When I finished Northwest Angle, the eleventh book in William Kent Krueger’s series about Cork O’Connor, I was struck by a feeling a déjà vu. There were many similarities between his first novel, Iron Mountain, and this one. For example:
Religious references abound. There is Christianity as in mainstream Protestantism, and more fundamentalist elements. There is Indian spirituality and Catholicism mixed together as part of Cork’s heritage and there are priests or former priests as part of the action in both novels. There’s also speculation about whether God does or does not take part in day-to-day human endeavors that overlays both books.
Henry Meloux saves the day with his rifle. Henry is an extremely likeable character but he is dangerously close to a parody of Indian shamans. He always knows when Cork is coming to visit, he can predict the future and he is the keeper of the old ways. He is consistently wise, sweetly humorous and pretty much unbelievable as a real human being.
There are lots of dead bodies, although that is true of all of Krueger’s books in this series. I stopped reading the series at one point because I could not bear to read about more people dead from gratuitous violence.
O’Connor uses guns to end his confrontations with the bad guys even though he says he doesn’t like them. He tends to fall back on the old shoot-first-and-ask-questions later routine. It would be nice to see him use his brain to problem-solve more often, especially as he ages and has, presumably, less physical stamina.
There are extremist groups in the mix. In Iron Mountain it’s a paramilitary group that believes the government is going to fall, and in Northwest Angle it’s an apocalyptic sect that believes the world is coming to an end.
There’s a lot of water but this is Minnesota, the land of ten thousand lakes. It plays a pivotal role in both plots.
O’Connor and his daughter cannot seem to figure out how to talk to one another. At the end of the first book it looked as if they might be able to move closer but by the start of this one they are emotionally estranged again.
There’s a storm, in one a blizzard and in the other a derecho. The forces of nature are integral to the plots of many of Krueger’s books. It is interesting to learn how the characters cope with extreme weather and survive.
The characters endure more physical beating than any humans reasonably can. Despite aging over the course of the series, O’Connor reminds me more and more of the Bruce Willis character in Die Hard. It’s fun to read but Krueger sometimes seems more interested in the “kick-ass thriller” part of the story to the detriment of character development.
Maybe Krueger is running out of ideas for this series, although he told the audience on Wednesday, October 3, 2011 at Centuries & Sleuths Book Store that he had two more books in the pipeline for the series and he was enthusiastic about them.
In many ways, though, his first book was more satisfying than this latest installment. For one thing, Cork is more human at the start of the series. He smokes, gets out of breath, loses his temper, makes mistakes, and appears to learn from them. In the later books, he becomes a health nut and seems like your average hero—able to leap tall buildings—no wait, that was superman. He is, however, able to swim across a debris filled lake, climb cliffs and keep look-out for hours without the benefit of food or sleep.
Nevertheless, I am a big fan of Krueger’s writing. He writes with eloquence of northern Minnesota and creates a mythical landscape that makes me want to live there among the trees, lakes and animals. The reader is always aware of the forces of nature at work—cold, wind, snow, water—and the consequences that can follow when humans ignore these elements. I like the shift from the hyper-connected world of urban experience to a place where knowledge of the weather and land are important to survival.
f you like adventure with a dash of human interest you will enjoy Krueger’s series. But for maximum enjoyment, start at the beginning and work your way to this most recent release.
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