John Galligan takes a big risk in “The Wind Knot” and it pays delicious dividends. That is, unless you’d rather plod through another treadmill-familiar plot.
In “The Wind Knot,” The Dog is finally trying hard to get back home, to face his past and stop—just maybe—from running from the tragedy that haunts him. (Sounds cliché; it’s not.) He realizes in this story that “a helluva lot of trout have suffered for nothing” while he was out drifting, sipping vodka-Tang and searching for answers—or pretending the questions don’t exist—in his waders.
But even after a ceremony designed to mark his changed ways, The Dog finds himself in the middle of the investigation over Heimo Kock’s demise. That’s partly because local legend Heimo Kock turns up in the back of his Cruise Master “way dead.”
Among other threads, the story leads to controversy over Ernest Hemingway’s presence on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the legacy—real or imagined—that he left behind.
Yes, this is “a mystery by John Galligan” but this is as much novel as it is mystery. The sleuth work is shared and it’s group think among one of the most unusual semi-backwoods, rural casts you’ll ever encounter.
Where “The Clinch Knot” and “The Blood Knot” were told in first-person with The Dog at the center of everything, Galligan switches to third person here and, drum roll please, lets “The Dog” disappear from the storyline for a long stretch in the middle of the book.
So, take your write-a-mystery-by-the-numbers kit and put it down. Now.
And savor. My copy was filled with Post-It note strips, marking colorful bits of prose. A river like a “sheet of root beer candy.” So many mosquitoes it feels like they are “trying to make a goddamn citizen’s arrest.” A guy speaks “pure Boston twelve-pack.” On and on.
There are two scenes alone that are worth every minute of reading “The Wind Knot” and they both feature erstwhile bookmobile librarian and Pippi Longstocking freak Esofea Smithback. The first scene involves Esofea, who has trapped The Dog in her her RV/Bookmobile, and is in the middle of a verbal smackdown over children’s literature. Esofea captures The Dog because she thinks he is responsible for dumping the body of Heimo Kock in the river. To fight for his honor, The Dog must prove his credentials as a father by showing his knowledge of children’s classics like “Make Way for Ducklings” and “McElligot’s Pool.”
The second scene involves bathrobe sashes, a bungee cord and Esofea’s childhood friend Danny Tervo, who believes he is about to finally get what he has long been after—that’s her—and he has come courting with a bottle of “Grigio.”
These are two of the best-written—and funniest—scenes I have read in many years. They are Elmore Leonard-esque, full of mean tension and underlying streaks of up of biting humor. Quentin Tarantino would love them.
I found myself reading slower and slower as the book progressed, enjoyed the wide range of both wild and utterly human characters, some of whom have big dreams and wicked ways to achieve them. The names throughout “The Wind Knot” are priceless—Heimo Kock, Fritz Skunk, Tim Shrigley, Danny Tervo, Margarite DuCharme (one of the most interesting lesbian cops you’ll ever encounter) and Luce County Sheriff Bruce “The Moose” Lodge.
“Everybody’s both innocent and guilty,” says Esofea. When she says it, she may as well be trying to clear the conscience of The Dog.
“The only thing that’s wrong is putting yourself above the flow of things,” she continues, and “thinking you know what’s right, and judging people, and believing that it’s your job to fix things. There’s no need for that. The karmic debt is always paid.”
The typical mystery arc is tortured in “The Wind Knot” and I loved it. There is plenty of action and, ultimately, the mystery is resolved. It’s not always neat, it’s not always clean. Kind of like a wind knot, which is not the kind of knot you purposely try to tie.
The Dog explains: “You get sloppy, your loop collapses and your fly goes through it, making a knot. You blame it on the wind. Sometimes it is the wind.”
Kind of like The Dog—a terribly real character in a very messy situation.
And the wind is blowing hard.