“It seemed to me a good day to be dead and by that I mean that if the dead cared no more about the worries they’d shouldered in life and could lie back and enjoy the best of what God had created it was a day for exactly such. The air was warm and still and the grass of the cemetery…was soft green and the river…reflected the sky [like] a long ribbon of blue silk…”
The thirteen-year-old narrator of William Kent Krueger’s new mystery juxtaposes death and bucolic beauty, but we know the dead can’t see. Set in a small town north of everywhere in America and south of Canada, this is a tale of an extraordinary summer in an ordinary town in Minnesota--the summer when everything seemed to come untethered and God drew His awful grace (vengeance?) like a sword. There is always something dark or threatening about mysteries by William Kent Krueger. It has to do with half-hidden resentments that may flame into retribution, or ugly prejudices on the lips of town folk or law keepers.
Krueger has created characters that sharpen our instincts: Doyle, the small town cop with no more sense of right than a hormonal teenaged bully; Redstone, the tall, taciturn Dakota whose greatest compliment is that one “might have Sioux blood”; the WWII veteran-turned-preacher who had spent all his pride and was left only with generosity. Our narrator, Frank, is impulsive and on the cusp of discoveries about life. He may not be entirely reliable.
“Happiness…is only a moment’s pause here and there on what is otherwise a long and difficult road. No one can be happy all the time. Better, I think, to wish for…wisdom, a virtue not so fickle.”
Imagine an aerial shot of three boys pedaling their bikes as fast as they can along a country road in high summer. We can’t hear the buzz of insects in the fields, nor the frogs burping along the river, but we can see the boys. We don’t know where they are going, but we imagine the excitement of the day’s first swim, or the urgency of finishing a tree fort, or the need for an ice cream soda at the drug store. Then we notice a car speeding behind…in pursuit or accompanying the boys, we do not know. Now we begin to suspect something may be wrong. They are all going too fast.
Krueger continually confounds our expectations of “ordinary” by placing it next to extraordinary: high summer small town in southern Minnesota, a fish-filled river, a clergyman’s nuclear family. But there are flaws in the picture: the daughter, a ravishingly talented musician, has a hare lip. The world-famous pianist teaching her lost his sight in the war. His sister is deaf from birth. No wonder we don’t trust the sunshine. There is darkness here and wisdom has a terrible price.
This engrossing novel is a great success for Krueger, who is best known for his Cork O’Connor mystery series set in northern Minnesota.
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