Author William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor is an unusual sort of protagonist, a fast-food restaurateur who doubles as a private investigator. One might not necessarily think that a man with those qualifications would find a lot of sleuthing work in rural Tamarack County, Minnesota, but one would be mistaken. In Fox Creek, the 19th entry in Krueger’s long-running series, Cork is approached by one Louis Morriseau, whose wife, Dolores, has gone missing. Louis is concerned that she has run off with another man, Henry Meloux, an Ojibwe healer who also happens to be the uncle of Cork’s wife, Rainy. This scenario seems . . . unlikely, as Henry is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years old. As it turns out, Dolores actually is with Henry, but he’s guiding her through a sweat lodge ceremony. However, Louis is not actually who he claims to be but rather a member of a team of mercenaries bent on kidnapping Dolores for reasons unknown. Henry senses trouble and narrowly escapes upcountry with Rainy and Dolores in tow, but an expert tracker and two gunmen are in hot pursuit. Not far behind them, Cork and a tribal cop with a vested interest in the case join the fray. Tension mounts as Krueger pits modern tech against Ojibwe traditions, with unexpected twists abounding until the very end.
Bad Day Breaking
A bit to the east of Krueger’s Tamarack County lies Bad Axe County, Wisconsin, the setting of John Galligan’s riveting Bad Day Breaking. Beleaguered Sheriff Heidi Kick is facing uphill battles on at least two fronts: first, a personnel issue involving an overly aggressive deputy, and then a strange, Jonestown-esque cult that has taken up residence in a self-storage facility (to the chagrin of many locals, who are starting to resemble the torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding villagers in dystopian horror movies). Sheriff Kick attempts to placate both the cult and the locals, with limited success at best. The pressure ratchets up dramatically after one of the cult members is murdered. And if there wasn’t enough on her plate already, Sheriff Kick must deal with the reappearance of a very difficult ex-boyfriend, a man whose imprisonment she caused who now, unsurprisingly, seeks to exact revenge upon her for his incarceration. Bad Day Breaking is a page turner of the first order, with a killer cliffhanger that will have readers anxiously awaiting Sheriff Kick’s return.
In rural New South Wales, Australia—part of the legendary Outback where spiders, snakes, crocodiles, etc., are all eagerly waiting to kill you—it bodes well to remember that sometimes the human inhabitants can be lethal as well. Such is the case in Shelley Burr’s debut, WAKE, which centers on the 20-year-old cold case of missing (and now presumed dead) Evelyn McCreery. Evelyn’s twin sister, Mina, soldiers on, now something of a recluse in her remote farmhouse. All these years later, she remains a suspect in the disappearance of her sister, particularly in online forums where the acronym WAKE is used to mean “Wednesday Addams Killed Evie,” a nod to Mina’s resemblance to actor Christina Ricci in the 1990s films about the creepy, unorthodox Addams family. Mina is forced to revisit Evelyn’s disappearance when Lane Holland arrives in town. A freelance private investigator, Lane makes his living via the rewards he collects after solving missing persons cases. Mina’s late mother established a reward of $2 million, but Lane isn’t just motivated by the money; something altogether deeper, darker and more personal has led him to Mina’s door. Burr won the 2019 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award for WAKE, and after reading it, you’ll be applauding their choice right along with me.
★ From the Shadows
In James R. Benn’s From the Shadows, Captain Billy Boyle, a onetime Boston cop now assigned to the European theater of World War II, is snatched from some much needed R & R in Cairo and tasked with a dangerous new mission: Billy must locate an English operative in the wilds of Crete, after which they will head to newly liberated France via Algiers, liaise with the French Resistance and weed out enemies from allies. That’s the plan, anyway; but in wartime, things do not often go according to plan, and this mission is no exception. As is the case with the 16 previous books in the Billy Boyle series, the action takes place against a backdrop of real-life operations and personnel. The reader is introduced to Jack Hemingway, son of iconic writer Ernest; to Wells Lewis, son of author Sinclair; to the heroic 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history, which was composed primarily of Nisei, second-generation Japanese Americans; to the stubborn and tragically inept General John E. Dahlquist, commander of “The Lost Battalion”; and to Daniel Inouye, who lost his right arm to a grenade in France and went on to serve as a U.S. senator for Hawaii. Without a doubt, I have learned more about WWII history from Benn’s novels than I ever learned from a textbook. Where he excels, though, apart from superb suspense plotting, is in documenting vignettes of humanity and its black-sheep cousin, brutality. Benn makes combat feel real and immediate to his readers, even those who have never experienced it firsthand. It would be impossible to depict war accurately without killing off some of the good guys, and there are a couple of losses here that will truly hurt, as they should.