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.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Post # 31

Quote of the day: "...Detroit made one promise to its young people -- a good job. A place on the line at GM, Ford or Chrysler was a part of our birthright, a legacy to the city's children. And then early in the seventies that legacy was withdrawn." Ze'ev Chafets. Devils Night and Other True Tales of Detroit, 1990.


Tiger Stadium: Essays and Memories of Detroit's Historic Ballpark, 1912-2009
Edited by Michael Betzold, John Davids. Bill Dow, Johan Pastier and Frank Rashid

Tiger fans who remember Tiger Stadium with great affection will love this book. Newer fans who never saw a game in the old stadium and even lukewarm local baseball fans who watched the occasional game on TV played at Tiger Stadium will come to understand why the grounds on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull has been recognized as "one of the premier proletarian baseball stadiums in the land."

The book offers a thorough history of the ballfield that was built for $10,000 in 1894-95 and beginning in 1895, and for the next 104 summers, was the home of Detroit's major league baseball team. It was also the home of the Detroit Lions for over 30 years. It underwent constant enlargement, remodeling, modernization, and several name changes in its long life. For the hundreds of thousands of Michiganders who were as devoted to baseball and the Tigers as to any religion, Tiger Stadium became a cathedral in which they came to worship the game. Less devout fans will still find the book immensely interesting as several fine narrative essays detail the history of the ballclub, its architectural significance as a classic ballpark, and how changes in ownership were a catalyst for change in the ballpark. The essays are bolstered by charts, statistics, detailed drawings, and dozens of great photographs. 

One of the great insights of the book is how Tiger Stadium had a unifying effect on a metropolitan area that starting in the 1950s was growing ever further apart. White flight, the widening gap between the rich and the lower economic class, and other economic and social barriers further separated the people of metro Detroit. Yet as one of the essays makes clear the stadium, "continued to bring us together and became by default one of the area's last remaining places of common ground." Old Tiger Stadium with its shoulder-to-shoulder seating, crowded concession stands, and narrow concourses forced Tiger fans rich and poor, Black and White to literally rub shoulders with each other. Whereas new stadiums with exclusive seats, luxury boxes, and club sections, do just the opposite. They separate classes. 

The book doesn't miss a single significant moment in the park's history including a home run Babe Ruth hit on June 8th, 1926 that cleared the centerfield wall and landed in the intersection of Trumbull and Cherry Street. The ball traveled 575 feet in the air and is considered the longest home run in baseball history. The book also covers how African Americans were treated less than friendly even after the on-field color line was broken in 1947 and Blacks came in greater numbers to see African American ballplayers. Black fans faced near constant mistreatment, racial slurs, and poor treatment by ushers and concessionaires. The Tigers didn't break the color line on the field until 1958. 

One of the best chapters in the book features players, ushers, concession workers, and fans from every walk of life recalling their favorite or memorable moments in Tiger Stadium. The book's editors detail the history of efforts to move the Tigers to a new stadium as early as 1948. In spite of intense efforts to save it the stadium was torn down in 2008  but fans still come to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull to walk the old baselines, play catch, play in pick up games, or just remember. 

This fine book is the equal of a no-hitter in the seventh game of the world series. It is memorable, full of fascinating details, and darn near perfect.
Tiger Stadium: Essays and Memories of Detroit's Historic Ballpark, 1912-2009 edited by Michael Betzold, John Davids, Bill dow, John Pastier, and Frank Rashid. McFarland and Company, 2018, $39.95 pb.

A Pattern for Murder
by Ann Yost

The Keweenaw Peninsula is remote, strikingly beautiful, sparsely populated, rich in history, and home to its own unique brand of Yooper culture and language that is heavily influenced by a predominantly Finnish population. It's not quite like anyplace else in America and makes for a great background against which to set a mystery novel. 

Hattie Lehtinen (there are more Finnish family names in this mystery than the Helsinki telephone book) has returned to the town of Red Jacket at the end of a disastrous six-month marriage to manage her father's bait shop which she plans on turning into a bait shop and yarn emporium. Deeply civic-minded, Hattie helps in planning and orchestrating the celebration of turning a large, two-family lightkeeper's house into a county old age home. The only incident marring the occasion is the murder of the woman's son who gave the lighthouse to the county. He apparently had returned to the Keweenaw to contest the ownership of the house and took a fatal and involuntary swan dive from the top of the light tower for his troubles. 

The incompetent, do nothing sheriff assigned his nineteen-year-old deputy Ellwood to investigate the murder. The kid is so inexperienced he Googles a website entitled "Ten Steps to Solving a Murder." Hattie has read all of Agatha Christie's mysteries and therefore considers herself more than qualified to solve a murder and appoints herself Ellwood's assistant investigator. And to quote a famous fictional detective, "The game is afoot."

The unraveling of the crime and search for the killer leads to two more murders before Hattie pins the tail on the guilty party. I must admit Agatha Christie novels were never my cup of tea and it wasn't the hunt for the truth and solving of the mystery within these pages that kept me reading. Topographically, historically, geologically, and culturally the Keweenaw is an endlessly fascinating place and the author has done a great job of capturing the uniqueness of the peninsula and the character of its inhabitants. It also doesn't hurt that the author has a well developed sly sense of humor and uses it to full effect in this first in a series of mysteries starring the proprietress of Red Jacket's only bait shop and yarn emporium.

As an aside I must comment on the term "Cozy Mystery." This is the third such self-described mystery in this sub-genre I've reviewed and frankly, I'd like a publisher to define a cozy mystery because I'm at a loss to do so. Their hallmark characteristics seem to be the avoidance of describing any gruesome aspect of the act of murder, little or no swearing, and the sex act, or any approximation of the aforesaid activity, cannot appear between the book's covers. This in spite of the fact the latter could be depicted as cozy and comforting and this book includes the term "Holy Wha" which is described as a Yooper expletive. The American Heritage Dictionary defines cozy as "snug and comfortable" which seems the polar opposite of a murder mystery. It almost feels as if publishers of cozy mysteries are trying to sanitize murder. I would welcome their response.

A Pattern for Murder: The Bait and Stitch Mystery Series, Book One by Ann Yost. ePublishing Works, 2018, $16.99 pb.

Boats Made in Holland: A Michigan Tradition
Geoffrey D. Reynolds

This slim but fact-filled book contains concise, thumbnail histories of the many boat-building companies in the Holland area over the last 120 years. The twenty-four companies briefly profiled are arranged by the era in which they were established and run in length from two to five pages and include numerous photographs.  

Each entry notes the specific kind of pleasure boat the company designed and produced, and highlights any advances in architectural design, construction methods, and material introduced by the company. The first use of a copper alloy steel, which is non-corrosive, for cabin cruiser hulls or the introduction of fiberglass in boat building is noted and described.

I can't help but believe this short book of 120 some pages, not including notes, bibliography, and the index is aimed at a very narrow audience. But for those who are interested in the history of pleasure boat construction and the companies in the Holland area who made pleasure boats their business, then this is the book for you.  It is also another small but appreciated addition to Michigan history.
Boats Made in Holland: A Michigan Tradition by Geoffrey D. Reynolds. History Press, 2018, $21.99 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.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Post # 30

Quote for the day: The Keweenaw Peninsula is still untamed and still resists transformation.
                               Ela Johnson, The Faces of the Great Lakes. 1977.


Harder Ground
by Joseph Heywood

Admittedly, Joseph Heywood is one of my favorite authors and I'm hopelessly addicted to his "Woods Cop" series that chronicles the adventures of  Grady Service, a Conservation Officer in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  So I was surprised to find that I'd somehow missed the publication of the 2015 Heywood release Harder Ground: More Woods Cop Stories. If I missed it, it is more than likely other fans may have also failed to note its publication  --  hence this review.

This installment of the Woods Cop series is a departure from Heywood's usual UP mysteries featuring Grady Service. The book at hand is a collection of twenty-nine immensely enjoyable short stories focusing on the life and work of female conservation officers in the UP.
Most of the stories are brief literary sketches of critical moments or turning points in the women's professional careers or how they juggle both a demanding job and a family. There are a few expanded stories that cover an unusual or unique investigation or arrest. 

The stories cover a Conservation Officer's first day on the job, another's last memorable day before retirement, and the rest address how incredibly challenging, dangerous, and physically and mentally demanding the job can be. And of course, the women must prove they belong in a profession that was once open only to men. The book is cast as fiction but any reader would swear that Heywood went on dozens of ride-alongs with women Conservation Officers,  and let them tell their stories while he recorded them. The stories feel that real. They are also humorous, touching, edge-of-your-chair exciting, and support one character's reflection that: "Conservation officers were defined by so many skills it was hard to squeeze them into an application form."

In "The Roadrunner Should Make You Laugh," a conservation officer pulls her dad, a retired conservation officer suffering from Alzheimer's, out of a nursing home and manages to take care of him at home. It is mostly told through dialogue and is sad, funny, and touching all at once. "Gravy and Bear Breath" is told almost entirely through dialogue as a female cadet in the Conservation Officer's Academy is challenged to show leadership. It is an absolute gem of a story and the dialogue sparkles like a diamond. My favorite in the book is "Facings" in which a conservation officer investigates reports of monsters in the bush near L'Anse. The story carries a staggering emotional wallop.  

Like all very good authors, Heywood's writing is natural and seemingly effortless. His prose is honed to perfection and he writes with absolute economy. There isn't an unnecessary word in the book as he reveals character through snippets of dialogue or in rich but succinct descriptions of critical moments in a conservation officer's day, week or life. And it's a given, any book by Heywood brims over with odd and memorable characters. This is 246 pages of pure enjoyment.

Harder Ground: More Woods Cop Stories by Joseph Heywood. Lyons Press, 2015, $17.95 pb.

The Habits of Trout: And Other Unsolved Mysteries
Tim Schulz

The author of this book of essays on fly fishing in the UP teaches electrical engineering at Michigan Technological University. Schulz, as did this reviewer and countless others, innocently and with no warning of the consequences picked up a fly rod, waded into a cold, beautiful, fast-moving stream, and became one of the afflicted -- an incurable fly fisherman.

The afflicted represent only a small percentage of the fishing community and fly fishermen who become bamboo fly rod enthusiasts are often described as the lunatic fringe of the fishing world. At least two of the essays in this book records the author's initiation into the bamboo fly fisherman's world. When he told a friend he just got a bamboo rod his friend corrected him and, to paraphrase,  replied, "No, you just got your first bamboo rod." Schulz's addiction is best illustrated by his response to his wife's telling him he was obsessed with fly fishing. His reply? "Not at all. I only obsess about it when I'm not fishing."

So obviously, when Schulz is not teaching or fly fishing, he is ruminating, obsessing, and writing about the joys and challenges of his addiction. The author's relaxed, humorous, and finely etched descriptive prose is as good a substitute for wetting a fly as one can find after trout season closes. The author, like many fly fisherman, is a huge fan and admirer of the late John Voelker who wrote two fly fishing classics and gave up his seat on the Michigan Supreme Court because it took too much time away from his passionate pursuit of trout. In several of the best essays in the book the author, with aid of Voelker's grandson, fishes the same waters Voelker fished and wrote about. 

The book is also filled with characters Shulz meets and befriends on his fishing adventures. A chance encounter with Dave and his two grown sons grew into a lasting friendship and many fishing trips with the trio. The author asserts that their pared-down essential equipment included a bamboo rod, cheap cigars, a small bottle of 100% DEET, and a substantial bottle "of whiskey to drink in case of snakebite, and -- leaving nothing to chance -- they bring along a small snake."

This is a must-read for the lunatic fringe and a great Christmas stocking-stuffer for anyone you know who belongs to the aforementioned group.
The Habits of Trout: And Other Unsolved Mysteries by Tim Schulz. UPTROUT Press, 2018, $12.99 pb.

Little Michigan, A Nostalgic Look at Michigan's Smallest Towns
by Kathryn Houghton

To qualify for inclusion in this unique travel guide/history book the 100 Michigan small towns described and visited by the author must have a population of less than 600. Which leaves this reviewer wondering if miraculously, there were only 100 towns in the state that had fewer than 600 inhabitants and if not, how the author decided which small towns to include. A possible answer can be found in the book's format. Each small town is given two pages in the book and in more than a few cases the author has trouble filling the two pages. I suspect some small towns were dropped simply because there wasn't enough information to fill a page.

The entry for each town, village, or unincorporated community follows a standard format. The town's population and date of incorporation share the top of the page with five community photographs. Next to the photographs and set in an attention-getting font the author notes something unique or an important aspect of the town. Sometimes the author is obviously challenged to note something of interest such as her note on Turner, MI which reads, "A prime cow sold at auction in 1919 could fetch over $150." The first paragraph or two relates the history of the community, which is followed by various descriptions of famous town personalities, natural disasters, important industries, or something unique about its natural surroundings like the elk herd near Vanderbilt. Each entry always ends with a description of the present condition of the town including businesses, churches, and tourist attractions.

The author has researched and written a great book for casual browsing with pleasant surprises on many pages. It's my bet that most readers will soon pick up a pen and begin to make a list of those towns that pique their interest and they might like to visit. Among my favorites are Barton Hills where Detroit Edison built a hydroelectric dam and hired famed landscape architects, the Olmsted Brothers, to design a residential community. Today, all homes built in Barton Hills must be individually designed by an accredited architect. Allan, population 191 is built on the intersection of two great Native American trails and is known as the Antique Capital of the World. And if you want to walk in the footsteps of a young Ernst Hemingway visit Horton Bay and step into the village's 140-year-old general store that the boy often visited, included in his short stories, and married his first wife in a nearby Horton Bay house. Or in the UP you can visit the bar in which a man murdered the bartender and John Voelker was hired by the gunman as his lawyer. The ensuing trial inspired Voelker to write "Anatomy of a Murder," which became a bestseller and an Otto Preminger film starring James Stewart as John Voelker.  You can still walk into the Lumberjack Bar in Big Bay and stick your finger in the bullet holes left by the gunman.

Browse through this book of small-town Michigan and discover your own favorites or at the very least read the history of those unfamiliar places named on expressway exits signs you drive past and wonder about their history, heritage, or special attractions. You may be surprised by what you missed. 

Little Michigan: A Nostalgic Look at Michigan's Smallest Towns by Kathryn Houghton. Adventure Publications, 2018, $16.95 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.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Post # 29

Quote for the day: "Detroit is the city of problems. If they exist, we've probably got them. We may not have them exclusively, that's for sure. But we probably had them first." Lawerence M. Carino, Chairman of the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce. 1972.


Joy in Tigertown: A Determined Team, a Resilient City, and Our Magical Run to the 1968 World Series                  
by Mickey Lolich and Tom Gage

There have been more than a few books written about the Detroit Tigers winning the 1968 World Series and helping to bring together a city torn apart by one of America's worst urban riots the previous year. Hard to believe, but this year marks the 50th anniversary of that World Series win and if you get the itch to read about the Tigers in the World Series this fall you're going to have to do it in a book. What sets this book apart from the others on the 1968 series is the author pitched three winning games for the Tigers and was the series MVP.

Mickey Lolich was a member of the Air National Guard and the book opens with the author's unit being called up and his experiences in uniform on Detroit's streets watching the city burn. The next two chapters are brief accounts of the Tigers just missing the playoffs in 1967 and winning the pennant the next year. Succeeding chapters alternate between detailed descriptions of each game in the '68 World Series and Lolich reminiscing about his long, colorful, and extraordinary career. The book is effortlessly readable, filled with great stories, and makes for a revealing self-portrait of a life in baseball.

Mickey was right-handed but was a South Paw pitcher. As Lolich tells it, this singular physical attribute occurred as a result of him breaking his left collarbone in two places as a young boy. His left arm was put in a sling for weeks and his arm atrophied. He underwent extensive physical therapy on his left arm and one of the motions in therapy had him rotate his left arm up over his head. It was a perfect pitching motion. To make sure the left arm grew stronger his parents actually tied his right arm behind his back. As a kid, Mickey loved to throw things including rocks, dirt clumps, balls, and even figs. His grandfather had a fig tree and one of Mickey's favorite pastimes was to get on his grandfather's garage roof  (apparently with his right arm tied behind his back) and throw figs at Portland's city buses with his left arm. It was a good 150 feet throw in order to hit a bus. Doing this day in and out developed tremendous strength in his left arm and when he started Little League ball he naturally threw left-handed. Years later a bus driver told Lolich he liked it when the figs ripened because they didn't dent the bus and could be easily washed off.

In his entire career, Lolich had one stolen base and one home run. The latter occurred in the 68 World Series. The book is filled with great stories about the game, including the stolen base and home run, and his teammates. He tells why he refused to throw at opposing batters and a hilarious story of the time Lolich went shopping in Macy's with Bill Freehan, the Tiger's catcher, who walked into the lingerie department and asked the stunned and outraged clerk if he could buy some "falsies."

When you went to Tiger's Stadium and Mickey Lolich was on the mound the experience was always worth every dime you paid for the ticket. The same can be said for this book.

Joy in Tigertown: A Determined Team, a Resilient City, and Our Magical Run to the 1968 World Series, by Mickey Lolich with Tom Gage. Triumph Books, 2018, $19.95

The Coroner
by Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

Usually what keeps one reading to the last page of a mystery novel is the solving of the crime. But in this book, it was the resolution of two other mysteries or issues that dogged the main character throughout the novel that kept me turning the pages. 

Emily Hartford left home to live with an aunt in Chicago at age 15 after her mother died in a single car accident that left the young girl with some troubling questions. Emily feels there were facts left uncovered in her mother's death. Her father served as the county coroner, he performed the autopsy on his wife and refused to talk to his daughter about his findings, or answer any of her questions. This is doubly surprising because he allowed Emily to watch and assist in autopsies starting at the age of thirteen. 

Emily has lived in Chicago for a decade and hasn't spoken with her father since leaving home. She is in her third year of a surgical residency when a friend reaches her with news her father has had a heart attack. Emily rushes back to her small hometown in Michigan, and just before boarding the plane her boyfriend presents her with an engagement ring which she accepts. Back in her hometown her gravely ill father has remarried, (the town undertaker no less) and refuses to consider a heart transplant even though he will die without one. Emily's ex-boyfriend is still in love with her and is now the county sheriff. And finally, a young girl has died while horseback riding and because dad's too sick to perform the autopsy Emily volunteers. What looked be an accident is a homicide. So Emily and her high school boyfriend team up to solve the mystery.

The reader doesn't have to be a fortune teller to know Emily will soon be torn between the two men.  Emily and her dad argue but grow closer even though her father will still not let Emily see the autopsy report on her mother. Emily finds the pace of life in small-town Michigan is much more appealing than the grind of big city life and enjoys reconnecting with old friends. The murder mystery slowly unfolds but it's Emily's growing inner struggle over choosing between her hometown and Chicago, her ex-boyfriend or her self-centered fiance, and her growing relationship with her estranged father is what, I think, will keep readers turning the pages. The author is especially good at portraying what makes small-town life rewarding and enriching. And if the reader begins to think of the characters as real people it speaks of the author's ability to draw convincing fictional characters.   

This reviewer was surprised by the total absence of swearing, vulgarity, or even the hint of sex, let alone sexual tension. Some readers, I am sure, will appreciate the absence of all the above. For a murder mystery, the book is even light on violence of which there is one brief scene. With all the missed typos and the jarringly inadvertent dropping of articles preceding a word, the book could have used a more thorough proofreader. 

Admittedly, this is not my favorite mystery sub-genre. The murder of the dead equestrian is satisfactorily solved while the question of which man Emily will choose is obvious from the first fluttering heartbeat. Those elements of the plotline were, for me, always secondary to the description of life in a Michigan small town, the rebuilding of Emily's relationship with her father, and the questions concerning her mother's death. This is an involving mystery that's short on violence and long on character development and setting.

The Coroner by Jennifer Graeser Dornbush. Crooked Lane, 2018, $26.99

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.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Post # 28

Quote for the Day: "If any person, or persons, shall exhibit any puppet show, wire dancing, or tumbling, juggling or sleight of hand, within this territory, and shall ask or receive any pay in money, or other property for exhibiting the same, such a person, or persons, shall for every offense pay a fine of not less than ten nor exceeding twenty dollars." Michigan Territorial law, enacted on April 13, 1827.


The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts
by John U. Bacon

The author has been writing about sports in Michigan for three decades and his stories have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the Ann Arbor News, as well as Time, Sports Illustrated, and National Public Radio. The 40 stories collected here range from 1992 to 2018. They are touching, always interesting, exclusively focused on sports in our state, and sometimes funny. The book is not about winning or losing on the scoreboard but how sports reveal the true character of coaches, players, fans, and the way in which it changes lives.

There is no better example of the above than in his report entitled "Hoops the Potawatomi Way." The story introduces us to the Northern Lights Conference that is made up of five very small schools; Mackinac Island H.S., Grand Marais H. S., Paradise High, and the Hannahville Potawatomi Reservation school located some dozen miles west of Escanaba. The Hannahville students never played basketball until 1990 when they joined the league. In spite of a long winless record, the students developed a passion for the game and developed a fan base among the adults who took pride in a team that played for the love of the game. As a result students grades went up and so did the school's graduation rate. Drug use and drinking among students and adults went down. 

The book contains great profiles of Joe Lewis, Gordy Howe, Tom Izzo, Jim Abbott, Magic Johnson, and other iconic Michigan athletes and coaches.  The opening section of the book discusses kids and sports and contains a wonderful piece on how children need to invent and play games without adult supervision. Bacon recalls how his friends came up with the baloney game. At a friend's home, the guys would take slices of baloney and throw them at the ceiling in hopes they would stick. The winner was the boy whose slice of Oscar Meyer stuck there the longest. But if the boy didn't catch the falling slice of lunch meat with his mouth he was disqualified. The game went on for quite a while until the boy's mother figured out how the grease marks got on the ceiling.

The hardest hitting pieces are toward the end of the book and are in a section called "Money and Madness." One essay argues that Eastern Michigan University should drop out of Division 1 football explaining how most schools devote less than 1% of their general fund to the athletic dept. where at EMU 80% of the athletic budget comes from the university's general fund. The essays on how TV is ruining college football for those who attend games and how college sports has been overtaken by sheer greed are dire warnings about the fate of college sports.

Anyone opening this book will find great essays, great human interest stories, and an appreciation for the positive impact sports can have on individuals and the greater community.

The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts by John U. Bacon. University of Michigan Press, 2018, $24.95

Summer Rounds
by B. G. Bradley

It is always a pleasure to enter B. G. Bradley's literary world. It is peopled with unique and interesting characters facing pivotal moments in their lives. And if I can't, on the spur of the moment, head across Big Mac and soak up the UP's ambiance, limitless beauty, and enjoy its laid-back lifestyle I can pick up one of the author's books and let him take me there.

Summer Rounds, the second novel in a series about the folks of Hunter, Michigan chronicles an eventful and critical week in the life of Dale Sylvanus as told by himself. Dale is the town's handy-man, tow truck driver, alcoholic, and an ex-marine who can't erase the vivid memories of his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a victim of his low self-esteem. Dale appeared briefly in Bradley's first novel and as the author explains in the forward, the ex-marine just refused to quietly go away after appearing in a few scenes. Dale became a near-constant presence in Bradley's mind, always wanting to talk and tell his story. So the author turned over control of his second novel to a fictional character who would not leave him alone.

Dale knows he has got to get his life together before it completely unravels. He just doesn't know if he's man enough to do it. Carrie, his wife has thrown him out of the house because he spends too much time with his drinking buddies. He's lost the respect of his teenage daughter and it breaks his heart that his youngest son aches to spend more time with him. Carrie and Dale's oldest son, born before the couple wed when they were sixteen-year-olds, left home years ago.  Dale suspects the boy hates him and they haven't spoken in years. He is surprised, delighted, and very nervous when he learns his oldest son is on his way home with a wife.

Readers will quickly understand how the author simply couldn't stop listening to Dale because neither can they, and Dale will stay in their minds long after they turn the book's last page. Dale is a likable guy. He's a better and a stronger person than he thinks and he has people who will do everything in their power to help him right his course through life. Even though she threw him out of their house Carrie lets Dale know she believes in him. So does the local Catholic priest who has been through hell and back and is there to set him on the not always straight and difficult path to sobriety and a renewed faith in himself. 

It is a very stressful week for Dale and he is constantly being tested and tempted. This reviewer is not going to reveal the challenges Dale must face and overcome in seven short days because I don't want to be a spoiler for future readers and I couldn't tell it as well as Dale does. By the end of the book, readers know Dale Slyvanus as well as they know their next-door neighbor and good friend of twenty years. They will also wish there was a real Hunter, Michigan to visit. The inhabitants have become good friends who will be missed until the next book in the series makes its way to publication. I look forward to having my ear bent by another character in Hunter who wants to tell their story, so get the lead out of your pencil Bradley and onto paper.

Summer Rounds by B. G. Bradley. Benegamah Press, 2018, $9.95

Ira's Farm: Growing Up On a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930's and 1940's
by Virginia Johnson

In 1929, just a 100 days before the stock market crashed and the Great Depression brought the country to its economic knees Virginia Johnson's father bought a 60-acre farm in Harlan, Michigan. Harlan has since fallen off the map making Mesick, some seven miles away, the next nearest town to the farm on which the author grew up. Virginia was born on the farm and in a simple and straightforward memoir takes the reader into a world few remember and even fewer can even imagine -- that of life on a self-sustaining Michigan farm in the Depression. 

In the first few years, the little income from the farm came from the sale of eggs and milk from five cows. The family worked the farm with a team of horses, a tractor wasn't purchased until after WW II. The house had no electricity or an indoor toilet until 1943, and it was heated by a "monstrous" iron, wood burning, potbellied stove that also served as a water heater, baking oven, cook stove, and a drier of mittens, dish towels, and anything else that might get wet in winter. Kerosene lamps lit the house and chamber pots resided under every bed so the family didn't have to walk to the outhouse in the middle of a northern Michigan winter night. The author's only comment on the outhouse was, "Using catalogs for bathroom tissue took the art of recycling way beyond necessary."

During the course of the year, the family ate what they raised. Potatoes were stored in a Michigan basement as were countless Mason jars filled with canned vegetables from the garden and fruit from their orchard, or what could be gathered from the wild. Butter and milk came from five milk cows, pigs were raised for meat.  It was ceaseless work from spring through fall and when Virginia's older brother went off to war in 1941 she became the number one farm hand.  If it was endless work, and there was more than a little worry as to whether they could make payments on the farm for the first few years, Virginia remembers the life as rewarding and filled with a high level of contentment.

This short and evocative memoir of life on a small Michigan farm between the wars is a valuable addition to a little known or written about era in Michigan history. I found it not only pleasant reading but filled with surprises. For instance, it wasn't until 1939 that the first piece of plastic found it's way into Virginia's home and it was in the form of a toothbrush. Or, that milkweed became important to the war effort when it was discovered milkweed pods could be used in floatation vests. Children across Michigan would take empty sacks into the fields, collect the pods, and get paid for the amount they bagged.

This is Michigan history as lived by its everyday citizens. It deserves consideration as a Michigan Notable Book, should be required reading in Michigan history classes and is even suitable for reading to upper elementary students who might wonder if life was even liveable without smartphones, the Internet, TV, and the social network, let alone indoor plumbing and electricity.
Ira's Farm: Growing up in a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930's and 1940's, by Virginia Johnson. Harlin village Press, 2018, $15.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Post # 27

Quote for the day. "(Detroit), where they stand in line for a glass of beer, ...where more dames wear slacks than in Hollywood,... and where everybody has two sawbucks to rub against each other. Detroit, the hottest town in America." Daily Variety. October 1943.

This post marks Michigan in Books second year in operation. In its first half-dozen posts, the blog might have gotten 50 page views a month. In the past quarter, page views have averaged over 600 a month. Thank you, readers.


Rosie: A Detroit Herstory
by Bailey Sisoy Isgro, Illustrated by Nicole Lapointe

This well-told story introduces young readers to one of the most remarkable and major social, cultural, and economic changes in American and women's history. The agent for change was World War II. When American men went to war in December of 1941 and the United States, by necessity, became the arsenal of democracy women flooded the workforce taking jobs previously considered not fit for, or simply undoable by women.

No where in America was the ground-shaking societal change more evident than in Detroit. The city's factories that put America on wheels turned from making cars to making weapons of war.  With the men from the factory filling the ranks of the military, women filled the vacant jobs on the assembly line. But instead of cars, the women were making Sherman Tanks, machine guns, ammunition, and airplanes. At the Willow Run Plant, the largest factory in the world, women assembly line workers built B-24 bombers. In the course of the war 8,600 bombers rolled out of the plant and in the last months of the war, a bomber was coming off the assembly line every minute. 

The author tells the story of Detroit's WWII female defense workers in a narrative verse accompanied by colorful illustrations that are full of energy, strong women, and the flavor of the times. The author explains how the hundreds of thousands of women workers got the nickname "Rosie the Riveter," their deep patriotism, and immense pride they took in doing a job once thought only men could do. The thousands of Rosie the Riveters made a huge contribution to the war effort and the book, written for 8- to 12-year-olds, is a fine overview of how women flooded the workplace during WW II, helped win the war, and changed American society. 

At the end of the war, most of the women lost their jobs to men returning from the war. Many women were glad to become homemakers once again but they returned home filled with a new confidence in themselves and their new found independence. As the author shows, some women didn't want to give up their jobs and decided on careers outside the home. That women, in significant numbers, are working today in factories and on assembly lines is traceable directly back to Rosie the Riveter.  

This book offers children valuable insights into a significant and often overlooked aspect of American history and how World War II changed forever women's place in society. The book also contains a glossary of terms from the era and a timeline of the war.

 Rosie: A Detroit Herstory by Bailey Sisoy Isgro, Illustrated by Nicole Lapoint. Wayne State University Press, 2018, $16.99.

The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage.
by Keith Gave

Hockey fans will enjoy this fascinating book. Detroit Redwing fans will love it. The book will salve the wounds of Detroit's hockey fans suffering through the often painful rebuilding of a team that won three Stanley Cup's from 1997 to 2002 and two seasons ago ended a 25-year streak of making the playoffs.  

Keith Gave covered hockey for the Detroit Free Press for fifteen years and his insider's book tells the story of how Detroit made history by drafting Russian players and within a few years revolutionized North American hockey by putting five former Russian players on the ice as a unit and letting them play the game as they learned it in their homeland. In what reads like a good spy novel the author even played a part in the Wings acquisition of their first two Russian players. It is a book filled with both never-before-told stories and a vivid retelling of the familiar with new information added to the mix. 

In June of 1989 NHL draft, Detroit picked Russian Red Army hockey players Sergi Federov in the 4th round and Vladimir Konstantinov in the 11th. Within a few days of the draft, Jim Lites called Gave and set up a meeting. Lites knew that Gave had spent six years working as a Russian linguist for the National Security Agency and spoke fluent Russian. He asked Gave to fly to Finland where the Russian Red Army team was playing an exhibition game with the Finnish National Team. Lites wanted Gave to speak to Federov and Konstantinov, let them know they'd been drafted by the Wings, talk to them about Detroit, NHL salaries and signing bonuses, and a promise that the Wings stood ready to help them escape Russa. After some thought Gave agreed to go to Finland but decided to neither accept pay nor travel expenses from the Redwings. His price was exclusive first rights to the story.

Within a year Federov walked out of a hotel in western Canada, jumped into a car driven by Mr. Lites for a short ride to Mr. Ilitch's private jet which flew them to Detriot. Konstantinov was a captain of the Red Army team and an officer in the army. If he defected he could be charged with desertion and face the death penalty. A paid Russian agent for the Wings bribed six doctors to diagnose Konstantinov with inoperable brain cancer. He was allowed to resign his commission and permitted, with his family, to travel to America for advanced cancer treatment. Just stepping off a plane in Detroit miraculously cured his cancer and within days was skating with the Wings. The next year the Wings drafted Slava Koslov. Shortly after the draft, he was involved in a terrible automobile accident. Russian doctors were paid to declare he would never play hockey again. And he didn't -- until he arrived in Detroit.

When the Wings hired Scotty Bowman to coach the Wings he arranged trades for defenseman Slava Fetisov and center Igor Larionov. Bowman made the trade with the idea he would put the Russian five together as a unit. When he told the Russians they would play as a unit he also told them to play the game their way and they would receive no coaching from the staff.

The author does a great job of describing the Russian style of play and how the rest of the Wings held them in awe. Brendon Shanahan remembers players on the bench laughing in pure delight at the way the five played the game. The Russian Wings influenced the rest of the Wings to play a possession game instead of the dump and chase style of play. Eventually, they even helped change the way the league played the game.  

The author provides personal, up-close portraits of the five distinctly different personalities of the five Russians and makes clear their huge contribution to winning the Stanley Cup. The book is also a very good recapitulation of the run-up to the 1997 Stanley Cup, the horrendous injuries to Konstantinov and the team's Russian masseuse in an auto accident within a week of the cup victory. The tragedy made the team determined to win another cup for their injured teammates. And when they did win Lord Stanley's cup the following year, in Washington D.C., Capt. Steve Yzerman took the cup from the NHL commissioner, skated the length of the ice and placed it in the lap of wheelchair-bound Vladimir Konstantinov who had been wheeled onto the ice by Fetisov. Gave writes, "With Fetisov and Larionov on either side of the wheelchair and Yzerman skating shotgun, holding the Cup steady, the entire team skated a victory lap that had nothing to do with a sporting event and everything to do with the triumph of the human spirit." There wasn't a dry eye on the ice or among the thousands of Washington Capitol fans. Chris Draper said, "he experienced no finer moment in his career."

If you're a Redwings fan this is a must read. It's a literary hat-trick.
The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage by Keith Gave. Goldstar Publishing, 2018, $24.99.

Death Lease
by Peter Marabel

As penance, I will not wipe the egg off my face until I've written this review. In this blog's last post I admitted to having a serious craving for mysteries set in Michigan and said something about how I actively search them out. Yet here is the fourth in a series of mysteries featuring a private detective who works out of Petoskey that I've never previously run across. Peeking around the humiliation of not having found this author years ago is the keen sense of anticipation in having the first three Michael Russo mysteries to enjoy.

Russo, a former downstate lawyer, operates a private detective business in Petoskey's Gaslight District. He isn't cut from the same cloth as the world-weary and often cynical private-eyes found in Estleman's, Chandler's, or Hammett's works, but that attitude would be pretty hard to maintain living in Petoskey with a view of Little Traverse Bay and having a beautiful and understanding woman deeply in love with you. What Russo does have in equal amounts to the above authors' famed hard-boiled detectives is doggedness in searching for the truth, loyalty to his client, and a loyalty to justice, even if it comes to administering their own kind of justice. 

I particularly liked this book because the plot hangs on a singular arrangement by which most cottage owners live on Mackinac Island and which I was unaware.  Most of Mackinac Island is state land and years ago wealthy families built and spent most of the summer on the island in their huge Victorian style cottages. But they did not and do not own the land their building sits on, They must rent that land from the state park and leases are renewed every thirty years. Obviously, many of the cottages and leases have stayed in the same families for generations.  

The Sanderson family built their cottage on the island's East Bluff in 1922. The latest leaseholder is Camille Sanderson. The cottage and the lease stayed in her name even after she married Conrad North who turned out to be a cruel and morally despicable husband. When Conrad filed for divorce from Camille she was shocked to learn her name had vanished from the lease and had been replaced by Conrad North's.  Camille's divorce lawyer sent her to Michael Russo in hopes he could discover how her client's name disappeared on the lease and was replaced by her estranged husband's. Camille is, of course, baffled, outraged, and fearful of losing the family summer home. 

Russo can't find a clue as to how the switch was made but apparently, his snooping is not welcome and a killer is soon stalking him. As Russo digs into the case and investigates how the state park handles and records a lease he hits one dead end after another. One of the dead ends is a murder in Mackinaw City that leaves Russo without a client. The author builds his plot slowly and realistically to a satisfying if not fully resolved conclusion with hints of a sequel. The author also brings Petoskey and the Straits area to life in all its flavor, sights, and sounds. The book could almost serve as a walking tour of Petoskey and Mackinac Island's commercial and tourist area surrounding the island's harbor. And if you are not familiar with some of the better restaurants in Petoskey you will be before the books final page.

The only fault I can find with the book is that Russo never made it to Jesperson's Restuarant in Petoskey and had a piece of their world-class Coconut cream pie. 

Death Lease by Peter Marabel. Kendall Sheepman Co., 2018, $15.95

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.


April 1, 2020 Post # 53

Quote for the day: "...[Lake Superior is] beautiful, empty, glittering, cold and brooding, gull-swept and impersonal; always there, alw...