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       The World of Cork O'Connor, p.1
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           William Kent Krueger
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The World of Cork O'Connor

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  More than one million Cork O’Connor novels sold in the United States

  Read in more than sixteen countries around the world

  New York Times Bestseller

  USA Today Bestseller

  Heartland Independent Bestseller

  WINNER Minnesota Book Award

  WINNER Northeastern Minnesota Book Award

  WINNER Dilys Award

  WINNER Lovey Award

  WINNER Anthony Award

  * * *

  “Cork O’Connor . . . is one of those hometown heroes you rarely see . . . anymore—someone so decent and true, he might restore his town’s battered faith in the old values.”

  —New York Times

  “One of today’s automatic buy-today-read-tonight series . . . thoughtful but suspenseful, fast but lasting, contemporary but strangely timeless. Krueger hits the sweet spot every time.”

  —Lee Child

  “Steeped in place, sweetly melancholic in tone, [the series] braids together multiple stories about love, loss, and family.”

  —Laura Lippman

  “A powerful crime writer at the top of his game.”

  —David Morrell

  “There’s a reason why William Kent Krueger is known as a writer’s writer. His stories are works of art, literary wonders that beautifully capture a sense of place while they deliver a powerful emotional punch.”

  —Tess Gerritsen

  “William Kent Krueger can’t write a bad book. . . . Everything you want in a great read: depth, action, and credibility.”

  —Charlaine Harris

  “Solid storytelling and intriguing characterizations combine for a sobering look at the power of family and faith and Native American culture. Krueger never writes the same book twice as each installment finds him delving deeper into Cork’s psyche.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “[A] punch-to-the-gut blend of detective story and investigative fiction . . . as blistering and crucial in its indictments of contemporary evil as The Jungle.”

  —Booklist (starred review)


  “Where do I begin?”

  That’s the question I’m asked most often by readers unfamiliar with my work. When they become aware that there are currently fourteen novels in the Cork O’Connor series, with more to come, they’re understandably a little daunted. I always have an easy answer. I simply tell them to begin at the beginning.

  It seems to me that the best way to approach a reading of the books in the Cork O’Connor series is to think of the entire body of work as the saga of the Cork O’Connor clan. At the heart of every story, of course, is Corcoran Liam O’Connor, the former sheriff of Tamarack County, Minnesota, turned burger-joint owner, turned private investigator. But without his family and his friends as support, without the beauty of the great Northwoods as a backdrop, Cork would exist in a pretty bleak emotional vacuum.

  There are two kinds of protagonists in a mystery series: static and dynamic. A static protagonist is one who never changes, never ages. Think Sherlock Holmes. You read one Holmes story and in every story you read thereafter, the great detective will be exactly the same character you’ve met before. Cork O’Connor is different. He’s a dynamic protagonist. He’s a man who ages, who changes, who is affected in many ways by the things that happen to him across the course of the series. The same is true for his family. When I began to write the manuscript for Iron Lake, the first novel in the series, I saw Cork as someone in his very early forties. Now I’m writing about a man in his midfifties. Readers have watched his children grow up. They’ve seen important characters enter and exit Cork’s life. Those who’ve followed the series from the beginning often tell me that they feel as if they’ve been on a long, intimate journey with Cork and his family, something I love to hear.

  The seed of Cork’s character came to me long before I conceived the first story. This is what I knew: I was going to write about a man who was so resilient that, no matter how far life pushed him down, he would always bob back to the surface. And his name would be Cork. I believed then, and still do, the old saw “Write what you know.” I’m a family man, so I decided Cork would be a family man. I’m married to a blond attorney. So Cork was going to be married to a blond attorney. Many of Cork’s core values—justice, commitment, family—are my own. But Cork is not me. O’Connor, for example, is an Irish name. Krueger is decidedly German. Cork is Roman Catholic. I’m Methodist. Cork has Anishinaabe blood running in his veins. I have no Native heritage. Cork comes from a significant law-enforcement background. I spent a night in jail once. Across the course of the series, Cork and everyone in his family have grown in ways I never could have imagined in the beginning.

  One other character deserves special mention: Henry Meloux. Meloux is Anishinaabe and a member of the Grand Medicine Society. He’s a healer who, at a recent point in the series, reached the century mark. Although he’s very old, he continues in many ways to provide the most vibrant energy in the stories. He’s Cork’s mentor, a man of wisdom, of riddles, of compassion, of courage, of humor. And he sometimes farts a lot. Meloux is one of those gifts that come to writers from another place in their consciousness. I love anticipating composing the scenes in which Meloux will play a part, because I know that these sections will require no rewrite. When I put pen to paper, what Meloux says and does is always exactly what he should say and do. It feels a little like magic.

  Finally, the other two important characters in the stories are the Anishinaabe people from whom Cork is descended, and Minnesota’s great Northwoods. The Anishinaabeg—Ojibwe or Chippewa, as they’re also known—and their culture contribute significantly to the richness and complexity of the stories. And without the rugged beauty, isolation, and mystery of the North Country as setting, the stories would most probably have all the impact of a bubblegum card.

  I love conceiving and writing the tales of Cork O’Connor and his family. I have no intention of stopping. As long as I have someone who’ll publish me and readers who’ll buy my work, I’ll continue my journey as a writer, and Cork and company will continue to stumble upon dead bodies and do their best to find out who dunit.


  Published 1998

  * * *

  When an Ojibwe paperboy goes missing in a snowstorm and a local judge is found murdered, Cork O’Connor, the disgraced former sheriff of Tamarack County, can’t help being drawn into the investigation. While he struggles to understand what connects these two mysterious occurrences, he must also battle to regain his self-respect and fight to hold on to his disintegrating family. This was my multiple-award-winning debut novel, and I believe it’s an excellent introduction to the characters and the setting of the series.

  * * *


  CORK O’CONNOR: Fortyish, disgraced former sheriff of Tamarack County, Minnesota, now owner of a burger joint called Sam’s Place, a man whose life is in a meltdown.

  JO O’CONNOR: Cork’s wife, also fortyish, smart, tough, the first female attorney in Tamarack County; among her clients are the local Ojibwe from the Iron Lake Reservation.

  ROSE MCKENZIE: Jo’s sister, thirtysomething and single, who helps care for the O’Connor children.

  JENNY O’CONNOR: At thirteen
, Cork’s eldest child.

  ANNIE O’CONNOR: Cork’s eleven-year-old middle child.

  STEVIE O’CONNOR: Cork’s only son, five years old.

  MOLLY NURMI: A waitress and Cork’s lover.

  WALLY SCHANNO: Current Tamarack County sheriff, a man with secrets.

  HENRY MELOUX: A very old Ojibwe healer, member of the Grand Medicine Society, and in many ways Cork’s mentor.


  For a week the feeling had been with him, and all week long young Paul LeBeau had been afraid. Of what exactly, he couldn’t say. Whenever he tried to put the finger of his thinking on it, it slipped away like a drop of mercury. But he knew that whatever was coming would be bad, because the feeling was exactly like the terrible waiting had been before his father disappeared. Each day he reached out into the air with all his senses, trying to touch what was coming. So that finally, on that morning in mid-December when the clouds rolled in thick and gray as smoke and the wind screamed over the pines and tamaracks and the snow began falling hard, Paul LeBeau looked out the window of his algebra class and thought hopefully, Maybe it’s only this.

  Shortly after lunch, word of the school closing came down. Students quickly put on their coats and shouldered their book bags, and a few minutes later the yellow buses began to pull away, heading onto roads that threatened to disappear before them.

  Paul left the Aurora Middle School and walked home, pushing into the force of the storm the whole way. He changed his clothes, put on his Sorel boots, took five dollars from the small cashbox on his dresser, and left his mother a note affixed with a butterfly magnet to the refrigerator door. Grabbing his canvas newspaper bag from its hook in the garage, he headed toward his drop box. By two-thirty he was loaded up and ready to go.

  Paul had two paper routes covering nearly two and a half miles. He began with the small business district of Aurora and ended just at the town limits out on North Point Road. At fourteen, he was larger than most boys his age and very strong. If he hustled, he could finish in just under an hour and a half. But he knew this day would be different. The snow had been accumulating at a rate of more than an inch per hour and the bitter wind that swept down out of Canada drifted it fast and deep.

  He took the routes in the time when his father was drinking heavily and his mother needed money. Delivering the papers, especially on days like this that seemed impossible, was a responsibility he took seriously. In truth, he loved the storms. The energy in the wind and the ceaseless force of the drifting snow thrilled him. Where another boy might see only the plodding task ahead of him, Paul saw challenge. He took pride in his ability to battle against these elements, trudging through the drifts, leaning hard into the wind in order to complete the job expected of him.

  He was an Eagle Scout. Order of the Arrow. Member of Troop 135 out of St. Agnes Catholic Church. He had made himself capable in a hundred ways. He could start a fire with flint and steel; hit a bull’s-eye with a target arrow at thirty yards; tie a bowline, a sheepshank, a slipknot; lash together a bridge strong enough to bear the weight of several men. He knew how to treat someone for shock, drowning, cardiac arrest, and sunstroke. He believed seriously in the motto “Be Prepared,” and often as he walked his paper routes, he imagined scenarios of disaster in Aurora that would allow all his secret skills to shine.

  By the time he neared the end of his deliveries, lights had been turned on in the houses along the way. He was tired. His shoulders ached from the weight of the papers and his legs felt leaden from wading through knee-deep drifts. The last house on his route stood at the very end of North Point Road, a pine-covered finger of land that jutted into Iron Lake and was lined with expensive homes. The last and most isolated of the houses belonged to Judge Robert Parrant.

  The judge was an old man with a hard white face, bony hands, and sharp, watchful eyes. Out of fear Paul treated him with great deference. The judge’s paper was always placed securely between the storm door and the heavy wooden front door, safe from the elements. Whenever Paul came monthly to collect for his service, the judge rewarded him with a generous tip and more stories about politics than Paul cared to hear.

  The judge’s house was almost dark, with only the flicker of a fireplace flame illuminating the living room curtains. With the last paper in hand, Paul threaded his way up the long walk between cedars laden with snow. He pulled the storm door open, plowing a little arc in the drift on the porch, and saw that the front door was slightly ajar. Cold air whistled into the house. As he reached out to draw the door closed, he heard the explosion from a heavy firearm discharged inside.

  He edged the door back open. “Judge Parrant?” he called. “Are you all right?” He hesitated a moment, then stepped in.

  Paul had been inside many times before at the judge’s request. He always hated it. The house was a vast two-story affair built of Minnesota sandstone. The interior walls were dark oak, the windows leaded glass. A huge stone fireplace dominated the living room, and the walls there were hung with hunting trophies—the heads of deer and antelope and bear whose sightless eyes seemed to follow Paul whenever the judge asked him in.

  The house smelled of applewood smoke. The sudden pop of sap from a log burning in the fireplace made him jump.

  “Judge Parrant?” he tried again.

  He knew he should probably just leave and close the door behind him. But there had been the shot, and now he felt something in the stillness of the house from which he couldn’t turn, a kind of responsibility. As he stood with the door wide open at his back and the wind blowing through, he glanced down and watched tendrils of snow creep across the bare, polished floor and vine around his boots like something alive. He knew that a terrible thing had happened. He knew it absolutely.

  He might still have turned away and run if he hadn’t seen the blood. It was a dark glistening on the polished hardwood floor at the bottom of the staircase. He walked slowly ahead, knelt, touched the small dark puddle with his fingertips, confirmed the color of it by the firelight. There was a bloody trail leading down the hallway to his left.

  Pictures from the manual for his First Aid merit badge that showed arterial bleeding and how to apply direct pressure or a tourniquet came to his mind. He’d practiced these procedures a hundred times, but never really believing that he’d ever use them. He found himself hoping desperately the judge wasn’t badly hurt, and he panicked just a little at the thought that he might actually have to save a life.

  The blood led him to a closed door where a dim light crept underneath.

  “Judge Parrant?” he said cautiously, leaning close to the door.

  He was reluctant to barge in, but when he finally turned the knob and stood in the threshold, he found a study lined with shelves of books. Along the far wall was a desk of dark wood with a lamp on it. The lamp was switched on but didn’t give much light and the room was heavy with shadows. On the wall directly back of the desk hung a map of Minnesota. Red lines like red rivers ran down the map from red splashes like red lakes. Behind the desk lay an overturned chair, and near the chair lay the judge.

  Although fear reached way down inside him and made his legs go weak, he forced himself to move ahead. As he neared the desk and saw the judge more clearly, he forgot all about the procedures for a tourniquet. There was nowhere to put a tourniquet on a man who was missing most of his head.

  For a moment he couldn’t move. He felt paralyzed, unable to think as he stared down at the raw pieces of the judge’s brain, pink as chunks of fresh watermelon. Paul didn’t even move when he heard the sound at his back, the soft shutting of the door. Finally he managed to turn away from the dead man just in time to see the second thing that night his Scout training could never have prepared him for.

  Published 1999

  * * *

  A beautiful country-western star lost in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness compels Cork O’Connor to begin a desperate search that will lead him on a chase through that vast wilderness along a trail stre
wn with dead bodies. In addition to furthering my own understanding of Cork and his family, I intended this novel as an exploration of pure suspense.

  * * *


  SHILOH: A young country-western star of Ojibwe heritage, missing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

  ARKANSAS WILLIE RAYE: Also a country-western star, stepfather to Shiloh, desperate to enlist Cork’s help in finding his stepdaughter.

  LOUIS TWO KNIVES: An Ojibwe boy who may know how to locate Shiloh.

  STORMY TWO KNIVES: Louis’s angry, protective father.

  BOOKER T. HARRIS: FBI agent tasked with locating Shiloh.


  He was a tough old bird, the redskin. Milwaukee allowed himself the dangerous luxury of admiring the old man fully. He was smart, too. But way too trusting. And that, Milwaukee knew, was his undoing.

  Milwaukee turned away from the Indian and addressed the two men sitting by the campfire. “I can go on, but the Indian’s not going to talk. I can almost guarantee it.”

  “I thought you guaranteed results,” the nervous one said.

  “I’ll get what you want, only it won’t be coming from him.”

  “Go on,” the nervous man said. He squeezed his hands together and jerked his head toward the Indian. “Do it.”

  “Your ball game.” Milwaukee stepped to the campfire and pulled a long beechwood stick from the coals. The end of the stick glowed red, and two licks of flame leaped out on either side like the horns of a devil held in Milwaukee’s hand.

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