William Kent Krueger is one of the best pure storytellers I can think of. The way he presents each character in his books makes them at the same time ordinary and mythic. His central character, Cork O’Connor, is no exception, a peaceful warrior detective who has weathered losing his wife and has maintained a stable inner core through all his travails. He is a hunter and a discoverer.
In this story, Cork has been out hunting with an old friend, Jubal Little, who ends up dead thanks to an arrow through his chest. Jubal is not only Cork’s friend but the first candidate for Governor in Minnesota with Native blood, making his death big news. It becomes clear that Jubal and Cork’s relationship was both long and complicated, and the story of this novel is essentially the story of a friendship. Cork is the main suspect in Jubal’s death as he had stayed with Jubal while he died instead of going for help. Also, the arrow, handmade, is distinctively one of Cork’s.
Anyone who is a faithful reader of this series will be fully aware that Cork is not the culprit and even were you to stumble upon this book without having read any of the other books, it’s still unlikely that the first suspect is the guilty suspect (repeated viewings of Law & Order would confirm that fact). However, things look bleak for Cork and of course he is on a mission to discover Jubal’s murderer; the stakes are just a bit higher since it’s himself he’ll exonerate.
Along with the story of Jubal’s death, which, under the guidance of a less gifted writer would be plenty to occupy the reader, Krueger instead combines it with the story of Jubal’s life. It’s a life closely tied to one Winona Crane, a classmate of Cork’s, and a beautiful, troubled girl that Jubal and Cork have both loved or admired (in Cork’s case) from afar. Everything Cork does, Jubal does better, including loving Winona. The two have an intense and seemingly unbreakable connection.
Krueger’s explication of Jubal’s choices, good and bad, and the slow peeling back of his character, are the true mystery of this novel. Krueger is so adept at characterization that the surprises of Jubal and Winona are as deeply psychological as anything written by Ruth Rendell or Elizabeth George. Unlike Elizabeth George, however, Krueger makes this look easy. I’m just telling a story, he seems to be saying.
The story is a great one but it’s the people in it that are memorable. Some of their choices are chilling or inspirational, and the final choice made by one of the characters at the end of the novel is a heartbreaker. Someday I will finish a Krueger book not in tears, I suppose, but this is not that day. Settle in for another great read from Mr. Krueger.