Ordinary Grace (2013)

by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace won the 2013 Edgar Award for best mystery novel, but it is not a traditional whodunit. Murder occurs, along with death by suicide, accident, and unknown causes. Not all of the deaths are resolved. The focus of the book is death’s effect on a small town and especially the narrator, Frank Drum, who was 13 during the fateful summer of 1961. Telling the story 40 years later, he brings an adult perspective to that summer’s events while conveying the confusion of a boy trying to make sense of his upturned world.

As the story begins, Frank’s family of five lives in fictional New Bremen, Minnesota. His father, Nathan, is the town’s Methodist pastor. His mother, Ruth, expected she was marrying a lawyer, but Nathan’s World War II experiences set him on a different path. Ruth is not altogether happy with the role of minister’s wife and does not share her husband’s rock-solid faith. They have three children. Recent high school graduate Ariel, a talented musician, seems wavering about her imminent departure for Juilliard. Frank is curious and bold, which sometimes leads him into trouble. Jake is usually at Frank’s side, whether or not he’s wanted. He seldom talks because of a stutter, but he is a keen observer.

As one would expect from the title, faith is at the core of the story, but the book doesn’t preach. “A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember,” Frank says about Jake’s being able to deliver a prayer at a post-funeral meal without stuttering. Frank hasn’t forgotten a single word of that prayer. Although there are five deaths and great sadness, Ordinary Grace leaves a comforting message. “You will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day” even in the midst of great suffering, a sorrowful Nathan tells his parishioners.

Author William Kent Krueger is also an author of conventional mystery novels. He has written 19 crime novels set in Minnesota and featuring Cork O’Connor, a former sheriff who is part Irish and part Ojibwa. He followed Ordinary Grace with another standalone novel, This Tender Land.


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