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“Sulfur Springs: A Novel”

By William Kent Krueger

c. 2017, Atria

$26, $35 Canada; 306 pages

There’s no such thing as a vacation. Not for you, anyway. You can’t escape work: even when you’re off the clock, you’re on the job, thinking about projects, heading off problems, solving conundrums or, in the new book “Sulfur Springs” by William Kent Krueger, solving crimes.

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. 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 inquiring, 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.

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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. Furthermore, author William Kent 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. Skip “Sulfur Springs?” There’s no such thing.

“Finding Gobi : The True Story of One Little Dog’s Big Journey”

By Dion Leonard

c. 2017, Tommy Nelson/HarperCollins

$14.99 / $18.50 Canada; 208 pages

Sometimes, it’s fun to just run. It’s fun to get your legs pumping, to pound feet on pavement, and pump your arms until your head clears. The faster you go, the better it gets and that can make you really happy. And, as in the new book, “Finding Gobi ” by Dion Leonard, if you’re lucky, it can also make you a new best friend.

Dion Leonard loved to run. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel like he was good at it anymore. Not long ago, he’d hurt his leg and, much as he wanted to get back into marathon running, it wasn’t easy. Still, he’d signed up to run 70 miles through China. Maybe that old joy would return.

And then Dion saw the dog.

She was kind of scruffy, with a funny-looking tail and hair around her nose that made her look like she had a beard. He patted her and sent her off but when the race started, she started running right next to him! Dion didn’t give the dog much thought, but she paced him until that night at runner’s camp, then she curled up next to him in his tent.

The next day, the little dog ran alongside Dion, up rocks and across sand. She never got tired, and he started to like having this companion on the marathon. At the end of the day, he made arrangements to get her across the most dangerous part of the race; those little paws simply wouldn’t be able to make it across the Gobi desert. Gobi.

There. The dog had a name. By the end of the marathon, in which Dion did exceptionally well, he had fallen in love with the little brown dog and vowed to take her home to Scotland with him. That, he quickly learned, was easier said than done: there was yards of paperwork, all kinds of tests, quarantine, and several airplane rides - but those wasn’t the hardest parts.

Someone, it seemed, wanted to make a profit off Dion’s quest to bring his dog home. And others didn’t want his dog around at all.

Hand your child this book, and she may immediately know that its ending won’t be sad. The outcome is practically on the front cover – and yet, “Finding Gobi” is too charming to pass by.

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Who can resist a tale of determination against all odds, cost, and logistics, when it comes to the love of a dog? Few could, that’s for sure, but be prepared for the questions that this child’s version of a grown-up book will launch: author Dion Leonard writes subtly of his own issues at the beginning of the race, of a non-dog-loving culture, and of fame that turns strangely threatening. Because this is a young readers edition, full explanations may go lacking; also, language may be pretty advanced.

The best solution to those issues is to read “Finding Gobi” along with your 8-to-12-year-old. You won’t be sorry. As much as you love your dog, you’ll “get” this book, so make a run on it.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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