secrets are hidden, the more devastating it is when they come to light.

Cork O’Connor is a strong character.  He’s had lots of deaths in his life, and although he’s conscientiously trying to stay away from trouble, it always seems to find him.  His wife was murdered, and he’s done his best by his two children, even giving up his job as sheriff to remove himself from dangers that might take him from them.  But danger follows him, with or without his badge. You can call it fate, or karma, but it seems there’s no escaping it for Cork.

William Kent Krueger is the winner of multiple Anthony Awards for his novels, and you will understand why when you read Trickster’s Point or any of the earlier mysteries in the series.

You can read more about William Kent Krueger at his web site.