- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
William Kent Kruger’s latest to feature Cork O’Connor, Sulfur Springs, takes the Minnesota detective away from his usual surroundings as he heads to Arizona near the Mexico border to search for the missing son of his new bride, Rainy. It soon puts him in the middle of different factions along the border. Bill will be at BookPeople on Wednesday, September 13th, at 7 PM, to speak and sign his latest. We asked him a few questions about the book and the change in setting.
MysteryPeople Scott: What was the appeal of taking Cork out of his element?
William Kent Krueger: One of the challenges that confronts those of us who write long-running series is keeping things fresh, not just for readers, but also for us, the authors. If felt like the right time to take Cork out of his element, to test us both a bit. The location may be different in Sulfur Springs, but the obstacles Cork faces are not unfamiliar—a landscape that can kill the unwary, forces that disrupt the order of the natural world, and always the question of what speaks truer to him, his head or his heart.
MPS: What do you have to keep in mind when you make your series lead a hero a stranger in a strange land?
WKK: When I change locales, as I’ve done in two previous novels in the series, I know that readers still have certain expectations. Although the great Northwoods, which is always an attraction, won’t be a part of the story, I try to make sure that the other expected elements are. Generally, I think readers expect my novels to be about relationships, and this certainly is, as Cork learns more and more about the secrets his new wife is keeping. Readers expect an issue at the heart of the story, and the conflict along our border with Mexico is front and center in Sulfur Springs. I think another expectation is that I’ll offer a look at a culture with which most readers are unfamiliar. In the North Country, that’s the Ojibwe. In Sulfur Springs, it’s the mix of cultures in the Southwest—Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and, of course, the cowboy culture. It was great fun for me, exploring this volatile, bubbling witch’s brew of influences.
MPS: What did you want the reader to know about the border?
WKK: It’s a complex situation, but I believe that if we had a more open and accepting heart as a nation, we could solve the problems that affect so many on both sides of the border.
MPS: Of the different factions on the border, which was the most difficult to research?
WKK: I received no response from the folks who head up Customs and Border Patrol to all of my requests for official interviews. So I did an amazing amount reading, then traveled to southern Arizona and sought out Border Patrol officers as they went about their duties in the desert. They generally weren’t excited at first to see me approach their vehicles on those isolated back roads, but when I explained to them what I was about, they opened up wonderfully with regard to the work they do and how they feel about their difficult responsibilities.
MPS: What did you enjoy about Cork having to deal with Rainy’s history and her side of the family?
WKK: Who doesn’t love poking at skeletons in the closet? In Manitou Canyon, the preceding book in the series, I set up Rainy’s fears about her past, but I didn’t go into them. It was fun creating the dangerous backstory of that past, and a delight to write the dance of sharing or not sharing her secrets with her new husband.
MPS: What is the biggest difference between writing about the Southwest and the upper Midwest?
WKK: Trees and water. When I write about the North Country of Minnesota, I describe a land defined in so many ways by great forests and pristine waterways. The Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona was such a refreshing landscape to explore personally and then attempt to capture in words. I was honestly surprised at how what at first seemed nothing but a desolate landscape proved to be a thriving ecosystem, very different from the Northwoods but no less vibrant.