The Last Best Book — Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger

—the latest in an occasional series of raves about books I love—

Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger (Atria Books, 2013)

Last May, I gave a book talk at a rural library about 50 miles from my home. I was just back from Malice Domestic, and the staff, Friends of the Library, and patrons helped me celebrate my Agatha win. Naturally, we talked about other Agatha winners, and the winners of the Edgar Awards, which had been given out a few days before Malice. One woman confessed her dismay that her favorite author, Louise Penny, had not won the Edgar Award for Best Novel for How the Light Gets In. She’d immediately bought the winning book, Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace, convinced that it could not possibly deserve the award. She read it in two nights, and now has two favorite authors.

Took me a little longer to get to it. My friend was right, and I too now have another favorite author.

Less a crime novel than a coming-of-age story exploring the effects of death—both accidental and criminal—on a family and on a community, Ordinary Grace is simply stunning. Thirteen year old Frank Drum tells the story of the five deaths in the summer of 1961 in a small Minnesota town, each different, each leaving a permanent mark that makes Frank a different man than he might otherwise have become. He’s the son of a minister, whose experience in the war diverted him from his plans to be a lawyer, and a musician who is not as keen on God as her husband is. Frank’s older sister Ariel is a brilliant musician; his younger brother Jake is both his best friend and a bit of a mystery.

The language is beautiful, but because Krueger is also a mystery writer, it never overwhelms the story, but always serves character and plot.

I read the audio version. (And yes, I read audio books. It is a different experience, but it’s still reading, even though it uses the ears and not the eyes.) The narrator did a terrific job, infusing Frank’s  narration with just the right mixture of knowing and innocence. He also slipped in a bit of the Minnesota accent—but not too much—and captured beautifully the way a Sioux man of Warren Redstone’s age would speak.

I’m so glad my friend in Ronan read this book and recommended it to me. Now I’m recommending it to you.

(I got this book from my local library.)