The great leader A faux mystery

Jim Harrison, 1937-2016

Book - 2011

Even with retirement in view, Detective Sunderson decides to investigate a cult that has settled near his home nonetheless. Although their so-called 'Great Leader' initially appears to be harmless, Sunderson and his teenage sidekick unearth some startling information. As he digs deeper, Sunderson's search for the Great Leader's true intentions takes him from Michigan to Arizona to Nebraska.

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FICTION/Harrison, Jim
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Subjects
Published
New York : Grove Press : distributed by Publishers Group West c2011.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
329 p. ; 22 cm
ISBN
9780802119704
0802119700
Main Author
Jim Harrison, 1937-2016 (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The world needs more hard-boiled mysteries written by soft-boiled poets. It's been 30 years since the late Richard Hugo wrote the delicious Death and the Good Life, and now we have this very similar tale from poet and novelist Harrison. Like Mush Heart Barnes in Hugo's book, Harrison's hero, sixtysomething Sunderson, is given to weeping. And why not? He's reeling from a soul-crushing divorce, he's just retired from his job as county sheriff in the wilds of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and he's been spotted peeping at the high-school girl next door as she does her nude yoga. What Sunderson needs is a new case. Sure, he's retired, but there's still the unresolved matter of cult leader Dwight, aka the Great Leader, who, Sunderson knows, is doing more than peeping at the cult's teenage followers. So it's off on a quixotic adventure to the Arizona desert for the hard-drinking, hopelessly sensitive, dangerously good-hearted, unflaggingly randy ex-sheriff. Hoping to corral Dwight and finally understand the evil connection between religion, money, and sex, Sunderson mostly muses and mopes—about the impossibility of his quest, about the unfairness of getting old, about whether he should stop drinking (To even think of quitting made him feel that life was on the verge of cheating him), and about lost love in all its agonizing forms. It's hardly a mystery at all, really, but after about five pages, most readers will be willing to follow Sunderson anywhere. After all, our hero reminds us, the purpose of life, simply enough, was life. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The "great leader," who has gathered his little tribe in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, seems like just another genial religious nutcase. But then divorced, hard-drinking, and ready-to-retire Detective Sunderson starts tracking his past, and the leader looks like trouble indeed. Expect brilliantly tough-edged writing from the beloved Harrison. [Page 58]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Perhaps best known for his film-adapted collection of novellas, Legends of the Fall, Harrison is one of the most prolific writers of recent times, with an expansive body of work ranging from poetry (Letters to Yesenin) to children's literature (The Boy Who Ran to the Woods). Set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Harrison's favorite location, this book does not offer the continuing story line of familial heartbreak and reconciliation explored in True North and Returning to Earth, but common themes of alcoholism and loneliness in the Upper Peninsula. Divorced, alcoholic, and recently retired detective Sunderson journeys from Michigan to Nebraska as he tracks a cult and its charismatic leader, whose commitment to evading capture is as strong as Sunderson's commitment to finding him. This cat-and-mouse game between the two main characters is used effectively to explore the intrinsic tensions between the universal truths of justice, religion, and mortality. VERDICT A classic Harrison novel, complete with humorous and introspective characters. [See Prepub Alert, 4/4/11.]—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH [Page 84]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Harrison (The English Teacher) offers a chunk of comic backwoods noir marked by more plodding than stalking. Detective Sunderson wallows in "the deep puzzlement of retirement" even as he pursues, on his own dime, a pedophilic cult leader. Known simply as "Dwight," the quarry promises to unknot for Sunderson the bedeviling connections between sex, religion, and money. But Dwight barely appears on the page, leaving the detective often ruminating on his own distrust of money and spirituality, and obsessing about sex—which he actually gets a fair amount of for an overweight, drunk, sardonic, 64-year-old bachelor, despite his belief that the "biological imperative was a distracting nuisance." Characters and themes like these pervade the prolific Harrison's work; no one makes horny geezers so lovable, but some will wish he'd distilled this into the novella form he's so good at. The story's motifs of lust and power, sex and death resonate, yet the narrative's slow progression keeps an otherwise entertaining literary investigation rooted in the oft-frozen ground of the Upper Peninsula. (Oct.) [Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Retired Detective Sunderson must get past his troubles with alcohol if he and an unlikely 16-year-old sidekick are ever going to expose an elusive cult leader called The Great Leader. By the best-selling author of Legends of the Fall and The Farmer's Daughter.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Retired Detective Sunderson must get past his troubles with alcohol if he and an unlikely sixteen-year-old sidekick are ever going to expose an elusive cult leader called The Great Leader.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Retired Detective Sunderson must get past his troubles with alcohol if he and an unlikely 16-year-old sidekick are ever going to expose an elusive cult leader called The Great Leader.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

Author Jim Harrison has won international acclaim for his masterful body of work, including Returning to Earth, Legends of the Fall and over thirty books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In his most original work to date, Harrison delivers an enthralling, witty and expertly-crafted novel following one man’s hunt for an elusive cult leader, dubbed “The Great Leader.”On the verge of retirement, Detective Sunderson begins to investigate a hedonistic cult, which has set up camp near his home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At first, the self-declared Great Leader seems merely a harmless oddball, but as Sunderson and his sixteen-year-old sidekick dig deeper, they find him more intelligent and sinister than they realized. Recently divorced and frequently pickled in alcohol, Sunderson tracks his quarry from the woods of Michigan to a town in Arizona, filled with criminal border-crossers, and on to Nebraska, where the Great Leader’s most recent recruits have gathered to glorify his questionable religion. But Sunderson’s demons are also in pursuit of him.Rich with character and humor, The Great Leader is at once a gripping excursion through America’s landscapes and the poignant story of a man grappling with age, lost love and his own darker nature.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

Author Jim Harrison has won international acclaim for his masterful body of work, including Returning to Earth, Legends of the Fall and over thirty books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In his most original work to date, Harrison delivers an enthralling, witty and expertly-crafted novel following one man’s hunt for an elusive cult leader, dubbed ?The Great Leader.”On the verge of retirement, Detective Sunderson begins to investigate a hedonistic cult, which has set up camp near his home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At first, the self-declared Great Leader seems merely a harmless oddball, but as Sunderson and his sixteen-year-old sidekick dig deeper, they find him more intelligent and sinister than they realized. Recently divorced and frequently pickled in alcohol, Sunderson tracks his quarry from the woods of Michigan to a town in Arizona, filled with criminal border-crossers, and on to Nebraska, where the Great Leader’s most recent recruits have gathered to glorify his questionable religion. But Sunderson’s demons are also in pursuit of him.Rich with character and humor, The Great Leader is at once a gripping excursion through America’s landscapes and the poignant story of a man grappling with age, lost love and his own darker nature.