Tuesday, October 1, 2019

October 1, 2019 Post # 47

Quote for the day: "In many ways the Michigan Upper Peninsula ... is a world unto itself, like the Old World of the nineteenth century." Clarence A. Andrews. Michigan in Literature. 1992.


Hunter's Moon: A Novel in Stories
by Philip Caputo

All but one of the seven short stories in this collection from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author are set in or around a fictional small town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Each of the stories focuses on a character or two drawn from a pool of men who reappear in many of the stories and whose lives, expectations, personalities, and the manner in which they face adversity stitch the stories together into a thematic whole.

The stories are deeply felt and marvelously told tales of hunting and fishing in the UP and Alaska but the hunting and fishing serve as entry points for dealing or wrestling with private or interpersonal problems.  The reason for a father and son hunting trip to Alaska is a father's way of trying to reconnect with a wayward son. A veteran of the Gulf Wars hunts and fishes to help heal the emotional and mental wounds of too many tours of duty. An old man and his middle-aged son find solace from grief and loss in the Northwoods, and three high school buddies return to their small hometown every year to reconnect.

This reviewer is curious as to how long the author spent in the UP  before writing these stories because he has captured the essence, beauty, and lure of the peninsula's rugged landscape, primal forests, bountiful lakes and streams, abundant wildlife, and hardscrabble lifestyle of its inhabitants. 

As with any great writer the characters he creates and the problems they must deal with are not limited or unique to males living in Michigan's northern peninsula, they are common to every man. The result is a wise, enjoyable, collection of short stories showcasing the splendor of the UP and the importance of relationships and the coming to grips with the thorny questions of life everyone faces.

Hunter's Moon: A Novel in Stories by Philip Caputo. Henry Holt, 2019, $28

Where Monsters Hide: Sex, Murder. and Madness in the Midwest
M. William Phelps

This is a book you don't often see, a true-crime book set in the Upper Peninsula. It's the first of its kind I've come across and I should add I couldn't put it down. Chris Regan from Iron River, Michigan and his son, who lived downstate, decided they would pull up stakes and together move to North Carolina. Within days of when he and his son were to leave Chris Regan simply vanished.

When Laura Frizzo, the Iron River Police Chief began looking into the disappearance of Chris Regan the trail led to Jason and Kelly Cochran. Kelly and her husband immediately became the focal point of the investigation when Kelly admitted she had had an affair with Chris and her husband Jason knew about it.  Captain Frizzo brought the State Police into the investigation but their experienced investigators soon dismissed the Cochran's as having nothing to do with man's disappearance. 

Captain Frizzo was convinced  Kelly was a pathological liar and had played a major role in Chris Regan's disappearance. The book is a detailed and engrossing account of the Chief of Police's dogged pursuit of the truth. For two years the Police Chief checked leads, interviewed and re-interviewed Jason and Kelly and kept turning up inconsistencies in the couple's accounts of where they were and what they did on the night Chris Regan disappeared.  Just when Frizzo thought she had almost painted the couple into a prosecutorial corner Jason and Kelly fled to Indiana. Within days of returning to Hoosier Country Jason was rushed to a hospital where he died from what everyone thought was an overdose. Everyone except the coroner who reported Jason was murdered. Frizzo enlisted the help of a  crack local investigator to help her nail Kelly for multiple homicides.

The author constructs his narrative from pages of court testimony, interviews with law enforcement officers, transcribed dialogue from body cams, and personal interviews he conducted with Jason and Kelly. The result is a gripping story of evil and a chilling descent into the mind of a serial killer.
Where Monsters Hide: Sex, Murder, and Madness in the Midwest by M. William Phelps. Kensington Books, 2019, $15.95

Stories from the Wreckage: A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks
by John Odin Jensen

This book offers readers a unique approach to the study of Great Lakes' maritime history. The author's starting point for the history of shipping on our great inland seas are some half-dozen historic shipwrecks located in Wisconsin waters that have been repeatedly dived and studied by scuba diving archaeologists. 

The study of each wreck and its place in the maritime history of the Great Lakes begins with the history of the ship's construction and if available a thorough analysis of its blueprints or plans. In many cases, there are no plans or blueprints and diving the wreck is the surest and only method of discovering or understanding the engineering advances and continual evolution in ship design imposed by the geographic factors of the lakes and or the vessel's intended cargo. The vessel's commercial life and voyages and anything unusual or interesting concerning the crew and officers are all covered in depth. Lastly, the how and why of the craft's last voyage is recounted in detail.

The author limits the book's scope to the golden age of wooden shipbuilding on the lakes which ran from roughly the 1820s to the early 1890s.  The wrecks covered in the book provide the author with a variety of vessels that plowed the waters of our inland seas. The wrecks included lumber schooners that carried the white pine used to build cities throughout the Midwest and the box-like Welland Canal schooner that couldn't exceed 150 foot in length and 26.5 feet in width. There is a fascinating section on the "palace steamers." The latter were the era's luxury, steam-powered passenger liners with plush state-rooms, beautiful salons, and great food. The author notes that in 1850 a "palace steamer" consumed 600 cords of hardwood in a round trip from Buffalo to Chicago. During the shipping season that kept 40 woodcutters working full time. Then there were the wooden bulk carriers that by 1890 were approaching 300 feet in length. There is an interesting discussion on how boat builders designed such long wooden ships that would remain rigid and not sag in the middle or droop at bow and stern. The author points out that the wooden bulk cargo carriers with the bridge way forward and the engine room in the aft section changed little in design when builders turned to iron. The boats just got longer.

Anyone interested in the history of the Great Lakes and especially its maritime history will lose themselves in this endlessly interesting book. It also should be mentioned that the book is a beautiful example of bookmaking and page layout. Underwater photographs, maps, charts, period illustrations, sketches, and old photographs adorn almost every other page of this one-of-a-kind history book.
Stories from the Wreckage: A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks by John Odin Jensen. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2019, $29.95 pb.

Great Lakes Rocks: 4 Billion Years of Geologic History in the Great Lakes Region
by Stephen E. Kesler

Stephen E. Kesler, Emeritus Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan, has written an accessible and richly detailed geological history of the Great Lakes area. Starting with a survey of the present surface features including lakes, rivers, waterfalls, valleys and other present-day topographical features the author reveals and explains past geological eras like peeling an onion layer by layer until he is back to the formation of the earth.

The writing is clear, fairly free of geological scientific jargon, very readable and at times witty. The book is very thorough, and although it is formatted to look like a textbook it certainly doesn't read like one. Complementing the text are pie charts, graphs, diagrams, and illustrations, and a centerpiece of color photographs.

Of special interest to this reader are the grey-shaded, boxed asides scattered through the book that I found especially interesting. Like the boxed aside on the 'long and continuous environmental impact" of oil and gas production in the region. The starting gun for the race to pollute the region was fired in 1860 when a well drilled in Ontario became this continent's first uncontrolled gusher.  The run-a-way well vomited 1,000s of barrels of oil a day onto the surrounding area and eventually, the oil poured into Lake St. Clair.  Another boxed aside asks "What is sea level?"

This is a very informative, rock-solid read for anyone even faintly interested in geology or wonders how Michigan was blessed by two beautiful peninsulas that are embraced by four of the Great Lakes.
Great Lakes Rocks: 4 Billion Years of Geologic History in the Great Lakes Region by Stephen E. Kesler. University of Michigan Press, 2019, $29.95 pb.

The Cabin
by Landon Beach

This blog gave very positive reviews to Landon Beach's first two books, "The Sail" and "The Wreck." The books were the first two of a planned series of five thrillers in which each book will be set on a different one of the Great Lakes. This is the third book in the series and much of the story is set in a cabin on Lake Ontario. But because very little of the novel is set in Michigan and Lake Ontario is much less central to the story than lakes Michigan and Superior in the first two books, unfortunately, it was felt that "The Cabin" did not fit the criteria for reviewing in this blog.

As a service to our readers, the blog did want to inform those who had read and enjoyed Mr. Beach's first two books that the third book in the series has been published. Those interested will find plenty of positive reviews of the book on Amazon.

The Cabin by Landon Beach. Landon Beach Books, 2019, $13.99.

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

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...