Family, faith and failings are at the heart of this latest Cork O'Connor installment. Once again, William Kent Krueger conveys the beauty of northern Minnesota. But he delves into brutishness here, as well, in the form of the devastating 1999 blowdown and the cruel murder of a young mother.
O'Connor, a private investigator from tiny Aurora, Minn., has the best intentions when he plans a family vacation on a houseboat Up North. But even before the derecho winds wreak their destruction, he's having uncharacteristically dark forebodings. When he and daughter Jenny wind up stranded on a small island on Lake of the Woods, they discover not only the murdered young woman, but also the very alive infant she had hidden away. O'Connor's mood turns even darker. And so does the tale, which involves drug dealers, rabid religious survivalists and a dastardly double-crosser. Not to mention that the orphan has a physical deformity that, once the O'Connors are reunited, drives a wedge between Jenny and her fiancé, who is none too keen on the idea of children.
I usually enjoy Krueger's creations, but this one is heavy-handed where others, if not always subtle, were more nuanced. The survivalists, with their unyielding zealotry, are queued up against O'Connor's sister-in-law and her ex-priest husband, who embody nurturing and grace. Jenny becomes a radiant mother figure while her boyfriend epitomizes the selfishness of youth. Attempts to flush out the murderer fall like so many wind-snapped pines.
By the time the action returns to Aurora, I was feeling as world-weary as O'Connor's mentor, the aging Henry Meloux. But even the supremely grounded Ojibwe medicine man gets drawn into a battle of wills that reads like some cosmic joke. Let's hope that all the destruction makes room for some new growth in this series.
- Kathe Connair is a Star Tribune copy editor.