Bad news usually starts with a phone call. However, the call that came to the home of retired Tamarack County (Minn.) Sheriff Cork O’Connor was different. The look on Cork’s new wife Rainy’s face was chilling. She had received a message from her son, Peter, and though it was garbled it seemed to indicate that he has killed someone named Rodriguez.
It's the opening to William Kent Krueger's fifteenth novel Sulfur Springs in his Cork O’Connor series. If you’re a fan of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series or Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books, then the St. Paul, Minn. author could be right up your alley. Krueger is appearing at the Vero Beach Book Center on Thursday, September 28 at 4 p.m. when he takes the stage for a free live Q&A session followed by a book signing.
Raised in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, Krueger briefly attended Stanford University—before being kicked out for radical activities. After that, he logged timber, worked construction, tried his hand at freelance journalism, and eventually ended up researching child development at the University of Minnesota before becoming a celebrated mystery writer. Literary wonders, his last five books were New York Times bestsellers.
Alarmed at the phone message and the fact that Peter Bisonette, a former Marine, wasn’t answering his phone, Rainy and Cork flew the next morning to Arizona. Cork pieces together that his stepson is being pursued by people who believe he killed someone named Rodriguez. Once addicted to painkillers following combat injuries sustained in Afghanistan, Peter had spent three months at Cadiz in a tony Arizona rehab center. Once he had finished treatment, he stuck around and got a position as a substance abuse counselor at the center before later taking a job at a local winery.
Upon landing in Coronado County, Cork uses the skills he developed and honed over a long career in law enforcement to investigate Peter’s whereabouts. But the deeper he digs into Peter’s past, the more they discover he’s not quite who he’s claimed to be for the past few years.
Cork has trouble grasping the nature of the land near the Mexican border, so different to the lush forests of his native Minnesota. Battling the scorching summer heat, Cork and Rainy follow Peter’s trail to the small town of Sulfur Springs, where he learns that a man named Carlos Rodriguez is the head of a cartel that controls everything illegal crossing the border from Mexico into Coronado County.
Corruption and graft are everywhere, there is a virtual state of war between the law and criminals over control of the border. “Trust no one in Coronado County,” is a refrain they hear again and again.
Peter’s photo and his physical description draw blank looks from locals. No one has much to say. After breakfast one morning at Rosa's Cantina, Cork activates the remote starter on their rental Jeep which turns the vehicle into a fireball.
"I loved the research for this novel, much of which I did in the middle of a ferocious Arizona summer," Kreuger said. "I received help from a great many who call southern Arizona home: members of Los Samaritanos and Humane Borders, whose mission is to give relief to the refugees still streaming into this country; agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol; and many of the local residents who experience the turmoil firsthand."
The Cork O'Connor mystery series has been set in the north woods of Minnesota. Taking Cork out of his element provides a breath of fresh air for the long-running series. Krueger's Ordinary Grace," his stand-alone novel published in 2013, received the Edgar Award given by the Mystery Writers of America in recognition for the best novel published in that year.
As for Sulfur Springs, the way in which the author constructs his characters make them real to us. Although Cork and Rainy take center stage, there are several excellent supporting characters, particularly Sylvester, the old miner and Jocko, the 80 year-old bi-plane pilot. We feel their emotions and truly have a sense of who they are. A special writer who imparts small truths and wisdom that fits the story, Krueger helps us come to terms with relevant issues such as bigotry.
A taut thriller with plenty of twists and surprises, Sulfur Springs is an exhilarating ride with an important message at its heart.
The Vero Beach Book Center is located at 392 21st Street in Vero Beach. For more information call (772) 569-2050 or visit www.verobeachbookcenter.com