Grounded. Methodical. Logical. Slow-burn.
Here are a few more things to like about Lightning Strike:
Solid plot. Deceptively violent. Character-based. In fact—character first, character always. And the story stays within itself. It never overflows its banks and goes crazy, even with a few walloping juicy twists along the way.
There are times when William Kent Krueger’s Lightning Strike feels and reads like a young adult novel. A genteel young adult novel. (Don’t drop your guard.) Krueger is matter-of-fact seductive in his storytelling. We’re deep in the world of 12-year-old Cork O’Connor, who will lead the charge through 17 Krueger novels when he grows up.
So Lightning Strike is back-story or prequel (and maybe the start of a new series?). We get chapters from Cork’s point of view and we see the case from the perspective of Cork’s father Liam, who is the sheriff. There’s a quaint, small-town flavor here. It’s 1963. There are newspaper routes, Boy Scout troops, and sandlot baseball games. There are elm trees, lilac hedges, and blueberries to be picked. There’s, meat loaf simmering in the oven, a swing waiting on the front porch, and so on. Where’s Andy Griffith?
Except one thing is out of place, that “grotesque, rotting figure” hanging from the tree at Lightning Strike, a sacred place for the Ojibwe deep in the forest in the ironing mining country of northern Minnesota. The questions around the death of the well-known Big John Manydeeds are manyfold —and obvious. Suicide or murder? If the former, why? If the latter, who? If a murder, who staged it to look like a suicide? Lightning Strike becomes a dual track of young Cork’s prodding and curiosity along with dad Liam’s official work on the case. The discovery carries extra weight for Cork, who looked up to Big John Manydeeds and was also the uncle of one of Cork’s best friends.
Krueger’s pace, as others have noted, is measured and methodical. He’s not afraid to weave in ample amounts of “regular” life—the non-plot stuff. The result is a fuller picture of the setting and deeper glimpses of Cork and Liam as son and father.
There is plenty in Lightning Strike, too, about relationships between the new residents of Aurora, Minnesota and the Native Americans. Cork is part Irish and part Anishinaabe Indian, for starters, and the Krueger layers-in plenty about the delicate nature of the relationship between the two cultures.
Cork, literally, has a nose for clues and Lightning Strike lets the young O’Connor quiz the facts and ponder theories. A second trip to the scene turns up a clue and there is a stray fragrance that bugs Cork. (You could blink and think that Frank and Joe Hardy have a new brother.) One possible murder suspect surfaces and then, wham, Krueger yanks away that comfortable rug you’ve been standing on and the stakes catapult and you realize the darkness is even more stark when it’s set off against all those cheery small-town touches.