Cork O’Connor’s father, the sheriff during a time (1964) when five local people in Tamarack County, Minnesota went missing, attempted an investigation. Yet to the locals, his efforts to solve the vanishings appeared futile. Leaving no trace, what really happened to these missing persons became a dreaded unsolved mystery. Had they simply left the area; was foul play involved: did they lie dead somewhere? By the time Cork O’Connor Jr. served his time as sheriff, the vanishings were hazy faded horrors of a dead past.
Now, Cork O’Connor is no longer sheriff. As a private investigator, he is hunting the missing sister of the owner of a mine located next to Vermilion Drift. The United States government has been seeking mines as depositories of nuclear waste materials. Because of these deadly contents and fearing uncertain nuclear contamination, residents who live around Vermilion Drift are protesting loudly. Violence has not erupted, but it is clear that protestors mean business.
While examining the interior of Vermilion Drift mine, a putrid smell leads a government official and her crew to discover five skeletal bodies in a hidden, closed off cavern inside the mine. With them is the decaying corpse of a recently murdered woman. Common sense and forensic examination indicate the skeletons have been lying dead, probably at least forty years. The bones of some of these skeletons have knife-like cuts in them, indicating some type of sharp instrument slashed all the way into the bone. Yet other evidence shows these lesions were not the cause of death. Forensics also finds that a single bullet at close range killed the decaying woman.
What is the connection between the five skeletons from the past and the most recent killing? Cork becomes deeply involved in the case for two reasons. First, the decaying corpse in the mine was the sister of a nearby mine owner. Second, it has become increasingly evident that Cork’s father knew more about the five skeletal remains than he ever admitted. In fact, a recovered shell from his handgun was responsible for at least one of the skeleton’s deaths.
The story turns rapidly toward the macabre. Cork relies on his lifelong Indian Sage to help him recall deeply hidden subconscious memories. What surfaces is a sequence of events where he remembers details from his childhood. He remembers his father confronting a mysterious woman who held his wife (Cork’s mother) at knifepoint. He recalls hearing the awful screams of a victim who is tortured mercilessly before being murdered. He even recalls being captured and shackled to a wall to await torture and death to satisfy the strange psycho sexual urgings of a demented woman and man.
This story is highly engaging. Why? There is probably an equal amount of dialogue and narrative. Learning the story from spoken words of Vermilion Drift characters paints an image of their minds which is far more realistic than simply reading about these characters. From the description above, one might think the book is gory. It is not. It dwells more on the mental astuteness and acuity of its characters and their feelings in horrible situations rather than blood-curdling descriptions of what is actually taking place.
I would highly recommend Vermilion Drift to suspense, mystery lovers as a fascinating story where, from its initial pages, there is a definite chill that runs through the tale until its ending. This is not a common mystery novel. This is a completely unique stand-alone storyline with characters you will get to know from the inside out-and I do mean the inside.
Vermilion Drift will not disappoint. I look forward to reading other stories by William Krueger.