Booked and Printed
Robert C. Hahn
The upper Midwest of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin is home to some of America’s most interesting and challenging geography. As this month’s authors demonstrate, the region’s history and inhabitants provide some great tales and lessons. Two of the tales are dark and interweave stories of the Native Americans and immigrants and their interactions today and yesterday. The third is a more lighthearted tale of modern day descendants of previous fortune makers.
Vidar Sundstøl’s THE LAND OF DREAMS (University of Minnesota Press,$24.95) won the Riverton Prize for Best Norwegian crime novel of the year in 2008 and is now available in an excellent English translation by Tiina Nunnally. The first in the Minnesota trilogy, The Land of Dreams brilliantly combines a present-day murder mystery with crimes from the past, while examining the historic origins of the Scandinavian immigrants who settled much of this wild region.
Lance Hansen, a Law Enforcement Agent working for the U.S. Forest Service, answers a routine call about some illegal camping and discovers a naked, bloody man, obviously in shock and saying only one word that Lance can recognize: “kjaerlighet” or “love” in Norwegian. Then, a short distance away, Lance finds the brutally beaten body of another man.
Hansen is quickly joined by Cook County Sheriff Bill Eggum and his men, but they soon realize that the crime scene is in Superior National Forest, and that makes it a federal matter for the FBI to investigate. It also leads to a discussion about whether this is the first ever murder in the history of CookCounty, a discussion that fascinates Lance, who is the local genealogist and custodian of the county’s archives.
As Lance prepares his report on finding the body, he considers the question of the first murder and becomes intrigued by two stories in the archives: one involving the 1892 disappearance of an Ojibway named Swamper Caribou, a medicine man widely respected by both the white population and the Native Americans; and another one, equally old, involving the miraculous survival of fifteen-year-old immigrant Thormod Olson after an eighty-mile trek through the wilderness and a dunking in a frigid lake on the last night of his journey.
The present victim and his arrested companion are eventually identified as Norwegian tourists, Georg Lofthus, the victim, and Bjorn Hauglie, the putative killer, who had been canoeing some of the remote river areas. Called in to investigate the killing is FBI agent Bob Lecuyer and to provide an assist and liaison Norwegian homicide detective Eirik Nyland.
As the investigation progresses, Lance is increasingly troubled by the fact that he saw his brother Andy’s Chevy Blazer near where the crime occurred and that Andy lied about it when he talked to him. That suspicion festers even when it appears certain that Hauglie killed Lofthus.
Through Lance, his brother Andy, and his ex-wife Mary Dupree, a descendant of an Ojibway chieftain, Sundstøl provides a vivid picture of native culture, the waves of immigrants, and the peaks and valleys of their settlements as well as the strength of the cultural ties between Minnesotans and the Scandinavian countries. It is an impressive performance, one made all the more enjoyable by the prospect of anticipating the next two novels in the trilogy, The Dead and The Ravens.
Since 2001, when Joseph Heywood’s Ice Hunter appeared, the author has mined the geography, history, and endlessly fascinating denizens of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in ten novels, including the historical Red Jacket, and a superb collection of short stories (Hard Ground). This excellent series continues with KILLING A COLD ONE (Lyons Press, $26.95).
Woods Cop Grady Service is not normally concerned with serious crimes, his job for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources mostly concerned with enforcing game laws and helping the lost or foolish tourist unprepared for the wildness of the “mosquito wilderness” he patrols. But when the brutalized bodies of two young Native American women are discovered at Twenty Point Pond, rumors of a “dogman”—the Michigan version of the French loup-garou, or werewolf, begin to spread, along with a supposed bounty for its capture. Governor Lori Timms gives Service carte blanche to do whatever it takes to find out what or who killed the women.
Service insists on choosing his own team—Luticious Treebone, Glenn Noonan, and Limpy Allerdyce. Treebone, like Service a Vietnam vet and a retired Detroit police officer, is an old friend. Noonan once saved Service’s life during his brief stint with the Detroit police and murdered, not killed the man who attacked Service. Allerdyce is an unusual choice, described as “cold-blooded and calculating, a dirtbag.” He is also a poacher, an ex-con, and the best tracker and woodsman anywhere.
Heywood knows his people, mostly “Yoopers”—people who are not so much antisocial loners as people “who didn’t want to be alone, they wanted to be left alone,” and his novel is densely populated with striking characters who, if not born in the UP are truly at home there because of its distinctive character.
The next victim is a kid whose butchered body is bizarrely put on display for a fee before Service and his crew break up the twisted party in the woods. After that, a scofflaw is torn apart in his trailer.
As the carnage continues and rumors spread, with even the Detroit papers reporting on the four known deaths and the dogman sightings, Service and his cronies explore the possibilities of an extremely large wolf, like the “dire wolf” presumed extinct for nine thousand years, or what the Native Americans call a “windigo”—an evil spirit that devours humans, in essence, a cannibal.
As is often the case in Heywood’s novels, there are many intriguing and sometimes very funny encounters with Yoopers but one-of-a-kind Limpy Allerdyce really steals the limelight in this masterfully executed story of a hunt for a monster that is all too human and fiendishly clever.
Victoria Houston’s LoonLake series, named after the northern Wisconsin fishing village of that name, features Police Chief Lewellyn Ferris, a fly-fishing aficionado, and retired dentist Paul “Doc” Osborne, who also serves as “acting coroner” for the community when needed. DEAD INSIDER (Tyrus Books, $24.95) is the thirteenth novel.
Houston’s mystery is less concerned with the wildness of the geography and the weather; LoonLake is a community of rather normal, small-town folks whose quirks and foibles are easily recognizable.
Perhaps the town’s most famous native son— or rather, daughter—is Jane Ericsson, a fourth-generation descendant of the lumber baron family. She’s the daughter of Senator Ericsson, and is now a candidate for that same job. Jane’s childhood friend, Kaye Lund, cares for Jane’s property including the new mansion being constructed, and lives in a caretaker’s cottage in back.
Jane is a savvy, sophisticated politician, and Kaye is a former paper mill worker and an expert butcher of game animals. Yet despite their differences, they have remained close until Jane suddenly fires Kaye and tells her to stay away from her house, and stay out of her business. So when body parts wrapped in butcher paper show up in the river and Jane is identified as the victim, Kaye inevitably becomes a suspect.
Solving the crime is made more difficult by characters such as Jane’s imperious campaign manager Lauren Crowell, the ambitious Kenton Harriman, and the big-city environmental reporter Wendy Marron.
Houston nails the small rural town: its labyrinthine connections between long-time residents; their camaraderie; and the fundamental decency of (most) of its citizens and their ability to deal with even the most shocking crimes in this engaging series.
ALL POINTS BULLETIN: Jim Fusilli’s novel BILLBOARD MAN, the sequel to 2012’s Road to Nowhere, will be out in September from Thomas & Mercer. • A CRIMINAL DEFENSE, the newest novel in Steven Gore’s Harlan Donnally series, is now available. • Leslie Budewitz’s new series—the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries—has debuted with the book DEATH AL DENTE (Berkley Prime Crime). • Roland Keller’s P.I. Easy Taylor makes another outing in PARDEE HOLLER, from SUNY Press. • Mysterious Press/Open Road has announced the digital release of short stories originally appearing in Black Mask magazine, featuring writers like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Carroll John Daly, Theodore A. Tinsley, and Paul Cain. • A third volume to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s e-anthology THE CROOKED ROAD is due out this fall.