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Book Review: Cork returns in Krueger's 'Purgatory Ridge'

You can talk about technique and theory and the technical aspects of fiction, but most readers -- at least those who aren't writers -- want to know one thing when they pick up a book: Will I enjoy reading it?...

You can talk about technique and theory and the technical aspects of fiction, but most readers -- at least those who aren't writers -- want to know one thing when they pick up a book: Will I enjoy reading it?
With William Kent Krueger, that's practically a guarantee. The award-winning St. Paul author, whose previous books include "Boundary Waters" and "Iron Lake," has a new mystery thriller out, "Purgatory Ridge," again featuring his likeable hero Cork O'Connor.
If anything, "Purgatory Ridge" is a step up from "Boundary Waters," which was among the best fiction to cross my desk in 1999.
O'Connor, a semi-retired former sheriff in Aurora, Minn., is piecing his life and marriage together when World War III is unleashed on the small town over logging in the Boundary Waters.
But lurking below the surface is something more -- a forgotten Lake Superior shipwreck and its mysterious sole survivor, a rich timber baron's wife and a sleazy gambler.
The storyline is scintillating, with rarely a pause, and it kept at least this reader guessing long enough to keep the pages moving.
A fair chunk of what makes Krueger's books compelling is his characters. You start with O'Connor, who is a compelling hero precisely because of his human mix of fallibility, courage, skill and luck. He has complexity and depth.
And that depth is a trend that carries. Sure, he has his flat minor characters, some of them bordering on stereotype, but every important cast member in "Purgatory Ridge" has the same sort of contradictions we all carry around. This, in turn, gives real life to the story.
A good example is John LePere, the mixed-blood survivor of a Lake Superior shipwreck. LaPere gets involved in some bad business (I won't give that away), but he's a very likeable character, one that we sympathize with.
And when a character fools you in Krueger's work, as some will in "Purgatory Ridge," it's still in keeping with the character.
The book is populated with the Aurora cast Krueger has already established in previous books, from steady Aunt Rose to Henry Meloux, the wise Objibwe medicine man.
Krueger also carries an eye for complexity into his story, which does justice to both sides of the logging issue but still manages not to pull punches, and even to his setting, as he portrays both the pleasantries and the strange oppressiveness of small-town life in northern Minnesota.
North-
landers will note unique points of appeal in "Purgatory Ridge." For starters, the book is part of a small handful of books about Aurora, Minn., published by a major publisher. That's something.
But even more interesting, students of this area's maritime history will notice that Krueger lifted his shipwreck story almost completely from Dennis Hale's experience on the Daniel J. Morrell, even including a variation of the supernatural experiences Hale reported in his book "Sole Survivor" (reviewed previously in the Budgeteer). Krueger discusses Hale's book and his experiences in an author's note to begin the book.
I like what Krueger did with this in a fictional setting. I don't know if Hale's story was the inspiration for "Purgatory Ridge" or not, but it well could have been a spark that set the tale burning in the author's head.
Finally, Krueger does an excellent job telling stories of Native American communities without falling into stereotype or romanticism or prejudice.
Of course, we have to talk about technique sooner or later. Suffice it to say there's a reason Simon & Schuster publishes Krueger's books. His use of dialogue is strong. He writes pulse pounding action scenes as deftly as he does tender moments of romance. His narrative voice unobtrusively paints pictures.
In short, there's little to criticize in this book.
I sat down and read this 350-plus page book virtually in one sitting, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I'm betting a lot of Northland readers will feel the same.

Kyle Eller is news editor at the Budgeteer News. Contact him at kyle.eller@duluth.com or at 723-1207.

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