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More murder, intrigue in Krueger's fifth novel

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"Mercy Falls" by William Kent Krueger; Atria Books ($24)


Cork O'Connor deals with murder and his wife's former lover in William Kent Krueger's thriller, "Mercy Falls," fifth in the series featuring a sheriff in the northern Minnesota community of Aurora.

The story opens with a shocker: O'Connor's wife, Jo, wakes up in a mansion and finds her husband standing in a doorway with a gun in his hand. What has he done?

How the couple got to this point is told in a flashback that makes up most of the book.

It begins with Cork and his deputy called to a domestic disturbance on the nearby Ojibwe reservation to settle what they think is a routine dispute. But then someone shoots the deputy, wounding her. The supposedly feuding couple isn't there, but their dogs are dead, and Cork soon realizes this was a trap, and he was the real target.

Then, the mutilated body of Chicago businessman Eddie Jacoby is found above the waters of Mercy Falls. Eddie is a sleazy womanizer who's in the area to negotiate a contract between his management firm and the local Indian casino. Turns out Eddie's father is rich, and he wants his son's killer caught. So he hires tough private investigator Dina Willner to work with Cork.

Cork is attracted to the beautiful Dina, and then he discovers another old attraction: His wife once had a relationship with Eddie's brother, who turns up in Aurora.

Clues in all this violence lead Cork to suspect Stone, a loner who lives in a remote cabin. In a climatic trip into the Boundary Waters, Cork pursues Stone with the help of his mentor, Henry Meloux, an Indian who's a member of the Grand Medicine society. Cork is part Anishinaabe, and he respects the old man's knowledge of the northern woods and lakes, as well as his understanding that Stone is "like a Windigo," the cannibal giant with a heart of ice in Anishinaabe myth.

The Windigo returns whenever it wishes, and in the end, Cork's adversary may do the same in the next book.

What makes this series work so well is Krueger's ability to write flesh-and-blood characters. Cork and Jo don't always get along; at one point, they were separated. We also learn more about Jo's life before she married Cork. And Dina Willner is especially intriguing because the reader is never sure what her motives are or where her loyalties really lie.

Krueger is also respectful of Indians and their beliefs when he writes about Henry Meloux, whom he never romanticizes.


(c) 2005, St. Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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