William Kent Krueger: Northwest Angle

This is one of my favorite outings in the Cork O’Connor series, a series that’s managed to continually surprise, captivate and compel a reader to continue to find out what’s happening in Northern Minnesota. As Cork’s family continues to heal after the death of his wife, Jo, in Heaven’s Keep, they are all enjoying a family vacation on a houseboat in the waters of the northern most point of the continental United States along with Cork’s sister in law Rose and her husband. Things are happy and serene–on the first six pages. Then all hell breaks loose.

Cork takes his daughter Jenny to pick up her boyfriend, but stops along the way to show her a sacred Indian site with some very ancient drawings on the side of a large rock wall. Their discussion–about children–turns heated, Cork feels he’s said everything wrong, and then a storm kicks in. It’s the mother of all storms, something called a derecho, basically a straight line of tornadoes. Cork and Jenny get separated, as do Rose and the other children, though they quickly find each other. This story is really about Jenny and Cork.

As Jenny surveys the incredible wreckage left by the storm on the deserted island, she’s delighted to find a cabin, but inside the cabin she finds a dead woman. The woman has been murdered, not killed by the storm, and on further exploration, Jenny finds a baby well hidden behind the cabin. The baby is safe but he’s wet and hungry, and some kind of primitive instinct kicks in as she begins to plan for the baby’s safety and health. He has a cleft lip, but it’s nothing that prevents Jenny from seeing the beauty of the infant, who she falls in love with almost in an instant.

Krueger’s gift is taking an elemental natural situation–in this case, the storm–and combining it with an elemental human one, in this case, the love of a mother for her infant. As Jenny quickly assumes that role, Krueger deftly and movingly portrays the bond felt by a mother and a child. The intensity and fierceness of it. It scares Cork. It also becomes apparent that whoever killed the woman is now looking for them.

Structuring a suspense novel must be second nature to Krueger at this point in his career, and here’s he’s almost written a primer other writers could follow when it comes to writing a chase novel. Halfway through (almost exactly) Cork, Jenny and the baby finally get of the island, but they’re still not safe from whoever is chasing them, and the party splits up.

Jenny heads back home to Aurora with her brother, her boyfriend and the baby, to seek shelter from Cork’s old friend Henry Meloux. The way Henry’s life lessons are thus integrated into the plot is seamlessly done, and the book, at this point in the narrative, often had me in tears as the writing is lovely and the emotions conveyed are obviously deeply felt. To tell much more would be to give away the rest of the plot with it’s twists and the suspense that hardly lets up through the whole narrative. The resolution is both satisfying and surprising, with a bit of heartbreak thrown in (there’s always a character who’s killed where I mentally think, “Oh, no!”–this book was no exception).

I probably need to convince no-one to pick up this book–if you’re hooked on Krueger, you’re hooked, and this will be a not to be missed read. From my point of view, it’s one of my favorite reads of the year, and a stand out in a fine series.