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The Great Leader (Detective Sunderson #1)

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  833 ratings  ·  179 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.”

On th
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ebook, 288 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,502)
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Lori (Hellian)
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
Tony
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
Webster Bull
“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, “
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Kay
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
Jeb Harrison
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

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
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David Guy
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
Chris
Rambling was 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 lik ...more
Shane
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
Tony
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
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Al
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
Susan Ward
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
Jenna
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
Jesse
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
Sarah
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
Chuck
3-stars

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.
Isabelle
"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
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Crystal
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
Mic
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
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Peggy
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
Tyler
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
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Joy
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
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Bookbeaver
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
Monica
Sunderson is a recently retired Michigan State Police officer, still missing the wife from whom he is recently divorced, trying, not always successfully, to deal with his appetites for alcohol and sex, trying to fill the endless free time in front of him with some sort of meaningful work.

He has one last case he wants to close - to bring to justice the leader of a cult who has successfully avoided prosecution for molesting the underage children of his followers. It's a quest that takes him from t
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Aaron VanAlstine
A retired trout-fishing alcoholic autodidact detective going to seed travels from Marquette to Arizona in a meandering quest of a pedophile leader of a huckster religious cult. Munising, Ojibwa Indians, Fort Huachuca, the Verling, the Landmark Inn, drunken Yoopers, Mexican cartel leaders, Presque Isle, cudighi, MSHS, Tucson, Michigan State, Snowbound Books, Nogales, and NMU either precipitate or are settings for the book’s various funny and unsettling incidents. And whiskey. Lots of whiskey.
Lynn
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kevin
I had picked up this novel in iBooks some time ago but never read it. Recently, however, I have been restless in my reading struggling to real get into whatever I was reading. As part of that restlessness I started reading this on my iPad. I was soon engrossed despite the oddness of the book. It is discursive and frequently vulgar. It's politics seem leftwing. But perhaps because I am not getting any younger, I was fascinated by the central character and his quest to put away the Great Leader an ...more
Leslie
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.
Joel McNally
Anyone fond of Harrison will recognize the familiar themes. Wandering the natural world. Harrison's fantasies about young women being sexually attracted to an old coot much like him. But the best of his books are always his observations on life around him. This time, because he is pursuing a predatory cult leader, much of the hard-bitten wisdom is about the appeal of religion, even in its most transparently fraudulent forms.
Sue Jacob
I thoroughly enjoyed this book -- it's not one of Harrison's most profound but it is totally engaging and for anyone who's beginning to think about aging -- and if you're over 40 it's everyone, this is a cheerful look at all the anxieties that crop up at 4 AM. The scenes of "peeping Tom" lustfulness are both hilarious and pathetic.
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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
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More about Jim Harrison...

Other Books in the Series

Detective Sunderson (2 books)
  • The Big Seven
Legends of the Fall Dalva The English Major Returning to Earth The Woman Lit By Fireflies

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“Imagine if Congress were actually knowledgeable of American history.” 1 likes
“All our progress of luxury and knowledge . . . we have not been lifted by as much as an inch above the level of the darkest ages . . . The last hundred years have wrought no change in the passions, the cruelties, and the barbarous impulses of mankind. There is no change from the savagery of the Middle Ages. We enter a new century equipped with every wonderful device of science and art but the pirate, the savage, and the tyrant still survives.” 0 likes
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