Amazon Exclusive: Margaret Coel Reviews Vermilion Drift
Margaret Coel is the New York Times bestselling author of sixteen novels, most recently The Spider’s Web. Her acclaimed Wind River mystery series is set among the Arapahos of Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation and features Jesuit priest Father John O’Malley and Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden. Find out more at www.margaretcoel.com.
Vermilion Drift, William Kent Krueger’s powerful and multi-layered new novel, arrived in my mailbox just as I returned from a vacation in Minnesota’s North Country. From the opening pages, I was back among the forests that go on forever, "capped with clouds and dripping with rainwater," and lakes that mirror the sunsets, studded with white sailboats floating across the horizon. A "melting pot of humanity," Krueger calls the North Country, where faces of the people reflect the distant lands their ancestors left behind for a future working the great mines of the Iron Range. The towns are small and some are dying, but the people are strong and resilient. Nearby is the reservation of the Ojibwes, who claimed the North Country before everyone else arrived.
The complex and engaging Cork O’Connor knows this country by heart. He belongs here. The wooded hills and lakes and open mines bleeding iron are kneaded into his DNA. Part Ojibwe, part Irish, he is what the Arapahos would call one of the "edge people," someone who dwells between two different cultures, moves freely back and forth, and explains one to the other. Once the Tamarack County sheriff, Cork is now a private investigator, mourning the loss of his beloved wife, Jo, and coming to terms with a new phase of life in which his children, grown and on their own, no longer need him. Groping toward a future he can’t quite see, Cork takes on a case that plunges him into the past and forces him to confront the history of his own family.
The Vermilion One Mine, long closed, has become the target of the Department of Energy as a possible storage place for nuclear wastes. Which has set the folks in the North Country at odds with the mine owners. Cork’s heart lies with the Ojibwes leading protests against the further defilement of Grandmother Earth. But when three officials receive notes in blood-red type that say,"We die. U die," he agrees to head up the mine’s security. There is another problem the owner, Max Cavanaugh, asks Cork to handle discretely. Locate his sister, Lauren Cavanaugh, who seems to have disappeared, although the wealthy and philanthropic Lauren has a way of wandering off to places like Paris or New York without bothering to tell anyone.
Cork’s initial fear that Lauren’s disappearance might be related to the heated protests outside the mine’s gates seems confirmed when her body is found in a sealed room inside a tunnel, or drift, deep in the Vermilion One Mine. Buried in the grisly grave alongside the body of Lauren Cavanaugh are the skeletal remains of five other females. Four are Ojibwe girls who had gone missing forty years ago in what is still remembered as "the vanishings." Cork was thirteen years old then, and the horror of the missing girls remains etched in his memory. The fifth victim is Monique Cavanaugh, mother to Max and Lauren, a mercurial woman who had also gone missing then. Cork’s late father was the sheriff at the time. Not only had he failed to find the bodies and solve the murders, it turns out that his gun had been used to kill Monique. Forty years later, the same gun was turned on her daughter.
Now Cork is drawn into an investigation as deep and dark as the mines in the Iron Range as he tries to unravel the connections between homicides separated by four decades. Wherever he turns, he confronts the specters of his own past and the roles his father and he—a thirteen year old boy—may have played in the earlier murders. For most of his life, Cork has enjoyed the kind of peace that comes from forgetting, but it is a peace that sat roughly on his shoulders and fed his nightmares. Before he can figure out why someone wanted Lauren Cavanaugh dead, he knows he must figure out what happened in the past. He also knows that the only way to enter into the past is through memory, and that is the riveting journey Cork embarks upon.
Krueger has written a deceptively intricate novel of suspense and mystery that transcends the mystery genre and, at the same time, grips the reader from the opening pages. He doesn’t flinch from such important themes as the nature of evil and the imperative to stop evil from infecting an entire community. At the heart of Vermilion Drift he plants ideas of justice, and the way justice demands to be served, as well as the idea of reconciliation--between past and present, Ojibwe and white, a son and the memory of his father. The past that Cork uncovers is haunting and tragic, but it is a past that, at long last, can be understood and forgiven.