Red Knife (Cork O'Connor Series #8)

Red Knife (Cork O'Connor Series #8)

by William Kent Krueger


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Private investigator Cork O’Connor finds himself caught in the middle of a racial gang war that’s turning picturesque Tamarack County, Minnesota, into a battlefield.

When the daughter of a powerful businessman dies as a result of her meth addiction, her father, strong-willed and brutal Buck Reinhardt, vows revenge. His target is the Red Boyz, a gang of Ojibwe youths accused of supplying the girl’s fatal drug dose. When the head of the Red Boyz and his wife are murdered in a way that suggests execution, the Ojibwe gang mobilizes, and the citizens of Tamarack County brace themselves for war, white against red.

Both sides look to Cork O’Connor, a man of mixed heritage, to uncover the truth behind the murders. A former sheriff, Cork has lived, fought, and nearly died to keep the small-town streets and his family safe from harm. He knows that violence is never a virtue, but he believes that it’s sometimes a necessary response to the evil that men do. Racing to find answers before the bloodshed spreads, Cork himself becomes involved in the darkest of deeds. As the unspeakable unfolds in the remote and beautiful place he calls home, Cork is forced to confront the horrific truth: violence is a beast that cannot be contained.

In Red Knife, Krueger gives his readers a vivid picture of racial conflict in small-town America, as well as a sensitive look at the secrets we keep from even those closest to us and the destructive nature of all that is left unsaid between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, friends and lovers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416556756
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 05/12/2009
Series: Cork O'Connor Series , #8
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 39,427
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

William Kent Krueger is the award-winning author of the New York Times bestselling Ordinary Grace, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel, as well as eighteen Cork O’Connor novels, including Desolation Mountain and Sulfur Springs. He lives in the Twin Cities with his family. Visit his website at

Read an Excerpt

Red Knife

  • ONE

    The words on the note folded around the check in his wallet read: Here’s $500. A retainer. I need your help. See me today. The note and the money were from Alexander Kingbird, although it was signed Kakaik, which was the name of an Ojibwe war chief. It meant Hawk.

    Five hundred dollars was a pretty sound enticement, but Cork O’Connor would have gone for nothing, just to satisfy his curiosity. Although the note didn’t mention Kingbird’s situation, it was easy to read between the lines. In Tamarack County, unless you were stupid or dead you knew that Alexander Kingbird and the Red Boyz were in trouble. How exactly, Cork wondered, did Kingbird think he could help?

    Kingbird and his wife, Rayette, lived on the Iron Lake Reservation. Their home was a nice prefab, constructed to look like a log cabin and set back a hundred yards off the road, behind a stand of red pines. A narrow gravel lane cut straight through the trees to the house. As Cork drove up, his headlights swung across a shiny black Silverado parked in front. He knew it belonged to Tom Blessing, Kingbird’s second-in-command. It was Blessing who’d delivered the note that afternoon.

    And it was Blessing who opened the door when Cork knocked.

    “About time,” Blessing said.

    He wasn’t much more than a kid, twenty-one, maybe twenty-two. Long black hair falling freely down his back. Tall, lean, tense. He reminded Cork of a sapling that in the old days might have been used for a rabbit snare: delicately balanced, ready to snap.

    “The note said today. It’s still today, Tom,” Cork said.

    “My name’s Waubishash.”

    Each of the Red Boyz, on joining the gang, took the name of an Ojibwe war chief.

    “Let him in.” The order was delivered from behind Blessing, from inside the house.

    Blessing stepped back and Cork walked in.

    Alexander Kingbird stood on the far side of his living room. “Thank you for coming.”

    He was twenty-five, by most standards still a young man, but his eyes weren’t young at all. They were as brown as rich earth and, like earth, they were old. He wore his hair in two long braids tied at the end with strips of rawhide, each hung with an owl feather. A white scar ran from the corner of his right eye to the lobe of his ear. Cork had heard it happened in a knife fight while he was a guest of the California penal system.

    Kingbird glanced at Blessing. “You can go.”

    Blessing shook his head. “Until this is over, you shouldn’t be alone.”

    “Are you planning to shoot me, Mr. O’Connor?”

    “I hadn’t thought of it, but I may be the only guy in this county who hasn’t.”

    Kingbird smiled. “I’ll be fine, Waubishash. Go on.”

    Blessing hesitated. Maybe he was working on an argument; if so, he couldn’t quite put it together. He finally nodded, turned, and left. A minute later, Cork heard the Silverado’s big engine turn over, followed by the sound of the tires on gravel. Everything got quiet then, except for a baby cooing in a back room and the low, loving murmur of a woman in response.

    “Mind taking your shoes off?” Kingbird said. “New carpet and Rayette’s kind of particular about keeping it clean.”

    “No problem.” Cork slipped his Salomons off and set them beside a pair of Red Wing boots and a pair of women’s Skechers, which were on a mat next to the door.

    “Sit down,” Kingbird said.

    Cork took a comfortable-looking easy chair upholstered in dark green. Kingbird sat on the sofa.

    “You know why you’re here?” he said to Cork.

    “Instead of twenty questions, why don’t you just tell me.”

    “Buck Reinhardt wants me dead.”

    “You blame him?”

    “I’m not responsible for his daughter dying.”

    “No, but you’re hiding the man who is.”

    “And you know this how?”

    “Popular speculation. And he’s one of the Red Boyz.”

    “I want to talk to Reinhardt.”


    Kingbird sat tall. He wore a green T-shirt, military issue it looked like. On his forearm was a tattoo. A bulldog—the Marine Corps devil dog—with USMC below.

    “I have a daughter of my own,” he said. His eyes moved a hair to the right, in the direction from which the cooing had come. “I understand how he feels.”

    “I don’t think you do. Your daughter is still alive.”

    “My daughter will also never use drugs.”

    “In that, I wish you luck.”

    “Reinhardt and some of his men threatened one of my Red Boyz yesterday. He needs to understand that anything he does—to me or any of the Red Boyz—will be answered in kind. I’ve seen wars, O’Connor. It’s easier to stop them before they get started.”

    “Then give him what he wants. Give him the man responsible for his daughter’s death. Give him Lonnie Thunder.”

    The suggestion seemed to have no effect on Kingbird. “Will you arrange a meeting?”

    “Why me?”

    “Because you’re not just another white man. You’ve got some Ojibwe blood in your veins. Also, you used to be sheriff around here and I figure that gives you a certain standing. And—” he held up a card, one of the business cards Cork routinely tacked to bulletin boards around Aurora “—it’s how you earn your living.”

    “How do I know, and how can Buck be sure, that you won’t just shoot him as soon as he shows up?”

    “Let him name the place and the time. You’ll be there to observe and to maintain the peace.”

    “Five hundred dollars isn’t nearly enough to get me to step between blazing guns.”

    “I’ll be unarmed. You make sure Reinhardt is, too. And the five hundred dollars is a retainer. When this meeting is done, you’ll have another five hundred.”

    Rayette Kingbird strolled into the room carrying her child. Misty had been born six months earlier. When Alexander Kingbird looked at his wife and his daughter, his face softened.

    Cork stood up. “Evening, Rayette.”


    “Bedtime for Misty?”

    She smiled. She was full-blood Ojibwe. Her life before Kingbird had been hard. Abandoned by her mother and raised by her grandparents, she’d been into every kind of trouble imaginable. When Cork was sheriff of Tamarack County, he’d picked her up a few times, juvenile offenses. She’d skipped childhood through no fault of her own and he’d thought that any youth she might have had had been squeezed out long ago. Then she met Kingbird and married him and things changed. She looked young and she looked happy.

    “Past bedtime,” she said. “She wants a kiss from her daddy.”

    Rayette held the baby out and Kingbird took his daughter. He nuzzled her neck. She gurgled. He kissed her forehead. She squirmed. “Night, little turtle,” he said. He handed her back to his wife.

    Rayette left with the child. Kingbird looked after them a moment, then turned to Cork.

    “We’ve named her Misty, but her real name is Tomorrow. Every child’s name is Tomorrow. You, me, Buck Reinhardt, we’re Yesterday. Kristi Reinhardt shouldn’t have died. No child’s life should be cut short of tomorrow.”

    “Nice sentiment, Alex, but what are you going to offer Buck? What do I tell him that will make him agree to meet you?”

    He ignored the fact that Cork had used his given name, not the one he’d taken as a member of the Red Boyz. He said, “Tell him he will have justice. Tell him I give my word.”

  • Customer Reviews

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    Red Knife (Cork O'Connor Series #8) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 81 reviews.
    Zubby More than 1 year ago
    Great story. Sometimes a little more complicated than it needs to be but you can stay with it, and most of the characters, as you turn the pages. Just when you think it's over, it's not! Krueger ties up everything at the end. Sub plots and all. Just the way a good story should end. I am ordering "Thunder Bay".
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Cork O'Connor, former sheriff and now a private investigator, shines on the pages as always. Time is well spent with Cork O'Connor. There are the twists and turns, violence but not just for the sake of violence, family first values and the workings of a small town. I try to take my time reading my annual 'Cork' book but end up racing thru the pages. Always a winner !!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    So readers know, Mr. Krueger and I are very well-acquainted. This is his eighth entry in a powerful award-winning series about Corcoran O¿Conner, family man, ex-sheriff, sometime private investigator, and an upright and very moral man. O¿Connor¿s life is complicated by his staunch roots in both Native American and Caucasian ethnicity. His life is also complicated by his two daughters, a son, and his feisty, bright and somewhat uptight wife, Jo. Their communication at times seems as obtuse as between strangers from different worlds. There are times in this story when this reader would like to reach out and kick O¿Connor in his well-shaped backside. Krueger has carefully shaped each episode in this long family saga to explore significant and troubling aspects of our modern society. Red Knife is no different. It begins with a significant and violent episode in the life of a young Ojibwa boy. The story then commences to explore in some detail the influences of violence in our society. The genius of this storyteller, aside from his consummate storytelling skills is that he is careful to avoid sweeping polemical statements. The novel examines some of the causes of violence in intimate and personal ways. Then it goes beyond the acts themselves, almost always leaving to reader to sort out her or his own reactions to the violence. Red Knife commences to also explore how violence can affect individuals not directly engaged in the violence itself family members, friends and even enemies, members of the law enforcement community, and those on the periphery. And always there is that layer of intimate struggle for understanding and connection between Jo and Cork O¿Connor. I don¿t wish to suggest this is a heavily violent novel. It is not. It is, rather, a smoothly written, carefully plotted and laid out examination of an intimate group of individuals, some of whom are family members, some not, and their responses to the violence they experience and observe. Krueger has produced a thoughtful, richly textured human novel, one that most readers, I suspect, will remember and think about long after they close the book.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    While there is not always harmony in rural Minnesota especially in Tamarack County between the Anglos and the Native Americans who reside on the Ojibwe Reservation, there is respect. Now there is a war coming ever since Alexander Kingbird formed the gang the Red Boyz, who affirm that Anglo law does not apply to them rumors fly they are part of the illegal drug pipeline. Kristi Reinhardt died from a dose of Meth given to her by the Red Boyz whose name is Thunder. Buck Reinhardt want the leader of the Red Boyz gang dead as Kingbird defies the law hiding Thunder on the Rez.------------- Alexander asks part Ojibwe former sheriff and current private detective Cork O¿Connor to arrange a meeting with Buck so that the Red Boyz leader can assure the grieving angry man that justice will be done. He fears that if he takes matters into his own hands, a heated race war will ignite. However, before that can occur Alexander and his wife Rayette are executed almost immediately afterward Buck is killed in a drive by shooting. Tensions have boiled over between the two groups with Cork believing only the hidden Thunder is able to ease the rising conflict before an open war explodes.------------------ The Cork O¿Connor mysteries are consistently some of the best regional whodunits. Cork has switched from law enforcement to private detective work, but though at times he misses his former job not in this case he is thankful that he is no longer a sheriff as he has to go outside the law to insure justice occurs and a deadly war prevented. The story line is told from various viewpoints so the reader obtains a deep understanding of the Ojibwe need for the youth to know and cherish their heritage while many of the Anglo sees that as ironically an internal form of immigration. William Kent Kreuger is at his best with this strong thriller as his hero struggles to stop a lethal range war that will only harm everyone.----------------- Harriet Klausner
    kurtmiller12345 More than 1 year ago
    "Red Knife", by William Kent Krueger takes place in Minnesota on an Indian Reservation. The Red Boyz are the trouble-makers and the gang on the reservation; they are thought to be responsible for a girl's death, the daughter of Buck Reinhardt, a hard-nosed individual with quite a temper. Cork O'Connor, the main character solves various murder cases that are linked together; the first includes Rayette and Alexander (a.k.a. Alejandro). They are originally thought to be killed by Buck Reinhardt, and this rumor causes more and more violence to erupt throughout and around the reservation. Overall, the theme of the book of the book is that violence should not be responded to with more violence. The murder of Rayette and Alexander Kingbird towards the beginning of the book causes more violence throughout the reservation. Many people's lives are taken, and if this moral was followed, most of it would not have happened. Violence alone causes pain and sorrow, and more of it only devastates further. This book was very fast-paced, and had a lot of detail, which at times was quite difficult to follow. However, this book was well written and its theme can be applied to life today. This book should be read by everyone, because the acts of violence that take place within it teach everyone a lesson. Violence should not be inflicted unless absolutely necessary, because it causes causes remorse.
    RonnaL More than 1 year ago
    "The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation." (Numbers 14:18)  In Krueger's 8th Cork O'Connor novel, many issues cause much violence a small town in Minnesota. Conflicts between the Ojibwe Indians and the white population bring Cork into the conflict even though he is no longer sheriff. Though Cork has promised his family to stay out of these situations, someone shooting at him and his 7 year old son, brings him into the middle of everything.  Different groups amongst the Ojibwe are in conflict, the whites and Ojibwe don't always trust each other, drugs cause death and violence, revenge causes quick deadly violence, and bulling and neglect causes unspeakable tragedy. Can violence really stop further violence? I continue to find these Cork O'Conner novels more than just entertaining.  They are atmospheric, with flawed but honest characters, that also deal with difficult moral and ethical community and personal issues.  Love it when a book is good reading, but also makes me think!  I listened to this on Audible and really enjoyed the narrator.
    jastbrown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    William Kent Kreuger's mystery series featuring Cork O'Connor seemed, in my mind, to start out relatively slowly. I felt that it wasn't until his fourth or fifth book that he really hit his stride. I'm very thankful that I had bought up his complete series before beginning to read them (based on an enthusiastic review I read of a later book).. otherwise I might have given up on the series early on and missed some really great stories. And in hindsight even the early books have a great deal to offer. The novels are set in rural, northern Minnesota for the most part with the action shifting to The U.P. of Michigan in one story and to Wyoming in another. Mr. Kreuger gives Cork O'Connor a family life that is anything but 'storybook'. From one end to the other this is a loving, but modern family, with real life modern problems that they do manage to get resolved. Fairly early in the series, the stories begin increasingly encompassing Cork's and his family's Native American connection to good advantage!This is a very good and satisfying series which I gobbled up faster and faster towards the end. Now I have to sit and eagerly await the next Cork O'Connor adventure. This is a series where the books could be read as stand alones, but for maximum enjoyment I would strongly recommend reading them in the order that they were written.
    willowwaw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Another installment of the Cork O'Connor series involving local issues relating to gang violence, drug dealing and local tensions. This was by far my least favorite of the Cork O'Connor series, I only stuck with it simply because I had read all of the others and wanted to continue. I became bored with Krueger's writing, trying to make Cork seem like an every-man while doing such outlandish and excellent crime fighting. Simple references to Cork scratching himself after taking a run and the like were not necessary. The book was interesting to read about the tensions of local tribes and gang violence, but Cork just didn't do it for me. I'm not sure if I will continue with the series or not - I was slightly disappointed.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I like Krueger's series on Cork O'Connor and think this is one of his best. This is a great book for mystery fans and interesting for people who also like Indian light history along with following the family of Cork O'Connor.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Each one of the books in this series that I have read, I say to myself, this has got to be the best book William Kent Krueger has written in the Cork O'Connor series. Then I open the next book in the series, in this case "Red Knife", and I can truthfully say, this is the best in the series! Of the books I have read... LOL!) If you haven't read it, you are missing out! It is a story that is so current with some of the things that are happening in the USA today. You just have to read it, that is all!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I highly recommend the Cork O'Connor series. I am on #9 and still not bored with them.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    topperfinn More than 1 year ago
    Love a series of books and these are so great, I read it all night. I was surprised when the sun came up and I was still reading. Couldn't put it down
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Krueger did it again
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Bevs-Reviews More than 1 year ago
    William Kent Krueger tells a great story and the books get better with each addition to the series.
    McSusan More than 1 year ago
    This Cork O'Connor book is a continuation of Mercy Falls. There's a bounty on Cork so he escapes to UP Michigan to hideout but he can run but not hide. The thugs follow him. All turns out well eventually as he also makes a few other things right along the way. If you like the predominantly northern Minnesota, small town setting and are interested in colorful, genuine, characters, you will love the entire Cork O'Connor series starting with Iron Lake.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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