William Kent Krueger is one of my favorite Minnesota authors. There are many such authors, both male and female, who write in diverse genres, usually set in Minnesota. As you know, when a book is placed in a location that you’re familiar with, it helps to bring it alive. Krueger basically writes detective stories. The background is often in Minnesota's forested lake country, known as Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Lake Superior or the nearby towns of the Iron Range. In Sulfur Springs Cork O'Connor, Krueger's protagonist and former Sheriff, has a new wife named Rainy. She is an Ojibwe. Cork is partly Indian and mostly Irish. In Sulfur Springs, Rainy’s son calls from Arizona and tells his mom that he has murdered someone, mentions one name and the phone goes dead. Cork, now retired from the detective business, and Rainy rush off to Arizona to help. There they encounter an environment far different from the lakes and woods of northern Minnesota. In this alien environment they find out that her missing son is part of a group(Coyotes) who try to rescue refugees from Guatemala fleeing from wars and extreme poverty, all to seek refuge in America. These families are often left to die waterless and lost in the desert by scammers who take their money and abandon them. Blocking their way, besides the desert, are the beginnings of real walls and barbed wire, border patrols and vigilantes. Besides the vigilantes, there are also the drug traffickers who all have their own reasons for building higher walls, or in the case of the vigilantes and the drug traffickers, killing people. In plain English, the refugees are people crossing through a war zone. The story inside this Krueger's mystery is a tragedy writ large in the place far away from Minnesota. This issue divides our country ever further between the red and blue states of America.
I recently met William Kent Krueger in our town library. The taxpayers of Minnesota passed a legacy amendment referendum raising our state taxes for protection of the environment as well as cultural and art support. Mr. Krueger has visited a number of town libraries because of that referendum. I arrived at the Spring Valley's public library early to speak to our librarian and her aides when through the door the famous New York Times best-selling author arrived to set up for his presentation. I greeted him and we spoke for about 10 minutes. We compared a few notes on both of our living at one point in St. Paul, and I said at the end of his presentation I was going to ask him a question. He then said I should ask him now, and I'm glad I did because after his presentation he was surrounded by fans and people clamoring to buy his most recent yet unpublished book. I said something like this, "Surely you had to know that you would get bad reviews and comments and perhaps even threats for writing about refugees crossing from Mexico into the United States in Sulfur Springs? His answer in a nutshell was to nod his head and say ‘Yes.’ ‘Why,’ I asked and he explained. I can't remember his exact words, but they were what I wanted to hear. He cared. It was an issue that touched him deeply and he needed to write this book. And he did.
His actual presentation, at least for the first half, was quite a surprise. He never mentioned his own books but talked about libraries and books and their great influence on all of us in our early childhood. There were many parents and grandparents in the audience so he spoke of how those early books that our parents read to us had a powerful influence on us for the rest of our lives. He explained and reviewed the impact of Dr. Seuss and other authors like him. The audience even could mimic his words as they anticipated his punchlines. The audience was enthralled. Later he talked about his books and his experiences and how he wrote and what was coming and answered all the questions that his fans wanted to hear about. I didn't ask any more questions and when I left ahead of the crowd, I thank the taxpayers of Minnesota for making this special evening possible and William Kent Krueger for being there. And since then I've finished reading all his books and can tell you, if you love a good detective story, now you'll know where to find quite a few.
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