Arts & Culture

Read Part Of Author William Kent Krueger’s ‘Ordinary Grace’

March 3, 2014 6:00 AM

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Photo Credit: Atria Books

Photo Credit: Atria Books

Photo Credit: Tony Nelson

Photo Credit: Tony Nelson

William Kent Krueger is the New York Times bestselling author of Ordinary Grace, in addition to thirteen novels in the Cork O’Connor mystery series, including Tamarack County and the upcoming Windigo Island. All are available from Atria Books, a sister company of Simon & Schuster. Visit his website here.

Ordinary Grace is many things: a story of murder in a small Minnesota town in the summer of 1961; a story of family, faith, and coming of age; a story of a particular place at a particular time in America.  The following excerpt, which occurs on the banks of the Minnesota River, captures well, I believe, the confusion in the aftermath of a crime as yet unsolved.  It also highlights the setting and many of the characters so important to the story.  The chase is on as a murder suspect, a man of Sioux heritage, flees.  Both this scene and the book as a whole are narrated by Frank Drum, a minister’s son, thirteen years old in that tragic summer.

Related: Minnesota’s Most Mysterious Places

Photo Credit: Atria Books

Photo Credit: Atria Books

The bulrushes shook as if a herd of elephants raged through and in a moment a group of men burst into the clearing.  My father and Karl and Gus were among them and the sheriff was there and Doyle and a couple of deputies.  They halted when they saw Jake and me at the lean-to.  Halted all except my father who strode straight to us and stood eyeing us with confusion and concern.

“What are you boys doing here?”

“Looking for Warren Redstone,” I said.

The sheriff came and stood beside my father.  He said brusquely, “Where did he go?”

I thought about Redstone’s parting words: You’ve just killed me, white boy.  And I recalled the afternoon in the back of Halderson’s Drugstore and the drunken men with the look of murder in their eyes.  I stared into my father’s face where rain ran off his brow in clear rivulets and I saw a fearful desperation there.  I looked into the sheriff’s face and was met with a coldness, a hard determination empty of compassion, and although I didn’t see murder in either of these men what I did see was disturbing enough to make me hold my tongue.

“That way,” Doyle shouted and pointed downriver toward the path Jake and I had hastily broken through the reeds and Warren Redstone in his own flight had followed.

“How long ago?” the sheriff demanded.

“A couple of minutes,” I said.

All the men began a footrace except my father who hesitated a moment and pointed toward the slope of the river bank and said, “Go on up to the car and stay there, do you understand?”  And without waiting for us to reply he joined the others in pursuit.

I stood in the rain and looked down the ragged empty way we’d torn through the reeds.

Beside me Jake said, “Is it true?”

“Is what true?”

“That he’s as good as dead?  That they’ll kill him?”

“He thinks it’s true,” I said.

“Do you think he hurt Ariel?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t think he did, Frank.”

The moment of my own anger had passed and in the quiet of the regret that followed I thought Jake was right.

“Come on,” I said and began to run in the direction Redstone and the men had gone.

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Thunder broke again and again over our heads and in those moments lightning whitened the gray curtain of the rain.  The downpour was so heavy I couldn’t see more than thirty yards ahead and the men were not there.  We raced as fast as our legs would carry us but the men’s legs were twice as long and took them away at twice the speed and I was sure that catching them was hopeless.  Jake at the beginning was by my side but he gradually fell back and though he called to me to wait I ran on alone.  Past the place where only fifteen minutes earlier we’d come down from the Flats, past the last of the houses along Fifth Street, and finally to the trestle across the river where my history with Warren Redstone had begun.

I’d run myself out.  I stood dripping wet in the shelter of the trestle in the same place where the dead man had lain and Redstone had sat beside him.  I breathed in gasps and my side hurt.  The riverbank had become slick from the rain and in the mud there I could see tracks where the men in front of me had run in their pursuit.  I thought I might even have heard them calling to one another though I couldn’t be certain because the roar of the wind and the pounding of water out of the sky drowned out almost all other sounds.  I lifted my face in the same way Warren Redstone on that first encounter had lifted his and had caught Jake and me spying on him through the crossties of the trestle.  And there above me between the crossties was the face of Redstone staring down.

He didn’t move.  He didn’t speak.  He simply lay flat on the trestle and looked at me with eyes as brown and old and worn down as two stones that had tumbled along the glacial river over ten thousand years ago, a river that had been given the same name as he:  Warren.

I remembered what he had said to Jake on our first meeting, that the tracks were like a river, a steel river, always there but always moving, and I realized that the river Warren Redstone intended to follow was not one of water.

He stood.  I saw his body in flickers between the crossties as he started across the trestle.  I left the shelter of the railroad bridge and walked out along the riverbank and watched him moving quickly and carefully from crosstie to crosstie with his head down so that he would not misstep and fall.  He looked back at me once as if gauging my intent then returned his attention to making his escape.

The last I saw of him he’d crossed the trestle and slipped behind the veil of the heavy rain.

William Kent Krueger is the New York Times bestselling author of Ordinary Grace, in addition to thirteen novels in the Cork O’Connor mystery series, including Tamarack County and the upcoming Windigo Island. All are available from Atria Books, a sister company of Simon & Schuster. Visit his website here.

This excerpt was published with permission from Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2013 by William Kent Krueger.  Ordinary Grace was published in paperback in March 2014. You can find out more about the novel or order your copy here.

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