By William Kent Krueger (narrated by Rich Orlow) – Ordinary Grace: A Novel
(2013) was on many prize-giving organizations’ 2013 “best of” lists and won the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel from Mystery Writers of America. Krueger, known for his Cork O’Connor series, wrote this stand-alone, because he wanted to explore Aeschylus’s seemingly paradoxical notion of God’s “awful grace”—awful in the overworked sense of “awesome,” and started thinking about the characters that would let him do that and the situations they would be in that required the wisdom from that awful grace. The ordinary grace of the title also figures in the story at a key moment.
Because this is not in the tradition of his crime novels and is a coming-of-age story with a crime in it, the novel focuses on a thirteen-year-old boy and his stuttering kid brother. The interactions with the townspeople all seem true, and they are vivid, rounded characters, not necessarily fully admirable. But it’s small-town Minnesota (lots of literary crime in that state in recent years), and nothing about life seems dark or dangerous to these two preacher’s boys until the bodies start showing up, down by the railroad trestle. I felt the rumble of that plot coming a long way down the track, but if the book didn’t offer big surprises, it had a few smaller ones, and was delivered with evident heart. It was refreshing to see boys the reader knows will grow into good men, not deranged serial killers. Narration excellent, especially the characters of Gus and the Sioux, Warren Redstone.
Krueger says he’s a writer “in part because of the scary stories I used to hear around campfires when I was a boy scout.” Readers can thank those dancing flames.