Atria Books, 336 pages, $24.99
William Kent Krueger has been writing and receiving awards for his Cork O’Connor series since 1998. “Manitou Canyon” is his fifteenth book about the sheriff (and now ex-sheriff) of Aurora, Minnesota, near the legendary Boundary Waters wilderness. In 2014, Krueger’s non-series book, “Ordinary Grace,” won the Anthony, Barry, Dilys, Edgar, Left Coast Crime, and Macavity Awards for best book, a clean sweep.
Two issues Krueger presents so well are the threats to the environment and the rights and culture of the Native American tribes. Cork is part Ojibwe and embraces this part of his heritage. Many of his friends are First People, one of whom, Henry Meloux, is his guide in all things spiritual. Although Cork barely admits it to himself, he has romantic feelings for Rainey, Henry’s niece, who is herself now more accepting of the spiritual side of her Ojibwe heritage. The visions a couple of characters have and other can't-be-explained events play an important role in “Manitou Canyon.” In general, spirituality is a major theme for Krueger in his books. What greed and ignorance have done to erode the beauty and natural life cycle of the great wilderness of Minnesota takes center stage.
In “Manitou Canyon,” O’Connor is beseeched by Lindsay Harris, the granddaughter of a former neighbor, to locate her missing grandfather. She, her grandfather, and her brother went camping in the nearby woods not long ago. They ostensibly went to improve their family relationship and to enjoy nature in the raw. During the trip John W. Harris, a rich and important engineer, disappeared. As in, not a trace, into thin air, leaving aught behind, poof. Huge amounts of energy are expended trying to find him, but no human, dog, or airplane can find a clue.
As a final effort, Lindsay asks Cork for one last look around their camping area. Although Cork’s daughter’s wedding is just days away, he agrees out of loyalty to the memory of an older teenage boy who was kind to the kid (Cork) across the street, and because Lindsay's brother has had a vision that reveals intimate knowledge of Cork's family. Cork and Lindsay almost immediately run afoul of people who have been hanging out on an island not far from the campsite. After Cork and Lindsay are kidnapped by these people, it becomes obvious that the strangers were hanging around waiting for them. How did they know Cork and Lindsay would be there? Do they know what has become of the grandfather?
When Cork and Lindsay disappear, Cork’s daughter, son, soon-to-be-son-in-law, former sister-in-law, girlfriend, mentor, mentor's former sister-in-law, and the new sheriff of Aurora do some investigating and searching of their own. They each have a strength, and they form a formidable team. Krueger does an excellent job of having these characters neatly uncover the pieces of the puzzle throughout the book.
With Cork and Lindsay in danger, the gang in Aurora on high alert, and hidden issues that drive the whole criminal plot, there is more than enough momentum-building to drive “Manitou Canyon” to the explosive end. Krueger is the master at ending a book, always with a thoughtful revelation and always beautifully written.