13 April 2010

Review: Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger

I am happy to welcome you to my contribution to Detectives Around the World, a theme week brought to us by Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts. Be sure to check out the other reviews and essays and recipes that are being shared all week. There's even a scavenger hunt!

This post offers an overview of the series and then a short review of Purgatory Ridge.

William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor series takes place in northern Minnesota, in the small town of Aurora, which is not far from the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. Cork, now in his late forties, grew up there, son of the local sheriff. Despite his thoroughly Irish name, he is part Ojibwe Anishinaabe and has strong emotional ties to his Native American roots.

Cork was born to be a cop and got his street smarts on the beat in the South Side of Chicago, where he met and married Jo, an attorney. Cork returned to Aurora and became sheriff, adapting easily to his father's old position. Jo, on the other hand, fought hard to establish herself as the first woman lawyer in town. They are raising their three kids with the help of Jo's sister, Rose, who lives with them and keeps the home fires burning.

When one of Cork's closest friends, Sam Winter Moon, was killed in front of him, the sheriff emptied his pistol into the murderer. As the result of a particularly nasty series of local editorials, Cork was relieved of the only job he ever really wanted. After Cork learned he had inherited his friend's burger shack, Sam's Place, he decided to keep the restaurant in operation. Flipping burgers keeps him occupied now that he's a civilian.

Purgatory Ridge is the third in the Cork O'Connor series. Karl Lindstrom, lumber magnate, moves from the big city to the shores of Iron Lake, near Aurora, to better oversee his mill's operation. He has gained permission to log the national forest, which stirs up local and national unrest. Protests are heard from both the Ojibwe, who revere the old-growth trees, and outside environmental groups, who have descended on the town. On the other side of the argument are the loggers and mill workers who rely on Karl to pay their salaries and keep food on their tables.

Meanwhile, Karl's wife, the author Grace Fitzgerald, is unwittingly stirring up resentments of her own.

Although Cork is no longer sheriff, he cannot sit on the sidelines after a series of explosions threaten the mill and then Karl's life. When Jo and their son get caught up in Grace's troubles, Cork is pulled in full-time.

The novels in the Cork O'Connor series have multiple threads. Always there is a Native American element to the plot line--sometimes political, sometimes mystical. Krueger then develops other threads that may address larger issues. For example, Purgatory Ridge focuses on environmental activism and the seedy side of big business. Some of these themes are directly related to the cases that Cork is trying to solve; others serve as red herrings while adding a richness to the overall story.

Krueger's skill as a writer pops out from the pages and grabs your attention, whether it's an action scene or a description, like this:

Moonlight spilled generously out of the sky. It flowed across the lake and dripped white as milk from the trees along the shoreline. (p. 191)
Purgatory Ridge was a finalist for the 2002 Barry Award for Best Novel and a finalist for the 2002 Dilys Award. The tenth Cork O'Connor book will come out in September 2010. I recommend the series either in audio or in print, and I suggest that the books be read in order.

Purgatory Ridge at Powell's
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Published by Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2001
ISBN-13: 9781439157787

Challenges: Cozy Mystery, Buy & Read, 2010, 100+
YTD: 33
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+


Anonymous,  4/13/10, 9:12 AM  

Beth, I really like this series and plan to read more in it. I'm glad you are highlighting it. It deserves to be better known, in my opinion. Cork is a character that really resonates with me. I like this series almost as much as the Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson.

Julie P. 4/13/10, 10:28 AM  

I wasn't familiar with this series either. I swear you bring more new books to my attention!

Word Lily 4/13/10, 10:32 AM  

I never would have guessed this series was set in northern Minnesota. That just adds to my interest!

Jen Forbus 4/13/10, 10:53 AM  

Kay is right, this series definitely deserves wider acknowledgement. Within the crime fiction community it is highly esteemed, but I think it would definitely appeal to many beyond that community as well.

Thanks so much Beth for highlighting it this week. And those of you stopping by be sure to check back because Beth has some other great things cooked up to celebrate Cork and "Detectives Around the World." I can't wait!!

Sandy Nawrot 4/13/10, 12:41 PM  

I've never heard of this series, but apparently I haven't heard of alot of them, as I find one or two a week I want to start reading! I love the tortured, complex lead character. I'm going to have to do a little digging into this one.

bermudaonion 4/13/10, 4:42 PM  

I love that there's a Native American element to the series. I'm adding it to my wish list.

Nise' 4/13/10, 4:54 PM  

Thank you for letting me know about this series.

Wendy 4/13/10, 8:47 PM  

Thanks for this review. I just read the first book in this series (Iron Lake) and enjoyed it very much. I am eager to work my way through the rest of the books...good to know this one is enjoyable :)

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 4/13/10, 9:54 PM  

add my name to the "I wasn't aware of this series" list! I do enjoy a good cozy mystery every now and again, and Cork sounds like an interesting character. Is his father, the former sheriff, still alive to see the twist his son's life has taken?

Naomi Johnson 4/13/10, 10:17 PM  

You've reminded me that I keep meaning to read this series, and why. Thanks!

Literate Housewife 4/13/10, 10:53 PM  

There's a lot going on in this series. It sounds really interesting, especially given the current story line where Native Americans and environmentalists are going up against the lumber man.

Isn't DAWT fun? I'm enjoying learning about the variety of fiction there is out there.

Christy (A Good Stopping Point) 4/14/10, 12:09 AM  

Sounds like a great series to dig into. I like gritty mysteries set in off-beat locales.

Lynda 4/15/10, 9:35 AM  

Sounds a good read ;0)

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