Without a doubt, this is one of the best books I have read recently. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is a masterpiece on character study and development. Krueger is known for his award-winning Cork O’Connor mystery series (which I have not as yet read), but I suspect this book is something different. Although a mystery–a suspicious death–is the framework that holds the plot together, it is actually the compelling characters that move the story forward. It is told in the eyes of a man looking back on his 12-year-old self and childhood memories with the sophistication of an adult, but at the same time with the innocence and wonder of a child (not unlike that old t.v. show, The Wonder Years or the familiar A Christmas Story). The author does a masterful job of bringing to life the atmosphere of his 1960’s small town in Minnesota, including the food (fried bologna sandwiches and Kool-aide), barber shops, and kids who could roam free without parental supervision. Although the heart of the story is a potential murder, the real mystery is how the main character’s family will cope with the tragedy. As it turns out, the weak become surprisingly strong and family threads unravel and are woven back together again in a unique way. The boy’s father, Nathan, a Methodist minister, his wife, an atheist, struggling with her husband’s career path and faith, a town drunk, a brutal policeman, a priviledged favorite son, and a reclusive, damaged artist all come together as their lives cross, some surviving and others falling away. Krueger’s prose is rich, evocative, emotionally draining, and always spot on. I’ll be reading more of his work in the future.