Review

The Great Leader

by Jim Harrison

After nearly 40 years, Simon Sunderson retires from the Michigan State Police. In the days leading up to his retirement, he had been working to solve an impossible case. It’s impossible because the victims refuse to file a complaint. They are followers of a man calling himself Dwight, or Daryl, or King David, the self-appointed leader of a religious cult living in the woods around Marquette. Maybe because he wasn’t quite ready to retire or whatever, Sunderson decides to pursue the Great Leader, as he refers to him, like a dog pursuing the scent of a bone. Sunderson is offended by the tendency of cult leaders to target youth as their personal sexual toys. However, he believes he can explain away his own voyeuristic ogling of --- and subsequent reaction to --- his underage neighbor Mona, mostly because, well, that’s just different.

"Author Jim Harrison has been writing about as long as Simon Sunderson was a Michigan State police officer. There’s no arguing that he’s honed his craft. I’m going to guess that fans of his many books will eat this one up, too."
 
Fall turns to winter, and the snows fly, as do the cult and its leader. Sunderson discovers that they have relocated to Arizona, not a bad place to be when it’s snowing in Michigan. So he assigns Mona the task of Internet research while he follows Dwight/Daryl/King David. Mona keeps him supplied with all the latest on the group’s activities, and feeds him some invaluable hints on how to survive in the American Southwest, and then Nebraska when they move on once again.
 
Had Sunderson not found a diversion in the pursuit of the Great Leader, he would have been looking forward to fishing for brook trout and finding someone to have sex with. That’s what his life after police work would have become.
 
In the midst of this fervor over finding the Great Leader, Sunderson takes a week’s sabbatical and roams the local mountains and other outdoor areas, musing about Indians, birds and the terrain in general. So now, when he’s not thinking about sex, he’s heading out on a nature/health/mind-clearing regimen. In the meantime, he remains a constant disappointment to his mother, who reminds him of this at every opportunity, and is put off by his sister --- or maybe it’s his sister’s husband. Nevertheless, he does the obligatory family visits, always hoping to find some pleasure in them. His mind, though, invariably seems to wander back to female erogenous zones, which brings about impure thoughts --- of Mona, of his ex-wife, or even of the waitress at breakfast. You name it. If it resembles a female, Sunderson lusts after it.
 
Fans of hardcore mysteries may like the, well, hardcore part, but may find the mystery part a bit less engaging, since it’s not really a mystery but a faux mystery, as the author calls it. Well, it is a mystery in the sense that the reader doesn’t know how it’s going to end, but it isn’t your usual whodunit because, you see, you know from the outset who did what and to whom. Besides, no one’s been murdered, so there’s no killer or locked room or obscure motive. But there is a weapon, and a chase scene. 
 
Author Jim Harrison has been writing about as long as Simon Sunderson was a Michigan State police officer. There’s no arguing that he’s honed his craft. I’m going to guess that fans of his many books will eat this one up, too.
 

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on October 27, 2011

The Great Leader
by Jim Harrison

  • Publication Date: October 30, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802145981
  • ISBN-13: 9780802145987