The Big Seven - Jim Harrison

The title refers to the 7 deadly sins, a topic that is preoccupying Detective Sunderson now he's retired. That is, when he's not mourning the demise of his 40 year marriage to Diane or lusting after every woman he comes across young enough to be his grand daughter. 

Early on in the story, he attempts to rescue his adopted daughter from a drug addled rock star through a blackmail scheme. He comes home without the daughter but scores the cash & buys a cabin in upper Michigan. There he decides he will spend his days fishing & reflecting on the sorry state of his life. 

In short order he find himself embroiled in the lives of the Ames, a neighbouring family who redefines dysfunctional. It's rather telling that the most civilized & cultured of the group is the one who spent the most time in prison. Their compound is a hotbed of incest, domestic violence, rape, child abuse & alcoholism. He befriends (and beds) two of the young women but things get a little complicated when the men start dying at an alarming rate. Despite being retired, he plays an active role in the investigations...when he's not fishing or having sex with other women. 

Much of the story is taken up by his relationship with the Ames & the eventual resolution of  the murders. But don't mistake this for a suspense filled thriller. Even Sunderson himself seems oddly blasé about all the violence around him, preferring to bow to the whims & demands of the women in his life, meekly following their lead. The crimes occur mostly off page & are quickly glossed over, sparing us the graphic details. But almost more disturbing are passages where the girls describe their role as sex toys for brothers, fathers, uncles & cousins in the calm, matter of fact manner of discussing the weather. 

Through all this, Sunderson ponders where it all went wrong & why he can't seem to keep his pants zipped. During countless trips down memory lane & tangential musings, we accompany him as he recalls childhood friends, his mother, cases from his career, a pet dog, his courtship of Diane, thoughts on the Civil War & Siege of Leningrad, the history of Mexican dance, boa constrictors, food in general & poetry. 

These continue as it evolves into a road book & he travels to Arizona, New York, Mexico, Paris, Barcelona & Seville. Dialogue is kept to a minimum & the only voice we hear is his as we hang out in his head. 

After the Ames affair is resolved, Diane plays a larger role & her character injects some reason & insight. It's easy to understand why she divorced him but difficult to believe she could forgive one episode in particular & give him another chance. There are hints their relationship may shift but just as this begins to build the book abruptly ends.

This is a book that may provoke polarized reviews as it all hinges on whether or not you like Sunderson. The reader is with him 24/7 with no alternative voice to provide relief or different viewpoints. I grew tired of his constant whinging & (superficial) soul searching for the reasons behind his failings when he is clearly the author of his present situation. Despite all the mental meanderings, he's the same person at the end as when we started this journey....a 66 year old peeping Tom with too much time on his hands & no moral compass to point him in a new direction.

So I'm left with that dissatisfying feeling of "I don't get it". Perhaps I just don't share the author's sense of humour or I had trouble with some of the subject matter being told in such a light tone. As so often is the case, it all boils down to personal preference so you'll have to pick it up & decide for yourself whether Sunderson is someone you enjoy spending time with.



My thanks to Netgalley for providing an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.