I met William Kent Krueger at a mystery writers conference in Chicago four years ago and asked him to read a scene from Early’s Fall, asked him to critique it. Shoot, he’s published by Simon & Schuster, so I knew he had to be good. Plus I had read Iron Lake, the first in his Cork O’Connor series, and I knew he, like Tony Hillerman, was a master of place.
Kent read the scene—where James Early is driving a dusty road over to Abilene to meet with the Dickinson County sheriff. “Neat,” he said with a smile that told me he really liked it. And then he tapped his finger on the following paragraphs:
A truck appeared on the horizon, rolling his [Early’s] way, wavering through the heat shimmering up off the concrete. As the truck came closer, Early could see it, the snub nose of a GMC semi huffing along, a trailer behind. Before he met the truck, he put his thumb over the top of his pop bottle. The driver sounded his air horn, and Early responded with a wave. And the Humphrey’s freighter rumbled by, roiling up dust from the gravel shoulder, swirling it around Early and his Jeep.
Early coughed. He spit and, after he popped out of the far side of the freighter’s storm, took another slug of RC and spit that overboard, too.
“He put his thumb over the top of his pop bottle, to keep the dust he knew was coming from getting into his pop—that’s a great detail,” Kent said.
End of critique.
I knew I had gotten that small scene right.
I’ve been in workshops Kent has led, and my writers group hosted him and his partners in the Minnesota Crime Wave to dinner when they came to present their road show at my town’s library. He is a thoroughly nice man and a fine writer. I caught up with Kent most recently at a book signing in Madison, Wisconsin, where he told fans that he may soon be ending his Cork O’Connor series. That got my attention.
Goodbye Iron Lake and Cork O’Connor
One more book and that’s it, Minnesota crime writer William Kent Krueger told fans at Booked for Murder, the independent mystery bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin.
Krueger had just finished reading from and talking about Red Knife, his latest novel in the Cork O’Connor mystery series, and a fan asked, “Will there be another book?”
“Yes,” Krueger said, “but that may well be the last of the series. I started writing this series in 1992. It’s 16 years now; it’s time to move on. And forgive me, but I want to be rich.”
Krueger wants a movie deal. He’s seen other writer friends get them. He didn’t get one with Iron Lake, the first book in what is to date an eight-book series.
“I had a producer who wanted Iron Lake, but it didn’t go anywhere,” Krueger said of the first verse from Hollywood’s siren song. The producer let his option lapse, and two others picked it up. Krueger met with them, liked them and liked what they wanted to do—to keep a movie script true to his story. However, no one the producers pitched the project to would pick it up, not for a theatrical release, a television movie or a TV series.
“So Cork is used goods,” Krueger said. “That means I need another project—a new project—I can present.”
The story for that project has ben pounding on him for two years. Yes, there is a murder—the murder of the daughter of a Methodist minister.
“The story is how the murder changes the minister’s family and his community,” Krueger said.
The bad news for Krueger the novelst is Simon & Schuster, his publisher of nine books—the eight Cork O’Connor crime novels and Krueger’s stand-alone, The Devil’s Bed—doesn’t want it. S&S wants another O’Connor mystery, and Krueger has written it. Heaven’s Keep is part thriller, part mystery, part rumination on love. “The book is done,” Krueger said. “It’s due for release next July.”
But the book he hopes will get him that film contract, well, Krueger now has to find a publisher who will take it on.
Back to Red Knife.
Krueger’s editor at Simon & Schuster wanted him to write a book about the shootings three years ago at the school on the Red Lake Reservation in which nine people were killed. The story shocked and disturbed Minnesotans and people across the nation. Because he felt it was a trespass on the grief of the Red Lake community, Krueger couldn’t do it. But the idea was there—violence in schools, violence becoming the norm. And so Red Knife came about.
The book opens with readers witnessing 20 Ojibwe warriors attacking 13 Dakota hunters. It’s a slaughter. “And 200 years later,” ends that prologue, “on that same bloody acre, the citizens of Tamarack County, Minnesota, would build a school.”
Before the book’s end, there is a shooting at that school.
“What does our love of violence say about us?” Krueger asked his audience. “After thinking about it for three years, I don’t know.
“Is violence a necessary thing? Is violence justified? It depends on which end of the gun barrel you are on. The school shooter is the hero of his story.
“The answer comes to Cork by the end of the book. He gathers his firearms and gives them to Henry Meloux,” his friend and the Mide of the Anishinaabeg—the Original People, the Ojibwe of the Iron Lake Reservation. O’Connor doesn’t want the guns to one day go to his young son. He doesn’t want Stevie to ever become comfortable with weapons that can kill.
Says Meloux, “I have been told, Corcoran O’Connor, that the heart has two chambers. I believe it because I know the heart has two sides. One is love and the other is fear. One creates, the other destroys. Not every person kills, but every person could. It is how the Great Spirit created us. I do not pretend to know why; I only know it is so.”
To which Cork says he knows one cannot change the human heart, “but you can remove the weapons. Maybe not so many people would kill then or so many die.”
“Handing me your weapons won’t change anything,” Meloux says.
To which Cork replies, “It’s a start.”
Meloux agrees to keep Cork’s revolver and rifle, saying, “They’ll be here when you need them.”
Cork says he won’t need them, to which Meloux says, “We will see.”
And with that line the reader knows there will be another Cork O’Connor mystery, even if Krueger had not said so.
* If you want to know more about Krueger and his work, go to his website: williamkentkrueger.com
© Jerry Peterson.