Thursday, October 1, 2020

October 1, 2020 Post # 59

Quote of the Day: "The Sault canal system, which links Lake Superior and Lake Huron at the twin towns of Sault Sainte Marie, in Michigan and Ontario, is the most important mile in America." National Geographic Society, 1950.


Reviews


The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster
by Eric R. Faust

This readable and always interesting history of the 6th Michigan presents readers with a glimpse of the often miserable conditions Civil War soldiers had to endure, the hardships caused by poor leadership, and the unique character of volunteer regiments in the Civil War. Many volunteer regiments did not take well to discipline, of which the sixth served as a sterling example. The regiment was recruited from southern Michigan and in late August 1861, the 996-strong unit left for Washington. Their journey was interrupted in Baltimore where they encamped for several weeks. Baltimoreans said they were the best-behaved regiment to enter the city. It was the last such compliment they would ever receive.

Brigadier General Williams, who disliked volunteer troops, commanded the brigade to which the 6th Michigan was assigned. The dislike soon turned to hate which was returned in full by the men. On the brigade's first foray into the field, Williams ordered no one was to allow slaves to follow them to freedom and there was to be no foraging from rebel households. When Williams caught a private from the 6th with a turkey he charged him with theft. The man swore he paid for the bird and Williams couldn't prove otherwise so in disgust he dropped the charges. As Williams walked away the entire regiment began to yell gobble, gobble. From then on many of his orders were met with the same refrain.

The 6th along with the brigade was transferred to New Orleans where the regiment suffered from the climate, the officers, and the ever-present pestilence in the field. Williams literally drilled the men to death in malarial swamps and marshes. At one point the 6th was housed in the New Orleans mint until Williams ordered them to set up camp, without tents, in inhospitable wetlands. The 6th's Lt. Colonel refused the order as did the major. Both were dismissed and Williams turned to the regiment's captains to carry out the order. One after another refused until Williams threatened to have the next captain who refused the order put before a firing squad. That is only one of several jaw-dropping instances the reader will find here.

In spite of Williams who was killed in battle and officers who were either drunks or cowards and ran when a shot was fired the 6th performed admirably in battle. If they were magnificent in a fight they were equally impressive at foraging and outright theft. The 6th suffered more deaths, from illness and battles combined than any other Michigan regiment. In 1863 the 6th was converted to a heavy artillery unit. The author makes great use of soldiers' diaries and letters giving a-you-are-there intimacy to the narrative. Faust has written an engrossing and eye-opening regimental history. The book contains maps, numerous photos, and includes a complete regiment roster.  I'm looking forward to the author's earlier book on the 11th Michigan which I hope to review this fall.

The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Eric R. Faust. McFarland and Company, 2020, $49.95 pb.



Find Me When I'm Lost: A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery
by Cheryl A. Head

I was somewhat chagrined to discover I had never heard of, let alone read any of  Cheryl A. Head's private eye novels until I stumbled across this fine mystery. The series is obviously set in Detroit and features Charlie Mack, a lesbian and woman of color who heads up her own detective agency. The characters ring true, the depiction of Detroit and its movers and shakers is right on the money, and the plot has the narrative pull of a Kenworth.

Head's novels, based on her latest, are not the usual detective mysteries and I'm not referring to Charlie's ethnicity or sexual orientation. The main character is not a tough guy with a drink in one hand and a gun in the other who blunders around like a drunk in a glass factory gets beat regularly and has a whip-smart retort for every remark thrown his way.

Instead, Charlie and the two other detectives in her agency are methodical, by-the-book investigators who work as a team to uncover and collect evidence and follow it to a conclusion. In the current case, Charlie is hired by the wife of her ex-husband Franklin, who she married years ago when still unsure of her sexual orientation. Franklin appears to have shot and killed his second wife's no-account brother and gone on the lam. Complicating the investigation is Franklin's second wife who believes her husband is innocent, her influential upper-crust parents, and Franklin's strong-willed parents. They all have an oar in the water and are rowing in different directions.

The team's unraveling of the who-done-it is realistic and absorbing. The narrative gets even more compelling when one of Charlie's investigators is shot at, the evidence leads to an unthinkable conclusion, and a professional hitman enters the picture. If you enjoy mysteries and especially if they are set in Michigan then Ms. Head's Charlie Mack Motown Mysteries deserves your attention. I know I'll be reading the four previous books in the series.
Find Me When I'm Lost: A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery by Cheryl A. Head. Bywater Books, 2020, $16.95.



Water Dance: A Lake Michigan Lodge Story
by Kathy Fawcett

This second novel in the Lake Michigan Lodge Series is once again told in the first person by Kay, the novel's main character as if she was telling her best friend about the trials and tribulations of owning a charming but old Lake Michigan resort. In the first of the series, Kay Kerby recounted how she inherited the lodge from her parents and her determination to modernize and update the resort she long neglected. 

The second in the series opens with Kay and her husband returning from their honeymoon with Kay having to deal with all the problems of running a successful resort. And at the same time working on ways to expand her business and adjusting to the married life at the age of 34. One of her ideas is to make the resort a wedding destination and faces the embarrassment of having her summer intern layout the multitude of details that go into offering that option. The author does a fine job of describing the stress and rewards of running a bed and breakfast including the challenge of making it a perfect day for your guests while yours devolves into chaos. The series is a good introduction and a cautionary tale for anyone who may consider opening a B & B. 
Inexplicably, Kay's biggest and most challenging problem is the arrival of her two teenage nieces. She has seldom seen the sisters and hopes to get to know them better, but finds it hard to connect with them and the girls don't make it easy. The problem isn't simply that they are rude, independent-minded, obsessed with boys and don't like imposed limits. It's that they are teenagers and that's problem enough.

This is the kind of book one reads in the summer on the beach or saves until winter and opens it beside a fire while a storm keeps you housebound. It's light, pleasant reading during a pandemic, in the off chance one occurs. Depending on the season the book is well paired with a hot cup of cocoa or a salt-rimmed glass brimming with a Marguerita.
Water Dance: A Lake Michigan Lodge Story by Kathy Fawcett. Privately Published, 2020, $12.95.




Laughing in Leelanau or, I Swear It's True
by Scott Craig, Illustrated by Henry Coleman

The author of this slim and very amusing book was at his regular men's morning coffee klatch in Leelanau County when the inspiration for this book walked in the door. Another member brought a book on Maine humor to share. It immediately occurred to Scott there were enough great stories, great characters, quick wits, and just laugh-out-loud funny happenings in Michigan's Little Finger to fill a book. The author went to morning coffee clubs across the county asking for funny true stories, mined the local paper for odd quips, and talked to folks known for their sense of humor. The result is this treasure of local humor assembled by Scott Craig and ably accompanied by Henry Coleman's sketches, cartoons, and maps. The book's introduction describes the county's geography including landmarks, climate, scenic beauty, agriculture, and the hard to believe claim that the county has no chain fast-food restaurants. 

The following is a brief sampling from the book but they come with a warning. You'll be very tempted to buy the book.

A woman called the sheriff because she was upset by the number of deer hit by cars near the deer crossing sign. She asked the lawman if the sign could be moved to a spot where it would be safer for deer to cross.  A man impressed by the number of trout he saw in the Leland River asked a local what they were biting on. With a straight face, the man said trout were crazy for Barbie Dolls to which you just added hooks. Within days a Barbie Doll couldn't be found in any Traverse City store. Another downstater asked if the salmon trying to jump the Leland River dam were freshwater porpoises.

Then there was the charter boat captain setting lines out near North Manitou Island for his customer when he asked the captain, "Where exactly is Lake Michigan?" Lastly, a man who wasn't a native of  Leelanau County but had moved there three years earlier asked if he was now considered a local. After some discussion and rumination, it was decided he qualified as "perma-fudge."

I dare you not to laugh out loud at this good-hearted and very funny book. It sure brightened my day and I know I'll never get tired of returning to it now and again whenever I need a laugh. It also presents a wonderful mosaic of the character and characters of Leelanau County.

Laughing in Leelanau or, I Swear It'sTrue by Scott Craig, Illustrated by Henry Coleman. Mission Point Press, 2020, $14.95. 


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.


















Tuesday, September 1, 2020

September 1, 2020 Post #58


Quote for the Day: "Once in Detroit, Burr took the Lodge downtown, got off at the Jefferson exit and drove past the Renaissance Center, which hadn't renaissanced anything." The Pink Pony by Charles Cutter.


The King of Confidence: A Tale Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch
by Miles Harvey


I don't know of a more interesting story or fascinating man in Michigan's history than James Strang.  And I can't imagine a better book will ever be written about Strang and his place in Michigan and American history than this marvelously compelling biography. The future emperor was born in western New York in what has been called the "Burnt Over District" because of the religious fervor that swept the area and from which new religions were born including Mormonism. The future monarch left New York in the early 1840s a failed man who had served as postmaster, lawyer, newspaper publisher, and a real estate agent who was arrested and jailed for selling a non-existent Ohio farm. Within a few years, the avowed atheist would claim to have received a letter from Joseph Smith naming Strang to succeed Smith as head of the Mormon church and soon thereafter proclaimed himself King of Earth and Heaven.

Harvey writes that as a youth Strang dreamed of doing great things including marrying Princess Victoria and thought Napolean was heroic, especially after reading a book that praised his hero for his trickery, falsehoods, cunning, and the ability to mislead his followers. The man seems to have held his boyhood hero's shameful qualities dear as he battled for control of the Mormon church claiming an angel appeared before him saying he was to succeed Smith. To further his claim Strang unearthed metal plates only he could translate that, surprise, named him the new leader of the Mormons.

After leading his flock to Beaver Island, Strang adorned in a paper crown and carrying a wooden scepter announced his kingship and became "master of every human thought and action" of his followers. He encouraged his flock to steal from gentiles, it was called "consecrating" needed supplies. He forced the island's gentiles to convert or leave, practiced piracy raiding towns on the Michigan coastline, took his first polygamous wife in secrecy, and became a state legislator in a rigged election, and finally was assassinated by two men of his congregation. The author does a masterful of detailing Strang's remarkable life.

Equally important in recording Strang's life is the author's ability to place it in the contemporary context of America's mores and culture. It was an era that produced many strange and remarkable characters. Utopias sprang up like weeds. Self-made preachers plowed the land with new ideologies, and the author notes one self-anointed preacher had 50,000 ardent followers. Crime had become epidemic and it was estimated 50% of all paper currency was counterfeit. Cheaters, thieves, and scam artists flourished. It was the age of quick buck confidence men who were so ubiquitous the term "confidence man" was coined. It was an era made for Strang, the confidence man.

Not the best biography I've read this year but the best I've read in the last three or four.
 

The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch by Miles Harvey. Little Brown, 2020, $29.



Hungry for the Harbor Country: Recipes and Stories from the Coast of Southwest Michigan
by Lindsay Navama


This beautifully produced cookbook is filled with unusual, intriguing, and tempting recipes based on locally raised (Berrian County) ingredients that are complimented by drool-inducing color photographs of the finished dish. The author has lived in both L.A. and Chicago and worked as a recipe developer, private chef, and owner of a boutique bakery. To get away from the hustle, bustle, and crowds of "The City of Big Shoulders" the couple started driving south around Lake Michigan to the pastoral, scenic, and the laid-back lifestyle found in Berrian County. It didn't take more than a few trips before they bought a house near New Buffalo. The book was inspired by the memorable meals shared with new friends the author and her husband made in their first 12 months in New Buffalo. The new friends included local farmers, chefs, restaurateurs, and neighbors.

The author introduces each chapter with a short essay about food, her life in New Buffalo, and the many opportunities to find a wide variety of locally raised ingredients. Many of the recipes include a highlighted "Tips for Success" or a note entitled "Freestyle" that are suggestions for starting with the recipe and then improvising. Most recipes are adaptable for those on a gluten-free and/or dairy-free diet.

The first recipe I tried was Brown Sugar Chili Brussels Sprouts with Butternut Squash, Pecans, and Dried Cherries. The brussels sprouts and cut up squash are tossed in the brown sugar and olive oil then roasted in a 400 degree oven.  It became an instant family favorite. Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies was the second recipe I tried. The recipe called for Southern Comfort soaked raisins which I didn’t have and instead used dried cherries. Best oatmeal cookies I’ve ever made. The on-deck recipe is Roasted Acorn Squash Bowls with Apple Bacon Pistachio Stuffing.

Most of the recipes are enticingly different, from Key Lime Cookies, and Cherry Cherry Chocolate Popsicles, to Chocolate Blueberry Pancakes with Blueberry Bourbon Syrup. Even old standards have an added twist. The Hot Chocolate is sweetened with bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup and topped with cookie dough flavored marshmallows while the pumpkin pie recipe begins with roasting a pumpkin, and the recipe for S’mores has directions for making your own graham crackers. I am not a totally lazy cook but the recipe for Oven Baked Fried Chicken seems imposing with 23 ingredients and no matter how much I like Shepherd’s Pie the recipe’s 35-plus ingredients is daunting.

Those lucky enough to own this wonderful cookbook will find themselves returning to it time and again when they want to grace a breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a truly memorable dish.
Hungry for Harbor Country: Recipes and Stories from the Coast of Southwest Michigan by Lindsay Navama. Midway and Agate Imprint. 2020. $34.95



Bear Bones: Murder at Sleeping Bear Dunes
by Charles Cutter

This is the third fine mystery novel featuring attorney Burr Lafayette. He used to be a high priced lawyer in a powerful Detroit law firm where he never handled a criminal case. He quit the firm, got divorced, and bought a building in East Lansing for his new office. The building turned into a money pit making it difficult to make child support and alimony payments. Although his office is downstate most of his business takes him to northern Michigan. The first Burr Lafayette mystery was set on Mackinac Island, the second on the Au Sable River, and the third in and around Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

This blog reviewed Cutter's second Lafayette mystery, "The Gray Drake," a few months ago, and gave it high marks. In fact, I liked it so much I got a hold of a new edition of the "Pink Pony," the first in the series, and read it just a few weeks ago. It takes place on Mackinac Island at the end of the Detroit to Mackinac Island sailboat race. That night the captain of one of the boats was murdered in the Pink Pony bar. The odds on favorite to be convicted for the crime asks Burr to defend him. Lafayette has never represented anyone charged with murder but reluctantly agrees because he needs the money, and so the fun begins.  Burr, who's aunt calls him "an idiot savant lawyer," is clever, sharp-tongued, smart, often funny, and relentless as a pit bull in the courtroom.

In"Bear Bones," Burr is representing Helen Lockwood, the owner of a large orchard that the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is determined to buy and add to the park. Lockwood is just as determined not to sell. The mystery opens with Burr trying to have his client pronounced dead. Helen went sailing a year ago and disappeared. Her boat was found abandoned and drifting off Sleeping Bear Dunes. Her husband has decided to sell the orchard but can't until Helen is officially declared dead. The plot ratchets up several notches when her body is discovered buried on South Manitou Island. With a bullet hole in her skull, it is clear she was murdered. Her husband Tom is charged with Helen's murder when it's learned he took the ferry to South Manitou the night she disappeared and forensics finds Helen was shot with Tom's gun. There is a body, a murder weapon, a motive, and a prime suspect. Lafayette is once again talked into defending a man charged with murder.

Cutter's mysteries always build to a tense, exciting, and unpredictable trial. There are numerous surprises and plot twists that keep readers on the edge of their chairs. The characters are always well-drawn, and the author seems to delight in portraying the idiosyncrasies of the judges and prosecutors Lafayette spars with. Cutter's mysteries are sure bets for their high entertainment value and fine depictions of northern Michigan's unique beauty. Am I a fan? Guilty as charged.


The Pink Pony: Murder on Mackinac Island by Charles Cutter. Mission Point Press, 2020 ed. $16.95
Bear Bones: Murder at Sleeping Bear Dunes by Charles Cutter. Mission Point Press, 2020, $16.95



Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on a 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, August 1, 2020

August 1, 2020 Post # 57

Quote for the day: "If I ever tried to dip a worm in the (Rouge River) he'd've crawled back up the line and slapped my face." Loren D. Estleman. Motown. 1991.


Reviews

When Old Midnight Comes Along
by Loren D. Estleman

It doesn't make any difference to me that the Mystery Writers of America have failed to acknowledge Estleman's widely acclaimed body of work and named him a Grand Master of mystery writing. I and the rest of his many fans already look upon the man as a Grand Master of his literary art form. I first read an Estleman mystery featuring private eye, Amos Walker, in the early 1980s and nearly 40 years later along comes this, his 28th Amos Walker novel. What I find truly remarkable is that after more than two dozen in the series spanning four decades each new book in the series remains as fresh, original, entertaining as the first. That also holds true of Estleman's keen, witty, and trenchant observations of the changing face of Detroit and its wealthy suburbs over the years.  

In his latest case, Walker is hired by Francis X Lawes, a politically connected Detroit mover and shaker, to prove his wife is dead. Paula Lawes disappeared six years ago. Her body was never found and police could not unearth the faintest lead as to what happened to her. After seven years she could legally be listed as deceased, but Frances X wants to remarry and says he can not wait another twelve months. Walker suspects murder and discovers a million-dollar insurance policy on Mrs. Lawes as a motive. But the case becomes convoluted as Walker runs up against one dead end after another. And as usual, the final twist in the novel is shocking yet logical.

Estleman is a student of the hard-boiled private-eye novel and at times it almost seems as if he is channeling Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The Walker novels would not be out of place if they were shelved alongside Chandler's and Hammett's classics. For me, Estleman is a sheer joy to read. He litters the Walker novels with pungent, arresting, and memorable sentences such as, "For years the place looked like a bouillon cube wrapped in foil." and "When they say Detroit's coming back, they don't mean you're coming with it." 
When Old Midnight Comes Along by Loren D. Estleman. Forge Books, 2019, $26.99


Northern Wolf
by Daniel Greene

I very much enjoyed this first book in a series based on the exploits of Company F of the 13th Michigan Cavalry in the Civil War. This first in the series covers the unit's recruitment, training, and it's important contribution, in blood and lives, to the victory at Gettysburg. It was the regiment's first battle and they performed bravely and heroically in the Custer Brigade. I have been a Civil War buff since high school and on finishing the book I looked up the regiment in the book "Michigan in the War" which contains a history of every Michigan unit that fought in the Civil War to better familiarize myself with the regiment's history. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered there never was a 13th Michigan Cavalry. I went to the author's afterword where he explained that the 13th Michigan Cavalry was fictional but closely based on the regimental history of the 5th Michigan Cavalry. 

The main character, Johannes Wolf, has a crippled leg and must wear a lengthy brace that enables him to stand and walk but not run. The leg has kept him from enlisting in the infantry and turned him into a drunken troublemaker. After a night in jail sleeping off another drinking spree, a desperate recruiter from the 13th Michigan Cavalry visits the jail looking to lure his captive and hungover audience into joining the regiment. Johannas figures if he can't fight or march in the infantry he could from the back of a horse and talks the recruiter, despite his gimpy leg, into signing him up.

Johannes Wolf is a fascinating character and the fast-moving, readable, and action-packed narrative follows Johannes and the other misfits from Company F in the first few months of their enlistments. The author presents an intimate and realistic portrayal of the life of a Union cavalryman in the Civil War. Johannes' regiment is assigned to the Custer Brigade just days before the Battle of Gettysburg. 

The novel accurately describes an often ignored massive cavalry engagement that took place to the east of Gettysburg and away from the main stage of the battle yet was of significant importance to the Union victory. The portrayal of General Custer and his flamboyant leadership is finely drawn and many of the minor characters are memorable.  Readers of Book One of Northern Wolf Series will be eager to follow Wolf, Company F, and General Custer through the final two years of the war.  

 Northern Wolf: Northern Wolf Series by Daniel Greene. Self-published. 2019, $12.99


The Final Act of Conrad North
by Peter Marabell

I spent nearly 20 years summering in the Petoskey area and was recently surprised and more than pleased to discover the city, rated as one of the finest small towns in Michigan, was also home to a fictional private detective. I kind of relished the idea that in one of the most beautiful and pleasant places to live in the state, author Peter Marabell had the boldness and imagination to keep private eye Michael Russo busy fighting fictional corruption, lowlifes, and criminal behavior occurring below the local law enforcement's radar. And like all great fictional private eyes from Amos Walker to Philip Marlowe, Michael Russo represent a victim's last chance to right a wrong or extract justice.

A case in point is Marabell's previous book in the series in which Camille North came to Russo when in the course of her divorce her name had been removed from the Mackinac Island cottage built by her family and replaced by her ex-husband's. Russo figured out how the names were switched on the deed and the book ended with a murder in Mackinaw City. The book cried out for a sequel and Marabell  delivers with "The Final Act of Conrad North." 

Russo and the police all believe Conrad North either murdered or hired someone to kill Camille. Russo is burdened with guilt over the killing and will not rest until Conrad North is brought to justice. The man has disappeared but Russo believes he is hiding out somewhere in northern Michigan. The stakes get higher when the detective learns that North has apparently paid a killer to take him out.

This is a very satisfying read made even more so by the author's great descriptions of northern Michigan and almost a visceral sense of the ambiance of Traverse City, Mackinac Island, and a virtual walking tour of Petoskey's Gaslight District.

The Final Act of Conrad North by Peter Marabell. Kendall Sheepman Company, 2019, $15.95



Defy the Immediate: A Journey of Failure, Perseverance, and Success
by T. R. Shaw Jr.

This well written, well-intended book is meant to be more than just an autobiography. In the preface, the author writes that his goal for the book is to inform, entertain, inspire, and mentor those seeking to become leaders. As a journalism major at Central Michigan University, he certainly became a very good writer.

Each chapter covers a specific period in his life from childhood and the joy of spending time with his grandparents on their large working orchard to growing up in an urban setting, his experiences at CMU, and the importance of joining a prestigious fraternity. After graduating from CMU he became a junior officer in the navy, and later resigned and attended mortuary school at Wayne State. After graduation, he returned to Battle Creek and, like his father, became a funeral director.  It is a well-documented and very readable narrative of middle-class life in the latter half of the past century.

But the author wrote the book to be much more than simply the story of his life. At the end of each chapter, there's a section highlighted by a grey background and entitled "Lesson Learned." In many cases, the "Lesson Learned" has been made pretty clear within the chapter's narrative.  The author uses the "Lesson Learned" section to expound, summarize, or be more emphatic about what he learned. I think the author is demonstratively a good enough writer to have seamlessly woven everything he wanted to say about the lesson learned into the narrative. But the above is only a minor distraction in this otherwise well-meaning and sincere effort to tell the author's life story and share the lessons learned on his journey. 
Defy the Immediate: A Journey of Failure, Perseverance, and Success by T. R. Shaw Jr. Mission Point Press, 2019, $12.95.



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.







Wednesday, July 1, 2020

July 1, 2020 #56

Quote for the day: "I have seen the storms of the Channel, those of the Ocean, the squalls off the banks of Newfoundland, those on the coasts of America and the hurricanes of the Gulf of Mexico. Nowhere have I witnessed the fury of the elements comparable to that found on this fresh water sea." French naturalist Francis Count de Castelnau, 1840.



Reviews




Mastering the Inland Seas: How Lighthouses, Navigational aids, and Harbors Transformed the Great Lakes and America
by Theodore J. Karamanski


The author writes that for the first European sailors on the Great Lakes, "prayer and an act contrition was the closest thing they had to a navigational aid." In a sparkling and vigorous narrative, the author describes man's attempt to turn a wild and untamed watery wilderness into a safe, commercial avenue for the transportation of raw materials, manufactured goods, and people. 

The first Europeans to venture onto the freshwater seas learned that the native canoers had devised Lob Trees to mark hidden harbors, inlets, and portages. A man would climb a tall pine and a few feet from the top prune the branches all the way to the trunk. This left the top of the tree, which was not cut back, as an easily seen navigational marker. From the Lob Trees, the author traces the development of lighthouses, buoys, charts, harbor improvement, radio signals, radar, and satellite GPS that were all meant to tame the water wilderness.

The book is full of surprises and fascinating stories. The first lighthouse built in Michigan was erected at the south end of Lake Huron where it flows into the St. Clair River in 1825. It collapsed three years after its erection. The first lighthouse built near the mouth of the Chicago River fell over on the same day it was inspected and officially announced as finished. As is evident, the building of the first lighthouses had no oversight by the government, their design was compromised by a lack of engineering expertise and corruption. The hard work and dedication of lighthouse keepers is also fully explored.

What I didn't expect to find in this book is the politics of Great Lakes maritime aids. The work of building lighthouses, channel deepening, and the improvement of harbors in pre Civil War America became sectional issues. The South opposed nearly all money spent on Great Lakes navigational aids which the North favored. In addition to the opposition of slavery, the newly formed Republican Party supported the improvement of Great Lakes harbors and channels. After the Civil War, the government poured money into taming the freshwater seas.

This fascinating book does not have an altogether happy ending. The author writes that the Welland Canal, which allows ocean-going ships access to the Great Lakes, causes $200 million worth of damage to the lakes annually. In 2015 an independent study revealed more than half of all harbor and navigational improvements were in failing condition. Breakwaters are generally considered to have a 50-year life span and half of all such improvements predate WWI. Anyone with even a passing interest in Great Lakes maritime history will find this book must reading. 
Mastering the Inland Seas: How Lighthouses, Navigational Aids, and Harbors Transformed the Great Lakes and America by Theodore J. Karamanski. The University of Wisconsin Press, 2020, $36.95.



Dead of November: A Novel of Lake Superior
by Craig A. Brockman

Lake Superior has spawned many stories and legends. To look at the world's largest freshwater lake, in surface area, one can't deny it casts a spell and leaves one in awe. Of the many Lake Superior legends at least one is based on fact. The vast inland sea, due to its 39-degree temperature at its lower depths, does not give up its dead.

In his first novel written for adults, the author has taken the above Lake Superior legend as a starting point, worked in some real or totally imagined Native American legends, added some folklore, and created a highly original novel that's part suspense, part history, and entirely captivating. Many will label this as a novel of the paranormal. Yet even skeptics, like this reviewer, who does not care for the genre will find themselves drawn into the story and suspend belief as the narrative propels readers to the conclusion. The novel works because Brockman writes with confidence and authority, creates believable characters, and writes so well of Lake Superior and its hold over those who live along its shore. I had marked a sentence in the above "Mastering The Inland Seas" for use in its review but found the quote is even more appropriate for this review.  The author of  "Mastering the Inland Seas," wrote, "... indigenous people...saw the vast inland sea as a living entity with which humans had a relationship."

Psychologist Adam Knowles, the novel's main character, worked in a clinic in the American Soo. When his Native American wife drowned in Lake Superior her loss became so painful he moved out of Michigan. As the book opens he has begun having dreams of his wife's death. He also receives a call from a fellow psychologist who works in the Soo clinic who askes Adam to return to the Soo and help his friend handle the growing list of patients experiencing dreams of people who drowned. It almost appears as if Superior is giving up its dead. Marine scientists are also reporting the lake is undergoing strange changes. 

No matter how unlikely all this seems readers, in a matter of a few pages, will find they have waded too far into the book and are caught in an undertow that drags them into deeper and deeper water. You won't be able to come up for air until the last page of this inventive and haunting novel of Lake Superior.  

Dead of November: A Novel of Lake Superior by Craig A. Brockman. Curve of the Earth Publishing, 2020, $19.95.



U. P. Reader, 4th Volume
Mikel B.Classen, editor


This fourth annual showcase of the best short works by U. P. writers once again entertains, enlightens, and most importantly raises the awareness of the literary talent to be found north of Big Mac. The 45 pieces included here include U.P. history, poetry, short stories, reportage, humor, biographical essays, a U.P. notable booklist, and section of award-winning essays by young people.

I was delighted to see Larry Buege has once again climbed aboard his literary hobby horse and describes a homeowner's confrontation with an infestation of the Amorous Spotted Slug (A.S.S.). Larry has been writing about A.S.S. in earlier U. P. Readers in a noble but fruitless effort to make these gastropod mollusks Michigan's state slug. I would also like to encourage Buege to write about the whale sightings in Lake Superior and take up the equally important cause of naming a Michigan state whale.

There is a transcript of a talk by Karen Dionne, author of the "Marsh King's Daughter," in which she recounts her journey from being a moderately successful author of two environmental thrillers to the wildly popular author of the above book. Her talk also gives tips to would-be novelists and what she learned about writing that led to being a bestselling author. The Whiteout by Rich Hill tells the dramatic story of his friend Allen who went ice fishing on the great lake and couldn't find his way to shore when a whiteout struck and died.

A most unexpected and fascinating piece by Deborah K. Frontiera tells the story of the formation of  U. P. sandstone, most of which is told from the stone's point of view. Over the course of a million years and tons of pressure, the deposited sand became sandstone. In the 1800s it was mined and shipped to Calumet where the stone was used to build St. Anne's church. The sandstone has seen the church sold and turned into an antique shop. A few years later the building was bought with donations and with a state grant was beautifully restored and became the Keweenaw Heritage Center. Other works describe shipwrecks and heroic rescues, a tribute to a father, the descent of a mother into dementia, and the story of a U.P. deer camp.  

There is a lot to enjoy in this fine collection of short works by a surprising abundance of very good writers found north of the Straits of Mackinac.

U.P. Reader: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World, 4th Volume, Mikel B Classen editor. Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association, 2020, $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, June 1, 2020

June 1, 2020 Post #55

Quote for the day: "Isn't that uneasy peninsula between the lakes the place where all trouble that afflicts this nation start?" A New York Times editorial entitled "Oh Michigan" that railed against the sit-down strikes in 1937.


Reviews


I Have the Answer
by Kelly Fordon


These deeply felt, and very engaging short stories are propelled by sharply drawn characters who are facing a life-changing crisis, are jolted by an unexpected epiphany, or must come to terms with who they are and the life they lead. Most of the stories take place in Michigan, are exceptionally well written, and quickly ensnare the reader into the main character's life. 

Females predominate as the main characters in most stories but not all. There is the dying man who suffers from dementia. The singular memory that haunts him is not recovering the body of his buddy who died beside him in a Vietnam jungle. Other stories follow a widow who can't deal with her husband's death and is dragged by a therapist friend to a strange group therapy with surprising results. There is the shy boy who wakes up one morning and discovers an imaginary third arm growing out of his body that no one else can see except for a pit bull that's so mean he's named the Assassin. And there is the husband literally consigned to the dog house with unexpected ramifications. 

The author has a fine touch for breathing life into her characters and making their lives meaningful and real. Fordon also has a fine sense of humor that crops up in the most unexpected places. After reading only a few of the stories I began to look forward to the conclusion of each of the remaining stories because Fordon has a talent for both surprising readers with clever and memorable last sentences. This is a winning collection of fine short stories.
I Have the Answer: Stories by Kelly Fordon. Wayne State University Press, 2020, $18.99 pb. https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/i-have-answer.



The Sleeping Bears of Leelanau County
by Paul Wcisel

Those familiar with the popular legend accounting for the presence of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Manitou Islands just offshore may consider first-time author Paul Wcisel quilty of heresy after reading his novella. If so, readers will also find it an entertaining, guilty pleasure. 

In Wcisel's rewriting of the legend, there is a group of people in Leelanau County who are born with the ability to change into bears at will. The group knows they are an ancient clan who came to the Leelanau area in the prehistoric past. Their arrival in Michigan was accomplished by a perilous journey across Lake Michigan and is the origin of the Sleeping Bear Dunes creation legend not the popular story of the mother bear and her two cubs attempt to swim across Lake Michigan. 

Outwardly, the members of the clan lead apparently ordinary lives as humans but harbor a special connection with nature, the spirit world, and preserving the environment. The story of the clan and their extraordinary ability is told through the experiences of Max. He was a lost member of the clan living in the U.P. and unaware of his gift when he was discovered by a clan member and introduced to his double life. Max leaves the Upper Peninsula for the Leelanau Peninsula to meet and learn more about his clan. The author doesn't explain how this euphoric transformation from human to bear and back to human works but the members of the clan aren't sure either. They just take their gift for granted and after a few pages so does the reader.

Within this rewriting of the Sleeping Bear Dunes legend is a strong environmental message, a deadly struggle to save a pristine area from fast-buck developers, and a tour of what I'm guessing are the author's favorite microbreweries and eateries in the Traverse City and Leelanau County area. At 130 pages this a quick and enjoyable read set in one of Michigan's most beautiful and magical natural attractions.

The Sleeping Bears of Leelanau County by Paul Wcisel. Independently Published, 2019,  $14.99 pb.




Eden Waits
by Maryka Biaggio

Ah, Utopias they sound so sensible, practical, and doable on paper yet often prove unworkable, unfair, and un-utopian in practice. This novel is based on the true story of the utopian community Hiawatha Colony established in the U.P. near Manistique in the 1890s. The author, a former psychology professor, is the great, great, great-granddaughter of  Elizabeth and Abraham Byers, the founders of Hiawatha Colony.

The Byers homesteaded a large tract of land a few miles from Manistique and encouraged family members to homestead adjoining acres which many did. Abraham, at 65, was not only the leader of the family but also served as its pastor. It proved hard to wrest a living from the rugged wilderness and Abraham preached cooperation and working for common goals. Some of the men worked at the Manistique Lumber Company where the pay was poor and the work was dangerous. The author does a fine job of describing the daily toil of the homesteaders and how precariously thin was the line between success and failure in homesteading in the U.P. 

When Abraham reads Walter Mill's book "The Product Sharing Village" it seemed the answer to his prayers. Mill envisions a community in which landholders deeded their land to the village, and either worked for the community clearing fields and planting crops while others built a sawmill and constructed homes for new arrivals. Product sharing even meant that a woman making jam from berries she picked had to give the jam to the community. Those who worked outside the community at the Manistique Lumber Company turned their earnings over to the community. Outsiders were charged membership fees. In return members of the community shared equally. Small houses were built for new members and all food was shared equally. Abraham corresponded with Mill and the author of The Product Sharing Village came to live in Hiawatha Colony and was named president.

Sharing equally, which might make sense on paper soon began to seem unfair and arbitrary in practice. Instead of everyone sharing equally it became apparent that a person's standing in the community heavily influenced the size of their share. Dissent and the rise of authoritarian rule soon threatened the existence of the colony. Biaggio takes the reader inside the Hiawatha Colony as seen by both the dissenters and supporters. Even the minor characters are fully rounded and add to both a broader and deeper portrait of the community and a realistic portrayal of the sociological working of such a community. Even Abraham and Elizabeth strongly disagree with each other on the merits and faults of the colony and it becomes a wedge between a once very close couple.

This novel is a well written, intimate, and realistic examination of the rise and fall of a utopian community and a fascinating glimpse into a rarely examined or written about corner of Michigan history. 

Eden Waits byMaryka Biaggio. Millford House Press, 2019, $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.












 https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/i-have-answer.

Friday, May 1, 2020

May 1, 2020 # 54

Quote for the day: "... Ann Arbor was at the extreme end of the habitable world, beyond which the sun went down on a boundless, bottomless morass, where the frightful sound of yelling indians, howling wolves, croaking frogs, rattling massaugers, and buzzing mosquitoes added to the awful horror of the dismal place." Henry Little recalling the settling of Michigan in the 1830s. Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collection. Vol III, 1881.


Reviews


This Won't End Well
Camille Pagan


Annie Mercer has had enough. She lost her job as a chemist because her boss got away with sexual harassment and she is now cleaning houses in Ann Arbor to make money. Her best friend's advice is to let crystals help her deal with life and her fiance has asked for space and understanding when he abruptly leaves for Paris and asks her not to try and reach him while he's gone. In response, Annie decides to retreat from life and from people. She swears off meeting new people and making new friends and decides to create some much-needed space to re-examine her life.

Camille Pagan is a writer who seems to effortlessly create believable and sympathetic characters facing difficult personal problems. When the reader becomes immersed in the story it almost feels like the author has stepped back from the narrative and lets the character find her own way out of the conundrum. The characters become as real as your next-door neighbors and there is not a missed-step or false note as the narrative plays out.

Annie's vow to make no new friends or even meet new people is almost immediately put to the test when a gorgeous young woman moves in next door who may have some serious personal problems concerning her safety. Then an off-beat amateur detective worms his way into Annie's life while trying to keep track of the neighbor. Almost against her will Annie becomes involved with both her next-door neighbor's problems and Mo the private detective. 

The author uses emails, texting, and Annie's diary within the story and the different narratives fit together as perfectly as jigsaw puzzle pieces. The book is very amusing and even laugh out loud funny. And if you're the type of reader who highlights or underlines phrases and sentences that are especially noteworthy you'll need a couple of highlighter pens. Two of my favorites are "...Leesa can talk a blind man into seeing things her way..." and "We ask for equal pay and a seat at the table, and instead we're handed control-top pantyhose and pink wine with cupcakes on the label."

"This Won't End Well" is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying read that does, in fact, end well.
This Won't End Well by Camille Pagan. Lake Union Publishing, 2020, $24.95.
  


The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra
by Gregory A. Fournier

At the height of their power, Detroit's Purple Gang was among the most successful and richest criminal organizations in the country. This concise account of the gang's rise from a gang of  Jewish delinquents involved in petty crimes to Detroit's most powerful criminal organization whose influence and corruption reached into city hall, the police department, and Wayne County justice system makes for fascinating reading.

By the time the delinquents grew into adults and prohibition corrupted an entire country the Purple Gang controlled all the rackets in Detroit. They began by hijacking booze shipments being smuggled across the river from Canada by independent operators and they eventually controlled all smuggling of booze into Detroit. By 1929 bootlegging was the second most important industry in the city with only automobile production making more money. The gang ran the numbers racket and all the betting shops where gamblers placed bets on horse races from all around the country. They kidnapped and held for ransom men who ran speakeasies and gambling halls, and other illegal businesses because the gang knew these men wouldn't go to the police.

The Purple Gang were notoriously violent and never hesitated to murder anyone who tried to cut into their territory or even operate without their consent or a share of the profits. The Detroit Police Department estimated, without proof to support their claim, the gang was responsible for 500 solved and unsolved murders between 1925 and 1929. Even if that estimate was grossly over-inflated and the gang was responsible for only half that number of killings it would be an outrageous tally of assassinations. 

This is a compulsively readable tale of the most notorious and violent gang of criminals ever to  
operate in Michigan.
 
The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra by Gregory A. Fournier. Wheatmark, 2020, $18.95 pb.



Gathering Moss: A Douglas Lake Mystery
by Eric M. Howe

This is the author's second book in the series of mysteries set in the Douglas Lake Biological Station. For those new to the series, the station was founded in 1909 and is operated by the University of Michigan. It is a research and teaching facility in which professors and grad students conduct biological research and classes are offered in spring and summer terms.  The author has spent many summers at the station, or The Bug Camp, as it is often called by the staff and students. 

Once again, professor, Rick Parsons is called upon by the local police to help solve what appears to be a murder. Skeletal remains have been found on the station's grounds. They don't know how old the remains are but the buckshot found with the skeleton indicates the bones may be all that's left of a murder victim.  The police ask Rick Parsons, who specializes in the study of the less than romantic forms of vegetation like algae and moss, to perform a forensic examination of the remains and determine how long they have been in the ground and if the body had been moved from the murder site.

In pace, location, characters, and the method in which the murder is solved are all distinctly different from most mystery novels. The pace is leisurely and the detective work is played out against wonderful descriptions of the area's natural setting, bits of history along with glimpses into the ongoing scientific work at the Bug Camp. The book also does a fine job of describing the general area around Douglas Lake including mention of two of my favorite area restaurants the Brutus Camp Deli and the well out of the way Moosejaw Junction.

An entirely enjoyable mystery that unwinds at its own pace. I believe a third book in the series is due out sometime this year.
Gathering Moss: A Douglas Lake Mystery by Eric M. Howe. Independently published, 2019, $6.99.   

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.




Wednesday, April 1, 2020

April 1, 2020 Post # 53

Quote for the day: "...[Lake Superior is] beautiful, empty, glittering, cold and brooding, gull-swept and impersonal; always there, always the same -- there for the grateful and ungrateful, there for the bastards and angels." John Voelker. Anatomy of a Murder.


Reviews


The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Eyewitness Accounts from the U.S. Coast Guard Hearings
edited by Michael Schumacher

On November 10, 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald sailed into history and became part of Great Lakes' lore when she sank in Lake Superior with all twenty-nine hands. The demise of the Great Lakes' largest vessel stunned the shipping community.  The Fitzgerald was a relatively new and powerful ore carrier. She was widely acknowledged to have the best crew and the most experienced captain on the lakes. Seasoned Great Lakes sailors and shipping experts as a whole felt that the mighty Fitz should have survived the storm with no problem. The Coast Guard quickly appointed a Marine Board of Investigation to determine the cause of the ore carrier's loss. 

Author Michael Schumacher, in order to research his book on the loss of the Fitzgerald was allowed to photocopy all 3,000 pages of testimony and documentation produced by the board. Years after publishing his book "The Mighty Fitz" Schumacher was drawn back to the mountain of documents and realized there was a lot of information contained in those 3,000 pages that never made it into his book. He set out to edit the wealth of information contained in the documents and final reports of the Coast Guard's Marine Board of Investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board and produce a documentary history of the sinking that would serve as a companion to "The Mighty Fitz. " It is not necessary to read Schumacher's earlier book on the Fitzgerald before diving into this one. The documents and testimony in the hearings come from naval architects, former crewmen of the Fitzgerald, search and rescue personnel, ship inspectors, loading experts, climatologists, scientists, and seamen who were on the SS Anderson which was some 10 miles behind the Fitzgerald when it simply disappeared from Anderson's radar. Schumacher has arranged the testimony so that it reads like a well organized and engrossing narrative and culminates with the report of the two boards and a Lake Carriers' Association Letter of Dissent. 

I was surprised to learn the Coast Guard was intensely interested in how the Fitzgerald was loaded. And even more surprised to learn that each Great Lakes ore carrier must be loaded in a specific manner that differs with each ore boat. The loading not only effects the seaworthiness of the vessel but could even cause the immense bulk carrier to break in two at the loading dock and sink. The book is highlighted by numerous photographs, maps, charts, and drawings that depict the position and scattering of the wreckage on the lake bottom. The book also includes a full list of the crew -- of which none of their bodies have been recovered -- addresses, and next of kin.

Reading the contemporary accounts of those who were on Lake Superior when the Fitzgerald went down, recount their participation in the search for survivors, hunted for the remains of the Fitz, and the numerous and diverse experts that testified on everything from ship construction to loading procedures brings a surprising immediacy to an event that took place almost fifty years ago. The book is a must for any library that boasts a collection on Great Lakes maritime history and the public who are still fascinated by the loss of the Fitzgerald and read extensively on Great Lakes shipwrecks. 
The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Eyewitness Accounts from the U.S. Coast Guard Hearings edited by Michael Schumacher. University of Minnesota Press, 2019, $19.95 pb.



Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure
by Kath Usitalo


I fell in love with the Upper Peninsula with my first ferry ride across the Straits of Mackinac in the early 1950s. Over the course of seventy years, I have traveled and vacationed throughout the length and breadth of this unique and marvelous peninsula many times and I thought I was fairly knowledgeable when it came to its unique history and attractions. Then I cracked Kath Usitalo's third travel guide to the U.P.

I didn't know NASA had a launching pad near the tip of the Keweenaw Penisula, or that the 1st highway roadside park in the United States lies four miles east of Iron River on US-2. Didn't know that WWII military gilders famously used on D Day to drop troops behind enemy lines,  were built in the U.P. I knew of the restaurant that was famous for its giant cinnamon rolls, but deeply regret being unaware of another eatery that made Korppu, twice-baked slices of toast slathered with cinnamon and sugar and sold by the loaf. Then there's the company town founded by Henry Ford in the 1920s and now owned by Michigan Tech in which some of its twelve still standing homes can be rented for the night. I didn't know the Yooper Dome in Marquette was the world's largest wooden-domed stadium. I did happen to know that the world's first indoor hockey rink was built in Calumet and still remains a hotbed for hockey players from kids to adults. I have driven the Brockway Mountain Drive which is the highest above sea-level road between the Rocky and Allegany Mountains and second the author's enthusiastic recommendation.

I would have especially liked to visit a remote park located at the tip of a slim 11-mile long peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior that is seldom visited and has 2 miles of rugged shoreline that offers magnificent views of the Keweenaw Peninsula and the Huron Mtns. The only drawback is the U.P. version of the walking dead, otherwise known as black flies that can attack in hordes. Try to visit on a day with a strong southerly wind that will drive the flies inland. For someone who thought they knew the U.P. this book is a humbling experience.

Each attraction features a succinct description, a photograph, directions for getting there, cost if any, and tips on how to best enjoy your visit. This book belongs in the glove compartment of anyone planning a trip to the U.P.

Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure by Kath Usitalo. Reedy Press, 2019, $20.95 pb.



Point North: Discover Hidden Campgrounds, Natural Wonders, and Waterways of the Upper Peninsula
by Mikel B. Classen

Yes, yet another travel guide to the Upper Peninsula, and if you're tempted to dismiss it and say enough already, you would be wrong. This is both a travel guide to 40 uniquely beautiful and scenic wonders or historically significant destinations north of Big Mac and it also doubles as a tribute to the indisputable beauty, splendor, and unique history of the U.P.

Unlike a typical travel guide, a two- to four-page essay is devoted to each site. The author's love for the U.P. is obvious on every page. Whether a museum, a state park, or a 17,000-acre wilderness area Classen's descriptions are vibrant, enticing, and thorough. Color photographs, most of which were taken by the author, complement the essays. 

The book contains almost as many surprises as the "Secret Upper Peninsula." The author credits the Au Train River as the best kayaking river in the U.P. In an essay on a state forest campground located on Lake Michigan near Naubinway he not only fully describes the little-used campground and the beautiful beach but also mentions that just offshore is the Lake Michigan Water Trail which I Googled because I had never heard of it. It seems the trail is still under development in the four states surrounding Lake Michigan and when completed it will be the longest freshwater water trail in the world. 

I was particularly taken with the book's scenic descriptions, history, and activities to be found at the 17,000-acre McCormick Wilderness Tract, the three square miles of the little-used Donnelley Wilderness Tract located in the foothills of the Huron Mtns, and the Grand Canyon of the U.P. the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness. It is another book that belongs in the car of any Troll (those of us living below the Mackinac Bridge) vacationing in the U.P. Better yet the book should be read by anyone planning a trip to the Upper Peninsula. It is sure to influence their itinerary.

Even if you are never going to the U.P. it is still well worth reading just to gain an appreciation of what this great state and the Upper Peninsula have to offer its citizens in the way of outdoor adventures and unique natural wonders. This sparkling collection of essays makes for great reading. There is no arguing with the author's claim that the essays and the research that went into them were a"labor of love."

Points North: Discover Hidden Campgrounds, Natural Wonders, and Waterways of the Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen. Modern History Press, 2020, $27.95 pb.



Deja Noir: A Detroit Mystery
by Robert E. Bailey

Retired cop Ray Kerze is a private eye with a rent-free office in an abandoned Detroit office building in which someone forgot to turn off the electricity and heat. It is all the office he can afford because what little money Ray makes supports a serious drinking problem. Business looks to be picking up when an attractive young woman finds her way to Kerzie's office and wants to hire him for a simple job. The woman wants Kerze to kill her. She will pay him with all the money she has in the world which amounts to $11.60.

And so begins one of the most original, captivating and entertaining mysteries I've read in some time. The woman's simple request leads to unpaid loan sharks, right-wing white supremacists looking for trouble, a crooked Detroit councilwoman, a corpse who comes back to life in the city morgue, and a plot with more twists and turns than a colander of al dente fettuccine. 

Adding to the fun is that every chapter is narrated by a different character. So the point of view changes with every chapter and each new narrator takes the story in a new direction. The author does a great job of giving each character a distinctive voice and point of view. The dialogue is crisp and often funny and Bailey writes sentences I found myself underlining, such as, "His skin looked like a sheet of crumpled parchment and his neck rattled around his shirt collar like a soda straw in a bucket."

The different narrators may have readers wondering at times just where the plot is going but it all gets resolved in the conclusion and had me hoping for a sequel until I read the acknowledgments at the back of the book. It was written by the author's wife who thanked countless people and doctors whose encouragement and care helped Bailey complete the book even as he was dying from a Glioblastoma brain tumor. Which makes this book a living testament to this fine author's courage and tenacity, and makes it a certainty I will be searching libraries for his three earlier mysteries. 
Deja Noir: A Detroit Mystery by Robert E. Bailey. Ignition 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.

October 1, 2020 Post # 59

Quote of the Day: "The Sault canal system, which links Lake Superior and Lake Huron at the twin towns of Sault Sainte Marie, in Michiga...