Book Review: The Wind Knot by John Galligan

The Wind Knot ( A Fly Fishing Mystery #4)
by John Galligan
Tyrus Books, March 2011

“Dog Quit fishing that night.” This is how the new John Galligan fly fishing mystery, The Wind Knot, begins. If you’ve been following Ned “Dog” Olglivie’s odyssey over the previous three books, then you know that this is a big deal. Driven by personal tragedy, Ned has embarked on a project. That project is to fly fish himself into oblivion. He has no real plan for this – just to fish, to keep to himself, to forget and maybe somehow to move on. So far this plan has been only marginally successful. It turns out that isolation and avoidance may not be the best things for what ails you.

At the beginning of The Wind Knot, we meet up with the Dog as he is ending a pilgrimage to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to the land of Hemingway’s story, “The Big Two-Hearted River.” It is a sort of culmination of his six-year fly fishing bender. In the Hemingway story the protagonist, Nick Adams, has returned from war and he seeks healing in the activities of camping, hiking and fishing. Although it is not necessary, I would strongly recommend reading “The Big Two-Hearted River”, prior to reading The Wind Knot. It will definitely enhance your reading experience to be familiar with the Hemingway story.

However, Ned’s trip to Hemingway’s stomping grounds so far hasn’t had quite the effect that he had been hoping for:

Dog found himself re-contemplating the Hemingway story that had sent him on this six-year fishing trip in the first place. “Big Two-Hearted River” had stoked in him a hope that was just intense enough to keep him looking ahead. At last he had come to the story’s sacred source – only to discover that there was no Big Two Hearted River.
There was a North Branch of the Two Hearted, a West Branch of the Two Hearted, a South Branch of the Two Hearted, and a Little Two Hearted – all of them willow-clogged, sand-bottomed, peat-stained affairs, with low densities of small trout – but no majesty, no gravity, no Big Two Hearted River, the place where Nick Adams figured things out and got better.

Hemingway’s story has not held up its end of the bargain. So, Dog is changing tack and heading home to face his demons. He is divesting of his fly fishing life, sending it up in flames. To this reader, it feels like a good decision – like Dog is making the first good decision that he’s made in a long time. Six years of running and hiding going up in flames and expelling the bitterness, self-hatred, and fear in black evil-smelling smoke.

…Dog built up a waist-high bonfire and first burned his waders. The campsite now stank of inhuman proceedings. He drizzled a hundred trout flies over tall orange flames, watched the flies sizzle and vanish, then dropped in his battered plastic boxes and stepped back from more foul smoke.
He forged on. He emptied vest pockets one by one: strike putty, leader wallet, tippet spools, each creating its own quality of flame…He tossed his fishing hat into the fire. It crackled like bacon…Dog stripped the line of his reel. That line had held about ten thousand trout…He balled the line into a handful and lobbed it into the fire. It melted fast, squealing like a live thing. Dog’s heart hurt. But if he fished again, nothing would be the same. He would start over: gear, purpose and all.

This seems to be of a sort of symbolic trepanation – Dog is drilling a hole in his fly fishing skull to let out the evil spirits. Reading this passage, I might be more hopeful for Dog if it wasn’t within the first few pages of the book. But there is a whole story waiting for Dog. And he’s got perhaps his worst decision of all ahead of him. Dog does leave, he does head for home – but he doesn’t make it. Somewhere outside of Chicago he discovers that somebody has planted a body in the bunk of his Cruise Master RV. And this is where the bad decision making comes in. Ned decides to head back to the U.P. and dump the body. He is observed in the act and apprehended by a Book Mobile driving librarian, Esofea Smithback. And so Dog is reluctantly drawn into another twisted murder mystery – but this time as the prime suspect.

John Galligan changes things up a bit in this latest fly fishing mystery. The previous three books were all written in the first person from the point of view of the Dog himself. However, this story is written in the third person. It is a nice change of pace and it allows Galligan’s characters to range geographically more than previously, and so present a wider frame for the story. I also enjoyed the fact that Dog is a suspect in this story. He’s had some brushes with the law in the past – but he has never really been a suspect in one of the murder cases, as he is in this story. A problem with any book series is that it can become formulaic. These simple changes help to avoid that rut.

The characters in this story are well fleshed out, quirky and interesting. We get to meet Esofea Smithback, the slightly un-hinged librarian and Pippi Longstocking disciple, as well as her boyfriend Danny Tervo, a sort of hippie philospher and would-be water baron; the strikingly beautiful Deputy Sheriff Margarite DuCharme and her questionable choice of love interest, party-girl Julia Inkster; along with many other great characters. Watching these characters navigate the tricky boulder-strewn waterways of their personal relationships really helps to ground the story, and make it much more than just a murder mystery.

At the end of Hemingway’s story, “Big Two-Hearted River”, we find a Nick Adams that is on the way to being whole again – but he’s not all the way there. Nick tells us that he is happy. He’s happy to be fishing, happy to be camping – but I think maybe he’s not ready for the real world. He fishes his way up the river until he gets to a swamp. The swamp is deep, a little frightening and it would be difficult to fish. Nick does not go into the swamp on that day. The Hemingway story ends with the line; “There were plenty of days coming when he could fish the swamp.”

That is the feeling that I get upon finishing The Wind Knot. I could be wrong but it feels like a page has been turned and Dog is eyeballing the swamp. Maybe he’s not ready to fish it yet, but maybe soon. The Wind Knot is another good read from John Galligan. It’s funny, moving and layered. It has interesting well-drawn characters, a good mystery and fly fishing. The Wind Knot could be read as a stand-alone novel, it gives the reader a complete, self-contained story. However, to fully appreciate the character arc of Ned “Dog” Oglivie and to get the most of the story it would be best to read it after the other three fly fishing mystery books; The Nail Knot, The Blood Knot and The Clinch Knot.

Read more about John Galligan at www.johngalligan.com

Check out this interview with John Galligan on YouTube where he discusses the books and the origin of Dog.

Here are links to my reviews of:
The Nail Knot
The Blood Knot

Disclosure: I received no monetary compensation for reviewing this book. However, this book was provided to me by the publisher.

what say you?