Friday, February 15, 2019

Post # 38

Quote for the day: "Our roads are built of corduroy,
                                And if you travel far
                                You sweat and swear and curse and
                                That's how you travel in Michigan."

 From the song "Don't Come to Michigan," which was popular during the latter half of the 19th century. Seems little has changed over the last 100 years or so.


Bleak Harbor
by Bryan Gruley

When Danny Peters, an autistic teenager and the youngest member of Bleak Harbor's founding family, is kidnaped and held for ransom it rips the scabs off painful family secrets, a marriage plagued by self-inflicted wounds, and the dark history of a Michigan tourist town on southern Lake Michigan.

Danny's mother and his step-father Peter both have committed acts that might have been the catalyst for their son's kidnapping, or it could be that Danny's birth father has just been released from prison. Then there is the FBI and other government agents nibbling at the edges of the kidnapping but seem to have their own separate agendas. Finally, there is a nameless, faceless mastermind that keeps everybody running in circles by way of misleading emails, and texting. Although he keeps increasing the ransom demands for freeing Danny the reader begins to think even the kidnapper may have some goal beyond just collecting a huge ransom. 

The kidnapping and the pursuit of the kidnapper all occur during Bleak Harbor's Dragonfly Festival that brings much-needed tourist dollars to town but the crowds, traffic jams, and chaos makes the life for many of the village's inhabitants nearly intolerable. The author does a great job of vividly capturing the mood, ambiance, and annoyances of living in a town dependent on tourism.  He has also packed the novel with a bevy of fascinatingly, duplicitous characters who all seem to slowly become unglued as their various plans go awry.

Bryan Gruley has proven to be a master of crafting absorbing mystery and suspense novels. His Starvation Lake trilogy earned him a wide audience and a Mystery Writers of America nomination for Best First Mystery. Bleak Harbor is a departure in narrative style and mood from the Starvation Lake series although there are a few similarities. Both the new book and the old trilogy relentlessly demand readers' full attention, the characters and the Michigan setting come fully alive, and Gruley seems to have a penchant for picking unattractive names for small Michigan towns. Following Starvation Lake and Bleak Harbor, Purgatory Bay is slated for publication in 2020. And then what: Point Decapitation, Remorse Valley, Scab Lake? Frankly, I find some pleasure in his off-putting Michigan place names. They serve as a kind of antidote to the warm and almost hugable Michigan place names found in cozy mysteries set in Michigan. I look forward to reading any mystery Gruley writes and will happily let him be my Baedeker to any and all regretfully named places on Michigan's fictional map. 
Bleak Harbor by Bryan Gruley. Thomas & Mercer, 2018, $24.95.

The Page Fence Giants: A History of Black Baseball's Pioneering Champions
by Mitch Lutzke

Even avid baseball fans who are the students of the game and its history will find this an improbable story and an eye-opening book. No student of the game myself, I was amazed to learn how widely popular baseball was in the 1890s and that literally every little town had a baseball team that was a member of an amateur or a semi-pro league. The teams regularly traveled with a retinue of fans to other small towns in Michigan on weekends for games on which large amounts of money were often wagered. Teams brought in paid ringers to enhance their chances of winning and the home team often paid the ump to throw the game. Arguments got so heated and ugly one Michigan umpire packed a gun while calling games. It was baseball at it wildest and wooliest.  

In Michigan, the City of Adrian was a hotbed of baseball fanatics. Their amateur team traveled widely to play games, and teams from all over Michigan and Ohio arrived in Adrian on weekends to slug it out on the town's home field. Surprisingly, many of the teams, like Adrian's, were integrated in spite of a so-called "Gentleman's Agreement" that teams would not include Black ballplayers. 

Bud Fowler was a vagabond Black player who had managed and played baseball all over the country in the 1880s and early 90s. When he arrived in Adrian in the summer of 1894 with the Finlay, Ohio team for a weekend series he was impressed with the fanaticism and support for baseball in Adrian. Especially when 800 paying customers came to watch the game. Sometime after the game, Fowler announced he would come to Adrian the next season and build a professional all Black baseball team if the town would agree to three conditions.  Fowler wanted the town to guarantee him $500, improve the ballfield, and provide the team with a private railroad car in which they could sleep and eat when traveling or arriving in a town that would not allow African Americans in hotels or restaurants. Adrian's baseball promoters raised the $500, purchased a rail car, and most importantly brought in John Wallace Page to support the team. 

Page had invented a woven iron fence with no barbs. His Adrian company employed hundreds and the town became known as the fence capital of the world. Page agreed to support the team if it was named the Page Fence Giants, and the company was allowed to exhibit the Page Fence at every away game with local salesmen on hand to make sales. When these stipulations were agreed to Mr. Page permitted the team to keep all away game gate receipts. Beginning in 1895 the team traveled all over the Midwest playing both amateur and professional teams. When they arrived at the depot the team would parade through town in uniform on Monarch bicycles to the ballfield. In 1896 the Page Fence Giants played the Cuban X Giants, generally considered the best professional African American ballclub in America, in a 19 game series played in a dozen or more different midwest towns.

The author has done an impressive amount of research and written a fascinating story of a little-known chapter in the history of baseball.  The book tells the story of a team that was equal to and a forerunner of the Harlem Globe Trotters and brings baseball as it was played, organized, and reflected American society in the 1890s colorfully alive.  

The author will be at the Flint Public Library from 12:30 - 1:30 pm on February 27th to talk about the research and writing of the book.  
The Page Fence Giants: A History of Balck Baseball's Pioneering Champions by Mitch Lutzke. McFarland & Company, 2018, $39.95.

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Post # 37

Quote for the Day: "... [The UP] is an edgy place. I mean in the sense that it still hangs on out there like a rawhide flap of the old frontier, outposted from the swirl of mainstream America. John G. Mitchell. Audubon Magazine. November 1961.


Both books in this post are set in Michigan's unique Upper Peninsula, a place I never get tired of visiting, exploring, meeting its people, or reading about. Well, one book is and the other may take place there. It could be set in any of the three states that touch Lake Superior's shoreline and it really doesn't matter which, because Lake Superior is central to the novel and a near-constant presence in the book.

Daughters of the Lake
by Wendy Webb

This is literally a haunting Gothic novel set on the southern shore of Lake Superior in which the great lake is one of the dominant characters in the book. And it will not matter that the plot is not altogether believable because the author is one of those gifted writers who grabs the reader by the collar, drags them into the story, and doesn't lessen her grip until the final page is turned.

Kate Granger has returned to her parents' home on Lake Superior to lick her wounds and mend her broken heart after her marriage is shattered by her husband's infidelity. Within a few days of returning home, the body of a young woman washes up on the beach in front of her parent's house. It is obvious the woman was murdered before she was dumped in Lake Superior and Kate instinctively pulls aside the antique nightgown worn by the deceased and discovers the body of a newborn infant. 

The only one who can identify the woman is Kate who is very reluctant to admit she knows the victim only because they met in Kate's dreams. In the days following the discovery of the bodies, Kate is haunted by more dreams. It almost feels as if the victim is reaching out to her for help. Kate is really spooked when looking in a mirror she sees the face of the victim and begins to relive moments in the dead young woman's life. Hoping a change of location will stop the dreams Kate visits her cousin in Great Bay who operates a bed and breakfast in their grandmother's Victorian home. Sorting through a batch of old photographs at her grandma's house Kate happens upon a photograph of the dead woman. She is stunned to find out the photograph was taken a hundred years ago.

The book divides into two narratives as Kate, with the sheriff's blessing, delves into the family's and Great Bay's history in an attempt to unravel the mystery of a hundred-year-old murder, while a second narrative follows the life of the victim from grade school through marriage to her final moments. The two narratives build an unstoppable momentum that reveals long-buried family and Great Bay secrets and in the last few pages, the narratives come together with the impact of two freight trains colliding head-on.

The author is a born storyteller, makes the unbelievable believable, and has a firm grasp on the reader's attention from the first page to last. Making the book even more enjoyable is the authenticity with which the author captures up north small-town life both in the present and the past, and how Lake Superior, in all its glory, beauty, and danger, literally becomes a major character in the mystery.

Daughters of the Lake by Wendy Webb. Lake Union Publishing, 2018, $24.95 

Cabin Fever
James M. Jackson

Yet another mystery series set in the UP, or at the least, frequently set there and which I have been totally oblivious of until I cracked the author's third in the Seamus McCree mystery series a few days ago. I was hooked immediately by the author's well developed and fascinating plot, his vivid description of the rugged people and the wild and daunting natural setting of Iron County, Michigan. Then there's the fascinating main character Seamus McCree, an overly self-reliant, stubborn Irishman who hates to ask for help, is no stranger to violence, has a quick and inquisitive mind, gnaws at a problem like a dog with a bone, and calls himself a forensic accountant.

In this third book in the series, Seamus McCree finds himself spending the winter at his self-built cottage far off the beaten track in Iron County because his house in Ohio was firebombed in the previous book in the series. He enjoys his solitude and the UP setting. As the book opens he is returning from a long winter snowshoe tramp through the wilds of Iron County when he finds a nude, near frozen woman curled in a chair on his porch. He puts her to bed, discovers marks on her writs and ankles indicating she had been tied up and held captive by someone. She is soon running a dangerously high fever and may have pneumonia. When she does regain consciousness the high fever has short-circuited her memory and the woman doesn't remember who she is, what happened to her, or how she arrived at McCree's cottage. 

What neither Seamus or the woman know is that a dangerous, right-wing militia group is looking for the woman and want her dead as well as any witnesses or people who might have come to her aid. The paramilitary revolutionaries are slowly closing in as McCree tries to nurse the stranger, break her fever, and figure out a way to get the woman to the nearest hospital in Crystal Falls. Seamus doesn't have a car or a snowmobile at his cottage and pays an acquaintance to deliver groceries and supplies once a week.  

There is no spoiler alert in this review because I'm not revealing another word about this tightly plotted, engrossing, and thoroughly entertaining mystery. It is full of surprises, unexpected plot twists, and plenty of action. And Seamus McCree is a great character on which to base a mystery series. Cabin Fever was published in 2014 and the fifth Seamus McCree mystery "Empty Promises" appeared in print last year and also takes place in Iron County. Hopefully, in the coming months, a review of that book will also appear here.

Cabin Fever by James M. Jackson. Barking Rain Press, 2014, $13.62

All books reviewed in this blog can be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Post #36

Quote for the day: "Suddenly each summer on the lake shores of northern Michigan a living truth is rekindled. I have felt its glow all the way around the world, across the continents and across borderlines that let down their barriers only for those who know the universal password.  ...Interlochen is a magic word in the music world." Van Cliburn, 1968


Lives Laid Away
by Stephen Mack Jones

August Snow is on the prowl again and that is cause for celebration. The author's first mystery featuring the ex Detroit cop turned sometime private-eye, when not buying and fixing up every abandoned house on his block and making them livable again, was named a Michigan Notable Book and a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Best Book of the Year. The first novel was also nominated for two distinguished mystery writing awards. Happily, Lives Laid Away meets every expectation readers of the first book looked forward to in the second.

For the uninitiated, Snow's mother was Mexican and his father an African American. He is proud of his ethnic roots and lives in Detroit's Mexicantown where he grew up. He was fired by the Detroit Police Department and sued for unlawful dismissal and won a $12 million settlement. He uses the money to buy and rebuild abandoned homes on his block and finds needy families to whom he either sells the house or gives it to them. The only interruption in this one-man effort to rebuild a Detroit neighborhood is his habit of getting snared into helping right a wrong, sticking up for his neighbors, and working as an unlicensed private detective. All three of the activities usually brings Snow face-to-face with the police department and ex-superior officers that set him up for a fall but instead cost the city $12 million.

The second book, in what is hoped will be a long series, involves Snow in a case as volatile as today's headlines. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau (ICE)  is on the prowl in Mexicantown and when the body of an unidentified Hispanic woman is pulled from the Detroit River the police look to quickly close the case.  The Wayne County Coroner sends a photo of the dead woman to Snow in hopes he can circulate the picture and ID the deceased. 

When Snow starts nosing around trying to identify the body he discovers there may be a rogue element within the Detroit ICE office that is grabbing undocumented females and turning them over to a criminal element who sends them into the underground world of sex trafficking. The plot moves at the speed of light, the characters are authentic, the body count is high, and readers will be hooked right up to the bittersweet conclusion.

Lastly, among the many pleasures of this deeply satisfying novel is the author's intimate knowledge of Detroit and its suburbs that are described with razor-sharp prose that cuts to the essence of today's Detroit and the plight of its under-served and preyed upon inhabitants. The book is a triumph and much more than just a very readable, guns-blazing thriller.  

Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones. Soho Press, 2019, $26.95

Duffy Daugherty: A Man Ahead of His Time
by David Claerbaut

Given its title, this is not the book I expected it would be. What I was looking for between this book's cover was a well-rounded, authoritative biography of one of our state's most iconic college coaches. What readers get instead is a detailed, informative, and interesting game-by-game retelling of Duffy Daugherty's nineteen seasons as head coach of Michigan State University football team.  

The book's first seventeen pages recount his birth and childhood in Pennsylvania coal country and his early career as an assistant coach. The book's last five pages briefly covers his life after coaching but are pretty much limited to writing his autobiography, his regrets that he didn't retire sooner, and his dislike for how the Big Ten administers football. His wife is mentioned two or three times and there is a passing note about adopting a child and that is the sum total of information on his marriage and life away from football.  

Within the story of  Duffy's nineteen seasons as MSU's head coach, there is much said about the clashing of the two huge egos within MSU's sports family-- Duffy Daugherty's and that of the Athletic Director Biggie Munn. Both liked the limelight and there was probably no better speaker and storyteller in football than Duffy Daugherty. He was a literal quote machine and could almost rival Yogi Berra for odd and memorable one-liners like, "I could have been a Rhodes Scholar, except for my grades."

Much has been made of Duffy's tapping into the wealth of Black football talent in the 1960s in the South and bringing many of those players to MSU because they weren't allowed to break the color barrier at Southern universities. I wanted to know more about how Buffy decided to go after these Black players and how he recruited them. Late in the book, Duffy is quoted as saying he hated recruiting but no details are given as to why.  Other than noting and quoting from his many public speaking engagements, there is hardly a word in the book about what the man did in the offseason, how he conducted spring training or arrived at his innovative offensive sets and plays. The players loved him but little or nothing is said about his relationship with those players after they graduated.

If you're looking for a complete and thorough biography of the man, look elsewhere.  On the other hand, if you want to be regaled by Duffy's great sense of humor on the banquet circuit or in press interviews that are interwoven within a game-by-game and often a play-by-play history of his nineteen seasons as the Spartans head coach the book will not disappoint. 

Duffy Daugherty: A Man Ahead of His Time by David Claerbaut. Michigan State University Press, 2018, $29.95 pb.

All books reviewed in this blog can be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Post # 35

Quote for the day: "...(Elmore) Leonard's nine Detroit books form as good a portrait of life in this city during the past 20 years -- its unwritten codes and attitudes, its views of the world, its excess and eccentricities -- as we'll have."  Neely Tucker. Detroit Free Press Magazine. March 29, 1992.

Happy New Year! When I began this blog in August of 2017 I never considered its life expectancy. So it is with some surprise and a degree of wonder that this is the second ringing in of a new year for Michigan in Books. This endeavor takes up far more commitment and time than I imagined. But, I still enjoy reading and spreading the word on Michigan books and authors. Evidently there are a gratifying number of you out there who find the blog worth your time. You spur me on.  Thank you for your interest and readership.


Raylan Goes to Detroit
by Peter Leonard

I went out of my way to choose the above Quote for the Day to leadoff this post because the first book reviewed herein was written by Elmore Leonard's son. At the time of his death, Elmore Leonard was widely recognized as the best writer of crime novels of his day. When I saw that his son had picked up the pen dropped by his father and was also writing crime novels I stayed away from them. I thought the son was just setting himself up for failure and a painful literary comparison to his father. Then along came Raylan Goes to Detroit and I couldn't resist temptation. The character of Raylan Givens, a U. S. Marshall, was created by Peter's father and was the basis of a long-running and popular TV series entitled "Justified."

I never missed the show on Thursday nights on Fox and I wasn't going to miss this book. It becomes abundantly apparent from the first few pages that Elmore Leonard passed down his writing genes from father to son.  Every page showcases a natural born storyteller with great timing, memorable dialogue, unforgettable characters, and a plot as sleek and fast as a Lamborghini.

As is often the case Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens crossed a superior in the Kentucky Marshall's office and is transferred to Detroit's fugitive task force hunting down escaped prisoners, fugitives who failed to appear in court or have outstanding warrants. Raylan and his partner Bobby Torres follow a tip that leads them to Jose Rindo, a drug kingpin, and a ruthless killer. After arresting Rindo and jailing him Rayland and Torres cross swords with Nora Sanchez, a no-nonsense, by-the-numbers FBI agent who wants Rindo for the murder of another FBI agent.

Rindo has as much respect for prisons as Raylan has for superiors and the drug lord escapes from jail even before he has a hearing and heads to Ohio. Raylan and FBI Agent Sanchez are not pleased when they are ordered to Ohio to transport Rindo back to Detroit after he is recaptured in Columbus. Neither one wants to spend several hours in a car with the other. The duo brings the fugitive back to Detroit and survives a running shootout with Rindo's gunmen who attempt to free him. It proves much harder for the two to survive each other's company.

That Ohio trip sets the table for a long, deadly, cross-country pursuit of Rindo by Raylan and Sanchez when Rindo escapes yet again and heads for Mexico.  This novel of pursuit is thoroughly enjoyable. The action comes quick and violent, the two law officers relationship produces more friction than a set of disc brakes, and like his father, Peter Leonard can write scenes that not only hold the reader spellbound but in timing, tone, setting, and surprise twists are gems of perfection.  Peter Leonard joins a handful of authors who could write anything,  including a description of eating Haggis, and I'd read it.

Raylan Goes to Detroit by Peter Leonard. Rare Bird Books, 2018, $26.95

Stuck in Manistique
by Dennis Cuesta

I liked this book almost as much as all the memorable time I've spent over the years in the Manistique area. It takes the book's two main characters a few days to warm up to this small, Upper Peninsula town on Lake Michigan's northern shore. And Manistique doesn't take but a few days to alter the course of their lives.  

Mark, a Chigaco investment analyst, is surprised to learn that his Aunt Vivian, a member of Doctors Without Borders, has died and left him her house in Manistique. The request comes as a surprise because he hardly knew Aunt Vivian even though he was her last living relative. Mark has no idea where Manistique is even located.  Vivian's lawyer has to tell him how to get there. When Mark does make it to Manistique he is in for several additional surprises.

Dr. Emily Davis, fresh out of medical school, is driving north for an assignation with her lover, a married doctor and her teacher, on Mackinac Island. After crossing Big Mac she decides the affair must end and instead of catching a ferry to the island she heads west on US-2. Outside of Manistique, she hits a deer, or as she insists, a deer hit her car and shattered the windshield. The garage in Manistique has to order a replacement and tells her it will take a day to repair.   Asked where she can stay the night, she is sent to the Manistique Victorian Bed & Breakfast.

Mark hasn't finished his first look at his aunt's house when he answers a knock at the door and finds Emily, a suitcase in hand, asking if he has a room for the night. Mark is dumbfounded and wonders if there is a strange UP custom in which one allows strangers to spend the night in a spare bedroom. He is shocked to discover his aunt was running a bed and breakfast and although he permits Emily to stay the night he doesn't want anything to do with running a B & B. And so two stranger's lives slowly become entwined in the world above the bridge that, like Brigadoon, is a world unto itself.

Emily discovers "a day to repair" can mean a week in the UP.  Mark keeps answering more knocks on the door and reluctantly turns into a bed and breakfast proprietor. Over the course of a week, Emily and Mark become fast friends, play host to an entertainingly oddball number of guests, re-assess their lives, and deal with the emotional damage of past mistakes. Dennis Cuesta's first novel is a pleasing and entertaining mix of humor, the power of friendship, life in the UP, and self-forgiveness. Ah, what I wouldn't give to be Stuck in Manistique again!

Stuck in Manistique by Dennis Cuesta. Celestial Eyes Press, 2018, $24.

Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit
by Lisa Ludwinski

One has to only flip through a few pages of this beautiful book of recipes, from a bakery whose reputation has grown well beyond its location on Detroit's west side, to realize this book is unique. Before opening Sister Pie in a former beauty shop the author trained in New York and sold pies from a stand at Detroit's Eastern Market. Curiosity and word of mouth might account for many first time visitors to the Sister Pie but its the taste and the creative mind behind the pies that bring people back.

The recipes are strikingly original and adventurous. Where else will you find recipes for Peanut Butter and Paprika Cookies, Minted Peas and  Potato Hand Pies, Sweet Beet Pie, Sweet Potato Coconut Pie, and, my personal all-time favorite strange name for a pie, Sweet Corn Nectarine Streusel Pie! How I wish I had made that for Christmas and served it to my grandchildren. As a lover of pecan pie, I can't wait to blow what little diet I adhere to on Brandy Pecan Pie which includes not only apple brandy but, maple syrup, honey, turbinado sugar, cornmeal, and not a lick of heavy corn syrup.

There are also chapters on salads and breakfast recipes. The latter includes three recipes for Fat Tuesday Paczkis. I'll have a Maple Coffee Cream Paczki, please. And if I don't sleep in too long, one New Year's morning I've got to try and make Roasted Asparagus, Potato, and Chive Waffles topped with a medium-boiled egg.

Each recipe has clear and precise instructions and each is usually preceded with a note on how the recipe came to be. The book opens with a short autobiographical sketch that includes the mission and culture of Sister Pie. A second short chapter contains tips on baking and a discussion of ingredients. 

This is a great, one-of-a-kind cookbook and after simply reading it I'll have to put in a half-hour on the exercycle. 
Sister Pie: The Recipes & Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit by Lisa Ludwinski. Lorena Jones Books, 2018, $25.

All books reviewed in this bog can be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Post # 34

Quote for the day: "Anybody who lives in Detroit lives the blues sometimes, if not all the time." Pat Halley, a reporter for the Fifth Estate. 1973.


The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and a Hunt for Detroit's Most Notorious Serial Killer
J. Reuben Appelman

In the winter of 1976 and 1977 four Detroit children were abducted, molested, killed and dumped in snowbanks on the side of roads uncomfortably close to where the author lived. Called the Oakland County Child Killings (OCCK) the case resulted in the largest homicide investigation in state history and to this day has resulted in no one being charged for the four murders or abductions. The author was seven at the time of the murders and probably escaped with his life when a man who fit the general description of an OCCK suspect tried but failed to abduct him.

Appelman became obsessed with the murders, of which he might have become the fifth victim, and is still haunted by the parental violence and emotional abuse he suffered as a child. This memoir is a compelling and painful account of the author's decade-long research into the murders and his lasting emotional wounds from a traumatic childhood.

The author's revelations concerning the police investigation into the killings and the persistent presence of a well-organized network of pedophiles who, as a group and as individuals, sexually preyed on children are both unsettling and outrageous. A wealthy pedophile who owned North Fox Island in northern Lake Michigan registered his island as a boys' camp and received state and federal reimbursement for flying children to his camp where they were molested and raped
by paying members of his pedophile club. The author firmly believes the killer had connections with the Fox Island owner and the club. When it was finally uncovered by the Michigan State Police and they seized a membership list studded with influential names the list was lost or purposely destroyed.  Other evidence collected by Detroit and suburban police also had a way of disappearing. Eventually, the author comes to the conclusion police covered up crime scene evidence and intentionally or otherwise deflected attention away from prime suspects. 

One of the young female victims was last seen getting into a patrol car with a policeman before her body was found abandoned beside a road. Those who witnessed the girl getting in the officer's car or heard the story second-hand and called it in as a tip were later found dead from apparent suicides. One of the prime suspects and a known child molester was found dead in his bed, rolled up tightly in a blanket alongside a rifle. The man had a single, fatal bullet hole in his forehead. In spite of the fact that the man's arms were inside the blanket and there was no gunpowder residue on his hands the police declared it a suicide.

The author piles up one disturbing piece of damning evidence after another until the reader is left wondering if the thirty-year investigation of the killings was simply, but innocently and horribly mismanaged, or is a case of criminal mismanagement and a cover-up. One is also left contemplating the likely possibility that the four children were passed from pedophile to pedophile and finally handed off to a killer. The book raises many disturbing facts and questions, among the latter, is how deep, active, and widespread is the pedophile underground in today's society?

Woven within this horrific story is the author's struggle to come to grips with his own tormented childhood that was dominated by a cruel and unloving father who left his son emotionally damaged.

This is a powerful, shocking, and an emotionally charged true crime story. Yes, at times it is uncomfortable reading no matter how well written. But turning away from this book because it is unsettling is the equivalent of turning away from dealing with the threat of pedophilia in today's society because the subject is too upsetting. The author is currently adding the finishing touches to a four-part television documentary based on the Kill Jar.
The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and A Hunt for Detroit's Most Notorious Serial Killer by J. Reuben Appelman. Gallery Books, 2018, $24.99.

In Want of a Knife
by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli

A return visit to the fictional village of Bear Falls, Michigan, located somewhere between Traverse City and Charlevoix, is always fun. Although the author is rather non-specific when it comes to the town's exact location any traveler will know they have arrived because they will instantly realize Bear Falls' population has more eccentrics per capita than anyplace in America except our nation's capital. And unlike Bear Falls, those found in the latter are usually defined as eccentric simply by their overwhelming sense of self-importance.

Things are a-buzz in the village when a multi-millionaire moves to town with a small retinue of his own odd friends and calls a meeting to announce he is giving Bear Falls a two-million-dollar gift. The catch is the town's people must decide on what to spend the money.  Among those attending the announcement are the series three main characters; Jenny, back home from Chicago after her marriage went bad, Dora her mother with whom she lives, and their next-door neighbor Zoe Zola.   Zola is a "Little Person," a semi-famous writer of scholarly books on Jane Austin, and along with Jenny, the town's unofficial ace murder investigator.

It comes as a big surprise the town's new resident and benefactor is also a "Little Person." Unexpectedly the two "Little People" fail to see eye-to-eye, so to speak, in fact, they hit it off like roughly shaken nitro and glycerine. The town is also rocked by the discovery of a murdered girl and the disappearance of another young lady. Of course, Jenny and Zoe dive into solving the murder and disappearance. The town's sheriff has only one deputy and seems to expect the two women to help him solve the mysteries. 

In any other small town in Michigan in which a girl was murdered and another missing, it would be expected that the Michigan State Police and county sheriff investigators would be all over the case like down on a duck's back. But Bear Falls is eccentric and with official law enforcement mostly in the background, and contributing little, Zoe and Jenny out do Hercule Perot.  

So there must be some suspension of belief when it comes to the plot. The real charm of the book and what keeps one reading is the people of Bear Falls, the truly unique character Zoe Zola, and the friendship between the quirky Jane Austin scholar and a young woman trying to heal the wounds of a bad marriage and discover what and who she is.  This reader, although concerned by the incredibly high per capita murder rate of Bear Falls, would move there in an instant. Admittedly, I'm not a gambler and can't figure the odds of a coin flip coming up heads or tails. But really, when the fourth book in this Little Library Mystery series is published, what are the odds of yet another murder in this near idyllic and friendly town? 

In Want of a Knife by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli. Crooked Lane Books, 2018, $26.99

All books reviewed in this blog can be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Post # 33

Quote of the day: "The Man-Devouring Lake." The Chippewa's name for Lake Michigan.


Across the Great Lake
by Lee Zacharias

Simply put, this is an extraordinary novel. In 1936 Fern is five-years-old, lives in Frankfort, Michigan and her father is a captain of an Ann Arbor Railroad Car Ferry that transports rail freight cars across Lake Michigan from Frankfort to Menominee year-round. As the book opens, Fern's mother has become too ill to take care for her (in fact she's dying) so her father takes his daughter aboard the ferry for a winter crossing of Lake Michigan. For Fern, it is the adventure of a lifetime and the book is Fern's vivid, detailed recollection of the eventful voyage as she remembers it as both an eighty-year-old woman and a five-year-old girl. One of the great achievements of the novel is how a life-changing event eighty years in the past is recalled and influenced by the process of aging and at the same time is seemingly relived by a five-year-old as it occurs. The co-mingling of the memories from the perspective of then and now adds depth and nuance to a wholly engrossing story.  

The ferry becomes stuck in ice after barely leaving the harbor, rescues another ferry captured by the ice, faces a terrible storm, and is threatened by a variety of hazards common to ships and sailors who ply the waters of the great freshwater seas. Even seen through the eyes of a five-year-old the book is a marvelous recreation of life aboard a railroad ferry in the 1930s and the crew members are so believably drawn they seem to walk right off the page.

In alternating chapters, Fern tells of her life in Frankfort in 1930s and 40s in such detail it comes alive on the page. She also recounts how the voyage altered the course of her life and led her in unexpected directions. And as Fern relives the voyage in her eighties the more she grows confused as to who she is. The little girl on a great adventure or the old woman she's become.

It is obvious even without looking at the extensive bibliography that the author did an impressive amount of research. But what is really remarkable is her skill at weaving a great story within the warp and woof of the facts. The book is immensely readable except for  the author's stunningly arresting sentences that beg to be reread, highlighted, or flagged such as: "..when you grow up on the shore of a great lake you learn its moods, and observing those you begin to learn the inconstancy of the world." Or, "I don't think there is anything quite so pure as the sight of an egret taking flight on a clear morning, like a clean, white handkerchief flung against the bright blue sky." Lastly, my favorite. When people told Fern she grew up in innocent times she reflects, "that innocence is just ignorance dressed up in nice clothes."

This book has to be a solid gold lock for being listed on Michigan Notable Books of the Year. If not, there's something wrong with how books are selected for the list.
Across the Great Lake by Lee Zacharais. University of Wisconsin Press, 2018, $23.95, hardback. 

Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction
edited by Anne-Marie Oomen

The blurb on the back of the jacket states that this book of essays, "approaches Michigan at the atomic level." Frankly, I have no idea what that means. One of my favorite essays in the book has the writer following the Niagara Escarpment which stretches from Niagara Falls around the northern edges of Lakes Huron and Michigan before it disappears somewhere south of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Until I read the essay I had no idea that the beautiful 90-foot-high limestone cliffs lining Snail Shell Harbor in Fayette Historic State Park in the UP -- one of my favorite spots in Michigan -- is part of the escarpment. That and many other of the fine essays found here hardly seem to reach the sub-microscopic "atomic level."

What the reader will find is a wonderful collection of personal, and often deeply personal, essays by Michigan authors writing about how their and our lives are entwined with our state's complex natural setting, climate, landscape, and environmental issues.  No better example of what I am desperately trying to explain is a woman writing of her first winter in Michigan as if it was a first date. Now that is creative nonfiction.

The book opens with a heartfelt story of growing up a farmer in Michigan's Thumb and how an immigrant family put down roots in the area's rich soil just like the crops they sowed. It speaks beautifully of the intimacy farmers have with the earth and there are passages that describe the land in prose that is often as lyrical as poetry. Another essay details in passionate and personal outrage the poisoning of the state's rivers, streams, inland lakes and the Great Lakes themselves. The author scathingly describes the 50-year-old, dented, rusted, corroding, oil pipeline with its missing supports that carries 20 million-plus gallons of oil a day under the Straits of Mackinac. 

I found Jerry Dennis' essay on his work in construction prior to becoming a full-time writer especially compelling. For five years he worked with a talented crew of carpenters who truly enjoyed their job of building condos on some of the most beautiful and scenic landscape in the Leelanau Peninsula. His crew members are sharply drawn characters and Dennis captures the comradery of the crew and the pride they take in their work. And even as they took pride in a job well done, the men regretted that the land on which they built condos would no longer remain undeveloped and open to all. To quote Dennis, "And the hunting in the park was very good, as was the fishing in its lakes and streams. The men wanted the place to stay as it was; and they wanted the freedom to build on it at will." The last sentence could serve as our species' epitaph. 

The book is packed with thoughtful, poignant, funny, and provocative personal essays that make the reader look anew at our extraordinary home state.

Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction edited by Anne-Marie Oomen. Wayne State University Press, 2018, $19.99.

All of the books reviewed in this blog can be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Post # 32

Quote for the day: "Trying to describe a fresh-caught brook trout is about as easy as trying to describe a sunset." John Voelker. Michigan Living, April 1990.


The Damage Done
by PJ Parrish

PJ Parrish is the pen name of two sisters. One lives year-round in Traverse City and the other splits her time between Traverse City and Florida. This is their 12th book in the Louis Kincaid/Joe Frye series. The sisters' previous Kincaid mysteries made the New York Times bestseller list and received eleven awards for mystery writing. The awards include two Shamus' that recognize outstanding achievement in private eye fiction and an Anthony, one of the most prestigious awards in the world of mystery writing given annually at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. They have also been nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of  America.  These sisters are heavyweights in the mystery writing field and need no recommendation from anyone, let alone an obscure blogger who reviews books about Michigan. Go out and get the book if you like superior, deeply involving mysteries.

But allow me to add my two cents to all the other rave reviews. I would argue this fine novel is too nuanced, character-driven, and intricately plotted to classify it as a "thriller" as the cover claims. For me, a thriller is akin to a roller coaster ride that speeds around the track and leaves the rider breathless. But The Damage Done is much more than just a mystery, it is a novel about the scars left by the terrible burden of guilt, putting faith before family, child abuse,  and abandonment. The book isn't a roller coast ride but an emotional juggernaut that steadily builds up steam until the final 100 pages when the reader feels like they've stepped on the tracks and into the path of a speeding freight train. 

Louis Kincaid served as a Michigan State trooper until he was made a scapegoat by his superior Max Steele and fired. Kincaid found work as a private eye in Florida.  Then out of the blue came an invitation to join an elite unit of the Michigan State Police created to investigate cold cases. Heading up the unit is Max Steele. Each officer in the five-member unit must choose one of five cold cases Steele has posted on a board. It soon dawns on Kincaid that all five members of the unit, himself included, have deep emotional wounds and Steele picked cases he knew would dig at the scar tissue until they reopened the wounds and haunted his officers. 

When a prominent Grand Rapids TV evangelist is murdered in his church, Steele talks his superiors into letting his unit handle the new and highly visible case. The result is a complex, involving, and ultimately a compulsively readable novel full of surprising plot twists, memorable characters, and a deeply felt examination of the human condition. And long before I reached the last page of this book I added eleven earlier books by Parish to my must-read list.

The Damage Done by PJ Parish. Our Noir Publishing, 2018, $14.99.

Fatal Crossing: The Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flint 2501 and the Quest for Answers
by V.O. Van Heest

Lake Michigan like all the Great Lakes hides many secrets and only reluctantly gives them up. Most involve long lost ships and missing crewmen that vanished without a trace. But one of Lake Michigan's most enduring mysteries is Northwest Flight 2501 that was flying from New York to Minnesota on June 23, 1950. The DC-4 with 58 passengers and crew left the Michigan coast, entered a squall line, and disappeared. Pieces of wreckage mixed with human body parts were found by searchers the next day but the plane was never found and the mystery remains as to what brought the DC-4 down. At the time it was the country's worst airline disaster.

The author is a member of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association and early in this century, the group decided to search for the missing plane and see if they could find answers as to why it went down. At a meeting in Chicago, she met the author and explorer Clive Cussler who headed up the National Underwater Marine Agency and told him of her group's work to locate Flight 2501. He pledged to assist in the search and for the next decade sent a crew from his organization who arrived every summer with the most up-to-date underwater search equipment.

Fatal Crossing is the author's meticulous and fascinating account of the search for the lost plane. The decade-long search for the plane turned up several new shipwrecks but no plane. While the underwater search was underway the author talked to meteorologists, reread weather reports produced at the time of the flight, studied other DC-4 crashes, flight plans, researched the flight experience of the pilot and co-pilot, spoke to former DC-4 pilots, and contacted relatives of the passengers who died on the flight. 

Based on extensive research into the crew and passengers, and based on the aeronautics of 1950 and the peculiarities of the DC-4 (it is prone to flip on its back in violent weather) the author takes the reader on board Flight 2501 and in great detail describes the aircraft and its passengers last flight down to the last traumatic minutes. Van Heest's compassionate and gripping book is most likely the closest we will ever get to what happened to Flight 2501. It is also an important contribution to the lore and history of Lake Michigan.

Fatal Crossing: The Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501 and the Quest for Answers by V. O. van Heest. In-Depth Edith, 2013, $19.95.

They  Drank to That: The Bars, Beer, and the Beat of Hamtramck
by Greg Kowalski

This is a brief but intoxicating history of the bar culture in a city that held the record for more bars per capita than any other city in America. I've always found Hamtramck a fascinating town that in the 20s was a veritable petri dish for fostering bank robbers and career criminals in addition to being a town packed with hard-working Germans and Poles who flocked to the town looking for employment in the giant Dodge Brothers auto plant and nearby Ford plants. 

The 2.1-square mile town is completely surrounded by Detroit and after reading this book I will always think of Hamtramck as the shot glass full of whiskey that's gently dropped into a large mug of beer to make a Boilermaker depth charge. During its heyday, it is estimated there were bars on practically every street corner and the 45,000 men who worked in Hamtramck's Dodge Main stopped to have a shot and a beer on the way to work and on the way home did the same. On blistering hot summer days, the Dodge  Brothers brought kegs of beer into the plant so their workers didn't skip out for one. In the Twenties, the city lost track of its liquor licenses and it was estimated that there were 200 to 400 bars in the town. And yes it was during Prohibition, but it was openly ignored because the city found it broke their budget to even try and enforce it.

The book offers a profusely illustrated, succinct history of the city and how over the decades Hamtramck's bars changed with the times but always remained social gathering places, entertainment venues, served as gambling houses, or also operated as bordellos, and one even gained national recognition as a high-class nightclub.  The author does a fine job of showing how the bars were a part of the very social fabric of the city. Hundreds of bars and taverns are mentioned by name and readers will find short histories of some of the better known or more infamous drinkings spot in town. An appendix offers "a by no means comprehensive list of Hamtramck bars going back to the 1960s." This book is likely to appeal to a wider audience than those living in Hamtramck or even greater Detroit. I raise a glass to the author for giving us a unique sidelight on Michigan history - the interesting kind that never finds its way into Michigan history textbooks - Prost.

They Drank for That: Bars, The Beer, and the Beat of Hamtramck by Greg Kowalski. Arcadia Publishing, 2017, $22.99 pb.

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Post # 38

Quote for the day: "Our roads are built of corduroy,                                 And if you travel far                          ...