Ex-cop Sunderson is as bemused as ever in Harrison’s follow-up to The Great Leader (2011).
“The Big Seven” are those deadly sins their Lutheran pastor thundered against when Sunderson was a boy, leaving him with a permanent fixation on his own and others’ moral failings. Lechery and gluttony are definitely the big ones for the now-retired Michigan State Police detective: This semimystery contains the same abundant, enthusiastic descriptions of food found in virtually all Harrison’s work, and the heavy drinking that led to Sunderson's divorce from still-beloved Diane doesn’t keep him from a booklong affair with 19-year-old Monica or a one-night stand with his adopted daughter, Mona (both relationships, improbably and distastefully, initiated by the young women). Sunderson’s misdeeds pale in comparison to those of the Ames family, which occupies three ramshackle farmhouses near his fishing cabin in rural Michigan. Monica is one of the low-life clan’s many women abused from childhood by male relatives; the lurid plot is launched by her sister Lily’s death in a shootout with her cousin Tom, both wielding AK-47s. It doesn’t get any more plausible after this, as an epidemic of poisonings carries off several more Ameses, none of them any great loss. Violence should definitely be considered the eighth deadly sin, concludes Sunderson, whose efforts to write an essay on the subject—and to cut down on his drinking—bring him closer to Diane and the possibility of a reconciliation. You can’t help but like feckless, unpretentiously intellectual Sunderson, inclined to tie himself in metaphysical knots when not fishing or otherwise engaging with the natural world whose splendors, movingly described, succor him in a way nothing else can. The poisonings are resolved with yet more bloodshed, and the possibility of another case for our hero is blatantly flourished.
After a lifetime of deep, dark fiction like Dalva (1988) and True North (2004), Harrison is entitled to relax with these autumnal ramblings.