The Bookworm: Old-school mystery and high school clicks

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Desolation Mountain”

  • By William Kent Krueger
  • c. 2018, Atria  
  • $26, $35 Canada; 231 pages

The dream is one you’ll never forget. It’s dark, and scary, and it wakes you with pounding heart and dry mouth, a scream on your lips as your eyes slam open. It makes you afraid to go back to sleep. Like most dreams, it doesn’t make any sense. And, as in the new thriller “Desolation Mountain” by William Kent Krueger, it keeps coming back.

"Desolation Mountain" by William Kent Krueger.

That’s how it happened with Stephen O’Connor. The dream came to him, sometimes many times in a week: a boy who was him-not-him shot an eagle from the sky before seeing something so malevolent, so terrifying, that it woke Stephen violently. It was a vision, he was certain but even his Mide, Henry Meloux, couldn’t help him sort it out.

Cork O’Connor knew that this vision was bothering his son. Stephen just wasn’t himself, but he was a man now. Stephen would ask for help when he needed it – so, for now, Cork turned his attention to other matters.

A large corporation was trying to gain the rights to minerals and ores beneath “the rez,” and Tamarack County was split between the Ojibwe Indians who wanted the land left untouched, and local men who wanted better jobs. Tensions were high, and Minnesota Senator Olivia McCarthy was on her way to speak to the people of Tamarack County about the issue and to gain some insight.

"Desolation Mountain" author William Kent Krueger.

But it never happened. Senator McCarthy’s plane went down in the pines near Desolation Mountain. There were no survivors.

But nothing about this crash made any sense. Some claimed that there was no “black box,” but Cork knew better. Then people in the community started to disappear, pet dogs were found shot, a woman was killed, and roads were blocked off by officials who didn’t act very official. And when a face from Cork O’Connor’s past showed up in Tamarack County, Stephen O’Connor’s vision-dream intensified …

Used to be that Cork O’Connor novels leaned more toward the mystery side of the genre. There was a crime, and it was solved before you shut the book’s covers.

Not anymore.

“Desolation Mountain” is edgier than the other in this series. It’s dirtier, a little more current, and author William Kent Krueger delves much deeper into Native American spirituality than he ever has. Mixed with something that resembles today’s political atmosphere, that may seem odd, but it works. It feels more like a thriller than an old-school mystery.

For fans of the series as it’s become, that’s welcome news. So is the presence of many of O’Conner’s family and friends, as well as an old friend-foe who reappears with a full case of intrigue to run the story. Also, one more thing: this book will make you scream at the end, but not for the reasons you think.

If you’re not a fan (yet), you’ll be fine starting here but be warned that “Desolation Mountain” will have you skittering for the rest of the series. Especially if you’re a reader who loves thrillers, this one is a dream.


  • By Stephen Markley
  • c. 2018, Simon & Schuster
  • $27, $36 Canada; 485 pages

That kid you knew in high school – the one so far out of your clique?  You thought about him the other day, nothing important. A few of his friends were your friends but mostly, he was just some kid. Still, the memory of him popped into your head and you wondered what ever happened to him. And in “Ohio” by Stephen Markley, that kid thinks about you, too.

"Ohio" by Stephen Markley.

Bill Ashcroft had no plans to ever come back to New Canaan, Ohio. He didn’t have plans not to, either. Wherever the mood took him was okay – Thailand, New Orleans, if there was booze and drugs, he was good. He went wherever life was interesting and this trip would be that: a girl he slept with in high school asked him to bring a tightly-wrapped brick of undefined something back to their hometown.

He was once in love with her, and he could easily fall back there while he was in New Canaan. The visit would also allow him to see old buddies, and to find out if anybody’d heard from Lisa.

Stacey Moore didn’t want to meet with Lisa’s mother. It had been a decade since Beverly had found Stacey and Lisa together in bed, which was just before graduation, when Lisa disappeared. Few had heard from her since then, except for occasional emails and postcards from Vietnam or Bangkok or somewhere overseas. She said she wasn’t coming back. 

"Ohio" author Stephen Markley.

Stacey had put the pieces of her heart together since then (though she still loved Lisa) but Lisa’s mother still mourned Lisa’s loss and nursed her regrets.

Dan Eaton was also home in New Canaan because he wanted closure. After multiple tours of duty in Iraq and a Purple Heart, life had changed but he needed to know that the girl he’d spent his school years crushing on was, indeed, happy without him. Bill mentioned Lisa, but Dan hadn’t heard from her, either, which didn’t really matter.

He had a dinner date scheduled with Hailey, and Lisa might as well have been a million miles away …

The first thing you’re going to notice when you pick up “Ohio” is its heft. It’s a big book, almost too big, and there are times when your mind may wander.

And yet, its characters are magnificent, including two who never really show up. Author Stephen Markley gives them and others depth and brittleness as he writes with razor-precision about being an adult, looking back at the angst and hormones of teenagerhood, terrified that those really were the best days of your life. That’s a feeling of nostalgia, but maybe not a very comfortable one. It’s like experiencing the awkwardness you get when you visit your old high school today: it’s familiar but, more than anything, it reminds you sharply that high school was impossibly, cringingly hard.

Yes, this book is a tad over wordy, but it’ll drag you into the story faster than you can spell the title. From there, for sweeping novel lovers, “Ohio” just clicks.

More:The Bookworm: Wanderlust and who the fortunes favor

More:The Bookworm: Shark adventures and family drama

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.