The Wind Knot

The Wind Knot

  • By: Seth Norman
The Wind Knot

By John Galligan
2011; Tyrus Books
327 pages; hardcover, $24.95; trade paperback, $14.95

John D. Voelker AND Ernest Hemingway painted the waters of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula onto this country’s literary maps—forever, unless secessionist “Yoopers” harboring pre-Civil-War grudges triumph someday. Faint chance . . . but no revolution will steal names like Frenchman’s Pond and rivers Escanaba, Two-Hearted and Fox from a country of mind American fly-fishing readers consider our own.

Meanwhile, to suspicious minds there’s already evidence of a confederacy between classic Southern writers and at least three MI fly-fishing authors gone or now going mainstream. Voelker fans may detect a touch in Danny and the Boys (although others may vigorously resent a connection); but it jumped up and barked in The White Mayfly, where James Heywood presented the kind of characters Flannery O’Connor described when asserting “. . . Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks . . . because we are still able to recognize one.”

An O’Connor influence seems evident in the first chapters of The Wind Knot, fifth book (and fourth Knot title) in John Galligan’s Mystery series. All these are knit together by the rarified world of the UP; also by the life and largely unfortunate times of a weary-to-despair fly-fishing vagrant, Ned “Dog” Ogilvie. Through his personal crises, we are introduced to a slimy, obsessively envious faux fly fisher, and the fresh corpse of his awfully successful, blowhard of a brother. This leads us to an antic and frantic, bleeding-heart librarian when she blows a load of rock salt (via shotgun) into Dog’s back; her con-man-cum-polymath boyfriend; and then what I find the most sympathetic and sane protagonist, an impossibly gorgeous, new-in-town sheriff’s deputy, just outed to all by her girlfriend from hell.

I read on, because Galligan’s prose often crackles and his dialog dances; and because his humor provides deft combinations of slapstick laughs and literate wit. Then his plot thickens while picking up speed, even as he succeeds at something very few mystery writers have done well: weaving fly-fishing and the fly-fishing business into motives and clues in ways that don’t require a suspension of disbelief way up in space. Mercifully, it also doesn’t require me to digest a fly-fishing primer in the process.

I like that (I read a lot of primers). But here’s what I like far better by Knot’s end.

Those characters who at first seem so over the top? Too much one thing or another, veering too close to caricature as they wander through landscapes as wild as Deliverance or Memphis or Watts? Many turn into pilgrims on real and revealing human journeys. They face gritty choices well or badly, with courage or cowardice. And among their conflicts is one that aches, from the title of a book by another great Southern writer, Carson McCuller: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

By the time that connection occurred to me I’d decided two things: I’d gift this book to somebody I like, although certainly not just anybody I like. And I’ll also buy the next in the series, or maybe one of the earlier releases, which I’ve heard some Galligan fans like even more.

Seth Norman lives in Bellingham, Washington, where he toils with smallmouth bass, an occasional steelhead, and mounds of new fly-fishing books, from which he selects and details the best.