Cork O’Connor --- half Irish, half Ojibwe Indian --- is a private investigator in his Northern Minnesota birthplace. The former sheriff knows his neighbors and his people, and he and Jo, his attorney wife and mother of their three children, enjoy wide respect in the community. When Jo accompanies a delegation of Northern American Indian tribal officials to an important meeting in Seattle, Cork sees her off on the chartered plane at the local airport. It is the last he will see of her as the plane takes off under darkening skies and then vanishes hours later in a blinding blizzard over the Northern Rockies.
Cork and his 13-year-old son, Stephen, fly out to Western Wyoming to search in the region where the plane vanished from radar. Reports from snowmobilers of hearing a low-flying plane during the storm seemed to pinpoint the area in which searchers were gathering. Cork and Stephen join with the Owl Creek Sheriff’s Department and volunteers in an air search to try to spot any sign of a downed plane. After nearly a week of flying over thousands of miles of the rugged wilderness, searchers give up as winter settles in and hopes of finding any clues dwindle. The sheriff’s department is very accommodating, even flying Cork and Stephen over an area seen in a vision by a local Indian shaman.
As another heavy storm moves in, heralding the beginning of winter in the Rockies, Cork and Stephen head back home, saddened by the fact that not only their beloved Jo is dead, but that the other six passengers and pilot, some of them friends, may not be found until spring, if ever.
They start to pick up the pieces of their lives, but rumors begin that the pilot and owner of the small plane had been seen drinking heavily the night before at a local bar. By March, a lawsuit against the pilot is launched by the families of two of the men on the missing plane. The pilot’s widow comes to Cork with what she thinks is evidence that the man who flew her husband’s plane was not him, even though he’s seen on a surveillance camera from the bar appearing to imbibe several straight shots of whiskey the night before the flight. If the pilot was not her husband, then where is he and why did he go missing that day? The investigator she hired went out to Wyoming and failed to return after asking questions of local officials.
Cork carefully examines the grainy surveillance tape the pilot’s widow produces and discovers something not previously seen on there. It is enough for him to take on her case and perhaps bring some closure to what really happened to Jo and her fellow passengers on that fateful flight. The possibility that the plane didn’t crash is raised along with Cork and Stephen’s hopes that Jo is being held captive somewhere. They discover that some of the local Wyoming people hold title to land overlying rich oil deposits, and perhaps one of the passengers of the plane was entangled in a land deal.
Upon returning to Owl Creek, Cork finds the local sheriff’s office less than cordial than their prior encounter and reluctant to expend any more manpower on the hunt for the downed plane. They vaguely remember the prior private investigator who asked a few questions, but do not know where he went after he left Owl Creek. Cork now must rely on an offer from his new business partner to put his resources to work to launch a new search for the missing plane and learn the fate of its passengers. This becomes a game of “who do you trust” as Cork looks to former acquaintances and friends for help.
HEAVEN’S KEEP is William Kent Krueger’s 10th book and the ninth to feature Cork O’Connor. These novels blend a close-knit family and American Indian traditions with good old-fashioned sleuthing. Those who have followed Cork since his introduction in 1998’s IRON LAKE will not be disappointed with Krueger’s latest effort, and undoubtedly will look forward to a continuation of this award-winning series.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 22, 2011