P.J. Parrish: Heart of Ice

P.J. Parrish – or the sisters who write as P.J. Parrish – are paperback writers in the very best sense of the word.  They deliver a good story, well told, with reliable characters and settings, asking only that their readers enjoy the journey they deliver. Almost always, they fulfill this promise.  With their new novel, set on Mackinac Island, I was holding my opinion in reserve.

heartoficeFull disclosure:  I grew up on Mackinac Island, so I wasn’t so sure they could get it right, having read other novels set on the island that had a misfire or two (or more).  I was at first cautious but then more and more delighted as they really seemed to “get” the island (and it may help that one of the sisters lives in nearby Petoskey), but after awhile the story they were telling was simply so good, the island details really didn’t matter. read more

Brad Parks: The Good Cop

In 2010 Brad Parks won the Shamus award for first P.I. Novel for Faces of the Gone. It’s a really good book, deserving of all sorts of accolades, but the interesting thing is that Parks’s protagonist isn’t a private investigator, he’s an investigative journalist. I’ll take this as evidence that the traditional P.I. novel ain’t what it used to be – as James Crumley said, no fault divorce really took the wind out of the sails of the profession, which was never really the way it was portrayed in books anyway. A few masterful old masters keep writing in the traditional vein, but these days most private eyes, like Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight, are more often of the reluctant variety. read more

Tim O’Mara: Sacrifice Fly

It’s not too hard to deduce that old Mr. Private Eye is getting a little long in the tooth. Modern day masters such as Loren D. Estleman are able to cook up a delicious P.I. novel every year, but many of the older crowd, like Robert B. Parker, are no longer with us, while the newer contenders, such as Dennis Lehane and Michael Koryta, seem to have hit the wall. The game’s been going on since Hammett after all, and it seems like most of the gumshoe combinations have been played out. Women writers gave the genre a burst of vitality not long ago when they made Sam Spade into Samantha, but even that sex change has lost its novelty. read more

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. read more

William Kent Krueger: Thunder Bay

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. read more

William Kent Krueger: Red Knife

Kent Krueger may have one of the longer streaks in series history. Book after book, his series remains fresh, thoughtful, and beautifully written, his newest novel, Red Knife, being no exception. I’d thought after last year’s beautiful Thunder Bay that he wouldn’t be able to top himself — but if that book’s theme was love, the theme of Red Knife is violence, and the destructive path it invariably, and irrevocably, takes. As the series has progressed the Ojibwe elements of the stories have grown; in this one, I think the theme is the most tied into the Native culture of any of the novels so far. read more

William Kent Krueger: Heaven’s Keep

“The mountains became deep blue in the twilight, and the canyons between were like dark, poisoned veins. Though the sun had dropped below the rest of the range, it hadn’t yet set on Heaven’s Keep, which towered above everything else. Its walls burned with the angry red of sunset, and it looked more like the gate to hell than anything to do with Heaven.”

If you’ve been following Cork O’Connor as I have, since the first book in this fine series, it’s almost hard to separate one from the other. In a steady stream since the publication of Iron Lake in 1998, we as readers have been treated to the arc of Cork O’Connor’s life, and by association, the life of his family. In the first book, Cork and his wife Jo are estranged; she’s been having an affair. Painfully and slowly, through the course of the next five or so books, the O’Connors draw back together. With Heaven’s Keep, Krueger brings the circle to a close with Jo’s death. read more

William Kent Krueger: Blood Hollow

This is the welcome and long awaited return of Cork O’Connor – he’s been missed, and his return is a worthy one. This novel finds Cork perhaps the closest to home in all the novels – the story is very much a small town story of interwoven connections, both good and bad. It also shines the spotlight on Cork’s sister-in-law, Rose, the cook/housekeeper and heart of the O’Connor family, who in this novel leaves home to housekeep temporarily for the Catholic priest. I think one of the reasons Kent Krueger has such a wide appeal is that there’s plenty of action for male readers, and for female readers, there’s both a sensitive exploration of women’s feelings and emotions, as well as a real honoring of women, no matter what their role. Rose is a case in point. She’s a simple housewife, no more, no less, and she aspires to nothing more. That’s not an especially honored role today, but Krueger makes it explicit that their family couldn’t function without her. When she leaves, it’s as though something is missing. read more

William Kent Krueger: Trickster’s Point

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. read more

Steve Hamilton: Die a Stranger

Steve Hamilton keeps getting better and better, and in this latest Alex McKnight novel he seems to have hit a fast paced groove.  This book is so spare and so elegantly assembled it seems effortless.  The dialogue snaps and crackles, the action doesn’t let up, and underneath it all is the drumbeat of Alex’s heart as he searches for his friend, Vinnie.

Vinnie, as readers of this series will know, is Alex’s nearest neighbor, an Ojibwe who has moved off the reservation to be on his own.  His family is a bit puzzled by this behavior but things are in a state of uneasy truce, though Vinnie’s sisters aren’t big Alex fans. read more