I just love that Cork O’Connor gets better with age. I also love that he ages at all. Author William Kent Krueger appreciates that characters, like readers, grow older, or at least they should. As a result, the Cork O’Connor in TAMARACK COUNTY, the latest in this fine series set in Minnesota’s Great North Woods, has some years, experience and heartbreak on the (relatively) fresh-faced Cork, who debuted in Krueger’s first novel, IRON LAKE. While this is a canon that can be read in any order and enjoyed simply for the richness of the storytelling that is infused in each installment, the books practically demand to be read in order to appreciate the progression that has taken place in the lives of Cork and his family.
"Krueger continues his practice of mining new story veins from the beautiful and dangerous environs of northern Minnesota, providing his continually growing legion of readers with unforgettable situations and characters wrapped in prose that can be appreciated over and over again."
TAMARACK COUNTY, some 15 years after the introduction of this beloved series, contains some of Krueger’s finest writing. I could have read it faster than I did, but there were passages that I stopped and read over, and then again, for the pure and simple reason of enjoying the word craft. The story begins just before what is almost certain to be a difficult and bitter Christmas, what with the discovery of an abandoned automobile on a very desolate stretch of road. The vehicle belongs to Evelyn Carter, the wife of a retired and somewhat controversial judge; what the reader knows almost immediately --- and what it takes the authorities some time to catch up with --- is that Mrs. Carter has been murdered in her own driveway.
Cork, a retired lawman who now spends his time running a restaurant and a private investigation agency, is called in to search for Mrs. Carter and assist in the investigation into her disappearance. Evidence at her home seems to point to her husband as the person responsible for her absence. However, a subsequent series of vicious and bizarre events points elsewhere and coalesces around a murder investigation that Cork, then a sheriff, conducted some two decades before, which resulted in the sentencing of a man to prison where he remains, seemingly at peace. Who then is the terrible and apparently vengeful force that roams the deceptively peaceful wilderness of Tamarack County?
Cork has personal distractions as well. His teenage son, Stephen, is in a serious romantic relationship for the first time, and Cork, whose love interest has removed herself from his life for at least a temporary duration, finds himself courted and tempted by someone who may be his salvation --- or more trouble than he can handle. His daughter, Anne, is also home, having apparently forsaken a lifelong dream for reasons that she seems reluctant to share until a stranger comes to town and a startling revelation makes itself known. As these storylines come together and are ultimately resolved, it becomes clear that, yet again, Cork and his household will experience changes and consequences within their lives, separately and collectively.
While there is violence here, virtually all that takes place, benevolently and otherwise, is ultimately by love, for better and for worse. Krueger continues his practice of mining new story veins from the beautiful and dangerous environs of northern Minnesota, providing his continually growing legion of readers with unforgettable situations and characters wrapped in prose that can be appreciated over and over again. If Krueger is not already on your must-read list, he will be once you experience TAMARACK COUNTY.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 23, 2013