Ordinary Grace: A Novel

by William Kent Krueger

In the summer of 1961 Frank Drum, 13, is about to step across the threshold of time, leaving childhood behind.

It’s a summer pregnant with change: his 18-year-old sister Ariel will leaving for Julliard in the fall; a boy just a few years younger is killed by a train; and he sees his first dead body, a hobo, along the river bank.

“I was growing up scrambling for meaning and I was full of confusion and fear,” he recalls.

He enjoys reading comic books with younger brother Jake, following the Minnesota Twins debut season, eavesdropping on adult conversations and playing Risk with neighborhood kids.

But he also observes Ariel’s secretive early morning and late night comings and goings; the people who make fun of his brother’s stutter; the police officer who blows up a bullfrog with a firecracker and the black eye a boy he knows from church gets from his alcoholic father.

His eyes are opening to his parents’ frayed relationship: his movie-star gorgeous mother Ruth who married a cocky young lawyer. Nathan Drum returns from fighting in North Africa and at the Battle of the Bulge wanting nothing to do with courtroom battles. Instead, he becomes a Methodist minister who selflessly works to shore up his parishioners’ faith in the face of the “awful grace of God.”

Ruth turns her focus to the musically brilliant Ariel. “What she did not say but all of us knew was that Ariel was the hope for the consummation of my mother’s own unfulfilled longings,” Frank recalls.

As the summer ripens into autumn, Frank’s life is repeatedly brushed by death: the apparently accidental death of the simple child Bobby Cole on the train tracks; the natural death of an old, unidentified hobo; an attempted suicide, and ultimately a murder that rips the Drum family’s world apart.

Ordinary Grace is an exquisite book that captures a particular place and time vividly. It’s as rich in characters as a Fourth of July picnic. Some scenes in the book are so transcendently beautiful you almost stop breathing as you read.

This is that rare book that you will want to read and return to.

It was listed among Notable Selections in an article on Crimereads.com on the 10 best crime novels of the last decade.

About the Author: William Kent Krueger (1950 – )

Wyoming-born William Kent Krueger jokes that his parents moved every time the rent was due. Before he graduated from high school, he’d lived in 11 houses in eight cities in six states.

He wanted to be a writer from the third grade.  At 19, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway. One habit of Hemingway’s that he incorporated into his own work was rising to work at dawn. For years, he went to a neighborhood cafe at 6 a.m. to write in a spiral-bound notebook for an hour before going to work.

Krueger finished his first book — Iron Lake — when he was 40.  It won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Ordinary Grace won the Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2013. In 2005 and 2006, he won back-to-back Anthony Awards for best novel.

He is the author of a series featuring Cork O’Connor, the part-Irish, part-Anishinaabe Indian former sheriff of Aurora, Minn.  Iron Lake, published in 1998, was the first book in the series, which is now 15-books long.

Krueger says that he was influenced by mystery writers Tony Hillerman and James Lee Burke.


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