Thursday, September 16, 2010


Vermilion Drift
By William Kent Krueger
ISBN: 9781439153840
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.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


In Dog We Trust
by Neil Plakcy
ISBN: 2940000889596
Ebook available from
Amazon, Smashwords,

Steve Levitan is a convicted felon. Through a lapse in internal discipline, he did a little computer hacking and soon found himself in prison. Released on parole, he returns to his home, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, where he obtains a position as a part time faculty, teaching English at a local college.
His marriage fell apart, which is another factor setting up everything that follows, murder, car chases, odd and interesting characters, such as a sort of hard guy named Santiago, Steve’s parole officer, and a couple of cops, one of whom is a long-time school buddy of Steve.

Then there is the dog. Who names their dog Rochester? The dog belonged to a dead woman, and dog and Steve bond almost immediately, although both seem to have serious issues with authority.
Without revealing too much, this is a very “now” detective novel, delving into computer and other crime. How closely do you reads your credit card statements? The novel is well written, smooth and interesting. It’s always good when a crime novel teaches or reminds readers of information they should know. This story does that, without preaching or lapsing into lecturing. The classroom scenes and internal dialogues regarding student attitudes are authentic. For anyone who enjoys a jaundiced look at small college academic life, this novel is a pleasure to read on another level.
Everything about this novel smacks of a professional, polished approach. The writing is smooth, the characters well developed, and they stay in character. The plot has been carefully laid out and proceeds at a good pace. It’s conclusion is satisfying. Then there’s the dog, Rochester.
Dog lovers will be pleased to know that the author refrains from anthropomorphizing the dog. Undeniably talented, Rochester is helpful throughout the novel, but only in naturally occurring, that is, doggy ways. “In Dog We Trust” is a completely enjoyable way to spend a reading afternoon.


A Wasteland of Strangers
Author: Bill Pronzini
Publisher: Walker & Company.
ISBN: 0-8027-7560-8
257 pages

This is another of Bill Pronzini’s intensive, commanding, explorations of current social ideas and concerns which move a national colloquy in many forums. But this is not a social treatis full of statistics. This is a moving, intense, crime novel, that will captivate and enthrall the reader. Take one large, dangerous looking, individual, John Faith, by name. He’s a traveler, a seeker, a man on the move. Insert this stranger into a small resort community during the off season. This community happens to be in northern California, but such are the author’s skills, it could be anywhere. It could be your hometown.

John Faith is the immediate object of suspicion, because he’s a stranger and he doesn’t look like he belongs. His presence gradually reveals and widens long-standing cracks in the comfortable, biased attitudes and ideas of almost everyone in town. Why has this man come to town? What are his motives? His answers are enigmatic, and even at the end we are left with questions. John Faith’s encounters with the police chief, the bigoted lake-side resort owner, some local Native Americans, and a bartender or two, are like pebbles dropped in a placid pool. The ripples expand and expand until they reach the edge of the pool and die. Except in this case, the ripples grow larger, intersect and become irresistible waves that begin to tear at the base fabric of the town.

This psychological thriller is tightly plotted, and intricately presented. It’s pace is irresistible. “A Wasteland of Strangers” is a thoughtful, satisfying crime novel. Artist Doug Henry has presented a handsome, evocative cover illustration. Highly recommended.