An Appreciation of William Kent Krueger

William-Kent-Krueger-2014-2William Kent Krueger visits us this September, appearing, as he has with nearly every one of his now sixteen novels, at Aunt Agatha’s.  This lucky association started for us back in 1998 when Kent called and invited himself to the store to sign copies of Iron Lake.  I was delighted with Kent and his books back in 1998 and I still am today.  In between, our tiny staff  have all become hard-core Krueger fans and have relentlessly pressed his books on almost every reader we can think of.  Every one of them comes back for more.  Even my brother, a mystery reader who doesn’t remember authors, asks about that “Minnesota guy.”

And Kent has only continued to grow and challenge himself as a writer.  In a long running series, it’s sometimes difficult to keep things fresh, but Krueger manages to make each of his Cork O’Connor books somehow distinct from one another and enjoyable on their own merits, though I couldn’t recommend more highly reading this series in order and seeing the incredible depth of characterization that Krueger manages to shade into all of his characters as the stories progress.

His 14th O’Connor book, Windigo Island,  is another wonderful outing.  The widowed Cork, now a private consultant, finds himself drawn into the case of a missing young Ojibwe woman, something which leads him into the world of teenage prostitution.  Krueger still manages, all these books in, to be fired up about an issue, manages to infuse something new into Cork’s journey, and manages to continue to evoke emotion and tension in equal measure.

Sometimes there are things in his novels that a lesser writer might not be able to get away with, but Krueger somehow manages it.  I always finish one of his books with a box of Kleenex at my side.  Long ago when I first read Madeleine L’Engel’s A Wrinkle in Time I was captivated by her concept of the “educated heart.”  This is a quality Krueger possesses in spades.  Nowhere was this quality more evident than in last year’s publication of his Edgar-winning stand-alone novel, Ordinary Grace.

It felt like all the things Krueger had been learning as a writer, the things he had been polishing up in his writer’s tool box, were put to use in that incredible novel, a coming of age story set in 1961 Minnesota.  And happily, Ordinary Grace has been richly and deservedly rewarded by the mystery community with a slew of award nominations and wins.

And for Jamie and I, who were honored to win a Raven award presented at this year’s Edgar ceremony, it was very satisfactory to see our pal Kent, whom we had known from the start of his career, win Best Novel after a long and steady climb upward.  Sometimes bookselling is incredibly rewarding, and that was one of those moments.  So please, come meet one of the masters of our genre this September 14 when he will talk about his latest Cork O’Connor novel, along with Denise Swanson and Julia Keller.