Reviews for The River We Remember

by William Kent Krueger

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Memorial Day (or Decoration Day, as it was still called in 1958) takes on new meaning for the residents of Jewel, Minnesota, when its wealthiest—and least-liked—citizen is murdered and a war veteran is suspected of the crime. The brutish victim, Jimmy Quinn, is found floating in the Alabaster River, shotgunned and chewed up by catfish. Suspicion immediately falls on Noah Bluestone, a veteran who is doubly persecuted for being a Dakota Sioux and married to Kyoko, a Japanese survivor of Nagasaki. The sheriff, Brody Dern, a highly decorated and traumatized war veteran who spent time in a Japanese prison camp, thinks about letting whomever killed Quinn, destroyer of people’s lives, go free. Brody is having a dreamy affair with his brother’s wife while entering into a romance with the proprietor of the local cafe, a war widow with a tainted past and a teenage son with a damaged heart. Also playing a recurring role is the riverside, where a woman’s weeping voice can be heard. In the aptly named Black Earth County, stuffed as it is with current and past incidents of sexual abuse, suicides, racial discrimination, fatal diseases, and “complications of the heart,” there is a lot to weep about. The latest stand-alone novel by the author of the acclaimed This Tender Land (2019) and the Cork O’Connor mysteries has so many people and subplots to keep track of it can’t help losing sight of some of them, including one significant character. Fans of the die-hard Minnesotan author will appreciate his evocation of the landscape and people’s connections to it. But in piercing the notion of an innocent small-town America in the 1950s, he goes way overboard. A grim portrait of lost souls. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Krueger, author of the Cork O’Connor mysteries and recipient of an Edgar Award for his 2013 novel Ordinary Grace, has crafted an absorbing standalone mystery in which he combines nostalgic settings with depictions of the lingering hardships and traumas of war and the home front (including farm labor) in the decade after WWII. Set in 1958 in the fictional town of Jewel, on the banks of the Alabaster River in southern Minnesota, Memorial Day festivities end when the body of the town’s richest and most hated citizen, Jimmy Quinn, is found shot and floating in the river, his clothes and a gun on the riverbank. Sheriff Brody Dern, a WWII vet tortured by guilt about his war experiences, must determine if Jimmy’s death was suicide, accident, or murder. Immediately, suspects abound, but townspeople are quick to blame a Native American man who worked for Jimmy. Krueger constructs a sort of Mayberry noir: the sheriff’s department consists of one room with six cells attached, and a neighbor lady brings home-cooked meals for both the sheriff and the inmates. The narrative shuttles between a longing for this lost time and recognition that postwar America was filled with shattered veterans and war widows.

Publishers Weekly
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Bestseller Krueger (the Cork O’Connor series) delivers a patient, character-driven standalone mystery set in the tight-knit community of Jewel, Minn. On Memorial Day 1958, county sheriff Brody Dern arrives at the banks of the Alabaster River to examine the corpse of James Patrick Quinn, Jewel’s wealthiest and most despised resident. Quinn was blasted in the torso with a shotgun and the river’s aggressive channel catfish have wasted no time making a meal of his flesh. While the cause of his death is clear, the circumstances are not: was it an accident, suicide, or murder? Small-town gossip has pinned the blame on “no-good” Noah Bluestone, a Native American WWII veteran, but Dern isn’t convinced, and he sets out to find the truth while attempting to soothe an angry and frightened public. Krueger uses the mystery of Quinn’s death to set the tale in motion, but it’s merely a jumping-off point to examine “the cantankerous, laconic, bigoted, gentle-hearted, fearful, sheltered, accepting, broken” citizens of Jewel, including a newspaper publisher, a war widow, a female lawyer, and Quinn’s second wife. Each is painstakingly drawn, but their intricate backstories sometimes slow the pace too much. Though Krueger’s fans will appreciate his empathetic portrait of a small town in distress, readers hoping for a vigorous investigation may be disappointed. Agent: Danielle Egan-Miller, Brown & Miller Literary Assoc. (Sept.)