Friday, February 1, 2019

Post # 37

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


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

Daughters of the Lake
by Wendy Webb

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cabin Fever
James M. Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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February 1, 2020 Post #51

Quote for the Day: "(During the 1880s) the only toiletries north of Saginaw were mustache wax and alkali soap." Russell McKee. Aud...