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The Great Leader (Detective Sunderson #1)

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  1,185 Ratings  ·  222 Reviews
Author Jim Harrison has won international acclaim for his masterful body of work, including Returning to Earth, Legends of the Fall and over thirty books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In his most original work to date, Harrison delivers an enthralling, witty and expertly-crafted novel following one man’s hunt for an elusive cult leader, dubbed The Great Leader.”

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ebook, 288 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (first published January 1st 2011)
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Peter Finstuen 4. The idea that history gives perspective is partly a hoax because it only functionally gives you perspective on history! Imagine if Congress were…more4. The idea that history gives perspective is partly a hoax because it only functionally gives you perspective on history! Imagine if Congress were actually knowledgeable of American history.(less)
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Jun 18, 2016 Lori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I admit I'm a Jim Harrison junkie. Every time I lie down with one of his books, I am transported in link with a mind that works like my own. The wistful looking back at life-changing mistakes made, reflecting on them, making the same mistakes over again this time with humor so maybe the lesson will stick. All the stupid things we do as we flit about in obeyance to our self involved emotions, but but find release from self into the universal by nature. Because he is male, I can mock his being led ...more
Sep 16, 2014 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: u-s-lit, jim-harrison
The premise is shallow and unrealistic: a Michigan State trooper retires at 65 and decides to track down a pedophillic cult leader, all the way in Arizona. The protagonist, Sunderson, will be familiar to any reader of Harrison. He's divorced, a functional alcoholic, with strong opinions on nature, cuisine, literature and politics. He manages to have sex, often, without much effort. He's a failure in his most important relationships, but, at his core, a good man. Harrison's favorite adjectives - ...more
Nov 02, 2011 Kay rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I have no idea why this author gets such great reviews, but then I haven't read any of his other works. To me, this was a wandering, nonsensical tale of a recently retired police officer in the Upper Peninsula who is ineffectively pursuing a cult leader suspected of sex with underage girls. Ironically, the protagonist also plays the role of peeping Tom to spy on his next-door neighbor's teenage daughter. When not getting drunk or falling flat on his face, he is engaged in meaningless sex with a ...more
Webster Bull
Apr 08, 2014 Webster Bull rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
“There’s a reason Shakespeare kills off his characters at the end of his tragedies,” I told my daughter this morning. “What’s that, Dad?” she asked. I couldn’t rightly say. I only know that I was irritated, having reached the final chapters of Jim Harrison’s new novel, The Great Leader, and hoping that someone would kill someone, please.

This was my first encounter with Harrison, who has been compared with Faulkner, Hemingway, and Willa Cather. “Though famous for fiction,” his Wiki entry notes, “
Jeb Harrison
Feb 25, 2012 Jeb Harrison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another wonderful read! Jim Harrison never fails to entertain, educate and enthrall. I have read almost everything he has written, including the poems and essays, and I am consistently inspired by his monumental respect for nature and all her creatures(save humans of course who try as they might to "be good" are usually best relegated to long walks). The Great Leader has everything I love in a Harrison novel: bawdy humor, frisky athletic sex either real or imagined, plentiful worship of the fema ...more
Jack Rochester
Nov 13, 2011 Jack Rochester rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Jim Harrison is either an acquired or an inherent taste. If acquired, it's because the reader wishes to glimpse into the soul and life of people who are stranger, who do riskier, more exciting things than they. If an inherent taste, it's because the reader shares, or at least empathizes with, certain traits of the author or has come into a profound appreciation of the nature and genre of the author's work. This is not just true of Harrison but Hemingway, Willa Cather, Faulkner, Pynchon, and sure
Jan 26, 2015 Mic rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
First - and very much the last - Jim Harrison book ever read. Maybe he wrote other stuff that was good, I don't know. Some of his older stuff gets great reviews, but this piece of utter dreck has plenty of five-star reviews as well, presumably from those who occupy the same fantasy headspace as the author.

This is unmitigated garbage. Some old bloke writing out his fantasies and vaguely forming a story (mostly plotless) around them in order to validate them in some way. I mean, doesn't every woma
Nov 01, 2011 Al rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I keep thinking Jim Harrison is the kind of writer I'm going to love, and I keep being disappointed. Frankly, I don't know what to make of this particular book. Viewed from one perspective, it's a rambling, disjointed sort of journal kept by the protagonist, a recently retired Michigan State Policeman who is on a goofy mission to pin a sex-with-minors charge on a cult leader. Harrison lays on the sex and drinking nonstop, even though the poor old guy is 65 and pretty broken down, and tries to l ...more
Jan 17, 2012 Jenna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let me start by saying, I love Jim Harrison. He's one of my favorite writers. But increasingly his work has meandered into unfathomable instrospection. While this novel has an actual plot, a crisis, and resolution, Harrison's loose associations rival many unmedicated schizophrenics. His retired UP Michigan detective character Sunderson is another variation of the Browndog/Michael persona from previous novels and novellas. While I'm happy to spend more time with this 'guy', I'd rather he reprise ...more
David Guy
Oct 18, 2011 David Guy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I believe I've said before, I read everything Jim Harrison writes as soon as I can get my hands on it. He calls this book a mystery, but it's actually just one more novel about a guy who eats and drinks too much and lusts after women, at least one of them inappropriately young. He's supposedly (in the mystery part) pursuing a child molester who is the head of a religious cult, but I didn't find that part of the book convincing or interesting. What is always interesting in a Harrison novel is ...more
Aug 27, 2015 Chris rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Rambling, wax philosophical, politically confused and mostly plotless, having little to do with the title character other than a bit of gruesomeness near the end. I never came to understand the protagonist's obsession with the case, nor did I get a sense of the villain's crimes or his victims. The protagonist's obsession with T&A I followed, but why did every woman he met (aged 16 to 55, abandoned, upper class or sexually mature) want to bend over and offer him her ass, when as he himself li ...more
Jan 04, 2014 Shane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wondered why Harrison decided to write this novel as a detective story, when that part of it was quite farcical. The better story was that about the just-retired detective coming to terms with a divorce from his lifelong partner, his partiality to alcohol, his flagging libido that is transforming him into a dirty old man, and the prospect of retirement itself. His retirement party ends up in a sexual incident that sets Sunderson off as no better than the sexual predators he had pursued as a co ...more
Oct 14, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
THE GREAT LEADER. (2011). Jim Harrison. ****.
Jim Harrison is another one of my favorite authors who has delivered consistently high-quality fiction, non-fiction and poetry over the years. According to the book flap, Harrison has over thirty books to his credit. I have my favorites among them, though this one is not likely to be another one. In spite of that caveat, this is still a fine novel, but one looking for a core reason for being. It’s the tale of Detective Simon Sunderson, a recently ret
Susan Ward
Dec 05, 2011 Susan Ward rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book was very entertaining because it reflected on the plight of an aging man who feels sexual angst, and urges for young women. I was very entertained by the method of writing, and the dismissive way Harrison talked about the character’s bad habits, drinking and otherwise. But as the story unfolds, I become more filled with compassion for the character, Sunderson , and his loneliness and deep regret over the failure of his marriage. The story begins at the timeright before his retirement wh ...more
Jul 19, 2012 Jesse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
harrison is a wonderful writer who is equally adept at poetry and prose. in the novel he brilliantly balances themes of law, teenage sexuality, parenting, and self-restraint. the characters are drawn with beautiful strokes (with mona being a sort of randy lisbeth salander), and the protaganist a sturdy harrison male with his fingers in different areas of knowledge, whose mind constantly pops out insightful little nuggets of wisdom. the plot is satisfying with the requisite turns (inculding a sto ...more
Larry Bassett
Dec 25, 2015 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The hero is a retired 65-year-old detective from the upper Peninsula of Michigan and most of the story is about his effort to intervene with a cult leader whom he is trying to arrest. This is the second Jim Harrison book that I have read recently. It was an enjoyable audible experience.
Jan 16, 2012 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't finish this one. It was too disgusting and full of stereotypes. By chapter 2, there was no actual plot having to do with the cult or cult leader that is being investigated. The 65 year old alcoholic protagonist P.I. has however, had sex with or been propositioned by every female so far mentioned in the book, with the exception of his next door neighbor. His neighbor, however, is a 16 year old goth girl hacker who lives on her own and whose bedroom window he peeps in each morning. She is ...more
Jul 29, 2016 Cindy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Lead character matures & plot is okay, however, I did use fast forward on the audio version - a lot. Nearly constant references to male urges would've had me slogging thru otherwise. Narration is fine.

Not sure what to think about this one. The guy obviously has superior writing skills, but I didn't love the story. I was quite amazed, though, at how he's able to advance the narrative while going off on what seems at first like digression after digression. Simply amazing.
Mar 29, 2013 Isabelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"This is what happens when Jim Harrison writes a detective story", says she grinning from ear to ear.
What could I possibly say about Jim Harrison that I have not already said? How much more can I gush about him whose new books I wait for like one waits for a feast?
I could say that he makes no excuse for human folly or cruelty but embraces frailty and imperfection so fully that I know for certain they are god-given blessings. Only as imperfect creatures can we believe that we can fight evil, walk
Mar 05, 2015 Leslie marked it as didn-t-finish  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't even finish this book. I was so hopeful that I would like Harrison. I hated the way he portrayed Yooper women. I couldn't stand his main character. Seriously?? The man had a fantasy about or a crush on every single female he encountered. It didn't matter how old she was! YUCK! I finally just closed it. No thanks.
Jul 08, 2015 Cynthia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not a good book. Quite a few problems with it. I could discuss the entire list, but for brevity and clarity's sake, I'll stick with the top two problems.

Badly written. I've heard of Harrison, previously read some of his autobiography, and knew that he's written two dozen plus books, so I decided to give this one a try. Not a good decision. The writing itself is surprisingly amateurish. Distractingly so. The prose reads as if it were written by a teenaged creative writing student, and not a talen
Apr 13, 2015 Crystal rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
I am having the worst luck with books lately...this one seemed so promising, the description said the story was set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and was about a recently retired police detective that was investigating a cult that had set up camp near his home. In reality, this book was about a perverted, alcoholic 65-year-old man who somehow managed to have sex with or want to have sex with every woman he met in the story. Many of these women were many, many years younger than him, but tha ...more
Not the overly-literary soporific prose I was expecting. Instead, it's a hard-boiled detective story in which the detective pulls himself out of his slough and ends up pretty much OK. Excellent understanding of Michigan's upper peninsula. Layer upon layer of meaning, description, character, plot, and though much of the story is grim and unsavory, Harrison leads us out of that world gently, and takes us into sublime nature. It's never dull. It's not my usual type of book (retired male detective d ...more
Nov 19, 2011 Tyler rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Sunderson is alone. Professionally, he is a heavy-drinking has been, if ever was one.

A detective, Sunderson is certainly no dummy. He is well-read, quick-of-mind, and hip to the ways of the world. But his intelligence often coils inward, and feeds upon itself. It is more ready to take a dark, cynical, and self-destructive path. So much so, it can be exhausting to follow Sunderson’s thread of thinking through the normal routines of his every day.

Sunderson has a particular penchant for history b
Aug 06, 2016 kp rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Goodreads should have a status update for giving up because I have better things to do than finish this. I found aspects of its premise interesting, but soon began to feel oppressed by its testosterone-soaked neuroticism and finally concluded that the writing wasn't good enough to facilitate empathy or aesthetic appreciation. Harrison apparently has many fans, but I found this novel a sort of long, slow wank that didn't seem to be heading to a climax.
Nov 04, 2011 Joy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Suggested by a friend, I was hooked by Michigan setting in the Upper Pen. Then actual towns and locations in the U.P. Reminded me of the old gum shoe type telling of a mystery. A male tale, not too sexy. I found Harrison remembering...and very current.. Reminds me of Uncle Howard.

The Great Leader ....cult man that Sunderson, the retired cop, was seeking

pg 220 The ecstacy of belief. That's what we want from religion. Something we can count on as helpless children in the face of ninety billion ga
Edel Henry
Jun 22, 2015 Edel Henry rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It's rare I feel cheated by a book. But my god I was hoodwinked by this one. "Retired detective"? Sure. "Troubled by his final case"? Why not. "Cults"? BINGO. Denis Lehane does Martha Marcy May Marlene, I thought. I can work with this.

Except this was LIES. Intermittently the author does make some half arsed attempt to mention the cult his protagonist is supposedly "obsessed" with, but is far more interested with the amount of whiskey he can drink, the amount of young girls he can persue and spy
Oct 11, 2011 Bookbeaver rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When Harrison decided to put religion, sex, and money in his crosshairs you had to know he, more than any other author today, would hit the bull's eye. Humor, insight, and a good deal of attention toward the female derriere. There is simply no other experience in current american literature like reading a Jim Harrison novel. The only thing better? Reading his poetry and a new collection is due out any day, if not already. There should be a t-shirt with that skinny cartoon character reading a Har ...more
Lee Barckmann
Jul 11, 2016 Lee Barckmann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jim Harrison writes about retirement in The Great Leader. Harrison a Charles Bukowski-like figure, who seemed to do his writing while drunk, and who recently died, in his late 70s. The Great Leader is the story of Sunderson, 65, a just retired cop chasing one last case, a cult leader whose followers are pre-pubescent girls who he initiates into the cult by having sex with them. Sunderson himself, on nearly every page, is mooning over the bent-over tushes of every woman who turns her back to him. ...more
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Jim Harrison was born in Grayling, Michigan, to Winfield Sprague Harrison, a county agricultural agent, and Norma Olivia (Wahlgren) Harrison, both avid readers. He married Linda King in 1959 with whom he has two daughters.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

His awards include National Academy of Arts grants
More about Jim Harrison...

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“Imagine if Congress were actually knowledgeable of American history.” 2 likes
“How could this nasty twerp be so ferally sexual dressed nearly as a boy?” 0 likes
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