Book review: ‘Dead Man Dancing’ by John Galligan

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

The Bad Axe County Sheriff is Heidi Kick. She has three children and a husband. The husband is less than thrilled about his wife’s more than full-time job. Another point of friction is the husband Harland’s brother Kenny. Kenny constantly challenges Sheriff Kick; the latest is driving his new truck up and down Main Street with a Confederate flag waving in the back. When she takes this to court, the judge dismisses it based on the defense lawyer’s claim that Kenny was unaware of the offensive nature of the Confederate flag.

Bad Axe County was proud of its Norwegian heritage and to celebrate it, they were holding their 51st annual Stende Mai festival. Polka music was proudly featured. Gus Pfaff was the leader and tuba player for the local polka band. Gus, a retired teacher, had also recently become a published author. Like most of the people in the area, he had known a little about the history of the area’s round barns, but he thought there must be more, and his research had proved him right. The man responsible for the barns was Alga Shivers, a black man who was part of a considerable community of Negroes who lived in the valley at one time. According to the advertisement in the paper, Gus’s book would be on sale at the celebration, and the book apparently had a great deal to tell about the area’s history and that of several area families.

A key attraction of the celebration was the parade. The polka band always rode on a wagon playing their favorite polkas. Gus Pfaff was concerned about more than the Sunday parade polkas, though. The newspaper had advertised that his book revealed the histories of several local families. It was quite possible that some families did not want it known that they were relatives to some of the black families that had lived nearby. One way to stop that was to destroy the books before they were out.

The concern had more basis than Gus knew. There was local leadership for the white-supremacy group growing in the area. They intended to take action against the blacks and browns of Bad Axe County. To establish their reputation, they had a considerable number of agitators coming to join them in marching in Sunday’s parade. It was likely that some in that group were not too anxious to have family secrets surface.

In a case of exceptionally bad timing, Neon Shivers was on his way to Bad Axe. While researching his book, Gus had left a draft copy with Neon’s grandmother. Neon was to return the book and learn what he could about relatives who had been in the area. With a white mother and a black father, he was having trouble sorting himself out. This journey was his grandmother’s way of helping him do that. It wasn’t the right time to be in Bad Axe County, however.

Gus’s house and books are burned. Sheriff Kick is faced with arson, a murder, a kidnapping and domestic problems. How does a county sheriff deal with white supremacists in a parade? Some other major characters become involved.

“Dead Man Dancing” is a well-written, complex mystery. It is more interesting because it is set in western Wisconsin. Most people are aware of the round barns nearby.



Comments are closed.

  • Royall concert slated for Monday

    20 hours ago
    by

    The Royall High School Music Department will present a Concert Festival Showcase Concert on Monday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. in the high school gymnasium. 


    Tomah Health to offer childbirth class

    20 hours ago
    by

    Tomah Health has scheduled a childbirth education class for expecting parents March 21 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. 


    Man dead in town of Wilton accident

    February 19th, 2024
    by

    A Sauk County man died Monday morning in a two-vehicle crash that shut down part of Highway 71 in the town of Wilton for more than five hours, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. 


    Cashton man sentenced to 31 years in prison for child sex crimes

    February 8th, 2024
    by

    Monroe County District Attorney Kevin Croninger announced Monday that Jerome Leuck, 77, of Cashton was sentenced to 31 years in prison.


    Brookwood students named to honor roll

    February 8th, 2024
    by

    The following students were named to the second-quarter honor roll at Brookwood Junior/Senior High School.


  • N-O-W highlights for second quarter/first semester

    February 5th, 2024
    by

    Wow, another great quarter and semester of events have taken place at the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District! Our students are learning at high levels, and our staff continues to do an amazing job helping our kids learn and grow.


    Monroe County highway weight restrictions start Friday

    February 2nd, 2024
    by

    Given the unseasonably warm temperatures forecast for the next two weeks and pursuant to §349.16, Wisconsin Statutes, the Monroe County Highway Department will implement emergency weight restrictions on all county trunk highways beginning Friday, Feb. 2.


    Monroe County deadline for well samping is Feb. 12

    February 2nd, 2024
    by

    The signup deadline for private well water sampling to landowners of Monroe County is quickly approaching. 


    Vernon County to offer dementia support group

    February 2nd, 2024
    by

    The Aging and Disability Resource Center of Vernon County offers a free support group for individuals diagnosed with either early-stage dementia or mild cognitive impairment.


    Hillsboro man allegedly intoxicated when he drove into horse-drawn vehicle

    January 30th, 2024
    by

    A pickup truck collided with a horse-drawn vehicle Monday night, Jan. 29, in town of Greenwood in rural Hillsboro, according to Vernon County Sheriff Roy Torgerson. 


    Norwalk man convicted of child sex crimes 

    January 26th, 2024
    by

    Monroe County District Attorney Kevin D. Croninger announced today that on Jan. 24, a Monroe County jury convicted 46-year-old, Jonathan L. Ellenburg, of four charges, including two counts of repeated sexual assault of a child and two counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child (sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 13). 


  • Archives