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Lightning Strike


Lightning Strike

One might be forgiven for assuming that William Kent Krueger had exhausted the possibilities for additional installments in his long-running and award-winning Cork O’Connor series. He has been exploring the multifaceted personality of Cork --- a former sheriff and the current private investigator of Tamarack, Minnesota --- over the course of 17 books while progressively aging his protagonist and the strong supporting cast he has created over the years. With the newly published LIGHTNING STRIKE, Krueger neatly sidesteps the issues of Cork’s advanced age and potential creeping infirmities by revisiting a fateful summer from his childhood. The result is one of Krueger’s best and strongest works to date.

" of Krueger’s best and strongest works to date.... LIGHTNING STRIKE has a multifaceted mystery at its core but is essentially a vibrant coming-of-age novel."

The majority of the book is set in July and August 1963. Twelve-year-old Cork is in the middle of a semi-idyllic summer, marred only by the obligations of delivering the local newspapers in the morning and afternoon. However, he is forever changed when, on an outing with a friend, he stumbles upon the body of Big John Manydeeds, a well-known personality in the town of Aurora and the Ojibwe reservation. They find the corpse at Lightning Strike, an abandoned logging camp that is considered to be cursed. The discovery deeply affects Cork, and not simply because of the grisly tableau. Big John was the uncle of one of Cork’s best friends, and he admired and learned much from the man.

Cork’s father, Liam O’Connor, is the sheriff of Tamarack County and initiates an investigation into Big John’s death. It is all but a foregone conclusion that it was a suicide, and there is pressure on him for the case to be open and shut. However, two elements compel Liam to look further into the matter. One is a cryptic note that Cork spots at Big John’s grave. With a bit of unofficial and occasionally unwelcome assistance from his son, Liam tugs a slender evidentiary thread and follows it into a side of Big John’s life that had been a well-kept secret. The other is pressure from the Native community. Liam, a Caucasian married to a Native woman, must often walk a fine line when enforcing the law in the tribal community. That is especially true in this instance, where there is marked concern that a rush to judgment may deny justice to the deceased.

Meanwhile, Cork and his friends pursue their own line of inquiry that ultimately intersects with Liam’s but puts them in terrible danger as the truth of the circumstances behind Big John’s death is dramatically revealed.

LIGHTNING STRIKE has a multifaceted mystery at its core but is essentially a vibrant coming-of-age novel. While it is not necessary to have read any of the previous Cork O’Connor books, those who have will find this “child is father to the man” story indispensable in providing a new understanding to what has been told before and what will happen later in the series. A great deal of this insight is provided by revelations concerning Liam. Of equal importance is how Krueger explores the complexity of the legal and cultural minefield existing in some Native areas as it pertains to law enforcement. Instead of forming scars, the wounds of the past are often still raw and open, and Krueger shows rather than tells why with a subtle but unflinching touch.

One can only hope that LIGHTNING STRIKE will be just the first of many forays into Cork O’Connor’s past.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 24, 2021

Lightning Strike
by William Kent Krueger