Thursday, November 30, 2017

Post # 9

Quote for the Day: The Renaissance Center "Mayor Young's first brainchild and a paean to the parsimony of late-twentieth-century architecture, standing like a display of disposable plastic drinking cups."  Loren Estleman. King of the Corner, 1992.


The Man in the Crocked Hat
by Harry Dolan

When this Ann Arbor author's first book, "Bad Things Happen," was published he was hailed as one of the new generation's masters of the mystery form. With each succeeding book it seems certain that Harry Dolan is destined to be included among the ranks of  Michael Connelly, Dennis LaHane, John Grissom, Robert Crais, and et al. This newest addictive page turner will only solidify his position.

The author introduces a new hero in a hopefully new series featuring ex Detroit Police Detective Jack Pellum. The ex cop's life was shattered 18 months prior to the opening of the book by the murder of his wife in a Huron-Clinton Metro Park.  It seemed to be a random killing with no motive and less clues. After more than a year its become a cold case in the police department but not for Jack. He quits the police and spends his days looking for his wife's killer and pesters his old police partner to search this or that imaginary lead. 

Pellum's one slim clue is that he saw a man in a crooked hat lingering around their house a day or two before his wife's murder. In eighteen months of asking questions he's unearthed bubkus. His old partner is tried of Jack's fixation and reluctantly agrees to give him one last line of inquiry. A writer in Detroit committed suicide and his suicide note appeared to be the first page of the dead man's only published book. It lay open to page one in the room in which he hung himself and the first sentence of the book begins, "The man in the crooked hat..."

Pellum is off and running, tracking down everything he can find about the writer's life and if there is a posssible connection to the man in the crooked hat. Pellum's new burst of inquiries  sets off a chain of chaos much like a ball launched in a pinball machine and and then trying to keep track of every bumper it hits and why. Pellum blindly keeps digging away until seemingly insignificant clues slowly uncover the secrets in a small town that have been buried for twenty years. The plot has stunning unexpected turns and twists and even includes informal walking tours of some Detroit neighborhoods. The Jack Pellum character is fascinating as he struggles with his compulsion to find the killer of his wife and at the same time grows to understand at some point he can still grieve but he must also move forward in life.

Harry Dolan is a very good mystery novelist writing at the top of his form. Effortless prose jumps off the page and goes down like rum-spiked eggnog on New Year's Eve. Its smooth, full bodied, and comes with a punch.

Dolan, Harry. The Man in the Crooked Hat, G,P. Putnam's, 2017, 353p. $27

Lake Effect: A Deckhand's Journey on the Great Lakes
by Richard Hill

If you live in Michigan chances are you've caught sight of the huge ore carriers plying the Great Lakes, probably more than once, and tried to imagine what life is like as a sailor on one of the great boats. Well give your imagination a rest and read Richard Hill's memoir of his 10-year career as a Great Lake sailor in the 1970s. It is a vivid and fascinating account of life and work on North America's great fresh water seas.

The author takes much of the romance out of the job but doesn't make it any less interesting. When not not docking or departing port a deckhand spends days on end chipping and painting. When a deckhand doesn't have a paint brush in hand he's usually performing some other on board maintenance. The boat becomes the sailor's home, workplace, and entertainment center and on average makes port every four or five days.  After a few weeks the crew longs for almost any kind of break from the the everyday routine even if it is just a few hours ashore tipping back a beer with a buddy in rough, dockside dive. Hill mentions Peckerhead Kate's and Horseface Mary's, both in Chicago, as two of the toughest bars during his time on the Lakes. I can't help but wonder what a t-shirt from either place might have looked like.

The book is filled with fascinating little tidbits of  life on the inland seas. When the ore boat is emptying its holds of taconite a Caterpillar is lowered into the holds to scrape up the last of the  iron pellets. A first-time sailor quickly learns never walk the decks with his hands in his pockets because an ore boat's decks are both slippery and filled with things to trip over. So your hands always have to be ready to grab a rail and save yourself from falling overboard.  

Life boat drills were performed weekly but sailors felt life jackets just prolonged one's suffering if you went in the water. In November and December Lake Superior gets so cold just hitting the water means instant death by either cardiac arrest or thermal shock. It was only decades later that crews were supplied with survival suits if their boat was going down. 

The first time Hill's boat encountered 25-foot waves on Lake Superior was both frightening and spellbinding. He writes his, "600-foot boat was nothing but a helpless tin bucket tossing around in a tempest." On the other hand he claims that the deck of an ore carrier on a beautiful day out of sight of land was the best golf driving range one could ask for. 

The book provides a rare glimpse into a life that can be as close at hand as a ore boat steaming down the St. Clair River yet is totally unknown to more than 99% of us. 

Hill, Richard. Lake Effect: A Deckhand's Journey on the Great Lakes Freighters, Gale Force Press, 217p., 2008. $17.95

Michigan Books for Christmas Giving

The following are my humble suggestions for books about the Michigan experience that would make good Christmas gifts. The list is compiled on the principle that no matter how old the book, if a person hasn't read it is is still essentially new. So the following list includes both new books on Michigan as well as classics. For ease of order all one has to do is click on the book cover and it will take you to Amazon Books where the price is probably less than the posted price on the list.

The Legend of Sleeping Bear by Kathy-Jo Wargin, Gilsbert van Frankenhyzen, illustrator.
Sleeping Bear Press, 1999, $17.95

The beautifully illustrated and gently told legend of  how Sleeping Bear Dunes got its name. Long ago a mother bear and her cubs tried to swim across Lake Michigan. The mother bear made it and now rests on shore and waits forever for her two cubs, represented by North and South Manitou Island to come ashore. Moving and lovingly told. Reading level is 4.8, but the book begs to be read aloud. Named the Official Children's Book of Michigan.

Trout Magic by Robert Traver. Touchstone Press, 1989, $12.54

A classic book of essays about the demented fringe of fishermen (me included) who pursue trout with a fly rod. Written by a former Michigan Supreme Court Justice who left the court to spend more time fishing and writing, this is a creel full of tall tales, weird characters, wit, and wisdom. It is also chocked full of great descriptive passages of the U.P. wilderness and the joys of wading a beautiful river.  Reading this book almost feels as good as having a hungry Brook Trout strike your Royal Coachman.

Michigan at Antietam: The Wolverines State's Sacrifice on America's Bloodiest Day, by Jack Dempsey. The History Press, 2015, $24.95

A profusely illustrated, compelling narrative that explores the important role Michiganders played in the single bloodiest day of the Civil War. This should be must reading for any Michigan Civil War buff.

Sweet Girl, by Travis Mulhauser. HarperCollins, 2016, $15.95

A sharp, taut, thriller set in Emmett County in which 16-year-old Percy, sets out a stormy night to find her meth addicted mother who has been missing for days. Percy's first stop is the meth dealer's house deep in the back country of Emmet County.  Mom's not there and the dealer and his girlfriend are passed out on the living room floor. In searching the house for her mother Percy discovers a snow-covered, untended, and sick baby lying in a bassinet next to an open window. The girl gathers up the baby and heads out into a deadly winter storm and is soon hunted by the meth dealer's gang. Great characters, relentless plotting, and dark humor mark this superior novel of suspense and survival.

Detroit Disassembled by Philip Levin, Andrew Moore photographer. Damiani/Arkon Art Museum, 2010, $50.

A great gift for photographers or anyone who enjoys photography as art. Photographer Andrew Moore's subject is the crumbling factories, ruined churches, deserted schools, and abandoned houses of a post apocoliptic Detroit. The book prompts a wide range of emotions.  Who thought garbage, derelict buildings, and empty factory floors could be transformed into astonishing works of art that are sad and trans formative. Page after page of stunning photographs that at times remind one of looking at photos of ancient Rome or Greece. 

The Veteran by Frank P. Slaughter. Mission Point Press, 2016, $18.95 pb.

The engrossing novel of a Michigan Civil War soldier who is wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga and is discharged because of his wound and unknowingly also suffers from PTSD. He goes home to Michigan and decides to make a career in lumbering while trying to deal with his terrible nightmares and his troubling outbursts of anger. Harrowing battle scenes and rigorously authentic descriptions of the life of a Michigan lumberjack in the 1860s makes for a fascinating and compelling read. One of the best novels I've read in the past year. A full review will appear in a later post.

Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling. HMH Books, 1980, $11.95

An Indian boy carves a toy canoe and sets it free on Lake Superior hoping it will drift through the Great Lakes and to the Atlantic. A great introduction to the geography and lore of the Great Lakes. Wonderful illustrations that captivate readers, draw them into the majesty of our Inland Sea, and record a marvelous adventure. A great read aloud book for elementary and pre-school children.

The Situation in Flushing by Edmund G. Love. Wayne State University Press, 1987, $24.95

A warm, funny, wise, and captivating autobiography of  a childhood spent in Flushing, Michigan at the turn of the 20th Century. This much loved book has brought readers from afar to walk the streets of Flushing. It has also been taught in history and sociology classes at U of M with classes making field trips to the village. A Michigan classic.

True North by Jim Harrison.Grove Press, 2004, $16.00

A moving novel of a son's estrangement from his lumber baron father because of the father's ravenous destruction of the Upper Peninsula's forests. One reviewer called it, "the epic of  Michigan's Upper Peninsula." A great book by one of  Michigan's most celebrated writers.

Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression-era Detroit by Tom Stanton. Lyons Press, 2016, $12.20 pb.

Stanton chronicles a strange confluence of events that gripped the Motor City in the mid 1930s when the Detroit Tigers, the Lions, and Red Wings all won their first national championships while the Black Legion, a virulent Klan-like organization, was using murder and threats of violence to win control of Detroit and even had visions of taking over Washington. Selected as one of the great reads of the year by NPR.

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February 1, 2020 Post #51

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