Some nights, Corcoran O’Connor dreams his father’s death.
Although the dream differs in the details, it always follows the same general pattern: His father falls from a great height. Sometimes he stumbles backward over a precipice, his face an explosion of surprise. Or he’s climbing a high, flat face of rock and, just as he reaches for the top, loses his grip and, in falling, appears both perplexed and angry. Or he steps into an empty elevator shaft, expecting a floor that is not there, and looks skyward with astonishment as the darkness swallows him.
In the dream Cork is always a boy. He’s always very near and reaches out to save his father, but his arm is too short, his hand too small. Always, his father is lost to him, and Cork stands alone and heartbroken.
If that was all of it, if that was the end of the nightmare, it probably wouldn’t haunt him in quite the way that it does. But the true end is a horrific vision that jars Cork awake every time. In the dream, he relives the dream, and in that dream revisited something changes. Not only is he near his father as the end occurs but he also stands outside the dream watching it unfold, a distanced witness to himself and to all that unfolds. And what he sees from that uninvolved perspective delivers a horrible shock. For his hand, in reaching out, not only fails to save his father. It is his small hand, in fact, that shoves him to his death.
© 2010 William Kent Krueger
William Kent Krueger’s gripping tale of suspense begins with a recurring nightmare, a gun, and a wound in the earth so deep and horrific that it has a name: Vermilion Drift.
When the Department of Energy puts an underground iron mine on its short list of potential sites for storage of nuclear waste, a barrage of protest erupts in Tamarack County, Minnesota, and Cork is hired as a security consultant.
Deep in the mine during his first day on the job, Cork stumbles across a secret room that contains the remains of six murder victims. Five appear to be nearly half a century old—connected to what the media once dubbed "The Vanishings," a series of unsolved disappearances in the summer of 1964, when Cork’s father was sheriff in Tamarack County. But the sixth has been dead less than a week. What’s worse, two of the bodies—including the most recent victim—were killed using Cork’s own gun, one handed down to him from his father.
As Cork searches for answers, he must dig into his own past and that of his father, a well-respected man who harbored a ghastly truth. Time is running out, however. New threats surface, and unless Cork can unravel the tangled thread of clues quickly, more death is sure to come.
Vermilion Drift is a powerful novel, filled with all the mystery and suspense for which Krueger has won so many awards. A poignant portrayal of the complexities of family life, it’s also a sobering reminder that even those closest to our hearts can house the darkest—and deadliest—of secrets.
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Reading Group Guide
On the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, private investigator Cork O’Connor has his hands full protecting a client’s mining company from protesters angry at its plan to store nuclear waste. But then a local socialite disappears and a secret mine tunnel unearths a collection of bodies that have been dead for decades, and things get more complicated. Suddenly O’Connor finds himself involved in a murder investigation that stretches back to a previous generation, which leads to surprising discoveries about his own family history.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. The prologue begins with O’Connor’s dream of pushing his father to his death. Why did the author begin the story this way? What did this recurring dream foreshadow in the story?
2. Cork O’Connor, in his mid-fifties, is a tough-nosed guy not afraid to ask hard questions. But how does his tack change in dealing with missing Lauren Cavanaugh as compared to the investigation of the bodie see more