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Review: ‘Desolation Mountain,’ by William Kent Krueger

August 17, 2018

After 16 novels chronicling the adventures, heartbreak and spiritual explorations of Northern Minnesotas part-Ojibwe sheriff-turned-private-eye Corcoran OConnor, readers might be ready to declare enough of a good thing, right?

But for those who have followed these progressive stories from prizewinning Twin Cities author William Kent Krueger, its hard to get too much of Cork OConnor. If his loyal spirit, derring-do, Iron Range ruggedness and protect-my-people nature dont hook you, an irresistible story line will.

In Desolation Mountain, the OConnors Cork, grown daughter Jenny, Indian wife Rainy and sensitive and spiritual son Stephen take center stage in a hotblooded story of a dead senator, dark government plots, a bitter dispute over a planned copper mine near sacred waters, and a mystical Ojibwe peak.

The dramatic setting is Desolation Mountain, a rugged rise of earth that towers above the forests and lakes of Minnesotas Iron Range. Its a place that holds deep spiritual meaning to the Ojibwe, one full of menace and darkness. A cursed place.

The mountain comes to young Stephen in a terrible recurring vision of himself, or a boy much like him, shooting an eagle out of the sky. His shame at killing such a sacred creature keeps him blocked from unraveling what the rest of the dream might mean.

The vision soon makes tragic sense. A plane containing a senator friendly to Indian interests and in line for the White House (a thinly veiled female version of Paul Wellstone) crashes on Desolation Mountain in a storm, killing the senator and her family. The government immediately blames the crash on pilot error, but the local Ojibwe search-and-rescuers first to the scene believe otherwise. And then they start disappearing.

Making a reappearance to covertly investigate the crash is Corks former Secret Service buddy, Bo Thorson. Bo is now working among some dark government interests to recover the black box from the plane.

Krueger keeps up the tension and mystery in this, the 17th Cork OConnor novel, partly through his comfort with real places Iron Range towns, Iron Lake and other familiar treasures. He uses them to develop an uncanny sense of place and purpose; we can almost smell the pines and see the reflection of the moon on a cold lake.

Krueger has an obvious affection for his richly developed, recurring characters. Henry Meloux, now over 100 and an Anishinaabe healer, is not just back for an appearance but is central to Stephens quest to uncover the meaning of his vision. Daniel English, whom we met in Windigo Island, has married Jenny OConnor and they are raising little Waaboo, a rescued Ojibwe child.

Kruegers taut storytelling and intricate plots almost always center on a topic in the news, a compelling hook hes researched well and has wrapped his tale around. His debut, Iron Lake, dealt with corruption in Indian casinos. In Sulphur Springs, it was the border drug cartels. Windigo Island took on the trafficking of Indian girls along Lake Superiors boat docks and stretched to the oil fields of North Dakota.

Bring on No. 18, Krueger. Were waiting for our next Cork OConnor rush.

Ginny Greene is a copy editor at the Star Tribune. 612-673-4479

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