William Kent Krueger: Vermilion Drift

William Kent Krueger’s streak is intact – this is another wonderful book in his Cork O’Connor series, one which picks up with the recently widowed Cork attempting to move forward in his life.  While last year’s Heaven’s Keep felt like an elegy, this one is all rocket powered story telling, with Krueger utilizing his well developed trademark gifts: setting, character, and story.

The Vermilion Drift is part of an old iron mine, one the federal government is studying for use as a nuclear waste site.  As you might imagine, this has stirred up some fervent activism in tiny Aurora, Minnesota, especially among the Native American community.  When Cork is hired as part of the security detail, lots of the natives see the half Ojibwe Cork as a turncoat.

Alongside the security detail, Cork has also been hired by Max Cavanaugh, owner of the working mines in the county, to search for his missing sister, a free spirit named Lauren.  Lauren had run an art center and artist’s colony in town.

When Cork goes along to check out the mine shaft – there’s been a security breach (some threatening graffiti) – he and the geologists and other officials find not only graffiti, but an old stash of bodies.  One of them, fresher than the others, appears to be the body of the missing Lauren Cavanaugh.  The older stash appears to be tied to the “Vanishings” – long ago disappearances of young women from the reservation and town, one of them Cork’s cousin Fern.  As Cork begins to unravel both the secrets behind Lauren’s death and the ones behind the older bodies, he uncovers more than he bargained for.

His old friend Henry Meloux, guarded by an unfriendly niece who has come to town to take care of him, is being especially cryptic with Cork and it’s causing him lots of frustration.  When the gun that killed not only Lauren Cavanaugh but one of the girls proves to be Cork’s father’s old gun, one Cork himself had used and put away, things get even more complicated.

The ties to Cork’s family and to the Native community go very deep, and Cork is forced to examine his own parent’s marriage and re-examine the feelings he thought he had for his father.  Meanwhile, he’s trying to adjust to life as a widower, one whose children are also scattered, starting their own lives.  One of the most moving passages describes Cork’s desk – the desk that had belonged to, and been restored by, his dead wife.  It’s lightly done but it’s very affecting.

As always Krueger manages to combine suspense, complicated storytelling and real psychological depth in the portrayals of his characters.  This book is another in a long and unbroken line of excellence.