September 1, 2021 Post # 70

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

 Quote for the Day: "When they were stumped in ancient Greece, they went to the oracle of Delphi. At Lourdes they take the waters, and I suppose in Akron they go down and watch tires being made. In Detroit, where we put the world on wheels or did anyway until the Japanese and Yugoslavs and the Brits rolled in, when our brains slip into neutral we lay rubber on the road and hit the gas." Loren Estleman. Sweet Women Lie. 1990.


Warn Me When It's Time by Cheryl A. Head.

After reading two of Head's mysteries I have come to believe she is Detroit's most underappreciated mystery writer. A Detroit native now living in Washington D.C. the author knows her native city intimately. The Charlie Mack mysteries are gritty and tightly plotted procedural detective novels. They are realistic, timely, and boasts a private eye who stands apart from the usual stereotypes.

The novel is set during the Obama administration and deals with the rise of White supremacy groups and hate crimes due to the election of a Black man as president. In Detroit, White supremacists have repeatedly gotten away with vandalizing mosques, and Black churches. When an attack on a Moslem Mosque results in the death of a highly respected imam and police fail to make progress in their investigation the imam's family hire the Mack Agency to find the killer.  The Mack group, led by a black lesbian, cooperate with the police and ID the killer. They also uncover evidence that suggests several supremacist groups are planning a massive attack against a major Detroit religious landmark. Impressed with the agency's work the FBI enlists Charlie Mack and her crew to help stop the attack.

The result is a mystery that relentlessly builds in suspense to the last gripping pages. Charlie Mack and her crew are fully rounded, very likable, and interesting characters who work as a team, while Detroit is deftly portrayed in all its grand, bi-polar disorder. Critical to this book's success is the realistic plot that will have readers recalling the inexorable growth, over the past dozen years, of hate groups and their increasing threat to our democracy. You don't just read this book, you gulp it down.

Warn Me When It's Time: A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery by Cheryl A. Head. Bywater Books, 2021, $16.95.  

The Cut by John Wemlinger.

If I'm counting correctly this is the author's fifth novel and his first historical novel. Wemlinger lives in Onekama on the north shore of Portage Lake. In 1870 Portage Lake's lone outlet to Lake Michigan was a small creek on which a lumber king had built a water-powered sawmill. The owner dammed the creek to raise the water level insuring the mill could operate. But the dam also raised the water level on Portage Lake and farmers bordering the lake watched their acreage disappear as the water  rose. The farmers tried every legal means to have the dam removed. When the lumber baron remained unmoved the farmers picked up shovels and dug an outlet between the two lakes permanently lowering the water level. The outlet still exists and has made Portage Lake a harbor of refuge. Wemlinger was approached by locals to write a historical novel based on the David and Goliath struggle leading to the channel's creation. 

The result is both a dramatic account of the how and why the cut was created and a masterful novel of the life, times, and changes wrought by the Civil War. As in all of  Wemlinger's books the narrative is character driven. Alvin who lost an arm in the Civil War runs a farm on Portage Lake with his father and a Black Civil War vet who Alvin treats as a brother. They are among the leaders of the effort to remove the dam. On a trip into town Alvin meets, or collides with Lydia on a sidewalk. There is an immediate attraction and a budding romance turns into an unbreakable bond. Lydia's father refuses to approve of his daughter seeing a farmer or even considering Lydia's desire to attend college. The reader can't help but become involved with these well-drawn characters and care what happens to them.

The story of the cut is well done. But what kept me glued to the book was the accurate and fascinating story of the life of a Michigan farm family in 1870. Equally interesting was the description of women and their power within the household and near powerlessness in the business and commercial world even as women were on the threshold of changing their status. As in all his books, Wemlinger sensitively portrays war veterans as honorable men who have returned from war to face new challenges in both private and public life. Every book I've read by this author I thought deserved consideration for inclusion on Michigan's Notable Books List and none made it. If this book fails to warrant inclusion on the list it's more than just a regrettable omission. 

The Cut by John Wemlinger. Mission Point Press, 2021, $17.95.

Sea Stacks: The Collected Stories of J. L. Hagen by J. L. Hagen.

The author grew up in St. Ignace and nearly all of the stories found between  the covers of Hagen's first book take place in and around the Straits of Mackinac area, with the fictional town of Loyale standing in for the author's real hometown. Place matters in these stories and one way or another influences and reflects the way of life in the area and bends characters' development the same way an unrelenting wind can shape the direction in which trees grow.

Where else would a young man woe a beautiful, downstate young woman with a dinner of planked whitefish and a climb to the top of a sea stack. For the uninitiated, the latter are natural limestone pillars that are common in the area and one of the tallest has long been a tourist attract a few miles north of the Straits on I-75. Admittedly the longer short stories are my favorites because they permit more character development and allow most characters to dig a deeper pit from which to extract themselves.

Hagen's short stories are a lot like life, they go off in unexpected directions. The young man counting on whitefish encircled by mashed potatoes broiled on a board and the climbing of a sea stack to win the heart of beautiful woman runs into some unexpected romance killers. My favorite story follows a husband who's a bit of a dim bulb, dislikes dogs, and doesn't quite understand it is his wife who wears the pants in the family. His Achilles heel is that he believes he is a great deal maker whether it's for a Beagle puppy or a new refrigerator. Instead he is the kind of fellow P. T. Barnun said was born every minute. It's always nice to welcome a new and talented Michigan author to the public.  

Sea Stacks: The Collected of Stories of J. L. Hagen by J. L. Hagen. Keypounder Books, 2020, $8.95.

Incentives: The Holy Water of Free Enterprise by George Franklin.

I grinned on page one and laughed out loud on page three, twice. The laughs continue throughout this wildly hilarious satire aimed at every group, person, and company gorging themselves at the government trough on projects that simply line their own pockets. The schemes Franklin's characters think up to bilk money from the government are outrageous, hilarious, and at times so uncomfortably close to reality you wince while you're laughing. For me, that is the mark of satire of the highest order. 

There's the character who after reading the Cliff Notes of a former president's book on the art of deal making learned "factual hyperbole' ---- used to be called lying, now [it's] just part of good negotiations." The CEO of an energy company preaches, "Those who see pollution as a problem don't understand the creation of wealth." Then there's the Smith & Wesson ad campaign, "Shoot First, Then Ask." The author, a former Vice President of Worldwide Government Relations for the Kellogg Company, worked at securing economic incentives both abroad and in the U.S. He has evidently seen more than his share of hypocrisy. 

Two of my favorite satirical schemes for obtaining government incentives include a church that wants government money in order to pump water from Lake Michigan, bless it, and then spray it from crop dusters for the purpose of stopping "godless foreign terrorists." The other is the creation of "Let Them Eat Cake," a personal shopping service that helps wives of Texas oil barons search out enormously expensive clothes and jewelry the less fortunate (read Middle Class) can't and never will be able to afford. 

This is an outrageous, biting, and seriously funny novel in which laughter harpoons the great white whale of hypocrisy that is too often inherent in American politics, business, education, and society.

Incentives: The Holy Water of Free Enterprise by George Franklin. FPA Books, 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.

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