BookBrowse Reviews Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Ordinary Grace

by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2013, 320 pages
    Mar 2014, 320 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book



An irresistible narrator and a strong sense of time and place distinguish this murder mystery set in the Midwest of the 1960s

William Kent Krueger's latest novel is an atmospheric murder mystery set in a fictional small town in Minnesota. The tragedies that unfold during the summer of 1961 are described forty years after by the now 53-year-old Frank Drum. The eldest son of the town's Methodist minister, Frank was 13 at the time five people who lived in the area died under suspicious circumstances. Along with reporting on the fatalities and the investigations that surround them, Frank vividly describes what it was like to be a kid in middle America during that era, the colorful characters that populated the small town, and the lasting impact the deaths had on his family and others.

I tend to avoid novels where children are the main characters, as I seldom find their thoughts, conversations or actions credible over the length of the book; in my view, they generally come across as too worldly or precocious. Krueger's choice of protagonist, though, is perfect. By having the older Frank tell the story of his younger self, he allows for the immature decisions of his character while keeping the maturity embedded in the narrative from seeming dubious or out of place. Truly Frank is one of the more irresistible narrators I've come across in a long time, and the author skillfully conveys a young boy's confusion and angst from the perspective of adulthood; this character sucked me into the story and didn't let go until the end.

The highlight for me, though, was the marvelous sense of time and place Krueger created throughout the novel. As a child of the 60s and a Midwesterner, I could absolutely picture the summertime scenes the author painted. The entire novel is a perfect snapshot of an idyllic time in a prosperous and peaceful United States.

There was a parade that afternoon as there was every Fourth of July. The high school band marched in their braided uniforms and so did members of the VFW, many of them dressed in the military finery in which they'd served. The firemen drove their trucks, and the mayor and other city politicians rode in cars and waved, and there were flatbeds made into floats and hauled behind pickups cleaned and waxed for the day… and even kids joined in the parade, pulling their pets or small siblings behind them in Radio Flyer wagons decked out in crepe of red, white, and blue… [The park] was full of vendors selling cotton candy and hot dogs and bratwurst and mini-donuts and helium-filled balloons…There were games with prizes and there were polka bands and a temporary dance floor that had been laid out in the grass.

The author takes his time setting the scene and establishing his characters, and consequently the murder at the heart of the novel, which occurs halfway through the narrative, takes some patience to reach. Although red herrings abound, it is relatively easy to figure out "whodunit" long before the plot's denouement; the mystery is, however, satisfying enough to hold most readers' attention throughout.

A strong religious thread runs through the novel, and one of the major themes of the book is the role faith can play when unthinkable tragedy occurs. Although the narrator's family is Protestant, the spiritual message is more inclusive than a Christian-themed book might be, leaning more toward belief in God as a provider of comfort than in Jesus Christ. The end result is that the ideas at the book's core will appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike. And, while the faith-based portions are central to the novel, they're not presented in a heavy-handed, "preachy" manner. As someone who doesn't consider herself a person of faith, I found these sections of the book to be touching rather than overbearing or lecturing.

The author goes out of his way to portray New Bremen's characters as covering a broad spectrum of society. His milieu comprises the man of God, the local alcoholic, the emotionally wounded war vet, the angry Native American, the itinerate, the town bully, the cold rich person, the talented loner, persons with disabilities – and on and on, including just about every type of individual one can think of. Unfortunately, the end result of trying to be so comprehensive is that many of these characters are stereotypical and clichéd. It's not that they're poorly described or one-dimensional really; it's more that they're formulaic, with predictable actions that detract from the otherwise fine writing. The narrator is the exception to this, and the skill with which his character and a few others are drawn makes up for the unexceptional nature of the minor players in the drama.

Overall Ordinary Grace is an entertaining mystery with some rather emotional content at its heart. In addition to an engaging plot, the book is thought-provoking and, at times, quite poignant. Those looking for a character-driven mystery with content that goes beyond the standard police procedural will find this one worth perusing, and book clubs in particular will find it provides many topics for discussion.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review is from the April 17, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Year, 1961

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Music of the Ghosts
    Music of the Ghosts
    by Vaddey Ratner
    Music of the Ghosts is about healing and forgiveness, but it is also about identity and the revival ...
  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...
  • Book Jacket: Havana
    by Mark Kurlansky
    History with flavor...culture with spice...language with would be hard to find a better ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    No One Is Coming to Save Us
    by Stephanie Powell Watts

    One of Entertainment Weekly, Nylon and Elle's most anticipated books of 2017.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    If We Were Villains
    by M. L. Rio

    An intelligent and captivating story of the enduring power and passion of words.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don't like?

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -