When you’re an orphaned newborn discovered in a dumpster, “nestled on a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos,” it might seem as if your life is destined to go in a certain direction. Especially if you take it upon yourself to own your origin story and insist everyone call you “Dumpster Baby,” as the idiosyncratic heroine of Meredith Hambrock’s debut novel OTHER PEOPLE’S SECRETS (Crooked Lane, 277 pp., $28.99) does.
Baby, unmoored by the death of her adoptive mother, “stuck, 29 years old, eyes closed to the world, waiting for a breath, a reason, a slap to the cheek,” tends bar at a crumbling lakeside resort called Oakwood Hills. She crashes in a boathouse, persists in the jagged rhythm of a ongoing non-relationship with a rich islander she’s known since her teens, and dreams of saving the town from an overtly villainous drug lord. When Oakwood is sold to a grasping businesswoman, events spiral out of control.
Baby’s schemes often blast beyond hare-brained to the borderline delusional, but when you’ve got a character this audacious, this fabulous, it hardly matters.
After reading BAD DAY BREAKING (Atria, 336 pp., $16.99 trade paper) the fourth in John Galligan’s Bad Axe County series featuring Sheriff Heidi Kick, I felt like The New York Times reporter who shows up to interview Kick late in the novel. “A rural sex-trafficking ring busted in your first year. Two years ago, you were on the international white-power radar. Then you had the cannibal.” What, indeed, is going on in this rural Wisconsin enclave to attract so much crime?
Kick’s flippant answer: “It’s the bratwurst. … and the polka.” What is vexing the sheriff at the moment is the body of a man, throat slashed, who turns out to be a member of a gun-saturated religious sect called the House of Shalah that has recently moved into the U-Stash-It storage facility. The sheriff isn’t very happy with the group, but she’s also not happy with some longtime local residents who have formed an organization called Kill the Cult, claiming that the House of Shalah is planning to “take over the Bad Axe by populating the schools with its children and electing its members into county government.”