It’s difficult for me to describe how impressive the work of William Kent Krueger is. Over the course of 14 novels, Krueger has carved a mythos involving Cork O’Connor, an ex-sheriff turned private investigator who lives and works in remote, sparsely populated northern Minnesota. It occurred to me while reading MANITOU CANYON --- the 15th and latest installment in the series --- that the vastness of the area is almost unimaginable, an element that he infuses throughout each volume, with the beauty of the region and its rich genetic mix. It is part of Krueger’s genius that he has chosen this area as a setting for his creation and the ever-evolving and developing subtexts that are new and fresh with each book.
"The characters, story and plot will haunt you long after you’ve read the last page, but it's Krueger’s strong and sure descriptive prose that lingers the longest."
MANITOU CANYON contains all of those elements and is a remarkable tale, even considering Krueger’s already demonstrably high standards. The story is set in November, a month that has always been a time of personal sorrows and disasters for Cork. He and his family are hoping to break that trend with the marriage of Cork’s daughter, Jenny, to Daniel. But circumstances get in the way when Cork is retained to search for John Harris, the famous and wealthy founder of one of the nation’s largest construction design firms. John had gone missing while in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with his adult grandchildren, Lindsay and Trevor Harris, who he has raised since they were children. Lindsay and Trevor want Cork, whose reputation precedes him, to explore the area where their grandfather was last seen. He is reticent to do so, given that his daughter’s marriage is occurring in less than two weeks and the weather is threatening to turn bad.
In one of those turns of kismet, however, Cork feels a bit of an obligation to search for John, given that they had been friends and neighbors when they were much, much younger. Cork’s plan is to go out for a couple of days and see if he can find what the rescue team could not. He has a satellite phone and promises to stay in contact with law enforcement and his family. What could go wrong? Everything, of course. Cork and Lindsay, who is accompanying him, quickly go off the radar. The last trace of them, at their campsite, reveals nothing but a large pool of blood. As the reader knows by this point, they have been abducted by some close-mouthed, deadly serious people who apparently are holding the elder Harris captive as well.
The question that resounds throughout most of the book is “why?” The answer unfolds slowly, even as the narrative is fast-paced and fraught with danger, and a couple of ticking clocks are joined by others as the book progresses. Cork is in deep this time, so deep that making it back to his home in time for his daughter’s wedding will be the least of his worries, which also include the lives of hundreds of other people.
As thrilling as MANITOU CANYON is, William Kent Krueger plants a true seed at the heart of the book, one that splits, grows gradually and becomes ever more complex. He also brings up some issues within the context of the novel for which there are no easy answers, and the lines that seem to be so firmly drawn in the middle of the book are a bit vague by the end. The characters, story and plot will haunt you long after you’ve read the last page, but it's Krueger’s strong and sure descriptive prose that lingers the longest.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 6, 2016