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Thunder Bay

Review

Thunder Bay

In
his retirement from the sheriff’s department, Cork
O’Connor runs a lakeside snack shack and enjoys a quiet life
in Aurora, Minnesota. But he can’t sell enough fries to send
his older daughter Jenny to college next fall, and he’s
obtained his private investigators license to supplement the family
bank account. Jenny’s intense romance with Sean concerns both
Cork and his wife Jo, and it turns out they have reason to be
worried.

But Cork hasn’t the luxury to deal with Jenny’s tragedy
head on, because of the trouble that comes to him. Henry Meloux, an
ancient Ojibwe medicine man whom Cork has known and revered for 40
years, enters the hospital with chest pain. When Cork rushes to see
him, Henry has a request: find the son no one knew he had, a son
who Henry has never even met, a son whose name he doesn’t
even know. All Cork has to go on is the mother’s name,
Henry’s suspicion that the son is somewhere near Ontario,
Canada, and a gold pocket watch with the woman’s
picture.

Thus begins a quest that takes us deeply into Henry’s story
--- the story of a young Ojibwe orphan, conscripted into an
American Indian school, forbidden to speak his own language and
forced into labor on a farm; the story of how this young man
escapes and learns from his uncle to live off the land; and the
story of how he meets Maria Lima deep in the Canadian wilderness,
an impetuous and intelligent Cuban beauty traveling with her
father, one of two gold prospectors, for whom Henry serves as a
guide. Violence and greed separate Henry and Maria, but not before
they fall deeply in love.

Now, 70 years later, Henry must bear the news that Maria married
the other prospector, Leonard Wellington. Yet she named her first
son, who was born only two months after their marriage, Henry. When
Cork finds the grown-up Henry, a Howard Hughes-style recluse on an
island up in Thunder Bay, his hopes for organizing a reunion
between father and son fade. The man is a fanatic. He’s not
interested in entertaining the notion that his father was an
“Indian buck.” But back home in Minnesota,
Henry’s heart problems vanish now that he knows his son is
alive and needs him. He insists that Cork take him to Canada, and
Cork, because he owes so much to Henry, cannot say no.

It’s an exciting and gripping story, and as a bonus, the
characterization and writing transcend the usual standards of genre
fiction. Krueger conveys much through his use of vivid detail.
Here’s his description of Henry Wellington’s bodyguard:
“I saw that he was hard all over, well muscled, with a broad
chest, narrow waist, thick arms, and a neck like a section of
concrete pillar. He wore sunglasses and didn’t remove them. I
saw myself small, approaching in their reflection.” To add to
the menace, when they arrive in Wellington’s chamber, the
television is showing an open heart surgery. “The bloody
hands on the television gripped the heart, and I was afraid maybe
they were going to pull it out of the body. The screen went black.
I didn’t mind.”

And yet, the novel is about more than greed, betrayal and suspense.
It’s about relationships --- between father and son, and
between father and daughter. And it is here that Krueger shines.
When Henry finally sees his son, Cork notes the old man’s
uncertainty. “To be a son, to be a father, these things were
more than just a blood tie. Maybe that’s what the hesitation
was about. Did the relationship matter if, in the end, Wellington
didn’t give a damn?”

The story of Cork and his own family’s crisis makes a nice
counterpoint to the mystery of Henry Meloux, and Krueger juggles
them well. For a “thriller” THUNDER BAY has uncommonly
profound, mature and moving things to say about love. You will burn
through this book, relishing the twists and turns. But perhaps, if
you’re like this jaded reviewer, the biggest surprise will be
your leaky eyes on the final page.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 23, 2011

Thunder Bay
by William Kent Krueger

  • Publication Date: July 24, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atria
  • ISBN-10: 0743278410
  • ISBN-13: 9780743278416