In a novel both contemporary and laden with the detritus of history, William Kent Krueger sends ex-cop and current PI Cork O’Connor into a physical and moral wilderness in search of a missing Ojibwe girl after the body of her friend, Carrie Verga, washes ashore on an island in Lake Superior. The story of the Windigo is familiar in reservation lore, and the Bad Bluff reservation is no exception in its reverence for the mythical beast who calls out the name of his victims before claiming them. Carrie’s fifteen-year-old friend, Mariah Arceneaux, disappeared around the same time, both assumed to be runaways. Yet it is said that Carrie heard the Windigo call her name before she disappeared.
Mariah’s mother, Louise Arceneaux, has made a request of her grandfather Henry Meloux, a wise man of many years, via relative and Wisconsin game warden Daniel English. Though Louise has lost a leg to diabetes, Henry demands his granddaughter present herself to him at his home in Tamarack County, Minnesota, if she would receive his help. Louise is instructed to bring with her Mariah’s most precious possession.
Though Cork agrees to help search for Mariah, he harbors little hope; the girl has been missing already for over a year. He sets off for Bad Bluff with his daughter Jenny, whose small son remains behind; Jenny has had a dream that compels her to take part in the endeavor, futile or not. Leaving all that he holds dear in the world in the place that has come to define the focus of his life, Cork takes Jenny with him on an investigation from that ranges from Tamarack County to Bad Bluff and even to Duluth, Minnesota, in an unfolding nightmare that illustrates the lack of opportunities and resources for youths living on the reservations, where running away is sometimes the only solution.
A series of frustrating interviews on the Bad Bluff reservation yield few answers and more questions, culminating in a life-or-death confrontation when a monster that wraps himself in the cloak of the mythical Windigo is finally tracked to a remote location. In the course of the investigation, Krueger skillfully depicts not only the painful realities of reservation life but also the hopelessness of the plight of young people, the beauty and dignity of a cultural history decimated by greed and exploitation, the systematic destruction of a heritage diminished by poverty, abuse, alcoholism, and a generation of throwaway children.
While it isn’t surprising that the visitors uncover a widespread sex-trafficking ring, the issue is made more poignant by the vulnerability of the victims and the use of a myth to terrify young girls into submission and emotional bondage to their captors. Krueger balances the disappearance of the girls with a complex relationship between Cork O’Connor and his daughter, touching on their heritage and the struggles illuminated by this difficult task. Historically vibrant and filled with well-defined, interesting characters, the author not only spotlights the cultural identification of family but the rich tapestry of the past. While contemporary life intrudes with blunt violence in exploiting innocent victims, there is also a sense of spiritual continuity inherent in those who once held the land in their trust.