"Lightning Strike" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz
The title of William Kent Krueger’s new book “Lightning Strike” refers to the speed at which our lives can change. It also refers to a fictional place in the Superior National Forest where two young teens discover a body hanging from a tree. They recognize the body as that of their old friend, Big John.
Krueger has written several stories that feature Cork O’Connor, the sheriff in an isolated county in Minnesota. Krueger’s current book is the story of a year in Cork’s life when he was an adolescent. It also provides a narrative of his father who was the sheriff years before Cork assumed the role. Their relationship is one of respect, family commitment and tenderness.
The community is divided between Shinnobs, the name given to white residents in the county, and the Ojibwe, or Chippewa, people. By 1979, when the book’s events occur, intermarriage has resulted in an uneasy peace in the community, but the Ojibwe remain distrustful of the Shinnobs.
Much of the distrust hearkens back to a 1956 federal program, instituted under President Truman, that forced Native American children to leave their families and attend white mission schools. Government assistance was denied to people living on reservations that forced the Ojibwe and other tribes to move to other towns. The Objiwe suffered under these conditions, and they never forgot it.
Cork’s father, Liam, is a white man and a law enforcer. He is married to a woman with Ojibwe ancestry. Although he is liked personally, the Ojibwe don’t trust him to be fair in his treatment of them based on their past experiences with the government and the law.
When Big John, a solitary but respected member of the Native people, is found dead, Liam believe it is a suicide. Evidence points to that. The Objibwe refuse to accept the theory, and Liam is pushed to investigate more thoroughly.
Cork, Liam’s son, is driven to help find out more about the tragedy. He can’t banish from his mind the sight of Big John’s body, ravaged after days of hanging from the tree.
Several citizens of the town of Iron Lake become suspects. Unsavory characters surface. Families are broken through greed, selfishness and fear of the differences of others. Through it all, the O’Connor family represents the qualities of tenderness, strength, and support evident in families who survive upheaval and seemingly unbearable circumstances.
Readers who are familiar with William Kent Krueger and his works, among them “This Tender Land,” “Ordinary Grace” and “Mercy Falls,” will appreciate this mystery thriller that adds a layer of interest and insight to the Cork O’Connor stories. I found it to be a riveting read.