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.

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February 1, 2020 Post #51

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