Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger is a prequel to his multi-volume series with central character, Cork O’Connor. The setting is the small town of Aurora, Minnesota, near the shores of Iron Lake, in the summer of 1963 when Cork is a 12-year-old boy. His father, Liam O’Connor, is the sheriff of Aurora, a position that Cork will eventually hold. In this summer of just doing things with friends, Cork comes upon the body of a man he looked up to hanging from a tree in an old logging camp. Cork’s father has to confirm that the death is a suicide which is where the evidence points, but Cork is convinced that his friend would never take his own life.
Nearby is the community of Allouette, one of two on the Iron Lake Reservation. The people on the reservation are the Anishinaabe (also called Ojibwe or sometimes Chippewa) which means First People. Law enforcement for the reservation is the responsibility of the Tamarack County sheriff, at this time, Liam O’Connor. Public Law 280 “gave sovereign Native people the right to choose…[who] would have jurisdiction in criminal matters,” and they had chosen the Tamarack Sheriff’s Department. However, when Liam goes to the reservation to ask questions, he is met with silence.
Against his father’s admonitions, Cork decides that he is going to do his own investigation to prove that his friend, John Manydeeds would never have killed himself. At one point when he is leaving the reservation, he decides to go to the mission where John will be buried. Cork pulls aside the tarp covering the gravesite and wonders about things he has been told about death and what happens after, questioning both the “…Ojibwe belief in the soul walking a path to a better place, and …the Christian view of heaven…maybe everything he’d been told about death and what came after was no better than a fairy tale.” While he is pondering these things, he notices something in the corner of the grave. It is a small pink square of paper with one word inside – Goodbye. However, it smells strongly of perfume, a scent that will prove to be significant.
I’ve appreciated in all of Krueger’s books that I’ve read that he manages to include history and a strong sense of place. I never knew about Public Law 280 which seems to offer a small bit of choice about their own governance when issues can’t be resolved or handled within the tribe. Krueger manages to do this seamlessly so that it adds to rather than interrupts the flow of the story.
If you haven’t read any of the Cork O’Connor mysteries, this might be a good place to begin. I also recommend his stand alone novels, Ordinary Grace and This Tender Land.
Lightning Strike is published in hardcover by Atria Books and retails for $27.