When we think of Wisconsin, we think of Milwaukee, or Madison, where the university creates its own college culture. We don’t think of the rural southeast corner where Wisconsin rubs shoulders with the Mississippi River, where there are Amish, and where folks can literally disappear into the countryside with no one the wiser. It’s in this place, Bad Axe County, where Sheriff Heidi Kick lives with her husband and three children.
Author John Galligan lives and teaches in Madison, so he has ample opportunity to study the rural areas, and in the Bad Axe series and the newest mystery, “Bad Moon Rising,” the rural countryside is as much a part of the story as a character might be. The prologue introduces a character who is troubled, a transient person we know suffers from a mental health disorder. He is not treated well. We also are informed of the temperature in Bad Axe County. It’s a broiling hot summer, this August in 2019, and the temperatures are in the 90s and over 100. Tempers are short. And while this book is the third in the series, reading it as I did, without having read the previous mysteries, one does not feel at a loss. This book works well as a stand alone novel.
While we understand that there is more to Sheriff Heidi Kick thank meets the eye, it suffices to know that she is running for reelection as county sheriff, and her opponent is a poor excuse for a candidate. The more we learn about him, the more despicable he becomes. The sheriff’s husband is out of town playing baseball, and his mother has come to help the sheriff with their children. The oldest daughter is at camp, trying to figure out some issues she’s had. One of the twins, Taylor, has been causing trouble, so we see firsthand how a powerful woman with an important job balances family and work. Hint: when there are people in danger, the job wins.
We also meet Grape Fanta, a newpaper journalist who is out of a job but continuing to write headlines and research articles nonetheless. He was injured in Vietnam and has lived in Bad Axe County for decades. He knows everyone, and he’s on the trail of a lunatic who has been making phone calls and writing crazy letters to him for years. But when his research takes him a bit too far off the beaten path, he’s in trouble.
From the first page, where we learn about the transient guy, to the last, the omniscient third person narrator helps us understand several of the main characters. We meet those who are confused, those who are noble, and those who are truly depraved — perhaps a few too many of the latter since it seems that Axe County is a perfect place for lowlifes to come and think they can get away with almost anything. And many of them have been doing just that for a long time. But there’s a new sheriff in town (well, she’s not really that new at this point, but you get the idea), and she’s not letting crime go unpunished.
Galligan writes a solid action story with plenty of different plot strands and various characters that serve to keep our attention. How it all comes together is unexpected, but logical, as we see it through Sheriff Kick’s eyes. Galligan includes many topics that make this a novel of our times: gender issues, wasting disease in deer, crossover of diseases from animals to humans, living off the grid, rural gender stereotypes, mental health issues, and simple problems relating to work-life balance. There’s a lot packed into this crime novel that might just merit further investigation.
This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Atria Paperback, for review purposes.