Oversexed, booze-soaked detective Frank Sunderson last delighted readers while hunting a cult Svengali in Jim Harrison’s The Great Leader. In that 2011 novel, Sunderson barely survived an ambush. Thankfully, he lived so Harrison could bring him back in his new, delicious sequel, The Big Seven.
Sunderson returns severely frayed at the edges for a go at some murderous backwoods bad guys. He’s still adrift, torn up over his divorce from his beloved wife, Diane. She retains top billing in his deep pool of regret, now overflowing with shapely female bottoms, empty whiskey bottles, and the stress of a policeman’s life.
Harrison, as usual, lights up every page, blazing into Sunderson’s tender heart as the detective examines his life in terms of the seven deadly sins. Harrison sets the hook by page two as Diane calls Sunderson while he’s fishing for brook trout in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Fishing is religion to Sunderson, the only way he finds peace without alcohol. He guesses correctly Diane’s call is about their adopted daughter, Mona. She’s one of the few things they have left in common.
Sure enough, Diane reveals Mona has left her studies at the University of Michigan to follow a shady musician. So Sunderson sets off for New York City to find her, running into bone-breaking trouble and an ethical dilemma. But what the hell, he’s retired from the force.
Sunderson heals some substantial injuries in a cushy rehab facility on Diane’s generous dime. It’s clear she still nurses a soft spot for Sunderson, who laments—boy does he lament—losing this one force of good in his life.
Once recovered, Sunderson uses some ill-gotten cash to fulfill a dream, buying a quiet cabin in the UP. It comes with a stream full of delicious trout and is bordered by the Ames’ family compound. Sunderson’s fishing buddy Marion advises against buying in this questionable neighborhood. He knows the local authorities—also Sunderson’s former pals on the force—largely turn a blind eye to the Ames’ violent family history of incest and wife abuse. But tough guy Sunderson simply tucks his Glock in his waistband, pulls on his waders and begins pulling fat trout out of the water for supper. But soon, bodies begin to fall, fires are set, and young women find Sunderson as irresistible as catnip.
Yes, this is a Jim Harrison novel. Who said retirement should be just fishing and sunsets? Shouldn’t there be frequent romps with women barely old enough to vote or who live next door and have open marriages and do nude yoga in front of open windows? And beautiful 19-year-olds who nurture you with delicious stews, become murder suspects and just might be carrying your baby? Not that you’d care too much because the police force is behind you, but then there’s that crime-solving itch making you pop the hood. And why wouldn’t you end up in Paris rescuing your now heroin-addicted, adopted daughter, and then oops, she wants to have sex with you?
Right? In The Big Seven, Harrison keeps his signature heat cranked and surprise coming on every sin-soaked page. And he delivers a delightful ending, too, as Sunderson breaks the through gloaming, after taking us along for a fantastic ride.
Harrison, Jim. The Big Seven: A Faux Mystery. Grove Press. 2014.