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BAD AXE COUNTY
by John Galligan
Atria Books, July 2019
326 pages
$26.00
ISBN: 1982110708


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

No thriller I have read has a setting as striking as John Galligan's BAD AXE COUNTY. The Coulees in Southwestern Wisconsin is an distinctive area. In the words of the heroine, Heidi White Kick, "We never had the glacier, so we're like a million years old." Translated into geology-speak, The Coulees is an area that missed glaciation in the last ice age, resulting in a region of ridges and gullies, twisted winding roads, rivers, spring flooding and the best trout fishing in the US. It is also home to corrupt law enforcement, smuggling of farm machinery, meth labs, the trafficking of underage girls and baseball.

Enter Heidi White Kick, ex-Wisconsin state Dairy Queen, and now interim sheriff of Bad Axe County. With the death of corrupt sheriff Gibbs, Deputy Heidi is now the acting sheriff. It's April 2016 and the freezing rain is causing the start of the flooding season.

Back in July 2004, as Heidi was being crowned Dairy Queen of Wisconsin, her parents were gruesomely murdered at their hardscrabble farm in The Coulees. Twelve years later Heidi is still haunted by the unsolved murder, but she has taken to police work with a gusto that suggests revenge on the "zombie killers" (as she names them) who lurk everywhere. She has just solved a double murder in Bishop's Coulee - another zombie down!

After a bloody encounter at the library, a man with an underage girl in a blue van becomes the focus of Heidi's interest. In alternating chapters, we follow the terror of Pepper Greengrass, of the Winnebago tribe, who appears at a stag party, is sold and sold again to worse and worse men. Heidi is ready to risk her life to find and save Pepper, although Heidi's husband and three kids are waiting for her at home.

Heidi is also following the case of the missing Sophie who disappeared back in 2004 after a stag party to celebrate a big game of the Bad Axe Rattlers , the local baseball team, now managed by Heidi's husband Harley Kick. It appears that Harley might have been involved in what happened to the girl, just to make Heidi's search for the zombies who might have taken Sophie even worse.

Heidi is badass. It does not appear that she sleeps during this three-day drama. She is shot at, beaten into unconsciousness and finds herself near drowning in the Mississippi and later must wade-swim across several storm-filled low places to complete her goals.

John Galligan has hit this one out of the park. The characters are great, from peppery Pepper to Denise, who handles communications at the station and lightens Heidi up with the worst and most violent sexist jokes she can find, and knows lots first hand about the goings on in Bad Axe since 2004 and before.

Heidi's three little kids, Ophelia, Dylan and Taylor act as an innocent counterbalance to the badness of Bad Axe, until they are threatened by a twitter troll and Heidi goes into overdrive.

Prepare for an all-nighter when you pick up BAD AXE COUNTY. You will be afraid to put it down for fear of terror-ridden Zombie dreams.

Susan Hoover is a playwright, independent producer and retired college English teacher. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Reviewed by Susan Hoover, July 2019

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