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“Lightning Strike” by William Kent Krueger. C.2021, Atria Books. $16.08. 400 pages

Once was a time when you couldn’t wait to be big.

Eager to make decisions, set your own bedtime, eat what you wanted for dinner, so many of your sentences started with “When I grow up ...” and now you have. Is it all you thought it would be? Or, as in the new novel, “Lightning Strike” by William Kent Krueger, is adulthood stormier than you wanted?

Twelve-year-old Cork O’Conner didn’t care how many bottles of beer were on the wall. He just wanted his friend to stop singing that stupid song while they were hiking the Boundary Waters to earn their merit badges. Cork was running out of patience; it was hot that summer of 1963, blackflies were horrible, and there was a stench coming from the woods near Lightning Strike, a meadow that was sacred to the Anishinaabe.

Any kid growing up by the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota would figure the smell was a dead deer.

The form hanging from a tree was no deer.

Big John Manydeeds had lived up to his name, physically and spiritually; he was a good man, a war veteran, an experienced guide, beloved on the rez and off. He’d gotten his life straightened around – he’d even stopped drinking – so when the official conclusion was made that Big John hung himself and he was drunk when he did it, nobody on the rez believed it.

Tamarack County Sheriff Liam O’Connor had always wrestled with his job on the reservation; the Anishinaabe chose him as their sheriff, but his white skin made him a controversial pick. He knew that there’d be an uproar about the ruling on Big John’s death, but Liam had a job to do. He also had a son who was curious as a cat.

So if, as the Anishinaabe community insisted, Big John didn’t hang himself, who would want him dead? Convinced that he was seeing things with the wrong eyes, Liam had to re-assess.

The community’s Mide told Cork to follow “crumbs” for a solution.

Would they lead to an answer for Liam, too?

You can think about “Lightning Strike” as a burrito.

On the outside, the wrapper is the Corcoran O’Connor series and if you’re unfamiliar, this is a fine place to start, since it takes readers back to a beginning that fans are only just learning. Author William Kent Krueger’s built a story empire here and this book works nicely as its foundation.

Bite into it and you’ll find that inside, a double-spiced tryst is mixed in a shredded mystery, spooned over pre-Civil Rights-Movement racism and divisive small-town life. Bite again, and you’ll find that it’s seasoned by a hot-summer-night feel and lush sentences that will appeal to any gruesome-murder-loving softie.

That adds up to the kind of book that, when you’re done reading, you’ll close the covers and blink, momentarily surprised that you’re only still in your favorite reading spot. It’s the kind of book that makes you gasp here and reach for a tissue there.

Yep, “Lightning Strike” is that big.

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