William Kent Krueger genuinely has one of the more remarkable, and beautifully written, of all contemporary mystery series. I don’t know if he would agree, but he’s in a league with writers like James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Connelly. He hasn’t gotten quite their degree of popularity in the marketplace, though he certainly deserves it. One of my favorite things to do as a bookseller is to press into someone’s hands a copy of Kent’s first book, Iron Lake, and simply wait.
Whoever it is will inevitably return to read the rest of the series and they soon become one of those annoying people who demand a new book every couple of months. I put myself in that category, and I’ve been lucky enough to know Kent since he invited himself to Aunt Agatha’s to sign Iron Lake, the beginning of a long and happy association that has resulted in the sale of many books.
One of Krueger’s strengths as a writer is to change up each book a little bit, something that has served to keep his series very fresh and interesting. He even recently took the somewhat daring tack of linking two stories together in two different novels, Mercy Falls and Copper River, a move that resulted in back to back Anthony wins for Best Novel. In his latest outing he turns to one of his series’ most interesting characters, Henry Meloux, and he builds a book around Henry’s backstory. Cork O’Connor takes a backseat to Henry in this book. I would equate this to Robert Crais turning to Elvis Cole’s mysterious sidekick, Joe Pike, for an installment, something that generated one of Crais’ masterpieces, L.A. Requiem. Henry Meloux is just as interesting and mysterious as Joe Pike and his story is just as well told.
Each of Krueger’s novels has a theme – lightly touched on, but there – and the theme of Thunder Bay is love. There’s the love Cork’s son, Stevie, has for a dog; there’s the love Cork’s daughter, Jenny, has for her boyfriend; there’s the love and worry Cork and Jo have for their children; and there’s the love that propels most of the plot, the love Henry Meloux had long ago for a woman and for the son they had together. Henry asks Cork to find his son and Cork, who can refuse Henry nothing, sets out to find him. Meanwhile, we learn the story of Henry’s youth, a story so vivid and compelling that Cork’s absence is hardly felt as we are immersed in the 1920’s and Henry’s adventures in Canada. To tell much more would be to give away too much – you should discover the delights of this novel yourself – but I will tell you that Krueger, as usual, is able to deftly handle Cork’s story and family problems (with his daughter Jenny) and lace it together with Henry’s story in a completely masterful way. It leads to an end that’s at the same time heartbreaking and satisfying, and the last paragraph is so lovely it had me thinking about it for months afterwards. I’m tempted to quote it here, but it’s something each reader should be lucky enough to discover for themselves. It’ll probably stay with you too, when you finish this wonderful book.