Heaven's Keep by William Kent Krueger

I recently finished Heaven’s Keep by William Kent Krueger.  And I’m happy to report I finished it with a great feeling of satisfaction, both as a reader and a writer.  I’ve been a fan of the Cork O’Connor series for years, and this installment did not disappoint.  Spoiler alert:  I’m going to tell about the death of a major character in his series, so if you don’t want to know, STOP RIGHT NOW!

     While this novel was actually published in 2009, I somehow overlooked it and read the next in the series, Vermillion Drift.  In that novel I found out that Jo, Cork’s wife, had died in Heaven’s Keep.  I was horrified!  Jo and Cork had a long and sometimes contentious marriage, which made for great reading.  Their marriage survived infidelity (on both of their parts), differences in education (Jo was a lawyer, Cork the sheriff of a small town in northern Minnesota), differences in background (Cork is part Ojibwe).  The mandate for writers to have conflict/tension on every page was thoroughly exploited by Krueger with this intriguing couple.  And now, in Heaven’s Keep, Cork has to solve the mystery of what happened to the plane Jo was on, which goes missing in a snow storm over the Wyoming Rockies.  He fears the plane has crashed, but a thorough search by Cork and a retinue of volunteers and local law enforcement yields no plane and more questions than answers.  Krueger is able to draw out the possibility that Jo may be alive until almost the very end.

     Another side story which plays well in delineating Cork’s personality is his relationship with his adolescent son, Stevie (“It’s Stephen.”).  Against his better judgement, Cork takes Stephen with him to investigate the missing plane, and we see the nascent man developing in the 13-year-old.  Stephen also participates in a Vision Quest during the story, although we get few details about this.  My hope is that Krueger will consider writing a Young Adult novel specifically about Stephen’s time in the woods under the wing of the elderly Henry Meloux, an Ojibwe Mide.

     Kent Krueger’s writing has a wonderful, quiet confidence.  He writes with authority about Minnesota, the Anishinaabeg and the dark side of human beings and murder.  His characters are varied and believable and often exemplify midwestern decency without being goody-goody.  His writing schools me in the art of utilizing detail without overdoing description, a tough, tough thing to do.  He also reminds me to keep to the story, don’t skimp on the plot and care most about the characters because everything derives from them.  When I finished Heaven’s Keep, I closed the book and thought that if I could write just one novel like it, I’d die a happy woman.  I’m working on it (the novel, not the dying…).

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