Vermilion Drift, by William Kent Krueger ISBN 9781439153840
Five out of five stars
The primary location of this murder mystery is the Native American reservation for the Ojibwe Nation in Northern Minnesota. To the locals, it is simply “the rez.” Corcoran “Cork” O’Connor is a tribal member and the former sheriff of Tamarack County. His father was also a lawman until he was shot and killed in the line of duty trying to rescue an innocent bystander.
Northern Minnesota is iron ore country and the Vermilion Drift is the term for a massive open pit iron mine. The mining site is extremely complex, with massive tunnels deep underground, so many that not even the old-timers can remember all the branches.
The federal government is investigating the possibility of the long-term storage of nuclear waste in the depths of the mine and this has sparked significant local protests. When a spray painted protest sign appears deep in a tunnel, Cork and one of the owners of the mine investigate and discover several bodies, some that have been there for decades. They learn that there is another point of access to the mine tunnels and when he examines the bodies, Cork believes that some of them are from a time long past that is known as “The Vanishings.” Several women had vanished without a trace, all but one from the rez. The outlier was a wealthy woman from the family that owns the mine.
The story is a fairly standard murder mystery with Ojibwe traditions and beliefs melded very well into the unraveling of the tale. There is much “bad medicine,” some of it in human form as well as part of the ambience of various locations. There are some locations in the rez that are extremely isolated, people living without the benefits of electricity or running water far away from others.
Unfortunately for Cork and other members of the Ojibwe Nation, the unraveling of the murders requires the unearthing and exposure of actions and events that many of the elders would prefer remain memories. Despite this, Cork follows his lawman instincts and persists in walking the trail of clues to resolution.
This is a very good book, the writing is exceptional with the clues being unearthed in a logical sequence at a pace that keeps the reader’s interest. The unusual context also adds a unique flavor that enhances the story, for the inclusion of the Ojibwe customs turns the good to great.