Lately it seems I’ve been reading a lot of mystery series featuring flawed but decent men in rugged surroundings. The latest is William Kent Krueger’s mystery novels starring Corcoran (Cork) O’Connor in northern Minnesota. When we first meet Cork, he’s the former sheriff of Tamarack County, having lost his badge as a result of a confrontation over fishing rights by the local fishermen and the indigenous Ojibwe people. He’s also lost his marriage to Jo, a beautiful attorney who advocates for the Indians on the rez. Cork is ¼ Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) and ¾ Irish and he’s proud of both heritages, but sometimes it seems he’s too white for the Shinnobs, (a nickname the Indians use for themselves) and too Indian for the local white population which consists of the children of the immigrant populations who flooded into the Iron Range to mine. Finns, Swedes, Germans, Irish and French all contributed to the local melting pot, and they stand united when it comes to Indian/White confrontations.
Cork is drifting as the book opens. His mentor – Sam Winter Moon, who stood as father to Cork after his sheriff father was murdered -- was also killed in the confrontation and Cork just lost heart. He’s moved out of the family home where he’d lived most of his life, and is living in Sam’s Place. A converted Quonset hut, Sam’s Place is half lakeside burger bar and half Cork’s living space. When a prominent Judge is found murdered and his paper boy, an Eagle Scout, is missing, the new political appointee Sheriff is out of his depth. Cork takes on the case and finds himself in the midst of scandal, corruption and conspiracy with more murders highlighting his increasing dread that the evil may strike close to home.
Cork has a strong sense of responsibility, is very likable, and knows everyone in the town. His character starts out bitter and disillusioned but finds himself coming alive again as his investigative skills prove to still be sharp. This book is a great start to the series – so great I had to finish off all the rest. After Iron Lake, they are: Boundary Waters, Purgatory Ridge, Blood Hollow, Mercy Falls, Copper River, Thunder Bay, Red Knife, Heaven’s Keep, Vermilion Drift and Northwest Angle. Just out is the latest – Trickster’s Point. Every book is better than the last, with Cork’s extended family explored in greater depth and the beautiful North Woods lyrically described. You can almost smell the resin scent as the sun hits the pine trees and hear the call of loons echo across the lake in the evening. The suspense is electrifying at times, but there is lots of emotional depth as well. I heartily recommend this series by William Kent Krueger.