"The River We Remember" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz
William Kent Krueger has written another moving novel in which the setting is a character all its own. “The River We Remember” takes place in Krueger’s beloved state of Minnesota. The drama and mystery that occur within the setting belie the peacefulness of the expansive, rich farmland and the winding rivers that flow through the county with its 4,000 residents.
It’s 1958, and Sheriff Brody Dern, chief law enforcement officer for Black Earth County, is informed of the gruesome death of Jimmy Quinn. When the body of the local, wealthy landowner is discovered in the Alabaster River on Inkpaduta Bend, Brody begins his investigation which will upend the quiet county and reveal long-held grudges and prejudices.
Inkpaduta Bend was named after a Dakota Indian war chief who led an uprising against white settlers in 1873. One of his female captives was killed on the riverbend on the Alabaster River. For 58 years, residents have attested to hearing the ghostly cries of the murdered woman in the vicinity of the river.
The background of Inkpaduta Bend adds to the history of prejudice against Native Americans throughout the county, which complicates Brody’s investigation. Noah Bluestone, a local Native American whose ancestors were part of the now infamous Dakota uprising led by Inkpaduta, becomes a suspect in the death of Quinn, who was Noah’s former employer. Quinn had recently fired Bluestone for an alleged transgression. The townspeople, fueled by their preconceptions, don’t require evidence to support their feelings that Noah was Quinn’s murderer.
Many residents of Black Earth County, including Sheriff Brody, fought the Japanese in World War II. The angry feelings toward Noah are complicated by his marriage to Kyoko, a young Japanese woman. Her presence is a reminder of a war in which many men from the county suffered physical and psychological wounds that continue to plague them.
“The River We Remember “is not just a murder mystery. Within the novel are themes of family, home, and displacement. Characters display universal passions of love, hatred, desire, fear and anger. Good and evil sweep through Black Earth County just as they do everywhere. Faced with moral choices, Kent’s characters often rely on their conscience or their prejudices to make judgements that affect the course of their lives, for better or worse.
In his newest outing, Kruger blends fiction with historical facts which adds to the realism of his story. Fans of Krueger will recognize this technique in other books he has written.
William Kent Krueger is the author of the Cork O’Connor mystery series and author of “This Tender Land” and “Ordinary Grace,” winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel.