Manitou Canyon
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books
Release Date:  September 6, 2016
ISBN 978-1-4767-4926-6

Cork O’Connor, former sheriff and now private investigator in the North Woods of Minnesota sure has longevity; well, for a literary character. Manitou Canyon is the 15th book in the Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger, and if it’s any indication, although Cork himself is “getting along” in years, he’s still a long ways from turning it in.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Manitou Canyon is only the forth book in the series that I’ve read, and to be honest, I was a bit disappointed in the previous installment, Windigo Island. But boy, oh boy, in Manitou Canyon, Cork – and author William Kent Krueger – is back with a vengeance.

John Harris, the head of one of the country’s largest construction design firms, has disappeared without a trace during a fishing trip on remote Raspberry Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. After a thorough and exhaustive effort, local law enforcement has called off the search due to a lack of evidence and impending onset of winter. But Harris’s grandchildren, who were with him during the trip to the BWCA, are not ready to give up the search. They hire Cork O’Connor, well known investigator and northwoodsman – and boyhood friend of the missing man – to make one last attempt in unraveling the mystery.

Little do they know that the moment Cork, accompanied by Lindsay Harris, steps foot on the shores of Raspberry Lake, he’s a marked man.

There is a lot familiar in Manitou Canyon, for those who have read previous Cork O’Connor books: the appreciation of the outdoors, the Native American influence (Cork’s mother was Ojibwe), Cork’s grown children, the elder Ojibwe mide (healer) Henry Meloux and his niece, Rainy (also Cork’s love interest). They are part of the continuing narrative, easy to pick up for those new to the story.

But what feels fresh in this novel is the intimacy of a man’s relationship with nature, its beauty and its danger. Yes, this is a theme of all the Cork O’Connor books, but unlike the other books of the series I have read, the North Woods are not just an interactive setting but a vehicle that drives the action. And William Kent Krueger uses it so beautifully, reverent but not cloying, appreciative but careful, aware but apart, and building powerfully throughout the narrative.

Much of the book is taken with Cork and Lindsay’s ordeal, but it grows and broadens from there as the mystery of John Harris’ disappearance starts to coalesce. There are side stories that are bound into the central narrative and as with most mysteries, twists and turns and questions that only lead to more questions until all becomes clear, but at what cost? The territory may be familiar, but author Krueger is a master at leading us through that landscape, and he is also adept at nuancing the characters that inhabit it. We as readers may congratulate ourselves at being able to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together early, but that merely helps to lead us on.

I will admit to being a little frustrated that every character in Cork’s world seems to be exceptionally intuitive, or exceptionally wise, or exceptionally something. I found myself pining for someone ordinary, someone petty or mundane. But that’s a piddling thing.

Cork himself struggles in Manitou Canyon, not just with the environment and the situation in which he finds himself, but also in the bleakness of November, a month that has ushered in not only the harshness of the northern winter but also many past tragedies that have befallen him in his life. As we all transition into the downturn of our own season, we feel akin to him and his musings, and the lessons he learns about self, about family, about perseverance, ring hopeful. And this, perhaps, is the most extraordinary thing about Manitou Canyon:  that despite the hardships ahead and the trials we must face, we can still always find our way home to those we love.

~ Sharon Browning

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