THE GREAT LEADER by Jim Harrison


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A mountain, a mess and an agonized moralist, Detective Sunderson makes this mock-epic one of the most memorable tales of contemporary master Harrison (In Search of Small Gods, 2009, etc.).

Swigging schnapps, feeding his face, sneaking midnight peeks at Mona, the nymphet next door—when it comes to lawmen, Sunderson’s seems a Wyatt Burp. But joining the ramshackle lifestyle and tough-guy exterior (he’s a dead-ringer for Bobby Duval) is a blazing, obsessive intelligence. Which, just as he’s retiring from a 30-year gig on a backwoods Midwest force, fixates on Dwight, a Jim Jones in a tree costume (!) who robs his brainwashed cult members and rapes their underaged daughters. Anyone who deserts him, he says, will be “reincarnated as an amoeba buried in a dog turd." Tracking the on-the-lam menace from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the Arizona wastes, Sunderson gets literally stoned by crazed Dwightniks, has sex with another (atop a woodpile), tangles with deranged desperado Xavier (who slays with an artificial hand), takes a break to visit his own 85-year-old chain-smoking ma and enlists Mona to hack into Dwight’s computer. Whew! Yet plot here, however manic, mainly provides excuse for Sunderson’s meditations. We get his pet peeves: “the frivolous white canticles of the Beatles,” the war in Iraq, Anderson Cooper (who reminds him of a chipmunk) and all pundits who subscribe to “the hideously mistaken idea that talking is thinking." We get his passion for history, of which he reads reams, the measured assessment of past chaos providing him solace from the present-day version. And, largely, we get minute-by-minute torrent-of-consciousness observations on growing old, as well as ruminations on nature, loyalty and family.

Wounds-and-all portrait of a lion in winter, beleaguered but still battling.


Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1970-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2011


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