Tue 10 Apr 2007
JOHN GALLIGAN – The Nail Knot
Worldwide; paperback reprint, October 2006. Trade paperback: Bleak House, May 2005.
A “nail knot” is one of those clever devices that are used most often by fly fishermen, and as such it is something I knew nothing about before reading this book. (The last time I went fishing was with my grandfather when I was ten or so, when all we did was to drop our lines into water off a long pier jutting out into Lake Michigan. No casting abilities of any kind required. Nor did we catch anything, but why do I still remember the day, now well over fifty years ago?)
The primary protagonist of The Nail Knot, a laid back sort of fellow who calls himself the Dog, is a fly fisherman, however, and I’ll get back to him in a minute.
In the meantime, here is a short list of other mystery novels or series which I’ve just come up with in which fly fishing is a substantial component, in no particular order.
Blood Atonement, by Jim Tenuto. Series character [SC]: fly-fishing guide Dahlgren Wallace.
Bitch Creek, by William Tapply. SC: Stoney Calhoun, amnesiac worker in a bait and tackle shop in rural Maine.
Pale Morning Done, by Jeff Hull. SC: Montana fly-fishing guide Marshall Tate.
Dead Boogie: A Loon Lake Fishing Mystery, by Victoria Houston. SC: Chief Ferris, Doc Osborne and Ray Pradt. [There are several in this series.]
There are probably others that I am not thinking of now. Please add others, if you can. This is the first of at least three books in John Galligan’s “Dog” series, but some research shows that he wais the author of one earlier mystery novel, Red Sky, Red Dragonfly, also published by Bleak House (in 2001), in which a hockey player from Wisconsin travels to Japan to teach English for a year and ends up being implicated in his predecessor’s disappearance.
Subsequent and/or reportedly forthcoming follow-ups in John Galligan’s fly fishing series are:
The Clinch Knot. Bleak House. Spring, 2007. [UPDATE: Unpublished as of April 2007.]
The Surgeon’s Knot.
The Wind Knot.
This is a long-range projection, and I suspect that some of these titles may turn out to be totally hypothetical. But assuming that you’re still with me, let’s take a look at the book in hand. As mentioned above, “the Dog” is how the leading character refers to himself — he tells the story, and on a strictly personal basis, it’s quite a story that has to tell.
The Dog’s real name is Ned Oglivie, and he is what you might call a dropout from the human race, wandering across the country and checking out fishing spots as he goes. A nomadic fly fisherman without parallel, you might say. Until he reaches Black Earth, Wisconsin, that is, where it is that he finds a body along the edge of the creek that leading into (or out of) local Lake Bud. (You can see that even though it may be an important plot point, it didn’t make much of an impression on me.)
He also finds The Woman, but not until she removes from the crime scene all of the evidence that (Dog later learns) points to her semi-senile father. But let the Dog describe the lady, from page 13:
You expect me, I suppose, to tell you that she was a gorgeous creature, or lay out for you some other such cunning nonsense. But it wasn’t like that. The last thing the Dog wanted in those days was attraction to a woman. Plus that was far from the mood, and this woman was anything but gorgeous. She was more like confusing. She had already shown me the clod-hopping ability of a teen-aged boy. She was dressed like that too — dirty jeans and work boots, a t-short that had once been white, a dirty-green John Deere cap with a pair of cheap sunglasses up on the brim. Her thighs and arms and shoulders were thick, and her posture atop the stream mud was on the dark side of dainty. But there was a frazzled spark of red-blond ponytail sticking out the back of the cap. There were breasts strapped down by a sports bra beneath the t-shirt. There were tears in her eyes. Earth to Dog: woman.
You can tell at once that the Dog is hooked. Her name is Melvina Racheletta O’Malley, or Junior for short, and the Dog discovers to his dismay that he cannot walk away when she asks him to help her in what she insists is a frame-up of her father, Mel.
The dead man has only lately been a local, which first of all is not a good thing in rural Wisconsin, and secondly he had been an activist in trying to revive and save the fish in Lake Bud, which is also definitely not a good thing — activism, that is.
The solution to the mystery depends greatly on who was able to tie a nail knot, and at what time. It wouldn’t have been a terribly difficult case to solve, if one had a protagonist who was a little more, shall we say, pro-active on the case — you soon get the feeling that if the Dog were any more low key than he is, he wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning — but then again meeting all of the local folk, some more local and inbred than others, and some not, would have been not nearly so much fun as this.
UPDATE. Quite coincidentally there has been a discussion of fly-fishing mysteries on DorothyL this past week (early November), in relation to a slightly different topic of “male cozies.” Here are a couple more mystery series that have been pointed out as belonging to the category, still small but obviously growing:
Catch and Keep, by Ronald Weber. SC: Northern Michigan conservation officer Mercy Virdon and her boyfriend, newspaperman Donald Fitzgerald. [There is at least one other book in this series.]
Death on a Cold, Wild River, by Bartholomew Gill. SC: Dublin police Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr, who is the detective in several other books by Gill. In this one, though, it’s the victim who is the fly fisherman, along with at least one of the suspects.