Murder, deceit and corruption are all in a day’s work for Detective Maggie D’arcy and Sheriff Heidi Kick, who hunt down killers while wrangling with office politics, family matters and the patriarchy in two exciting series entries.
Sarah Stewart Taylor’s A Distant Grave is a complex, slow-burning follow-up to 2020’s The Mountains Wild, wherein readers learned of the family tragedy that inspired Maggie D’arcy to become a homicide detective. The aftereffects still linger for Maggie; trauma “sits sleeping, for years, and then comes back, in ways you never would have expected.” She has reengaged in the rhythms of Long Island daily life, but her daughter, Lilly, is still reeling from the death by suicide of her father, Maggie’s ex-husband.
When the body of Irish citizen Gabriel Treacy is found in affluent Bay Shore Manor Park, Maggie’s detective brain snaps into focus. She welcomes the chance to concentrate on a case she can solve rather than emotional pain she cannot. The district attorney believes the victim is a casualty of gang warfare, but there must be more to the story. Why was he murdered in an area to which he has no ties? Are the horrific scars on his back related to his death?
Maggie thinks the answers are in Ireland, where her boyfriend, Conor, lives. She travels there with Lilly and teams up with Roly Byrne of the Irish Garda (the national police). In the county Clare countryside, they learn Treacy was an international aid worker who was kidnapped and tortured in Afghanistan years ago, and had recently been searching for the brother placed for adoption by his mother years before Treacy was born.
Just as the disparate puzzle pieces begin to fit together, the DA orders Maggie back to Long Island. Determined to get justice for Treacy, she navigates naysayers and shrugs off looming danger as she closes in on the complicated, sad truth of his demise. With painstaking investigative work and conflicted internal monologues from a protagonist who is something of an enigma, even to herself, Taylor has crafted another believable and intriguing installment of Maggie’s story.
A thousand miles away in John Galligan’s fictional Bad Axe County, Wisconsin, another person is found dead: a homeless young man with two gunshot wounds and no identification who, Sheriff Heidi Kick is appalled to learn, was buried alive.
That’s just one of the myriad things Heidi’s got on her precariously overloaded plate as Bad Moon Rising opens. To paraphrase one of her what-on-earth-is-going-on mental tallies: Her period is 17 days late; her young son’s unexplained anger is ramping up; in 87 days she’s up for reelection against the deplorable Barry Rickreiner (and his vicious mother, Babette); and an anonymous emailer is offering supposedly damning information about her opponent.
When more victims are found and other crimes unearthed, Larry “Grape” Fanta, Vietnam veteran and editor of the Bad Axe Broadcaster for 43 years, proffers assistance to “his favorite sheriff.” Sure, “his pig [heart] valve felt sticky as it flapped,” but his brain and will are strong, and he has a hunch that the increasingly disturbing letters and calls he’s fielded over the years might be related to the murders.
Galligan moves between multiple points of view—widely varied, all compelling—as Heidi’s investigation takes her through oft-hostile and dangerously rugged country, with a relentless heatwave and toxic political machinations ramping up the tension. The author’s trademark dark humor is in fine form here, whether through Heidi’s irrepressible dispatcher, Denise, or well-wrought descriptions like “torrid mist of atomized manure.”
As the pages turn, the author prompts readers to consider a range of timely issues (climate change, homelessness, corrosive wealth) via masterfully executed and action-packed storylines that coalesce in a shockingly memorable final act sure to leave readers eager for the next Bad Axe County thriller.