The Patron Saint of Desperate Situations
by John Harrigan

(Bridge Books Press)

Covers of books have a way of pulling me into a read. Chances are if I think the cover is corny, I'm going to think the pages it contains are equally lethargic. John Harrigan's novel, The Patron Saint of Desperate Situations, does not have the most appealing cover. On the front we've got two people back to back with Minneapolis' Stone Arch Bridge in the background. However, I am a sucker for local stories and the novel's blurb indicates this is a story about "A struggling single mom from Brazil, Sonia, [who] is stalked by men she believes killed the iconic U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone." Okay, the idea of a hit on Wellstone is intriguing; doesn't seem that far-fetched to me.

I remember quite vividly the day that I heard Wellstone's plane went down. I was driving to my son's elementary school to drop off a jacket for him so he could go outside for recess. MPR announced the devastating news. I pulled over and screamed at the top of my lungs. Then I cried. Within a few minutes I pulled myself together and approached my son's school, parked my car and went inside to drop off his jacket. I told the staff in the office what I had just heard and they immediately turned the radio on.

A few days later my sons and I attended Paul Wellstone's memorial service. Rick Kahn was a blur compared to how I felt about the 20,000+ people parading into Williams Arena. The Democrats appeared to take it for granted that people would behave, and behave we did, until the Republicans refused to recognize the service as that of grieving and claimed it was a "political rally" for the democrats. Shame on them. This was on Tuesday evening, October 29, 2002. Interesting to note, the feast day of the patron saint of desperate situations, AKA St. Jude (Thaddaeus), is October 28, three days before the witches fly.

And that leads us back to the book. Let me give you my summation of the novel. The story opens recalling the event of October 25, 2002, with the tragic death of Paul, Marcia and Sheila Wellstone while in flight to northern Minnesota. The 302 pages move along quickly, developing the relationship between Jake Morgan, a financial advisor, and Sonia Lindquist, an art teacher and gallery curator. What connects these two characters is that Jake is advising a colleague of Sonia's, Lars, whom we quickly find out was murdered in a suspicious cover-up involving the men that Sonia believes planted "transceivers in the woods to pull Wellstone's plane off course." Before Lars' murder he told Sonia where his keepsakes were safely hidden. The bad men, Radezewell (Moneybags), a millionaire philanthropist, and Bob Vukovich, Jake's CD counselor, traipse all over town in search for Sonia hoping, to find what Lars left behind.

Major themes: recovering alcoholic personality, political sabotage, a child with Williams syndrome, a single immigrant mom from Brazil, large sums of laundered money, chase scenes, sex, and lots and lots of references to local Twin Cities landmarks: Figlios, Saint Clair Broiler, Kowalski's Supermarket, the Day by Day Café, to name a few. Things that seem to work well: the dialogue throughout, although I am not sure we need constant references re: Sonia's dialect; the pacing of the piece; the tension throughout regarding an alcoholic's "one day at a time" view on life; the St. Jude medal that Sonia gives to Jake; Moneybags' view of Wellstone ("tree hugging chicken shit"), and the idea that Radezewell could have tampered with the plane Wellstone was on.

I was engrossed in the book from the beginning. It is hard to say if it was due to the Wellstone references, or the alcoholic references, or the local references. The Patron Saint is a formulaic mystery that keeps the reader reading, and (more importantly) a book that dares to approach the subject of the late Senator's death/murder.

- Suzanne Nielsen