There are some notable differences in William Kent Krueger’s latest book in the Cork O’Connor series, “Fox Creek.”
His readers are familiar with Cork, the Irish-Anishinabe private investigator; his family members, including wife Rainy and son Stephen and his long-time friend, Henry, an Anishinabe elder who is also a Mede, a healer.
Although Cork is usually at the forefront of each book in the series, “Fox Creek” is Henry’s story.
“It’s really Henry’s book, although he is not the one speaking,” Krueger said in a recent interview. “Four years ago, the O’Connor series was contemporary setting. Last year’s book was a prequel set in the 1960s. The last contemporary novel in 2019 left Henry in a precarious situation. Both he and Stephen had envisioned his death. I had to think about what I would do with that.”
Krueger said this book needed to focus on Henry, but he had never told a story from Henry’s perspective. To do that, Krueger uses other characters to unfold the mystery and describe their connections to Henry.
“I would like to tell you I made that conscious decision,” Krueger said. “Typically, I do a Cork O’Connor story with as much decision as I can. But with this story, I waded into it not having any idea where it was going to go. I wrote as Cork. Then it wasn’t time to be Cork anymore, so I thought it was time to write as Rainy. Then it was time to be Stephen, and then another character, the Wolf. And that’s how the story came to be.”
Krueger said that as he was writing this book, he had no idea what was going on. He said there was something important one of the characters has, and he wondered why she was being chased. “I wanted to do something different,” he said, and he determined an issue.
This latest book is also different in that it is told in the present tense. “I have never done that before,” Krueger said. “I try to challenge myself in some way with every book. I want to be engaged. If I am engaged, the reader will be engaged.”
Krueger said that 19 books in, some critics have said this is his best Cork O’Connor. “I’m not sure I agree, but it is nice to hear readers are not getting tired, that the series is still fresh and I can surprise readers.”
He provides O’Connor fans with certain elements that are familiar: Cork, Henry, the Anishinabe culture, the house on Gooseberry Lane, Sam’s Place. “I like offering the readers those things they will expect and will give them some comfort, then giving them a bit of an edge, so the comfort isn’t quite there anymore. In the end I try to bring them back to that.”
Krueger keeps his chapters short, which he said is a very thrilleresque technique. He often leaves a situation hanging at the end of a chapter, with the reader clamoring for more. “We call that a hook and pull in the business. But you try to find creative ways of doing it. You can’t always do a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. With this story structure, we can leave some things up in the air for a while, then come back to it. That’s fine.”
One of Krueger’s favorite authors is Ernest Hemingway. “What Hemingway didn’t say was often as important as what he said,” Krueger noted. “I’m not as good at that as Hemingway was.”
Krueger said he offers his readers a little bit more. “In the mystery genre, I have to suggest a lot. Hemingway didn’t do that. Mystery readers are very smart, and I have to give them a little more. You’ve got to trust your readers’ intelligence. They love a good puzzle.
“Mystery readers expect mystery writers to give them everything a literary writer would: dynamic characters, believable relationships, powerful language and a puzzle that will keep them guessing. And at the end, the story has to come together in a way that is believable and emotionally satisfying. That is hard to pull off,” Krueger said.
He has been a storyteller for a long time now, and he writes profoundly of a sense of place, offering vivid descriptions. “I try to get all the sensual details that make a place come alive for a reader,” Krueger explained. “I don’t think a lot about that any more, it comes to me. I have been up to the North Country so many times, I can typically conjure up a place and write about it. That helps a lot.”
Aurora, the town, and Tamarack County are fictional places in his series. “There is a real town, Aurora, in Minnesota but it is not mine,” he said. “I wanted to create a town that would feel authentic but not so you could identify it. So I created my own Aurora, and I get letters from readers saying I did a good job.”
His books all require a lot of research, and “Fox Creek” is no exception. He has changed his writing method a bit, though. He always wrote in coffee shops.
“During the pandemic, I gave up the coffee shop and started writing at home. I was a little uncertain because the coffee shop was magic. But you know, it works [to write from home].”
Krueger continues to write every day, even when he is on a book tour. “If you are separated from a project for a while, you have to spend some time recapturing that energy. I don’t like that,” he said.
Krueger has two more books in the O’Connor series under contract, and he is publishing his third stand alone novel next year.
“The River We Remember,” like his other stand alone books, “Ordinary Grace” and “This Tender Land” is set in southern Minnesota. The book’s time period is in 1958 and has a lot to do with veterans who came back from Korea. “It’s a mystery, but focuses on Korean veterans,” he said.
Meanwhile, “Fox Creek” has reached No. 5 on the New York Times best seller list and is currently the book most put on reserve by library patrons, according to the Library Journal.
Krueger said he is even more excited with writing now than when he was stumbling his way through his first books. “I still want to have that feeling that I am entering territory that will be difficult for me to travel because of the nature of the story,” he said. “I don’t want to retire from being a dynamic storyteller. I feel like I am growing, and I want to keep growing.”
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