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Iron Lake    by William Kent Krueger order for
Iron Lake
by William Kent Krueger
Order:  USA  Can
Atria, 2009 (1998)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Iron Lake, the first book in William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Conner series, won the Anthony Award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel. Corcoran 'Cork' O'Connor is part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian. Previously a cop on Chicago's South Side, he and his lawyer wife Jo (along with their three children) relocated to Aurora, his hometown in northern Minnesota.

A Prologue to the novel shows Cork as a grieving teenager just after his father's death, hunting bear with his father's friend Sam Winter Moon. Sam tells him about the Windigo, 'an ogre with a heart of ice ... a cold and hungry thing', explaining that the only way to destroy it is 'to become a Windigo too', but at high risk 'Of staying a Windigo forever.'

As the story opens, Cork is living apart from his wife Jo (an attorney who advocates for tribal rights) and children - at Jo's request. He lost his job as sheriff after a debacle of a confrontation between his mother's people and local resort owners over fishing rights on Iron Lake, in which Sam Winter Moon was shot and Cork killed the shooter. Now he runs the burger joint he inherited from Sam, and enjoys a relationship with lovely waitress Molly Nurmi, despite desperately wanting his family back.

Cork encounters Anishinaabe medicine man Henry Meloux, who warns of the presence of a Windigo. Then he's called by Darla LeBeau, whose son Paul has not returned from his newspaper delivery route. When Cork finds Judge Robert Parrant (whose son Sandy is a new Senator with ambitions for higher office) dead (an apparent suicide) on the boy's last stop, he's concerned for Paul's safety.

The thrilling plot evolves to enfold an Indian casino, a paramilitary group, blackmail, murder, and a ruthless individual with a heart as icy cold as the Windigo's. Krueger pens characters with depth and credibility - Cork's awkward relationship with his daughter Jenny (badly hurt by her parents' separation) is particularly touching, as is his difficulty in choosing between his family and a new love. Iron Lake is an excellent start to a highly recommended series that's rich in atmosphere - both of the Minnesota winter and of tribal beliefs.

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