THE BOOKWORM: New Cork O’Connor mystery provides a nice change

“Heaven’s Keep” by William Kent Krueger, c. 2009, Atria Books, $25.00, 336 pages.

Pucker up. Gimme a hug. I love you.

What do you do when you say goodbye to a friend or loved one, even for a few hours? Do you exchange a quick kiss, knowing that you’ll be together again shortly? Do you bump foreheads, knuckles or shoulders as a warm way of farewell? Or do you say “g’bye” and leave without a thought or a look behind?

Corcoran “Cork” O’Connor will forever regret what happened when his wife, Jo, left. In the new book “Heaven’s Keep” by William Kent Krueger, he wishes he could take it all back.

A hundred times a week, O’Connor imagines what her last day on Earth was like. Jo was on her way to a conference in Seattle, her briefcase full of recommendations on government oversight for Indian gaming casinos. She was flying there with friends and new acquaintances. And Cork hoped she wasn’t still angry with him in the aftermath of an argument.

He would always wonder.

The plane went down in a snowstorm over the Wyoming Rockies, an area filled with gullies and peaks, arroyos and canyons. Local police thought they knew where the plane had gone down, but long searches indicated no trace of it anywhere. They’d have to wait until the snow melted and search again.

Cork mourned and postulated, but never forgot for a minute. In the meantime, he did his best to raise his 13-year-old son Stephen, who was fast becoming a man. He became a go-between for the wives who lost their husbands in the plane crash that also took Jo. And he forged a strong friendship with the man whose company started the argument Cork had with Jo all those months ago.

But as winter turned to spring back in Minnesota, Cork had two unlikely visitors: the widow of the plane’s pilot and her lawyer-friend came to Cork with strong suspicions. Becca Bodine was sure her husband wasn’t behind the plane’s controls. He wasn’t the cause of the crash.

If Bodine wasn’t flying the plane, who was? Were the Wyoming police and the Arapaho hiding something – or someone? And who – in two states – wanted Cork to stop looking?

Sometimes, when you get hold of a good mystery, it’s natural to think you’ve got it solved before the killer is revealed.

You can forget all about that here.

Krueger doesn’t insult his readers with early transparency, which makes “Heaven’s Keep” a good, solid novel. Stepping from his usual setting of Way North Minnesota and into Way Remote Wyoming is new ground for Krueger and it’s a nice, satisfying stretch. Fans of past Cork O’Connor novels will be happy to see many old friends in these pages and readers unfamiliar with the series will find a new favorite author.

If you’re used to ho-hum mysteries that reveal too much, too soon, and you’re tired of knowing by mid-book whodunit, you’ll find something very different (and very pleasant) here. Pick up “Heaven’s Keep” and happily kiss a few evenings goodbye.

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