Review of “Desolation Mountain: A Novel” by William Kent Krueger

This is the seventeenth book in the series involving Cork O’Connor, the part-Irish, part-Anishinaabe Indian ex-sheriff of the small town of Aurora, Minnesota. While no longer formally serving in law enforcement, Cork is now a private investigator.

Cork is thought of as ogichidaa – the Ojibwe word for someone who stands between evil and the people he loves. His 20-year-old son Stephen wishes he were ogichidaa too, but his talent (or curse, as he considers it) is that he sees visions. He can’t always explain them, not even to himself, but generally they portend something evil that is coming.

As this book begins, Stephen has had another vision, and it upsets him. The local Anishinaabe Mide – a spiritual guide and Stephen’s mentor, Henry Meloux – is unable to help him, but Henry agrees he can feel there is evil coming. The family not only respects Henry, but has a number of ties to him. Cork recently married Henry’s niece, Rainy Bisonette, and Cork’s daughter Jenny married Rainy’s nephew Daniel, an officer with the Iron Lake Ojibwe Department of Conservation Enforcement. Jenny and Daniel have a five-year-old boy they call Waaboozoons, shortened to Waaboo, Ojibwe for “little rabbit.” They are beginning to suspect that Waaboo has a second sight similar to Stephen’s.

But their sometimes idyllic life is threatened by proposed sulfide mining. The Minnesota Senator, Olympia McCarthy, opposed the mine, and was flying out to address a town meeting on the issue. Tragedy struck, however, when the small plane she was in crashed over the Iron Lake Reservation, killing all on board. Soon the town was filled with all kinds of government agents trying to find out what happened, including NTSB, FBI, and Homeland Security, as well as some scary players no one is able to identify.

Exactly how or why the plane went down is a mystery. Was it downed intentionally, and if so, why? What were the perpetrators trying to prevent? – something in the Senator’s agenda, such as her opposition to the mine? Could it have been the anti-assault rifle legislation the Senator was about to introduce? What about her opposition to the proposed Manila Accord, favored by the alt-right, the rejection of which would affect the profits of arms merchants? Or was this an action by the Lexington Brigade, a radical anti-government militia group?

Nothing is clear, and when members of the reservation who were around to see the plane crash go missing one by one, the stakes become huge. Cork gets involved because it is in his nature that he can’t stop trying to help and protect people; Stephen because his vision drives him, and because he is still fighting to be ogichidaa instead of Mide; and Daniel because he is in law enforcement and wants to make sure he protects his family. There is another person who joins their side, or seems to, at any rate: Bo Thorson, a former secret service agent who worked with Cork years ago, and who has been hired by a private client to get the facts about the plane crash.

Before long, all of them are fighting for their lives.

Evaluation: Although this is part of a series, it is quite possible to read this one without feeling lost. On the contrary, Krueger manages to pull you into the O’Connor family immediately. Krueger is a good writer, and I love how he integrates Native American culture and an appreciation for the landscape into his stories. He is especially good at finding ways to advocate for the Native American respect for the land, as in this passage from a woman attending the town hall:

“The earth isn’t just rock and dirt and trees and water. It’s one thing, one heart, one spirit. It offers us life and beauty and, if we listen, wisdom. And it asks nothing in return, not even gratitude, because giving is the whole reason for its creation.”

This particular entry in the Cork O’Connor books is probably best described as a political thriller. Although the story is tied up at the end, there are nevertheless hints of changes to the O’Connor family that ensure fans will want to continue the series.

Rating: 3.75/5

Published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2018

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2 Responses to Review of “Desolation Mountain: A Novel” by William Kent Krueger

  1. Beth F says:

    He really is a good writer. I’m behind in this series (story of my life) so I need to pick it up again.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I haven’t read any of his mysteries but I know they have a big following. I think I’d like Cork.

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