Papa’s full house eats up mystery

by Nathan Warner
Contributing writer

Reading Frenzy BookShop sponsored its second Mystery Author Dinner at Papa’s Italian restaurant in Zimmerman on Monday.

It drew a full house of over 40 people who came for book signings, stories and photos, with the intent of getting to know their favorite authors better.

William Kent Krueger, author of New York Times bestselling “Northwest Angle,” poses with fans impersonating him at the Mystery Author Dinner on Monday at Papa’s Italian in Zimmerman.

Among the mystery authors present were David P. Holmes, Colin T. Nelson and New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger.

First up to describe his work was David P. Holmes. He is a former owner of Papa’s Italian who currently lives in Milaca where he’s written a number of mystery novels, including his most recent work, titled “Loose Gravel,” which is also set in Milaca. “I’m keenly interested in the plight of women in our culture,” he said, describing the themes of his novels, “and I even run a blog asking women who have been in abusive relationships to share their accounts.” He says he deals with the sadness of domestic abuse and violence against women in the only way he can, through his writing.

Sheri Olson, owner of Reading Frenzy BookShop, assigned each table to write a “movie trailer” for one of their favorite books by the authors, resulting in hilarious renditions replete with sound effects and drama.

At a table in the center of the room, Colin T. Nelson sat conspiring with a group of fans. He has written five novels and recently published “Reprisal,” a mystery/thriller novel about a terrorist cell attempting to infect Somali children in Minneapolis with the smallpox virus. He said he utilizes his experience as a public defender in his stories and added that religious tolerance is a theme running through all his works.
Having represented criminals all his life, he said he has a unique perspective on the criminal mind, which he applies to his work.

Asked by author Jane Toleno in the audience what the best and worst parts of being a successful author are, Nelson thought for only a second. “The worst part is the expectation you’re held to by your publisher and audience to make your next book as good as the last,” he laughed, “but the best part is people like you,” he said indicating the crowd. “You make it worthwhile.”

Prodigious and awarded writer William Kent Krueger is the author of the Cork O’Connor series, featuring 11 novels with his most recent one titled “Northwest Angle,” which made the New York Times Bestseller List. In his stories, he says he always tries to deliver a thrilling mystery with a sense of the remarkable nature of the north woods of Minnesota. His character, Cork O’Connor, is the former sheriff of fictitious Tamarack County set in northern Minnesota who often is entangled in thrilling and mysterious circumstances. The fact that the character of O’Connor is part Irish and part Ojibwe straddles the complex tensions between whites and Indians on the reservations and helps Krueger explore these themes in his novels.

Born in Wyoming in 1950, Krueger says he’s been a writer ever since the third grade but didn’t get published until he was 48 years old. As a child, his family moved around a lot, but he fondly recalls his years in Oregon growing up and often gives it the honor of calling it his birthplace.

Krueger was educated as a cultural anthropologist, but was forced to leave Stanford University after participating in anti-war protests during Vietnam.

In 1980 he and his wife, Diane, made Minnesota their home when they moved to St. Paul so Diane could finish her law degree.

Krueger says he fell in love with northern Minnesota, calling it “home” and sets his novels in its tranquil yet unpredictable environs.

“Minnesota is close to heaven,” he said. “It’s a stunningly beautiful place filled with the most hospitable people in the world. Even so,” he joked, “I’ve lived here in Minnesota now for 30 years and I’ve met a lot of people I’d like to see dead, so I put them in my novels.”

Krueger said he was incredibly lucky to begin seeking publication in a time when it was much easier to be published. “People ask me how I first got published and I tell them simply that my publishers just liked me,” he said with a smile. “But the truth is that publishers used to carry their authors if they saw potential in their work even if their writing wasn’t perfect or profitable,” he said, adding that publishing has changed dramatically since the 1990s.

Holmes, Nelson, and Krueger all cited Stephen King’s book “On Writing” as a helpful inspiration for their craft.

The evening concluded with book-signings and photographs for fans of the authors before they left the warmth and comfort of Papa’s Italian for the mysterious cold outside that thrills each and every Minnesotan’s heart.