Tuesday, December 26, 2023

 Post #91  December 26, 2023

Quote for the Day: "...there's a fine line between Michigan and misery-- winter." Sonny Eliot. Michigan Living. September 1988.


Deus X by Stephen Mack Jones

A new novel featuring August Snow is always welcome because previous readers know from page one they will simply be swallowed up by Jones' narrative drive, great characters, intimate portrait of Detroit, and a plot that usually falls outside the norm for a private eye mystery. For the  uninitiated August Snow is an ex Detroit cop who was wrongly fired and and won a multimillion dollar law suit from the city. He is dedicated to restoring his old Mexicantown neighborhood, one house at a time, with the money won from his suit and only gets involved in a case at a friend's request.  

It's sadly a given that in any of the world's major religions violence is always committed both historically and currently in the name of God. And that appears to be the case when an aging, retired priest who Snow served as an altar boy and has been a life-long friend since appears to be on a Catholic fanatic's hit list. Snow becomes the priest's bodyguard while he figures out why a papal detective pries into the priest's life and tells Snow a group of Catholic fanatics are determined to eliminate priests whose moral corruption has hurt the image of Catholicism. The sinister papal rep tells Snow his friend may be on their list. The Bishop of the Detroit Archdiocese is not interested in helping the retired priest because all his attention is focused on an expected promotion to the Vatican. So Snow has to count on his wonderfully eccentric friends to keep Father Grabowski safe and help him discover why his friend's life is endangered. Snow's efforts to save his friend brings his own faith into question and his relationship with a church that may have lost touch with its people.

As per usual Snow has written a strikingly original and totally immersive novel. His effortlessly readable prose is as smooth as 30-year-old scotch and marked by memorable humor, razor sharp dialogue, great characters, an equally great portrait of Detroit, and slick attention-grabbing turn of phrases. This is so good on so many levels you simply don't want to miss it.

Deus X by Stephen Mack Jones. Soho Crime, 2023, 352p., $27.95.

Off the Hook: Off-Beat Reporter's Tales from Michigan's U.P. by Nancy Besonen

It takes a special person to write a weekly humor column year after year and decade after decade. There has to be times when life is not funny, you're just not in the mood to be humorous, or you simply can't think of a damn thing to satirize, or poke fun at. So hats off to Nancy Besonen because judging by this collection of her weekly columns in the L'Anse Sentinel she has a genuine talent for finding humor in everyday life. But then she does live in the U.P. where a well honed sense of humor is a necessity. 

The author is a keen observer, has a fine sense of the absurd, a talent for satire, and is just plain funny. In the "Mrs. U. P. Pageant" she is dismayed that there is no talent or swimsuit components. Meaning she can't impress the judges by field dressing a deer on stage, and was sure her three-year-old swimsuit purchased at Fleet Farm, "would have wowed the judges." She believes if Alfred, Lord Tennyson lived in the U.P. his famous poem's first line would have read, "It's spring, when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of getting stuck in mud." My favorite is a column about area school districts inviting parents to take a MEAP test. She explains MEAP stands for Michigan Educational Assessment Program and writes: "The MEAP tests covers variations of the three Rs, and is administered to unsuspecting children whose parents callously decided to settle in Michigan."

Besonen's collection of weekly columns is a perceptive, wise, and an unfailingly funny reality check on the Yooper world. Her columns alone make it worth subscribing to the L'Anse Sentinel.

Off the Hook: Off-Beat Reporter's Tales  from Michigan's U.P. by Nancy Besonen. Modern History Press, 2023, 165p., $21.95.

Murder, So Sweet by Dave Vizard

Other than set in the Thumb area of Michigan I expected a mystery that followed the standards of the genre. The author delivers anything but in this thoughtful, questioning, and controversial novel that simply refuses to let you put it down after turning just a few pages. 

When a farmer near Bad Axe begins to till his fields the first furrow turned attracts hundreds of seagulls. They have come to feed on human tissue uncovered by the tilling. A Huron County deputy sheriff calls Bay City Blade reporter Nick Steele with a tip on the discovery. Within minutes of the call a box is dropped off at the newspaper for Steele. The box contains two severed tips of men's anatomy. Blade drops his feature report on efforts to bring Madonna back to her hometown to investigate the breaking story in Bad Axe. Meanwhile at a locale Bay City Catholic church a woman has come to the Monday evening confession to tell a priest she has killed two men who repeatedly raped and beat her one night. She does not want to repent or forgive the two. She just wants the priest to understand and condone her actions. He won't and she becomes angry and raises her voice. An old lady waiting to confess overhears it all. She reports what she heard to the newspaper and the police but her story is initially dismisedd.

As the case develops Steele, the police, the raped woman, and the old lady who heard the confession are drawn into an ever tightening circle. Steele's research reveals there are 5,000 cases of rape reported in Michigan annually with many more that go unreported. The main character who was raped and beaten didn't report it because it would destroy her career. As a real-estate agent she was showing a house and was raped in a young girl's bedroom. How would you like to tell that to the family of the house you were showing? 

The last half of the book is breathlessly gripping. New revelations, totally unexpected character reactions, and a tension filled conclusion will keep the reader compulsively turning the pages. And then when the reader thinks they have seen and heard it all the last short two paragraphs are absolutely stunning. Page for page one of the most original and entirely involving books I read this year. 
Murder So Sweet by Dave Vizard. Privately Printed, 2023, $14.95.

Relative Sanity by Ellen Lord

I'm the last person who should be allowed to review poems. Many poems simply go over my head at the altitude of a jet liner. I don't even understand some of the glowing remarks by the authors on the back of this book. But if a Supreme Court Justice can fail to recuse him- or herself from a case who am I to recuse myself from poetry.

Then I discovered the first three words of the first poem hiding behind the front cover describe both succinctly and accurately my desperation whenever I sit down to write this blog. They are, "Searching for words." Yup, she got me with the first three words in the book. "Relative Sanity" the next poem is, I think, a stream of conscious narrative about the poet's mother's temporarily successful escape from the Newberry State Hospital. It is an entire book reduced to one marvelous page. The Therapist's Dilemma maybe my favorite simply because it is so unexpectedly funny. As a reader and an envious writer I love to run across sentences and phrases that are perfect, or clever, or profound, or simply tickle me like, "I worry about mental decline, like that helps...   ." That one is going to be stuck on wall above my desk.  And here is one out of many perfect sentences found throughout a mere 44 pages. "He tells me the cancer is back, creeping through him like Kudzu."

Lord's poems are all quite personal, and her work abounds with the wonder she experiences in the Upper Peninsula. She  can write of a simple trout stream or in her last poem entitled "North Country Elegy" she tells of how much she loves U.P's. "raw winter nights' and in the face of all the evidence wonders how "she learned to be alone." Unquestionably this is the launching pad for a very promising talent.
Relative Sanity by Ellen Ford. Modern History Press, 2023, 43p., $14.95.

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