Ela Johnson, The Faces of the Great Lakes. 1977.
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 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.
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.