Bad Axe County - book cover

Bad Axe County

by John Galligan

Book #1 
Order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Simon & Schuster | Mystery to Me

Seldom does a novel blend setting, character, and plot together so seamlessly that one is so caught up by all three elements, there is no escaping their grip… One damn fine book.

New York Journal of Books


What happens in the quiet countryside can shock you. So it is in Bad Axe County, which begins when the life of a high-achieving teenage Wisconsin Dairy Queen is turned upside down by the murder-suicide of her parents. Now alone in the world and unable to accept the legal finding that her father killed her mother and then himself, Heidi White comes almost fatally apart.

Fifteen hard years later, she is back together again as Interim Bad Axe County Sheriff Heidi Kick. Despite challenges that include being the wife of local baseball legend Harley Kick and the mother of three small children, Sheriff Heidi Kick is doing well in a man’s world until a murder shocks her back in time and exposes a slimy underbelly of sex trafficking in the Bad Axe.

Whether Sheriff Kick can find one dead girl before another girl dies turns out to depend on whether she can stomach her rage and revulsion, manage her troublesome deputies, and keep her shattering self together.

Why? “…you seem like a normal, nice person!

I never exactly planned to write a book like Bad Axe County, certainly not one as harrowing and dark and that includes such frightening twists and despicable characters. After a recent event, I had a woman approach me to say, with some astonishment, “I expected you to be, like, this totally creepy guy. I mean . . . how do you even know this stuff? But you seem like a normal, nice person!”

I laughed uncomfortably.

I was worried about this. My previous five novels are significantly less taxing on the soul, both mine and the reader’s. I’ve never heard about my other books what I often hear about Bad Axe County: “I wanted to stop reading, but I couldn’t . . .”

I can relate. I wanted to stop writing, but I couldn’t.

What happened is this. I had developed Interim Sheriff Heidi Kick, the recovering Dairy Queen, and I had developed the region, fictional Bad Axe County in southwestern Wisconsin, but I was struggling with the story until I came upon an academic study of sex trafficking in rural midwestern communities. Basically what the study said is that when asked about sex trafficking, rural law enforcement leaders (virtually all men) said the problem did not exist in their jurisdictions. When researchers posed the same questions to workers in rural social services and women’s shelters (virtually all women), they heard the opposite: sex trafficking was a health crisis of epidemic proportions.

So now I knew what my story was about: a new female leader, Heidi Kick, unwelcome to some in her community, recognizes and deals with a crime that has been invisible and ignored until she came along.

Then I began my research into sex trafficking, and things got real in a hurry. The terrible deeds that men do to Pepper Greengrass are true to life and quite common, I’m sorry to say. I haven’t made anything up – just adapted actual experiences and events for fictional purposes. I had to stick my nose into an ugly and violent world, look at disturbing and disgusting photographs, read gut-wrenching personal narratives, and grapple with the darkness and its implications for me, my story, and my readers. How could I simultaneously provide entertainment – what readers want – while vividly and faithfully presenting the truth – which victims like Pepper deserve?

I wanted to stop reading, but I couldn’t . . . I wanted to stop writing, but I couldn’t.

I hope, in the end, for both the writer and the reader, the struggle was worth it.

Thanks for reading!


The best thriller published this year or maybe this decade… Bad Axe County by John Galligan portrays a landscape that tense, brooding, suspenseful, dangerous, and a cast of characters that either ooze with corruption or fight it to the best of flawed abilities… Seldom does a novel blend setting, character, and plot together so seamlessly that one is so caught up by all three elements, there is no escaping their grip…

New York Journal of Books,
Bad Axe County is one damn fine book

Striking prose, engaging characters, and a searing story of crimes rooted in the heartland power a darkly irresistible thriller.

Kirkus (starred review)

[An] intense thriller… Galligan smoothly balances multiple story lines as Heidi also draws closer to the truth about her parents’ deaths. Readers will hope this is the start of a series.

Publishers Weekly

Galligan’s new thriller debuts a powerhouse character in Heidi White, the interim sheriff of Bad Axe County, Wisconsin, a wicked landscape that alternates between gothic, dangerous, and darkly beautiful. Heidi is on the trail of a vanished girl, a twisted killer, and a local legend, all while an ice storm (this is Wisconsin remember) bears down on the community, heightening all tensions and ratcheting up all stakes.

The Most Anticipated Crime Books of Summer

I don’t bet, but if I did, out of all the books on this list, this one’s my pick to be a sleeper hit . . . It’s gritty, brash, and totally gripping. John Galligan is a hell of a writer.

The Real Book Spy,
2019 Summer Reading Guide

Readers will find themselves eager to see how the various storylines will converge and wary of what shocks the next pages might reveal… Bad Axe County is quite a ride.

Review by Linda M. Castellitto

I was impressed by the way the author used the setting as a character in the story. The hills and valleys of the place, even the weather, play a huge part in the drama and thrills of the narrative… kept me on the edge of my seat for the whole ride and kept me guessing till the end. Top-notch read!

A Line From A Book

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Don’t Mess with the Dairy Queen, Cannonball Reads – July 2021

Galligan has forged a television deal with Skydance, a major Hollywood studio involved with the “Mission Impossible” series, possibly leading to a television series. Skydance purchased “Bad Axe County” and “Dead Men Dancing” options: The Clarion – April 2021

The English Book Shop in Sweden picked Bad Axe County as the Noir book of the month – December 2020

The County Line newspaper summarized the book in Book review: ‘Bad Axe County’ by John Galligan – November 2020

CrimeReads mentions Bad Axe County as a notable selection in its Best Noir Fiction of 2019 – December 19, 2019

A Public Affair radio show looks back at the year in books including Bad Axe County – December 16, 2019

Bad Axe County included in Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction 2019 – November 2019

Madison author John Galligan hopes his thriller ‘Bad Axe County’ is a cut above, Interview with Rob Thomas Capital Times  – July 10, 2019

Interview with John Galligan, Mystery People Scott Butki – July 9, 2019

New Releases and more for July 9, 2019, All the Books Podcast – July 9, 2019 Book Riot

‘We are all about the persistence of our past selves’, Interview with Linda M. Castellitto – July  2019 Bookpage

Madison author’s heroine is trailblazing sheriff, Interview with Gena Kittner for the State Journal – July, 2019

Now Hear This, New audio books available at the Taylor Community Library – July  2019 The Triboro Banner


Madison Public Library now has Bad Axe County available in a Book Club Kit. These are books bundled (at least 8) in a canvas bag for book clubs, complete with discussion questions from the author.

Links: About MPL kits for book clubs, and Bad Axe County’s book club kit

2019 Events (Bad Axe County)

October 31 - November 3

Bouchercon World Mystery Convention
Dallas, TX

October 28

Sun Prairie Public Library
Sun Prairie, WI 53590

October 19

Local Authors Day
Barnes and Noble East-Towne
Madison, Wisconsin 53704

September 23

The Book Table (host)
Event venue: BeerShop
Oak ParkIL 60301

September 12

Edgewood College Anderson Auditorium
1000 Edgewood College Drive, Madison

I joined writer/director Mischa Marcus and Madison Police Department Detective Roger Baker for a discussion after the showing of I Am Still Here, a full-length film exploring the serious issue of human trafficking.