“Sulfur Springs: A Novel,” by William Kent Krueger, © 2017, Atria, $26.00, 306 pages
Bad news usually starts with a phone call, as every parent knows, but the call that came to the home of retired Tamarack County Sheriff Cork O’Connor was different – the look on Cork’s new wife, Rainy’s, face was clear about that.
In the new book “Sulfur Springs” by New York Times best-selling author William Kent Krueger, the latest in the Cork O’Connor mystery series, the phone call sets off a search that takes the Minnesota lawman to the desert on the Arizona-Mexico border.
She’d received a message from her son, Peter, and though it was staticky and near-unintelligible, two words were plain: “Rodriguez” and “killed.”
Alarmed at the message and the fact that Peter wasn’t answering his phone, Rainy and Cork rushed to Arizona, near the Mexican border where, years before, Peter had spent three months in a tony Arizona rehab center. Once he’d finished treatment, Peter stuck around, got a job, and had been living in the area for some time. But after asking around, Cork discovered that no one claimed to know a Peter Bisonette. Peter’s photo and his physical description drew faux-blank looks, but the local Border Patrol seemed intent on following Cork and Rainy in their search for him.
When Cork began to hear whispers of danger attached to his stepson’s name, and the remote starter on their rental Jeep turned the vehicle into a fireball, he and Rainy knew the whispers were true.
Peter, it appeared, had his mother’s soft heart and had become a “Desert Angel” for illegal immigrants. His presence, therefore and for many reasons, was unwelcome in Sulfur Springs, and finding him – or his body – meant going deep into the desert.
The unforgiving Arizona terrain was nothing like back home in Minnesota. The people in Sulfur Springs were equally unyielding, but Cork couldn’t find Peter without help.
The question was: who could he trust?
“Sulfur Springs” may seem like something different – and it is, mostly.
As a “Cork O’Connor Mystery,” it maintains the aura of Minnesota Nice, 10,000 Lakes, and lush green forests that other novels in this series have. Admittedly, its premise is an otherwise bland-tasting blue-plate special of plot line (illegal immigration and drug smuggling) but here’s the deliciousness: it’s served with a side dish of sand, cactus and nail-biting thriller.
That last part will make fans take notice: the homegrown crook you’ve come to expect is gone, replaced by a bigger, wider web of worse. And author Krueger’s signature character, a widower for many years, is now married, and readers aren’t entirely led to embrace his new wife; she has a dark past that hints of something untold. Even Cork himself has changed with the wedding: he’s edgier and angrier. Harder, even. Everyone feels subtly, urgently, not-quite-comfortable here, and the mood is as prickly as an Arizona cactus because of it.
That leads to a book that’s noose-taut and totally un-let-go-able, a can’t-miss for fans and a new obsession for new readers.
Terri Schlichenmeyer is “The Bookworm.” Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Her self-syndicated book reviews appear in more than 260 newspapers.