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Ordinary Grace: An Intelligent and Lyrical Novel

Updated on November 1, 2014

Ordinary Grace, by Author William Kent Krueger

One of my favorite authors is William Kent Krueger, who writes the Cork O'Connor mystery series that takes place in Northern Minnesota, a part of the country that I'm very fond of.

While checking to see if he had any more books coming out in that series, I discovered another novel he recently wrote, Ordinary Grace, also set in Minnesota, but in the southern part of the state.

I knew that I'd like Ordinary Grace, since I enjoy Krueger's descriptive writing style, and how he develops the characters and paces the plot in his other books.

But I was surprised at just how much I loved this book.

Ordinary Grace is a quiet, thoughtful book about an ordinary family living in a small town in southern Minnesota during the summer of 1961, and is narrated by the protagonist, Frank, 40 years later.

You can find Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger on Amazon.

A Murder Mystery and a Coming-of-Age Story

Barn | Source

Ordinary Grace: A Novel - by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace
Ordinary Grace

A thoughtful book about growing up under difficult circumstances.


In Ordinary Grace, during the summer of 1961, there are five seemingly random deaths in the small southwestern Minnesota community of New Bremen that has never experienced this kind of tragedy before. The protagonist, 13-year-old Frank Drum, realizes that these events will change the lives of himself and his family forever.

The first death, of a young boy hit by a train, appears to be an accident, but because of circumstantial evidence, the authorities are looking into the possibility that it was murder.

The second death, of a "bum", or itinerant, takes place near the same railroad tracks.

A mysterious old Native American man, a Sioux Indian (back then "Indian" was the common term, of course), has items that belonged to both young boy and the itinerant, and later of the third death as well.

The third death, definitely a murder, threatens to rip apart Frank's family, and we follow their lives through the aftermath of this terrible event, seeing how they ultimately are able to come together as a functional family again.

Video Trailer for the book Ordinary Grace

This lovely 3 1/2 minute video starts off with the first couple pages of Ordinary Grace being read (by Krueger?), and followed by William Kent Krueger talking about this book before. He says it's the best thing he's ever written. He goes on to say:

"Sometimes as an author you're given a story. It comes to you, just comes. And it's so compelling that it haunts you until you've written it. For me, that was "Ordinary Grace"

Believable and Likeable Characters

They feel like "real people" to me

Frank is 13 years old, and is beginning to ponder the mysteries of life and death. His younger brother, a stutterer, is wise beyond his years, and his older sister, a talented musician, is his "guardian angel". Frank's father is a Methodist minister, who originally planned to be a lawyer until going through a terrible, un-explained event during World War II which changed his outlook on life. Frank's artistic and passionate mother is dissatisfied with how her life turned out, and bristles against her role as a minister's wife.

Frank's father relies on the grace of God to get him through these events. The others experience this grace over time in the little everyday miracles that remind us we still have a lot to be grateful for.

Rural midwest road
Rural midwest road | Source

William Kent Krueger's writing style pulls me into the story with its rich, descriptive language. I can hear, taste, and feel what it would be like to live in that area, along the Minnesota River. I grew up in Minnesota in the 60's and his descriptions of what was going on during that time, and how people lived then resonates strongly with me. His fictional town of New Bremen is near the town where my grandparents lived on the western side of the state.

This isn't a book to skim through, but to savor all of the details. The action develops slowly, and resolves in a satisfying way. It's not your typical murder mystery format, but more of a narrative about "regular folk" who are trying to come to terms with the events that they experienced that summer.

Krueger says about Ordinary Grace, “I certainly think it’s the best piece of writing that I’ve done..... because this one really came much out of my own experience and my own memories… it captured my heart, absolutely captured my heart.” (Article from Minneapolis Star/Tribune, May 25, 2013)

It captured my heart too.

Iron Lake (Cork O'Connor Mystery Series)
Iron Lake (Cork O'Connor Mystery Series)

The first "Cork O'Connor" book. I was hooked early on in this book.


Read More Books by William Kent Krueger

Cork O'Connor Murder Mysteries

Krueger is one of my favorite authors, partly because of his lyrical, descriptive way of writing, and partly because many of his books take place in parts of Minnesota that I am familiar with.

His Cork O'Connor series takes place mostly in the beautiful Northwoods of Minnesota. Cork is a half-Irish, half-Ojibwe (used to be called Chippewa) Native American who has been a sheriff and is now a private investigator. He often acts as a liaison between the white and Ojibwe communities.

I've enjoyed all of the books in this series.

Have You Read Any Novels by William Kent Krueger?

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    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 3 years ago from U.S.

      @Merrci: Part of the reason why I like him so much is that I grew up in Minnesota, and really love the part of Northern Minnesota that he talks about in the Cork O'Connor books. Ordinary Grace actually takes place in the area where my grandparents used to live (he has the book set in a fictitious town, but it's right near their town), on the western side of the state, so I'm familiar with that area too. I love his attention to detail about the areas he writes about :-)

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      I read Iron Lake actually. But it was some time ago. If you like him so well, I think I'll have to give him another try. Great review that makes me think Ordinary Grace should be on my wish list!