John Harris, accompanied by his two grandchildren, Lindsay and Trevor, and a guide, ventured deep into the thick wilderness near the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota, before mysteriously vanishing.
A few days into their camping trip, John and Trevor agreed to a friendly fishing competition. They broke camp and each headed in opposite directions, setting out on Raspberry Lake in their own canoes with nothing but fishing gear and a healthy determination to win.
Trevor came back a few hours later with a mammoth-sized walleye. His grandfather, a wealthy businessman who runs one of the largest construction design companies in the country, never returned.
The remaining trio went about looking for him but only happened across his canoe. Inside was his fishing stuff, but John Harris was nowhere to be found. Even when the Tamarack County Search and Rescue teams led an investigation into his disappearance, nothing turned up. After several weeks, the sheriff’s office called off the search.
John Harris was presumed dead, but his grandchildren weren’t ready to give up hope. With nowhere to turn, the siblings paid a visit to one of their grandpa’s old friends, Cork O’Connor.
Cork, a man who knows all too much about searching for a missing loved one after his wife disappeared many Novembers ago, used to live across the street from John Harris way back in the day. Now his most pressing concern is patching the leaky roof of his burger shack, which sits on the shoreline of Iron Lake, deep in the Northwoods. But when the grandkids of his old friend show up looking for help, he doesn’t have it in him to turn them away.
Cork, a former law enforcement officer who keeps one hand in the cookie jar by working as a private investigator when he’s not flipping burgers, invites Harris’ grandkids inside to talk business. Lindsay and Trevor want to hire him to continue searching for their grandpa, but Cork was part of the search team that already spent weeks looking for Harris to begin with.
So what’s changed? Nothing really. Well, not unless you count the fact that Trevor had a weird dream that was essentially a mashup of Old Testament bible verses and a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. While that’s far from what Cork would consider new evidence, there’s one feeling he just can’t shake.
From the very start of the search, Cork felt like something about Harris’ disappearance was off. It just didn’t add up. If John is, in fact, dead, then where is his body? Divers searched the lake and cadaver-sniffing dogs roamed the woods for miles searching for a corpse with no luck at all. At the same time, there was no indication of foul play.
Cork eventually takes the case but tells the siblings that after they retrace their grandpa’s last known steps, the search will officially be over whether he’s found dead, alive, or not at all. They agree, and the three of them set off for the wilderness.
One of the keys to this book is that everything takes place during the harsh winter month of November in northern Minnesota. For Cork, though, who hates this particular month with a passion, past demons sting nearly as bad as the biting cold winds and frigid temperatures.
Previously, Cork’s wife had gone missing in November. Before that, one of his friends was murdered in November. And long before that, Cork’s father had sustained fatal wounds in the final days of October, only to survive long enough to die on the first day in November.
Yes, Cork O’Connor is a man who hates November, and he’s about to add another reason to his growing list.
Cork, while searching for John Harris, also disappears. Well, he knows where he is, sort of, but nobody else does. It would appear from the outside looking in that the harsh, snowy conditions of the thick woods swallowed up its second victim, but a far greater mystery lays underneath the crusty ice and snow.
To discover the truth about Harris’ disappearance and his own situation, Cork must also learn a few things about himself. First, though, he has to find a way to manage the conditions and stay alive.
Manitou Canyon is a top-notch thriller with a mystery that will chill you to the bone, literally.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. What put it over the top for me, apart from the mystery itself, was William Kent Krueger’s ability to transport the reader to Minnesota’s freezing wilderness. About a third of the way in, without even realizing it, I stopped saying the words in my head as I read along and instead watched everything play out like a movie in my mind.
When it comes to making the reader feel like they’re actually there witnessing whatever is happening, Krueger might be the best thriller author not named Daniel Silva at bringing his pages to life. There are several scenes in particular that are breathtakingly stunning, though I’m perfectly content seeing them from the comfort of my recliner.
While I’ve only read three of Krueger’s books, including Manitou Canyon, I’m completely blown away at his ability to paint such vibrant descriptions on a consistent basis. He literally made me feel like I was wandering around the woods, knee-deep in heavy snow.
While the mystery itself is solid, the story doesn’t have the kind of action you might find in books written by C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, or Ace Atkins. Then again, Krueger proves that you don’t have to set your story out west or down south to deliver a compelling crime novel that takes place in the wilderness.
Instead, this book is a tad more thought-provoking. Cork is searching, and in many ways for himself, both literally and figuratively. That lends to the story nicely, and the pacing is consistent and steady throughout.
Note: Manitou Canyon is the fifteenth book in William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series. While you don’t have to read the previous books to enjoy and understand this one, doing so will provide a better understanding and appreciation for the characters.
Author: William Kent Krueger
Pages: 336 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: September 6, 2016 (Order now!)