Sunday, January 2, 2011


It's tough to keep track of all the interesting new books dealing with Michigan history. Here's a brief look at three paperbacks that came out last year that are worth picking up.

"Michigan State Fair" by John Minnis and Lauren Beaver (Arcadia, $21.95) is a wonderful collection of photos and facts about the nation's oldest state fair, which began in Detroit in 1849.

It shifted locales frequently before returning permanently to Detroit; there's a great ad for the fair held in Lansing in 1889.

Minnis, a respected journalist, and Beaver, an MSU student, have compiled a fascinating book that really captivates the imagination, emphasizing a variety of fun-filled events that took place.

It also includes photos of famous people who appeared at the fair, ranging from President William Howard Taft, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans to Ricky Nelson, the Temptations and the Jackson Five.

The detailed captions very accurately describe the uniqueness of the Michigan State Fair, offering many behind-the-scenes glimpses of the major historical event.

"The Michigan Murders" by Edward Keyes (University of Michigan Press, $22.95) is a mesmerizing examination of a series of killings that took place in the Ann Arbor/ Ypsilanti area in the late 1960s.
It focuses on the violent, brutal murders of seven girls and young women aged 13 to 23, whose mutilated bodies were dumped in the surrounding area.

Originally published in 1977, this volume was nominated for the Edgar Award as the Best Fact Crime Book of the Year.

Keyes' work is considered by many as a landmark in true crime writing; this edition has an excellent prologue by Mardi Link and a new epilogue by Laura James.

As a courtesy and using a stylistic device of the times, Keyes changes the names of the victims and killer. Many readers many will recognize clean-cut "James Armstrong" as John Norman Collins, who is still serving time in prison.

"In the Shadow of the Bear" by Jim McGavran (Michigan State University Press, $19.95) is a laid-back Michigan memoir.

It explores McGavran's upbringing and examines parental attitudes and lifestyles of a bygone era. While serving as an ode to his parents and other family members, it also deftly captures a sense of place, savoring many aspects of growing up at Leelanau.

McGavran's intriguing effort would be better if he had used shorter paragraphs, but his inclusion of family photos makes the book more enjoyable.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.

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