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Lightning Strike

A Novel

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An instant New York Times bestseller, this prequel to the acclaimed Cork O’Connor series is “a pitch perfect, richly imagined story that is both an edge-of-your-seat thriller and an evocative, emotionally charged coming-of-age tale” (Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author) about fathers and sons, small-town conflicts, and the events that shape our lives forever.

Aurora is a small town nestled in the ancient forest alongside the shores of Minnesota’s Iron Lake. In the summer of 1963, it is the whole world to twelve-year-old Cork O’Connor, its rhythms as familiar as his own heartbeat. But when Cork stumbles upon the body of a man he revered hanging from a tree in an abandoned logging camp, it is the first in a series of events that will cause him to question everything he took for granted about his hometown, his family, and himself.

Cork’s father, Liam O’Connor, is Aurora’s sheriff and it is his job to confirm that the man’s death was the result of suicide, as all the evidence suggests. In the shadow of his father’s official investigation, Cork begins to look for answers on his own. Together, father and son face the ultimate test of choosing between what their heads tell them is true and what their hearts know is right.

In this “brilliant achievement, and one every crime reader and writer needs to celebrate” (Louise Penny, #1 New York Times bestselling author), beloved novelist William Kent Krueger shows that some mysteries can be solved even as others surpass our understanding.

This reading group guide for Lightning Strike includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book

Introduction

Aurora is a small town nestled in the ancient forest alongside the shores of Minnesota’s Iron Lake. In the summer of 1963, it is the whole world to twelve-year-old Cork O’Connor, its rhythms as familiar as his own heartbeat. But when Cork stumbles upon the body of a man he revered hanging from a tree in an abandoned logging camp, it is the first in a series of events that will cause him to question everything he took for granted about his hometown, his family, and himself.

Cork’s father, Liam O’Connor, is Aurora’s sheriff and it is his job to confirm that the man’s death was the result of suicide, as all the evidence suggests. In the shadow of his father’s official investigation, Cork begins to look for answers on his own. Together, father and son face the ultimate test of choosing between what their heads tell them is true and what their hearts know is right.

In this masterful story of a young man and a town on the cusp of change, beloved novelist William Kent Krueger shows that some mysteries can be solved even as others surpass our understanding.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The book begins with an older Cork O’Connor looking back on a childhood summer that changed his life. Do you have any similar experience of a pivotal moment when you were growing up that changed you, or an event that made you suddenly feel like more of an adult?

2. When Cork first sees Big John’s body hanging from the tree, he begins to cry and says, “I’m sorry, Big John. I’m sorry.” Why do you think he says that?

3. Why don’t the people on the reservation trust Liam’s conclusion that Big John’s death is a suicide? What is the history between the people who live on the reservation and those in law enforcement in Aurora? How does Dilsey, Liam’s mother-in-law, try to help connect Liam and the people on the reservation, and why does she get so frustrated with Liam?

4. What is Duncan MacDermid’s standing in the town? Where do his power and influence come from? Do you have ideas about what might have caused his deep-seated hatred of Native Americans?

5. At the funeral for Big John, Cork has some of his first interactions with Henry Meloux. What advice does Henry give him? Do you think it’s helpful? How does this establish their friendship and the kind of relationship that Cork will maintain with Henry as an adult and throughout the Cork O’Connor series?

6. Liam is used to relying solely on evidence and logic to do his job as sheriff. In this case, people around him are often telling him to approach the case in a different way. What do they want him to consider? Why is it so hard for Liam to open his mind to other possibilities, and yet seemingly so easy for Cork?

7. At Lightning Strike, Cork and his friends sense a powerful spirit they believe to be Big John. Do you think this is a trick of the mind or something more? Do you think there’s a connection between this experience and Jorge and Cork’s fascination with Hollywood monster movies? Have you ever had a similar almost supernatural experience or coincidence happen to you?

8. What are the deeply ingrained beliefs that impact Liam’s judgment in the case? He says he only follows the facts of the case, but is it possible to weigh facts without any bias? What motivates him to go back and seek out additional evidence that he might have initially overlooked?

9. How does Cork develop over the course of the novel? What events occur that take him from being an innocent child to an adult? What is lost and what is gained as we leave childhood behind?

10. Mary Margaret is a more complicated character than she seems at first. How does your understanding of her and her motivations change as you learn more about her life and her marriage to Duncan?

11. Why do you think Cork followed in his father’s footsteps and became a police officer? Do you have experience yourself or with a friend who followed in a parent’s profession? Was it a fulfilling choice?

12. In William Kent Krueger’s novels, the Minnesota setting becomes almost another character. What are the key settings in this book, and how to they play an important role in shaping the plot? How would this story be different if it were set somewhere else?

13. At the start of the novel Cork worships his father, but his understanding of him changes over the course of the novel. Does Cork truly “unravel the mystery that had been his father,” as he observes in the prologue?

14. Liam tells Father Cam, “We all stumble in the dark, but that’s why the Great Mystery gave us voices, so that we can call out, seeking others in that dark. . . . Alone, the darkness swallows us. But together, we help each other through.” Can you think of ways that hearing his father say these words might have informed the way Cork lived his own life?

15. After reading the novel, do you agree with the words attributed to Liam in the epilogue: “We don’t choose our lives. Our lives choose us”?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Lightning Strike is described as a place of special power. Are there any places like that nearby in your city or town? What history gives them their unusual significance or mysterious nature?

2. In Lightning Strike, William Kent Krueger uses references to other books as a way to tell us about his characters. For example, Cork reads and loves Treasure Island, The Time Machine, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. His mother, we’re told, will love Gifts from the Sea. Pick another character from the novel and discuss what books (either current or time-appropriate to the novel) they might read and what these choices say about them.

3. Read one of William Kent Krueger’s other novels that deal with coming of age, such as Ordinary Grace or This Tender Land. How are they similar to the Cork O’Connor mysteries? What elements of setting and detail carry over? How does each novel handle the element of mystery differently? How does Krueger make the experience of a young adult so specific to his characters and yet so universal?
Paul Dinndorf

William Kent Krueger is the New York Times bestselling author of This Tender LandOrdinary Grace (winner of the Edgar Award for best novel), as well as eighteen acclaimed books in the Cork O’Connor mystery series, including Lightning Strike and Desolation Mountain. He lives in the Twin Cities with his family. Learn more at WilliamKentKrueger.com.

  • Publisher: Atria Books (August 24, 2021)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982128708

Lightning Strike explores the tender relationship between father and son.  It is written with grace and understanding.  It is a stunning novel that will captivate readers even if they’ve never read a Cork O’Connor mystery.” —Denver Post

"William Kent Krueger is a master storyteller at the top of his game with Lightning Strike.  A pitch perfect, richly imagined story that is both an edge-of-your-seat thriller and an evocative, emotionally-charged coming of age tale that explores the complex bonds between fathers and sons and the long simmering animosities of the past.  This is a beautifully written novel that packs a powerful punch.  I loved it." —Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Four Winds

Marvelous. I’ve long been a fan of William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series, and this essential novel allows us to witness how young Cork developed and matured. Not just a story of fathers and sons, it’s also a tale of Natives and settlers and how laws such as the Indian Relocation Act influenced both…A gripping, heartbreaking tale with beautiful writing, vividly drawn characters, and a story you won’t be able to put down." —David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Edgar and Anthony Award-nominated author of Winter Counts

"Lightning Strike is a brilliantly plotted, deeply emotional mystery that opens strong, building more intensity with each passing page. This is William Kent Krueger at his best, and the perfect spot for new readers to enter the series." —The Real Book Spy

"Poignant, powerful, and mesmerizing… Krueger skillfully blends big, suspenseful moments with quiet, keenly observed insights into human nature. This novel is rich with wisdom about right and wrong, choice and change, fathers and sons, and the ways in which loss can shape us as profoundly as love." —Amazon Book Review

"A brilliant achievement, and one every crime reader and writer needs to celebrate." —Louise Penny, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Madess of Crowds 

“There’s a feel that you get from a master craftsman, a saddle that sits right, a fly rod that casts with its own agility, or a series of books written with a grace and precision so stunning that you’d swear the stories were your own.” —Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire series

“Among thoughtful readers, William Kent Krueger holds a very special place in the pantheon. Kent showed the mystery reading world that a protagonist need not be a chain-smoking loner with lots of emotional baggage but he could be an honest and admirable family man doing his best for all the right reasons.” — C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Krueger’s gift is to illustrate the dynamics of history and culture through up-close-and-personal stories.” —The New York Journal of Books

“This sensitive, moving prequel introduces and draws readers into the series. Krueger has written another perceptive coming-of-age novel, the poignant story of a father and son trying to understand each other.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Krueger winds back time, literally and symbolically . . . with . . . suspenseful measured pacing, his accomplished prose and his carefully crafted plot.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

More books from this author: William Kent Krueger

More books in this series: Cork O'Connor Mystery Series