cover image The Great Leader

The Great Leader

Jim Harrison. Grove, $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1970-4

Harrison (The English Teacher) offers a chunk of comic backwoods noir marked by more plodding than stalking. Detective Sunderson wallows in “the deep puzzlement of retirement” even as he pursues, on his own dime, a pedophilic cult leader. Known simply as “Dwight,” the quarry promises to unknot for Sunderson the bedeviling connections between sex, religion, and money. But Dwight barely appears on the page, leaving the detective often ruminating on his own distrust of money and spirituality, and obsessing about sex—which he actually gets a fair amount of for an overweight, drunk, sardonic, 64-year-old bachelor, despite his belief that the “biological imperative was a distracting nuisance.” Characters and themes like these pervade the prolific Harrison’s work; no one makes horny geezers so lovable, but some will wish he’d distilled this into the novella form he’s so good at. The story’s motifs of lust and power, sex and death resonate, yet the narrative’s slow progression keeps an otherwise entertaining literary investigation rooted in the oft-frozen ground of the Upper Peninsula. (Oct.)