Thunder Bay, by William Kent Krueger

September 26, 2008 at 6:30 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

William Kent Krueger’s Corcoran O’Connor mysteries take place in the region of northern Minnesota known as the Iron Range. “Cork” O’Connor is a retired sheriff married to Jo, a lawyer. He has a private investigator’s license and also runs Sam’s Place, an eatery he inherited from an old friend of his father’s. Two teen-age daughters are often on hand to help with the cooking and serving; Cork and Jo also have a younger son, Stevie.

In this land of lakes and boreal forests, there remains a strong Native American presence, the Ojibwe being predominant. One member of this tribe is Henry Meloux, an elderly man who lives alone in a cabin he built himself. When Henry is taken ill, he asks Cork, a valued friend of long standing, to journey north to Canada with him to search for his long lost son. His sudden illness has rendered the matter urgent.

Cork is dumbfounded by this request, having had no idea of the existence of this offspring. He strikes a deal with Henry Meloux: tell me all about it, and I’ll help you in any way that I can. And so, in story-within-a-story format, the reader is taken back to the 1920’s, to a time when Henry was a youth. His tumultuous tale encompasses greed, a power struggle, more than one death – and a great and passionate love. And throughout, we are witness to the searing contempt with which many whites viewed this country’s native peoples.

William Kent Krueger, on the other hand, views the Ojibwe with respect and affection. In this, he reminded me of Tony Hillerman and his riveting portrayal of the Navajo Nation in the long running series featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn.

In this passage, Henry Meloux, in a dreamlike state, has a frightening encounter:

“The figure walked toward him. As it came, it grew, taking on huge dimensions. The head became a ragged growth of shaggy hair. The fingers grew into long claws. Through the white gauze of snow, the eyes glowed red as hot coals. Henry realized that what was coming for him was not a man but a windigo, the mythic beast out of the horror stories of his childhood, a cannibal giant with a heart of ice. He turned and tried to run, but he could not move his legs. He looked back. The beast was almost upon him. Henry tried to cry out. His jaw locked in place, and only a terrified moan escaped. The foul smell of the windigo–the stench of rotted meat–was all around him. He saw the great mouth open, revealing teeth like a row of bloody knives. The beast reached for him. Henry tensed and cringed, prepared to be torn apart.

What happens next? Read Thunder Bay to find out!

William Kent Krueger

William Kent Krueger

[Addendum: Thunder Bay is one of five titles nominated for the Anthony Award for Best Novel of 2008.]


  1. Cliff Burns said,

    I enjoy mysteries set in a northern location. James Crumley’s mysteries are often set in Montana and adjoining states. And good on Mr. Kreuger for nabbing a blurb from Michael Connelly. That’s a heck of a boost…

  2. The year in Mystery: Favorites, Group One, Part One « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Thunder Bay by William Krueger. Krueger was one of several people that I missed seeing at Bouchercon (so many authors/ reviewers/editors, so little time). This book was nominated for an Anthony but lost to Laura Lippman’s What the Dead Know. Lippman’s novel was outstanding, to be sure, but in this contest,  I was rooting for Thunder Bay. More readers need to become familiar with Krueger’s fine work. His books are set in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota, and his sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans (in this case, the Ojibwe) calls to mind the work of the late, greatly lamented Tony Hillerman. Tony Hillerman, May 27, 1925 – October 26, 2008 […]

  3. “Dead men don’t tell tales, but I always expect them to pop up and tell me it had all been a big joke. In thirty years of law enforcement, I had been deeply disappointed” – The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson « Books to the Ceilin said,

    […] ordeal by blizzard reminded me of William Kent Krueger’s vivid description of the windigo in Thunder Bay. Both Johnson and Krueger are authors to turn to for those (like myself) who still miss the late […]

  4. Books to talk about – a personal view « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Policeman – Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Hit Parade and Hit and Run – Lawrence Block Thunder Bay – William Kent Krueger The Demon of Dakar – Kjell Eriksson Brat Farrar and The […]

  5. A tale of two bookstores, with a digression concerning Maryland’s Eastern Shore « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] I thought Thunder Bay was outstanding, and because Marge gave a particularly compelling book talk on this title at a […]

  6. Angie Boyter said,

    Is this a series one needs to read in order? I see Tamarack County as a Kindle Daily Deal, but I haven’t read the others. Ordinary Grace was so good that I’ve been wanting to read this series.

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