Kristine’s May Pick – DEAD MAN DANCING by John Galligan
I kinda missed the publication of the second in John Galligan’s Bad Axe County series. I had read and liked BAD AXE COUNTY, but, as a huge fan of Galligan’s fly-fishing mystery series, BAD AXE COUNTY felt, to me, a bit as though he were targeting a more commercial effort. I take that all back with DEAD MAN DANCING. Here is all that I so loved about the fly-fishing series; the skillful descriptions of the landscape, the deft characterizations of the people who inhabit it…AND a heart-pounding, page turning thriller that…well, I did have things to do last weekend, but, they’ll still be there next weekend. (unless I encounter another title so engaging!) Plus, in this, Galligan takes on a lot. It is a fierce and unflinching look at the “culture” of white, small-town Wisconsin, so convinced of its own goodness that it cannot imagine that it could be…racist. Or misogynist. Or transphobic or homophobic.
In a curious, cultural coincidence, I finished this title on Syttende Mai, May 17th, Norwegian Constitution Day…an event that enjoys a 3-day celebration in DEAD MAN DANCING. County Sheriff Heidi Kick, as usual, has her hands full trying to juggle family life and the serious responsibilities of her job. A beat-to-near-death Latino man is found lying behind the hospital. An organization called the Sons of Tyr have applied to march in the Syttende Mai parade…along with the 4-H and the library float and the polka float and the County emergency vehicles. Her husband, Harley, already annoyed with her for taking so little time for her family, has been spotted out with another woman. Just to name a few things. Oh, and someone is sending threatening letters to “Sheriff Snowflake” because she had, earlier in the spring, charged her brother in law with incitement for driving around with an enormous Confederate flag hanging from the back of his truck.
County Board Chair Bob Check thinks she’s making mountains out of molehills. Sheriff Kick sees things through a wider lens. I truly enjoyed this read, but, also found it deeply uncomfortable because Galligan really does see us and understand us. Uncomfortable in that good way that makes you really examine your own biases. In another curious coincidence, there’s an article in the New York Times on 5/18/21 about the community of Wausau which, while still largely white, has seen its population diversify, particularly since the late 1970s when local churches began sponsoring the settlement of Hmong (Laotian) refugees. The Marathon County Board just voted NOT to accept a resolution declaring that Wausau was “a community for all.”
There are many good reasons to pick up DEAD MAN DANCING. And, since I was late to the party on this title, I’m happy to report that Galligan, who IS a Wisconsin writer, he doesn’t just write about Wisconsin, has another title in the series publishing at the end of June. That one is already in the library’s shopping cart!