William Kent Krueger is not your typical formulaic practitioner of suspense/thriller oriented fiction. Despite this fact he has created the award winning Cork O’Conner series with story lines and characters that do not follow any systematic pattern. Krueger focuses on many of the same characters from earlier books, but that is all that is predictable as he has the unique ability to introduce new characters and create plot lines that seem random but are engrossing and absorb the reader. The fourth installment in the series, BLOOD HOLLOW is no exception.
Krueger begins by introducing the reader to the white expanse of the northern Minnesota winter as it is January, and a blizzard is approaching. Cork O’Conner is joined by his compatriot, Oliver Bledsoe, an attorney and true blood Iron Lakes Ojibwe who handles the legal affairs for the tribal council. Both men are in a race to locate Charlotte Kane, a seventeen year old young lady who left her New Year’s party intoxicated on a snowmobile as the storm seems imminent. The girl has been missing for two days and O’Conner is deeply disappointed as the search is called off by Sheriff Wally Schanno who is about to retire.
The sheriff’s office plays a significant role in Krueger’s plot. O’Conner had been the sheriff but was replaced by Schanno after a nasty tribal incident. Now reaching retirement Schanno is replaced by Arne Soderberg who knows nothing about law enforcement and whose background is the family trucking business. Needless to say, Soderberg and O’Conner do not get along as the new sheriff is a political animal who wants to use his new position as a political steppingstone to enhance his career.
Once Charlotte Kane’s body is located the novel kicks into gear as Soderberg believes he has his ticket for a political future – Kane’s former boyfriend Solemn Winter Moon. When O’Conner shows up at the murder seen Soderberg feels threatened as the former sheriff points out a number of discrepancies in the new sheriff’s investigation. From this point on Krueger lays out the plot very meticulously as he introduces background information about his characters and the role they will play in the story.
Kruger’s novels can stand alone as he nicely fills in the context of each character from previous books and how they fit into the author’s current effort. Krueger has the ability to create intimacy among his characters particularly the O’Conner family, the role of Henry Meloux an aging Midewiwin, a mide, and member of the Grand Medicine Society, and the relationship between Solemn Winter Moon and Cork O’Conner.
Solemn is a troubled young man with a dark side that has gotten into difficulties in the past. O’Conner always looked after him as he was the great nephew of Sam Winter Moon, O’Conner’s surrogate father and mentor. Once Kane disappears her father Dr. Fletcher Kane is convinced Solemn is the murderer. Cork’s wife Jo, an attorney, represents Solemn and for the two of them proving his innocence becomes an obsession.
After digging around much to Soderberg’s chagrin who is in the midst of railroading Solemn, O’Conner develops an interesting theory as to who the real murderer is, and his private investigation begins to split the town of Aurora in half. Since Solemn is Native-American and Cork is one-quarter Native-American the segment of the local population that abhors the reservation and the people who live their rally around the District Attorney to prosecute Solemn for first degree murder. For O’Conner, the evidence just does not add up.
Krueger adds an interesting wrinkle to the story focusing on Anti-Native prejudice which gives way to spiritual controversy when Winter Moon turns himself in after claiming to have seen Christ while seeking a vision from Kitchimanidoo, the Great Spirit. The encounter changes Solemn’s view of life and brings tourists, the sick, and numerous others to Aurora to be healed by one of Jesus’ newest disciples. Krueger also introduces a series of new characters that have not appeared in previous novels. Arne Soderberg and Dr. Fletcher Kane play key roles as each has their own agenda, and Fletcher and O’Conner having their own convoluted history. Solemn’s personal journey is crucial to the story as are Lyla Soderberg, the sheriff’s spouse, Deputy Randy Gooding, a former FBI agent from Milwaukee and friend of O’Conner, and Father Mal Thorne whose actions raise some interesting questions.
The quality of Krueger’s work measures up to the first three books of the series as O’Conner in his own bullish way skeptical of Winter Moon’s religious claims is determined to prove his innocence. O’Connor will uncover a twisted family drama, frightening religious fervor, and suspicious betrayals. As per usual, Krueger skillfully crafts ample plot twists to keep the reader guessing through the bloody climax to the thrilling conclusion of the novel that this reader did not see coming.