July 2021 Post #68

Thursday, July 1, 2021

 Quote for the day: "Growing up in northern Michigan, I got to know insects intimately. I prided myself on my ability to tolerate gnats and black flies... But I have never seen mosquitoes like those that rose that day from the weeds and grasses along the Fox River. ...even when I sprayed the aerosol directly at them they scarcely altered their flight. They absorbed the poison and developed genetic immunity right before my eyes." Jerry Dennis. A Place on the Water. 1993.

Turn to News and Views for the 2nd Annual U. P. Notable Books List as chosen by the U.P. Publishers & Authors Association.


Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer by Harold Schechter.

In the days prior to May 18, 1927 Andrew Philip Kehoe, an elected member of the Bath School Board and the board's treasurer packed over 500 pounds of dynamite into the newly opened Bath consolidated school's basement and subflooring. The school housed all Bath students from kindergarten through 12th grade and on the 18th Kehoe's improvised detonator triggered the dynamite to explode under one wing of the school. The wing collapsed killing 38 children in addition to several adults. Schechter presents a fast moving, highly detailed reconstruction of the crime and even explains how and why the horrendous bombing in Bath, Michigan so quickly disappeared as headline news.  

The dynamiting of the Bath School still ranks as the most deadly school attack in US history. But Kehoe wasn't finished. The gentleman farmer who plowed his fields in a suit and shined shoes killed all his livestock and set the barn on fire, then killed his wife and torched their house with her body inside. He then packed his truck with more explosives and drove to the bombed school where distraught parents, firemen, and police were working to free children from the the school's wreckage. Kehoe parked near the collapsed wing and waved the school superintendent over to his truck. When the superintendent walked up to the truck Kehoe blew both of them and the truck to kingdom come. The explosion wounded people a block away. When police inspected the basements under the school's other wings, they found them packed with explosives. By some miracle, the detonator failed to set off those explosives.  

The obvious question is what drove Kehoe to be a mass murderer of children? The author tries his best to answer that question. His neighbors thought him a solid citizen. The author writes that Kehoe avoided intimacy, had a mean streak, and suffered occasional bouts of paranoia. He was also a penny-pinching skinflint who was distressed at the increased taxes needed to finance the new school. This book may well stand as the definitive work on the Bath School bombing. Yet even after reading it I find it impossible to comprehend the level of evil, insanity, or cruelty it took to commit this heinous act.  The book is both very compelling and painfully sad.

Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer by Harold Schechter. Little A. 2021. $24.95.

The Crooked Angel: A Burr Lafayette Mystery by Charles Cutter

Cutter's mysteries featuring attorney Burr Lafayette should come with the clearly stated warning that they are hopelessly addictive. The author has the knack of drawing readers into his mysteries with such ease they don't realize until its far too late that even a writ of habeas corpus will not release them from the book until the final page is turned. Burr is not a criminal lawyer and only occasionally and reluctantly represents accused murderers. In the present case, his girlfriend talks Burr into defending Brian, her sister's husband, who is accused of murdering his first wife. The trial takes place in Petoskey before a cantankerous judge and a prosecutor who hopes a conviction will launch his political career.

Lafayette is sure there is something odd going on because Brian is being charged with murdering his first wife six years after her death was ruled accidental. His girlfriend, her sister, and the accused all have trouble with the truth and adding to Lafayette's complications in representing Brian is a prosecutor who puts winning before the rule of law. The novel features a captivating courtroom drama full of striking twists and turns, great repartee, wonderfully odd characters, and a stunning denouement all played out against the beautifully drawn backdrop of the Little Traverse Bay area. 

Burr's law partner claims Burr is, "half a step short of brilliant." The same could be said of this fourth in the series featuring Burr Lafayette who is not a half step short of being an utterly fascinating character. As always, a Charles Cutter mystery is grand entertainment.

The Crooked Angel: A Burr Lafayette Mystery by Charles Cutter. Mission Point Press, 2021, $16.95. 

U. P. Reader: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World, Volume 5 Deborah K. Frontiera and Mikel B. Classen, editors. 

It's always a good day when I find a copy of the U. P. Reader in my mailbox. The annual collection of short stories, poems, memoirs, and essays, penned by Michiganders living north of Big Mac can be counted on to entertain, enlighten, and often surprise readers.

I especially enjoyed a how-to guide to squirrel hunting that is wonderfully bizarre and wacky yet told in convincing detail. The author, among other things, attempts to thoroughly explain why you should hunt barefoot, the correct place to relieve oneself in the woods, and recommends throwing back a cheap shot of whiskey instead of coffee before a hunt. The author advances the revolutionary theory that at the heart of squirrel hunting is killing time. I always look forward to Larry Buege's reporting on the efforts to officially recognize the Amorous Spotted Slug (A.S.S.) as the state slug and as a special bonus he brings in Professor Toivo Rantamkis to explain how the sex life of the A.S.S. is unique in the animal world. And don't skip "Your Obit" in which a woman  explains what she will and will not include in her best friend's obituary. 

The book is a tribute to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and its people. From the funny and wise to the profound it is a wonderful example of the degree to which the U.P., with its rugged beauty and often hard-scrabble living, inspires authors or makes authors out of those who live there. I was tempted to say the above three pieces that I mentioned were not to be missed, but in all fairness that goes for every offering found between the covers of this unique publication. To paraphrase an old potato chip commercial, open the book at random and I bet you can't stop reading at just one. 

U.P. Reader: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World, edited by Deborah K. Fontiera and Mikel B. Classen. Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. 2021, $17.95.

Tales of the Police: The Wild and the Sad by Brit Weber

The author became a Michigan State Trooper in 1970 and retired in 1998. This is a lively and always interesting collection of stories from the author's 28-year career. What comes shining through on nearly every story is Weber's justifiable pride in wearing the uniform, the engrained philosophy of service, and the high expectations of professionalism officers are held to.

The stories range from wild car chases, pursuing armed robbers, handling domestic disputes that threaten to turn deadly, to a memorable account of a call to a campground in which a crazed camper was raising hell. The latter turned out to be a one-legged drunk who managed on only one foot to make his escape from two state cops. The job is obviously dangerous and stressful and it seems that the state troopers way of handling some of the stress is to pull pranks on fellow officers. They range from a baby skunk slipped into a trooper's car while he is eating to calling a radio station and nominating the post commander as secretary of the day. The man was more than chagrined when the radio station sent him flowers and several times during the day announced he was the secretary of the day. It wasn't until the commander's retirement that the author admitted he was the prankster.

  The author spent five years investigating child abuse cases. In addition to being tragic and sad the author describes how careful, thorough, and sensitively each case had to be handled. The author was relentless in uncovering enough evidence to make an arrest and protect a child from more abuse. After five years Weber had had enough and asked for a transfer to another assignment.  At the end of most chapters the author names officers who earned awards for going above and beyond the call of duty to make arrests or save a life. Included are the official citations that describe the action for which the officer received the award.

This book is both a tribute to the Michigan State Police and a moving account of what I gather  are typical experiences of a career in the MSP. The cover below will only take you to the ebook edition. Hard copy buyers need to go to Amazon or a local bookstore.

Tales of Police Work: The Wild and the Sad by Brit Weber. Privately published, 2020, $9.99

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 kelps support Michigan in Books.

No comments

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Powered by Blogger.