Title: Iron Lake
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Being a Minnesotan, it was only a matter of time before I read one of William Kent Krueger's books. After I moved into an apartment just down the street from the St. Clair Broiler where Krueger actually wrote most of his novels until moving to a different part of town just a few years ago, it became even more of an inevitability. Starting with the first of the Cork O'Connor series seemed appropriate.
Two things stuck out and have stayed with me since I finished this book. One is that Krueger is definitely a Minnesotan. The way he writes about the cold, while wildly romanticized in my humble and winter-hating opinion, really got across the idea of how the cold temperatures and snow take on a life of their own and become something of a character unto themselves. There is something beautiful about the vast expanse of a frozen, snow-covered lake...as long as I'm looking at it from a warm spot indoors.
I enjoyed the small town atmosphere of Aurora. As someone who grew up in a town roughly Aurora's size, it's always fun for me to read a book where the author really understands what a small town is. I've read so many books where the authors think small equals less than 100,000 and that doesn't even come close.
The second thing that struck me was Krueger's knowledge of the Anishinaabe people. The culture of the people is woven into the fabric of his plot and several times the reader is treated to a story about their traditions.
I've said in other reviews that there's something about debut and self-published authors that sets their books apart - and not always in a good way - from more established talents. Iron Lake is Krueger's debut and to me that was apparent. I didn't pick up on stereotypes like some other reviewers dwelled on at the expense of any other type of criticism, but then again, I rarely do. I tend to take each story as it is, an entity unto itself. I do have to agree, however, that there was some cliched prose and dialogue, some corny turns of phrase that I'm guessing - given how many more books there are in the series and the fact that Krueger is still writing - work themselves out in the books to come.
I can't say that I was surprised by the ultimate bad guy - I'd figured it to be him early on, but part of that was just me hoping that I'd be right - but I did enjoy peeling back the layers of the mystery as Cork struggled to unfold it. So many people lament that they were able to pick out the guilty party from page one, and in some cases that may be true, but can you tell me why? Sometimes whodunit isn't as nearly as interesting as whytheydunit.
As far as characters are concerned, Cork has a ways to go before he completely wins me over. I liked him fine, but when I pick up the next book in the series it will be for another glimpse back into the world of Aurora, not so much to find out what Cork has been up to. Unfortunately, the character I enjoyed the most didn't make it to the end of the book, so that's too bad. Given how much I disliked Jo and considering what happens to her in the course of the story, I'm very interested to see how things go for her in the next book as well.
Speaking of Cork's ex-wife, I found it interesting how completely other reviewers missed the point when it came to the Jo and Cork's affairs. Some labeled it a double standard, that Jo was vilified for having an affair, while Cork was not. Aside from the obvious fact that Cork is the main character and we're always going to see the story through Cork-colored glasses, that's actually not what happened. Cork wasn't upset with Jo for having the affair, he was upset with her for keeping it a secret, for letting him go for nearly a year thinking that the dissolution of his marriage and family was completely his fault. Cork viewed the situation with his family as something he alone could fix when in reality, both he and Jo had made choices that might have made reconciliation impossible. Jo just didn't see fit to mention that to him and for a guy as depressed as Cork was that little nugget of information would have gone a long way toward healing.
That's how I saw it, at least.