I love me some William Kent Krueger, especially when he publishes a standalone (because my anxiety riddled brain has a hard time keeping up with a series.) His latest book is out today (9/5/23,) The River We Remember, and it was the perfect book to read while I spent a few days away with my family at a cabin in central Minnesota. I love how Krueger's books combine historical fiction with a suspenseful plot, set in small, rural Minnesota towns. The River We Remember encompasses all of this, as well as history's racism and bigotry towards the indigenous communities. In true WKK style, it is beautifully written, with rich characters, a vivid sense of place and a dramatic plot that keeps you turning the pages.
On Memorial Day weekend 1958, in the rural town of Jewel, Minnesota, one of the town's wealthiest and least liked resident is found dead in the local river. Sheriff Brody Dern is tasked with investigating the potential murder and soon the people of Jewel begin to point fingers at the town 'outsiders', Native American WWII veteran Noah Bluestone and his Japanese American wife.
The reader is immediately thrown into the action within the first few pages with the 'whodunnit' mystery unraveling throughout the chapters. What sets The River We Remember apart from Krueger's other standalones is that this one is more of a police procedural and follows Sheriff Brody Dern, a highly decorated war hero who investigates Jimmy Quinn's murder. Dern is a complex character. It is clear he holds unresolved trauma from his time in military service and much of that plays out into how he is as a sheriff of Jewel. Jimmy Quinn was not well liked in the community and there are a number of people who have wished him ill will over the years, so part of Dern wants to preserve whoever is at fault, while another part wants the crime to quietly go away. When someone so hated dies, isn't the town better off?
What I love about Krueger's writing is he brings attention to small town mid-century America, while also bringing light to parts of history that are swept under the rug. Noah Bluestone and his wife represent marginalized communities that were tortured, killed and still face discrimination to this day. They are the easy culprits when the town of Jewel wants someone to hang for this crime, but they both stand up for themselves and for what is right. This is not an unfamiliar story. When something happens, especially in a small town or community, people look for someone to blame. And that person is often someone who doesn't look like them. Noah and his wife know this and almost expect it, yet they don't back down from what is right.
If I had to rank this book with his others, I think that This Tender Land still reigns supreme for me, but The River We Remember rivals Ordinary Grace for second place.
Other Books by William Kent Krueger:
Ordinary Grace (click the title link to read the full review)
This Tender Land (click the title link to read the full review)