A story for our times: mystery, faith, and family.

William Kent Krueger’s ORDINARY GRACE:

Krueger delights those readers who pine for literature in a very fast book market, but the author of some fourteen mysteries does not displease the mystery/crime base he has spent years entertaining in his latest, ORDINARY GRACE.

The novel is a coming of age story—a tough trial for Frank Drum, our narrator, just thirteen—it is certainly a mystery, and it qualifies as a literary work in particular for its timely and pervasive examination of faith and of faith under fire.

Frank Drum’s transformation from child to young adult occurs over not more than two months of a summer marked by four deaths, several close to home in distance and relationship. Shut out by the adults surrounding him, seen as too young to be told all, Frank accompanied by his younger brother, Jake, probes and peeks for clues and for truth, trying to make sense of sudden death, natural passing, suicide, and murder. He emerges a changed young man.

Questions abound. What really happened to young Bobby Cole? Did the Sioux “troublemaker,” Warren Redstone have something to do with the itinerant’s death or the drowning of a teenage girl? Why are local ne’er-do-wells focusing on Frank and his family? How can a youngster defend himself against them? What drives the secrecy of New Bremen’s first family? Far from just a who-done-it, questions of why and what happens to the people near these deaths run deep through Frank’s investigations. Frank’s tender heart goes on trial at times but survives the brutality that surrounds him.

Nathan Drum, Frank’s Methodist minister father, fords turbulent waters with the family through its tribulations, proving to be an unusual and towering figure of kindliness, patience, and faith. His faith derives from experience— Gus, a war buddy and church janitor, calls Nathan, Captain—and serves not only to guide the family, the people of the congregations he serves, and the town through deadly damage but also does so in soft-edged, charitable way. Nathan exhibits what the town needs: firm faith far from the hard line judgment often associated, especially nowadays, with the deeply religious.

Frank’s father compares quite favorably with Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, and may be a greater figure, as Nathan weathers storms far more difficult and trying than does Atticus. Reverend Drum’s sermon on faith, hope, and charity (love in this book) is deep and moving. His grace in the face of prejudice and righteous anger is exceeded only by his patience and insistence on talking things out. Krueger has created a saintly character, who emerges simply a human doing good.

The story grows very dark at times, confronts the wayward human heart, and remains in its fullness, quite optimistic, almost a miracle. In that way it is truly a Minnesota story.


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