The small towns and coulees of southwest Wisconsin might not sound like a typical setting for a noir crime novel, but some very dark deeds propel this one.
Galligan (The Wind Knot, 2011, etc.) builds the complex plot of this intense novel around three strong central characters. Heidi Kick is interim sheriff of rural Bad Axe County, tapped after the death of her corrupt predecessor. Besides dealing with workplace sexism and the seemingly endless crimes generated by pervasive poverty and substance abuse, she’s still trying to solve the deaths of her parents 12 years ago, wrongly (she believes) written off as a murder-suicide. Bad Axe native and one-time local baseball hero Angus Beavers walks out of spring training in Florida to return to his family’s junkyard when he hears the old sheriff is dead, pursuing a mysterious mission involving a long-frozen corpse. Teenage Pepper Greengrass arrives in the Bad Axe town of Farmstead in the van of a pimp, having run away from her home in the Wisconsin Dells and her abusive stepfather. She’s armed with lots of attitude but might have underestimated how much danger awaits her. In well-crafted prose, Galligan alternates among them until their stories crash together in a mystery driven by savage misogyny and human trafficking. His portrait of life in the rural Midwest is about as far from bucolic as possible but vividly convincing. The book pulls no punches in its nightmarish depictions of violence, an essential part of its plot. In its early chapters, the book’s mordant humor, female sheriff, and quirky minor characters echo the movie Fargo, but Galligan raises the stakes beyond the comic. And indomitable Heidi, fiercely smart Pepper, and Angus, goodhearted despite his dreadful upbringing, are characters worth caring about.
Striking prose, engaging characters, and a searing story of crimes rooted in the heartland power a darkly irresistible thriller.