By William Kent Krueger
Hard Cover from Atria,
2010, 305 pages
Authors of crime fiction, like authors working in any other genre, often use their talents to work through personal issues, sometimes intensely private issues. Although it is not entirely clear, the writer may be working through some family issues with this novel. Does that matter?
Perhaps. That depends on the result. In this case, the author, possessed of well-honed, significant writing talent, has produced a novel of finely wrought proportions, multi-layered with considerable depth. By that I mean that the characters demonstrate multiple levels of engagement, and the story itself works on more than one level. Almost every character who appears in the book is involved in the story in more than one way. Some of their levels are casual or socially related, such as what may be routinely expected of law officers in Tamarack County, the Northern Minnesota location of this novel. Other characters, Henry Meloux, for example and other Native Americans; Sam Wintermoon, appears, and of course, Cork’s mother and his father, Liam, all have, at different times, visceral involvement in the story.
The problem, if there is one, is that this story is much more a novel of family and community relationships than it is a novel of suspense, or crime, horrific and awful though the crimes were. Death is always the ultimate judge, from whom there is no appeal.
So, in my view, the problem is one of balance, or perhaps of categorization. The involvement of Cork O’Connor, now a private investigator, alone in Aurora, is mostly one of self-examination. The novel is one of Cork’s journey of discovery. What was the meaning of his occasional nightmares? What were the issues that consumed and separated the O’Connor family in those last fateful months of Liam O’Connor’s life?
The novel begins with Cork once again at odds with his Ojibwe heritage. His mother, remember, was a member of the tribe. He’s hired by the owners of the Vermilion One and Ladyslipper mines to deal with threats against the mine. But then he’s also tasked to try to locate a missing woman, sister of the mine owner. Lauren Cavanaugh has gone missing. Finding the missing woman opens a window on old unsolved crimes from a previous generation, from a time when Cork’s father was the sheriff of Tamarack County.
Sorting through old albums, records and memories, fresh and repressed, takes up the body of the novel As with all of this author’s previous novels, the explanation is logical, satisfying and meaningful. Krueger, as always, is skillful in evoking the landscape, not just its physical self, but its atmosphere, its mystical presence and its influences on the people who reside there.
In the end, this thoughtful exploration of law, truth and justice and their profound influences on all of us is a highly successful emotionally moving effort.