"Here, as always, Jim Knipfel shows himself unique as a writer. Fusing murder and mortuary science in a novel of the humorously macabre, this Badger State native explores a "Wisconsin of the mind" where every commercial establishment sports a gigantic fiberglass mascot, and subplots burble like springs from a hillside. In Sheriff Koznowski, Knipfel creates a straightforward man of the law with more smarts than he can admit to, while surrounded by deputies incapable of the simplest of procedures – like thinking. You'll find yourself saying "yah" and "okeydokey" for at least a week after you've finished tearing through this delightful, engaging paean to the rural absurd."
-Derek Davus, author of Gifts of a Dead Man
"All you people out there, it’s time for you to realize that very likely there’s a mortician in your nearby neighborhood who even now is fuddling about late at night in his well-equipped subbasement with someone’s lifeless body. He loves his work, does this person, and has achieved a degree of real artistry in his chosen field of operations. He might, (or might not) also be in the business of disaggregating the corpses entrusted to his care and of vending human body parts to schools of medicine, or collectors, or gourmands of a certain kind.
Or maybe that’s just part of the story, and Knipfel’s mortician is in pursuit of something rather more… portentous than that."
-Tito Perdue, author of Lee, The Node, and Reuben
Red Hen Press, 2015
When a mortician and his assistant are gunned down in a funeral home in a small west central Wisconsin town, the local sheriff, who’s never been confronted with a murder before, finds himself tangled in a complicated mess involving religion, the death industry, high school sports, hunting season, unholy sexual practices, child molestation, and, quite possibly, the reanimation of the dead. Based on a true story, up to a point.
"Jim Knipfel is a unique voice in American writing - wry, balanced, and perfectly attuned to the innate weirdnesses of our national life. In Residue, he takes a deep dive into Fargo territory and comes up with something that's completely his own. Fans of crime fiction and the Coen Brothers will find themselves more than satisfied because Knipfel has a good story to tell and an original way of telling it. If you haven't discovered him before, now's the time."
New York Times bestselling author of Slow Motion Riot and Slipping Into Darkness
I always wanted to write a Wisconsin novel. All the previous novels had been set in New York for the most part because that’s where I was living and that’s what I knew. But having grown up in Wisconsin, a place I still love dearly, I knew at its heart it was a much more deeply strange place than NYC could ever hope to be. So when my dad sent me the first clipping about the mortician murders in Hudson, WI (the small town where both he and my mom grew up, and where most of my relatives still lived) I started getting a whiff of a potential excuse to finally write one. And as the actual story unraveled through an investigation that went on for a few years and only grew odder and more twisted as it did, it became clear it was perfect. It had everything I was looking for, all of the state’s inherent weirdness in a single plotline. I mean. I knew I’d have to fictionalize it some, in part because (as Noogie taught me) writing true crime is a legal pain in the ass. More than that, though, like I said most of my relatives still live there and I didn’t need any of them beating me up.
Here’s the thing, though, see? With every novel, my editors have all told me exactly the same thing. They said, “We just can’t afford to put out any more of these weird, quirky novels of yours.” (Ogh, how I’ve come to despise the word “quirky.”) I even had one tell me straight out that if I wanted to keep getting published, what I had to do was write a big mainstream bestseller. Simple as that.
But the way things have been going, y’know, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. The story had everything, right? A strange crime, interesting characters, a charming Midwestern setting. Yeah, it had all the makings of a New York Times bestseller. This would be one of those books released in hardcover with an embossed dust jacket and the author’s name five times the size of the title. It’ll be a breeze, a big, cheap, mainstream sellout novel. I didn’t have a soul anyway, so why the hell not rake in the big big bucks? But as any of you who’ve written fiction know, sometimes characters don’t always do and say the things you expect them to.
I set down to write, intent on making it as mainstream crowd pleasing as possible, but on page 3, a mortician begins huffing the putrid fumes rising from the bloated corpse of an elderly woman.
That’s about when I gave up and let the book become what it needed to be all along. As a friend who actually does write mystery thrillers of the bestselling variety told me after I confessed my failure to him, “Well, you can’t fight nature.”
The soundtrack for this one, as made clear in the opening lines of the book, was Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. If you know the opera, you’ll know why.