Tuesday, September 6, 2016
by William Kent Kruger
Atria Books 2016
336 pages Mystery
Cork O'Connor is the former sheriff of Tamarack County, Minnesota. Now he owns a burger joint/detective agency at the edge of Iron Lake, and as Manitou Canyon opens, he is closing the restaurant and dreading November. Even though his daughter Jennifer is going to be married later in the month, many ghosts of Novembers past haunt Cork even more than the prospect of the harsh winter ahead. He thinks of November as the "shoulder season, right on the cusp of winter."
Cork is drawn into the search for a missing civil engineer, John Harris. Harris designed some of the largest dams and bridges in the world, and he and Cork were childhood friends. Harris went into the Boundary Waters area with his two adult grandchildren, Trevor and Lindsay, and disappeared while he was out fishing. Although a search doesn't find his body, Trevor and Lindsay believe that he is out in the wilderness somewhere, and they know that Cork knows the territory well and can help them.
The mystery evolves slowly and builds to a page-turning, breathtaking finish. There is a tremendous interplay between the ancient and the modern in the plot. While it begins with a search for a missing person, it becomes a life and death battle for Cork to save himself and others during an evolving fight to save tribal lands from an environmental disaster. Militant natives fighting the mining industry. Interestingly enough, when I looked at the news this morning, I read about a current Native American protest over a pipeline being built in North Dakota. Protesters are saying that the pipeline is damaging a native burial grounds. Read about it in Time. In most of the Cork O'Connor books, the tension between the Native Americans and the modern culture is palpable.
Cork O'Connor is a thoroughly conflicted man. He has one foot firmly in the modern world and one foot in the ancient traditions of his Ojibwa heritage. He long ago came to believe that his heritage influenced his every movement and everything that happened to him. "It was who he was, something which had been passed down to him and from which he couldn't turn away, something that would always threaten him and those who loved him and were loved by him." In many ways, the race to save John Harris is a spiritual journey as well as a physical journey. Cork must work through his demons and lead from his heart rather than just his head.
Native spirituality and native practices play a very large role in Manitou Canyon (and I would suppose all the Cork O'Connor books). Krueger's respect for native culture plays heavily in the character development and the plot. Henry, one of Cork's closest friends, is a "mide," a traditional healer and spiritual mentor. His influence permeates the book as do the other spiritual practices of the native peoples in the book. Besides being a thrilling mystery, the reader is imbued with spirituality and spiritual practices.
The very best part of Manitou Canyon is the setting with all its beauty, danger, and elusiveness. Cork knows the Boundary Waters very well, and has navigated its lakes and portages many times. He knows the dangerous weather signs of November and the constant threat of cold, rain, and snow. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reviewer uses this example: " Cork thinks of the 'thousand moments when a man’s breath is taken away by some sudden, unexpected beauty … [then with] no warnings of the dangers — severe storms that blew out of nowhere, high waves that could founder a canoe, falling trees, forest fires.'” The setting and its weather is as much a part of the thriller as is the thriller itself.
This is the 15th book in the Cork O'Connor series. I read the first few of them years ago, but had not read one for several years. I love reading about Duluth, the North Shore, and the Boundary Waters because this is my home turf. One of my favorite North Shore books is The Long Shining Water by Dannielle Sosin. Another mystery series based in the north woods of Minnesota is Vidar Sundstol's Minnesota Trilogy. I read the satisfying first book of that series, The Land of Dreams.
Finally, I want to mention that my niece, Cory Dack, spent the summer guiding youth voyages in the Boundary Waters. She told me that she has seen marvelous growth in the teenagers who venture on those journeys and that she finds her soul there as well. Manitou Canyon explores those waters and those soul experiences in ways that are just as satisfying as the mystery the book exposes.