“Bad Day Breaking” is author John Galligan’s latest entry in his popular Bad Axe County series. While the title of the novel is “Bad Day Breaking,” the novel actually covers several really bad days for the local county head of law enforcement, Sheriff Heidi Kick. She is a native of the area, and that means that most everyone knows her troubled background. But now she’s married with children and loves her job as sheriff, even if the county board in charge of the sheriff’s department has saddled her with a deputy sheriff who is, at best, incompetent, and at worst involved in some extremely unsavory business. As the novel opens, that person is manhandling the “prophet,” a person leading what locals are calling a cult. The House of Shalah, as they call themselves, and the man leading them, whom they all call “father,” all live on land they purchased; the prophet and his wife in a motor home, the followers in a storage facility on the property. There is no running water or heat.
It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and Heidi is debating whether or not to meet an old friend from her pre-sheriff days. She’s worried about the situation with the cult and also worried about the townspeople who formed their own group called “Kill the Cult,” headed by none other than the deputy sheriff’s husband, a man with anger issues, who was fired from a notorious prison for his behavior. Interspersed with the chapters are pages of email correspondence from inmates at the local prison to an unidentified person, which emails give some information about the inmates who are soon to be released. We figure they are going to be important in the story, but we’re not sure how.
Through the multiple points of view from which the story is narrated, we meet Fernanda, who is a member of the cult. She was married to cult member Roy, who disappeared suddenly. She was then given as a wife to one of the thugs who recently joined the cult. We discover that the “prophet” uses the women in the cult as concubines whenever he wants, and we also learn that he is not above pedophilia. We quickly see that the title is very apropos of the day before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving itself, and the day after the holiday. They are a few of the worst days Sheriff Heidi Kick will ever experience, and she’s not the only one who will be tested and will suffer during that time.
Galligan repeatedly mentions Waco in the narrative. One of the characters is a recently retired Duke Hashimoto, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He remembers the tragedies of Waco, and through his reminiscences, we learn about the fiasco and how the government lied and misrepresented what happened. He mostly remembers all the children who died and how that horror was covered up. He and Heidi are determined that the same thing will not happen with the House of Shalah.
Heidi’s mother-in-law, who recently moved in with their family, has problems of her own. She drinks too much and is resentful of Heidi and the fact they expect her to help with her grandchildren. She has a new gentleman friend, and Galligan makes it clear that we should be wary of this person, whom he keeps mysteriously hidden. Heidi is also worried about her ex-boyfriend and former drug dealer, who went to prison based on her testimony. He’s out of prison now, and she’s pretty sure that he’s looking for payback. Pretty quickly, we see that there is no doubt he’s out for revenge.
What we don’t know is how all the seemingly disparate pieces will fit together, and how Heidi will unravel the multiple webs of murder and bad guys and stop the violence. She’s also on the run after some pretty poor decisions she had made, so the tension is high. One of the things I wished for was that the author had provided a map of the cult’s property and the scenes where other actions take place. It was difficult at times to keep track of where things were, and which people were connected and in what ways.
The ending is not surprising, but will make readers wonder if and how the series will continue. Galligan has created a series that wonderfully captures the rural Midwest and manages to encompass the good and the evil. There are people who genuinely care about others effectively contrasted with those who are small-minded and provincial. There is, indeed, hate in many of the prejudiced people, but there are also those who have true kindness in their hearts. In this novel, we see more of the former, truly despicable people who enjoy their cruelty. Do not look for a happy ending here. There is none. Instead, what we get is the simple truth: life goes on.
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.