Purgatory ridge, p.1
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       Purgatory Ridge, p.1
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           William Kent Krueger
Purgatory Ridge


  “The Cork O’Connor mysteries are known for their rich characterizations and their complex stories with deep moral and emotional cores. If you don’t know Cork O’Connor, get to know him now.”


  “William Kent Krueger has one of the most fresh and authentic voices in crime fiction.”

  —S. J. Rozan, Edgar Award̵winning author

  “Superior series. Like sweet corn and the state fair, William Kent Krueger’s novels are an annual summer highlight.”

  —Minnesota Monthly


  Winner of the Minnesota Book Award

  “The kind of work that is all too rare in the suspense genre, a book that combines a first-class plot with excellent writing.”

  —The Denver Post

  “Mr. Krueger shows sensitive insight into the conflicts between ancient culture and contemporary economic needs. He has developed a cast with deep feelings and intelligent responses to their surroundings and their fellow humans.”

  —The Dallas Morning News

  “Krueger’s page-turner … opens with a bang…. The plot comes full circle as credibly flawed central characters find resolution.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Krueger keeps us so involved… [that] we get surprised by the devil buried deep in the details. Krueger has come up with a good place, good people, and some decent plotting. Purgatory Ridge is a heck of a place to visit.”

  —Winston-Salem Journal (NC)

  “This is easily the author’s best and most accomplished work to date. I really don’t think William Kent Krueger would mind one bit if I call him ‘the Michael Connelly of the Midwest.’“

  —Deadly Pleasures

  “A terrific read.… Krueger not only tells a cracking good suspense story, but he tells it with deep insight.”

  —T. Jefferson Parker, New York Times bestselling author

  “The suspense in this book is almost painful.… The final pages are the most satisfying I have read in years.… Krueger keeps getting better and better.”

  —Steve Hamilton, Edgar Award–winning author

  More praise for William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor novels


  “One of those hometown heroes you rarely see… someone so decent and true, he might restore his town’s battered faith in the old values.”

  —The New York Times Book Review

  “The atmosphere is as explosive as tinder.… A talented writer, Krueger tells his story from wide-ranging viewpoints.”

  —The Boston Globe

  “Outstanding.… Simply and elegantly told, this sad story of loyalty and honor, corruption and hatred, hauntingly carves utterly convincing characters into the consciousness.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “You can smell the north woods in every chapter.”

  —St. Paul Pioneer Press

  “Krueger keeps readers guessing in this page-turner, and it’s a joy to read his easy prose.”

  —Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)


  “The deftly plotted seventh Cork O’Connor novel represents a return to top form for Anthony-winner Krueger.… The action builds to a violent and satisfying denouement.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “The cast of characters is vivid, the plotting is strong, and O’Connor’s retirement gets off to the kind of start that usually marks the launching of a career. It’s great fun.”

  —Washington Times

  “[Krueger] has a knack for taking us into the woods and losing us in a good story.”

  —Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD)

  “Exciting and gripping.… You will burn through this book, relishing the twists and turns.”


  Also by William Kent Krueger

  Red Knife

  Thunder Bay

  Copper River

  Mercy Falls

  Blood Hollow

  The Devil’s Bed

  Boundary Waters

  Iron Lake




  A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020


  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2001 by William Kent Krueger

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  For information address Atria Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas,

  New York, NY 10020

  This Atria Paperback edition July 2009

  ATRIA PAPERBACK and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  For information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or business@simonandschuster.com.

  The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  ISBN 978-1-4391-5778-7

  eISBN-13: 978-1-4391-2000-2

  For Diane,

  who is the first blessing each morning

  and the final beauty each night,


  for June and Lloyd Peterson,

  who welcomed me as a son


  Cover Page

  Title Page

  Copyright Page


  Author’s Note






















































  This book is fiction. At its heart, however, is a true story.

  On November 29, 1966, while northbound on Lake Huron and making its final passage of the season, the ore freighter Daniel J. Morrell encountered a horrific gale. Battling winds of sixty-five miles per hour and seas with twenty-five-foot waves, the old carrier suddenly broke apart and sank. Of her crew of twenty-nine men, only three managed to make it aboard a small pontoon life raft. Within twelve hours, two of the men were dead, victims of injury and of exposure to both the frigid water of the great lake and air temperatures that hovered around freezing. One man endured. Dressed only in his peacoat and underwear, watchman
Dennis Hale drifted for nearly thirty-six hours before he was spotted by a Coast Guard helicopter and airlifted to a nearby hospital.

  In 1996, Hale published Sole Survivor, his account of the sinking, of his remarkable experiences adrift on that tiny raft in angry water, and of the effect the incident has had on his life since then. It is a book worth reading.

  Of the myriad stories spawned by the infamous November storms that rail over the Great Lakes, the sinking of the Daniel J. Morrell is, in terms of loss of human life, the most tragic. In what it says about human courage and endurance, Dennis Hale’s story must surely be the most inspiring.


  I discovered the heart of this book because of Catherine O’Geay. She shared with me the story of her father, Albert Whoeme, who was among the crew lost in the sinking of the Daniel J. Morrell. Kaye, I owe you much.

  Several good men generously offered me their expertise and advice regarding issues of law enforcement. Thanks to Agent Raymond DiPrima of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; to Supervisory Special Agent Fred Tremper of the Minneapolis Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and to Ken Trunnell, who has many years of experience across many levels of law enforcement.

  I am indebted to Dave Loomis, who described to me in such evocative detail his dives to the wrecks in Lake Superior that I was able to accompany him to the lake bottom several times without ever leaving my armchair.

  My friends and colleagues of Crème de la Crime, who help me enormously in unraveling the mysteries of mystery writing, always deserve special mention. They are Julie Fasciana, Scott Haartman, Betty James, Michael Kac, Jean Miriam Paul, Susan Runholt, Anne B. Webb, and, especially, Carl Brookins, who is our heart and our fire.

  I am blessed with an agent—Jane Jordan Browne—wise in the ways of this complex business. And I am incredibly fortunate to have had in the past year the editorial guidance of Jane Cavolina and George Lucas. Not only are they savvy, but they are charming as well.

  I would be remiss without thanking Megan “Doc” Gunnar for her support and encouragement over the course of many years.

  To the Ojibwe Anishinaabe people, upon whose territory I timorously trespass: I thank you for your generosity of spirit; I envy your rich heritage and traditions; and I admire your perseverance in the face of so much ignorance and intolerance.

  For their generous financial support as I developed as a writer, I would like to thank the McKnight Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and the Minnesota State Arts Board.

  Finally, I am ever so grateful to the St. Clair Broiler, whose neon flame has found a place on the historical registry. From the bottom of my heart, I give thanks to Jim Theros and Elena Vakos, to all the staff who tolerate my long presence every morning and who keep my coffee cup filled, and to the regulars who tell me their stories and tell me I am free to use them.



  ABOVE ALL THINGS in heaven or on earth, John LePere loved his brother. It was a love born the moment he watched Billy slide from between their mother’s legs in the tiny house built in the shadow of Purgatory Ridge.

  His father was dead by then, killed several months earlier while pulling in his fishing nets off Shovel Point. The rudder of his small vessel snapped during a sudden squall and the boat foundered on a shoal two hundred yards from shore. His father didn’t drown—a life vest kept him afloat in the high waves. It was hypothermia that killed him, the icy water of Lake Superior. Eight-year-old John LePere didn’t understand death exactly. Nor did he have time to grieve much, for his mother’s deep grief drove her nearly mad. She retreated into solitude and refused to leave the house at all. After that, it fell to young John LePere to hold things together.

  He was alone with his mother when she went into labor. He begged her to let him get someone to help. She screamed at him, ordering him to stay. For weeks afterward, his arm carried the bruises where she gripped him during her contractions. He was scared, more scared even than when the sheriff’s men had showed up bringing the news about his father. But his fear melted when he saw the purple body that was Billy squeezed from his mother’s womb.

  He laid the baby on his mother’s sweaty bosom, covered them both with a clean sheet, and walked to Beaver Bay two miles north to get help.

  His story appeared in the Duluth News-Tribune. They called him a hero. An Indian hero. People who didn’t know them figured his mother must have been drunk.

  He raised Billy. He taught his brother how to fish, how to throw a baseball and a football, how to fight when he was taunted about his crazy mother or his Indian heritage. As much as he could, he took the blows of life and protected Billy. Even as he suffered, he thanked God for allowing him to be the shield.

  After high school, John LePere was hired as a hand on a Great Lakes ore carrier. His job took him away from Purgatory Cove for long periods, and he was concerned. His mother earned a meager living as a cook in a diner on the north shore highway, but she was a distracted woman who required the care of both boys to keep her together. John hated the thought of this burden falling to Billy alone. But the money LePere earned—most of which he sent home—was good, and as it turned out, Billy did just fine. Whenever LePere returned from a passage, he found the house on the shore of Lake Superior well kept. Billy made repairs when necessary, made sure the refrigerator was stocked, got his mother to work every day on time and home safely. He seemed to grow up quickly, different in many ways from his older brother. He was like their mother, slender and tall, with dark straight hair and dark eyes. He had an easy smile. LePere, on the other hand, was stocky and strong and given to an earnest silence, more like the voyageurs who were his father’s ancestors.

  For five years, LePere worked the ore boat plying the waters of the Great Lakes, and for five years, things seemed fine. Then one morning Billy found their mother floating in the cold water of Purgatory Cove. Whether she’d got there by accident or by choice was never determined, but Billy took it hard. Although her death released her youngest son in one way, it bound him in others—to grief and guilt and remorse. When LePere saw Billy sliding toward the darkness that had swallowed their mother, he invited him aboard the Alfred M. Teasdale for the last passage of the season, a run from Buffalo to Duluth. He hoped the open water and the slow crawl under a late fall sky would bring Billy around.

  The Teasdale entered Lake Superior via the locks at Sault Ste. Marie under clear skies. Since leaving Buffalo, the great ore boat had encountered only good weather. This was rare for November on the Great Lakes, and John LePere, as he went about his duties as a mate, watched the horizon carefully. The Teasdale, oldest of the boats in the Fitzgerald Shipping Company’s ore fleet, was carrying her final cargo. Once she’d been unloaded in Duluth, the crew would sail her back to Detroit to be cut into scrap. LePere, whose responsibility it was to monitor the holds for leakage, knew the end was long overdue.

  On the afternoon of November 16, the Teasdale rounded the Keweenaw Peninsula, that iron-rich finger of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She was making twelve knots against a mild headwind. Within an hour, the barometer began to plunge and the wind to rise. Dark came early, hastened by a bank of charcoalcolored clouds that seemed to materialize out of the lake itself and that quickly ate the sky. The temperature dropped twenty degrees. Bow spray began to freeze on the railings, and the decks were awash in icy slush. Captain Gus Hawley came to the pilothouse to confer with Art Bowdecker, the wheelsman. In her long service, the Teasdale had weathered many Great Lakes gales, and Hawley, captain during the last fifteen years of that service, was not greatly concerned. They were less than ten hours out of Duluth, and Bowdecker was the best wheelsman in the fleet. Captain Hawley gave the order to proceed on course, and he returned to his cabin.

  At eight bells, John LePere completed his watch in the pilothouse with Bowdecker and first mate Orin Grange. Billy was there, too, taking in the talk of the men, getting a lesson from Bowdecker on guiding the huge boat through
rough seas. The bow leaped and plummeted, disappearing for long moments under twelve-foot waves. Along with the bow spray, snow spattered the windows of the pilothouse, making it difficult to see anything. LePere could tell his brother was scared. He himself had never been through a storm as bad as this, but the other two men were old hands. They’d seen plenty of rough seas. If they were concerned at all, they didn’t show it. As he left his watch, LePere offered to go down to the galley and bring back coffee for them all.

  The cold November wind tore at LePere as soon as he stepped outside. He shielded his eyes with his hand and looked aft. The Teasdale was 603 feet from bow to stern. She was carrying a partial cargo, 221 tons of bituminous coal. On a calm day, she was a sight moving across the water, a mammoth creature of ungainly grace, ruler of her domain. As he watched the huge waves slam against her sides and flood her deck, LePere knew her greatness was an illusion. After he’d made coffee in the galley, he timed his return up the ladder to the pilothouse so that he wouldn’t be soaked by the spray of the breaking waves. Even so, water hit him in the face—but it was not the cold spray of the lake. He realized with alarm that the wind was so strong it created a vacuum as it passed over the spout of the pot and was sucking the hot coffee out.

  In the pilothouse, the men were laughing.

  “I’m going below,” John LePere told his brother. “You coming?”

  “Ah, let ‘im stay,” Bowdecker said. “A few more hours and we’re in Duluth. He’s good company, John.”

  LePere could see his brother was flattered. He nodded to Bowdecker. “Just don’t tell him about the Erie whorehouse, okay?”

  Bowdecker smiled, and a gold tooth glinted in the light. “Too late. Already have. You go on and get some sleep. We’ll take good care of Billy.”

  LePere went to the cabin he shared that voyage with his brother and crawled into bed. He read from a book, The Old Man and the Sea. He liked it because it was about a regular guy, a guy who knew big water and was trying to stay true to a few things. The pitching of the boat made it difficult to follow the lines of print, so he didn’t read long. After only a few minutes, he closed his eyes and fell asleep, knowing that when he woke, they would be anchored outside Duluth harbor waiting for permission to enter.

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