There are those who wish interim sheriff Heidi Kick would stay home and make “easy cheesy recipes.” They aren’t used to a woman sheriff in Bad Axe County. Her detractors refer to Heidi Kick as “Dairy Queen.” It’s not an endearment. The nickname is often accompanied by a choice word that begins with the letter f.
This is scruffy Wisconsin, home to “tiny hard-luck farms, the cinder-block taverns at the junctions, the dusty milk truck on evening rounds, the Amish buggies clip-clopping on the shoulder, the gas stations pushing cheese curds and lottery tickets.”
Heidi Kick could use some luck. She is a thirtyish mother of three.” She wears a “beige cow pie of a hat” and she’s on day number seventeen of her interim gig. She recognizes the urge to take matters into her own hands.
Heidi Kick has ample motivation. The overriding issue? When Heidi Kick was a teenager, Heidi’s parents were shot to death on their farm. The police declared it murder-suicide. Heidi knows the cops got it wrong—they discounted her claim that the family’s real gun was missing along with a whole box of Whiz-Bang bullets.
Now she’s married to baseball legend Harley Kick and the usual clutter of cop concerns gets heavily complicated with the search for one missing teenage girl and then the discovery of the body of another.
Copies of Bad Axe County likely will not be sold in spiffy displays on the receptionist counters across The Badger State. No picturesque lakes or pastoral dairy farms here. (See that country noir cover.) John Galligan swoops into the dark coulees along the river. He finds squalid junk yards. He finds sex traffickers, meth heads, black market gun dealers, and otherwise regular Wisconsinites keeping very dark secrets.
Galligan introduces us to a raft of characters, but this is Heidi Kick’s story. Once she draws a bead, watch out. Nothing comes easy-cheesy. It’s hard not to think of Gloria Burgle, the cop in the third season of the FX series “Fargo,” but I say there’s plenty of room out there for smart female cops with deep internal landscapes who toil in the Upper Midwest (sign me up!). And Kick springs from the prose of the masterful Galligan, who knows how to get a story moving.
If you’ve read Galligan’s excellent and highly underrated fly-fishing mysteries, featuring antihero trout bum Ned “The Dog” Oglivie, who is frequently buzzed on vodka and Tang, it’s fun to see Galligan work with a straight-up, hard-nosed cop who will dive in, quite literally, when the time comes. (It’s very hard to imagine Galligan writing a book without water around. One character in Bad Axe County is exonerated because he “don’t even lie about fishing.” And more than once Heidi Kick finds herself drenched in the drink.)
Bad Axe County has all the appearances of a rough-and-tumble mystery-thriller, but it’s also a strong tale about missing young girls (and the stupid, entitled men who prey on them). Interim sheriff Kick, who struggles to balance her career with family matters, is the right person to bring a truckload of empathy.
Sheriff Kick is scrolling through computer postings of missing girls, which include digital rendering of what the children might look like today. “The computer projections broke her heart, how the technology gave these girls futures, tracked them into lives they had never lived. The software seemed so sensitive and accurate that even personality traits revealed in the original picture evolved with digital precision. A real girl looked at the camera with a cold hint of suspicion at age fourteen. Ten years later, the bloated rage beneath her defeat seemed stirringly real.”
Long may Sheriff Kick run. The latest Galligan offering is one bad axe book.
Fly Fishing Mysteries: