Sunday, December 4, 2011


Two recent crime novels set in Michigan are highly entertaining, although they occur in vastly different locations and time periods.

"The Chocolate Castle Clue" by Jo Anna Carl (Obsidian, $22.95) is the 11th in her popular "Chocoholic" series set in the small Lake Michigan resort town of Warner Pier.

The carefully crafted, cozy mystery stars Lee McKinney Woodyard, who works as business manager for her aunt's chocolate business.

This time, Lee's following her aunt's instructions to clean out an old storage space at the specialized chocolate factory and retail location.

Lee discovers a dusty trophy that brings back unpleasant old memories for her aunt.

Forty-five years earlier, her aunt's singing group, the Pier-O-Ettes, had won the trophy in a singing contest at the lake's Castle Ballroom.
That was the night the owner of the ballroom was found shot, an apparent suicide. The Pier-O-Ettes are now back for an eventful high school reunion, and the tasty plot thickens when a new murder occurs.

JoAnna Carl, who also writes as Eve K. Sandstrom, offers a delightful, fast-paced tale, complete with interesting chocolate chat and trivia.

"Motor City Shakedown" (St. Martin's Press, $24.99) is considerably different - it's a stylish, atmospheric, action-packed mystery that takes place in urban Detroit in 1911.

The sequel to Johnson's excellent "Detroit Electric Scheme" showcases flawed hero Will Anderson again getting into lots of trouble.

The first chapter sets the pace, with Will discovering the dead body of Carlo Moretti, the driver for Vito Adamo, a local crime boss.

Will goes on the run, afraid he's going to be charged with murder; soon he's caught up in Detroit's first mob war. The rival Gianolla gang threatens violence; more complications arise as the Teamsters attempt to unionize Will's father's electric automobile company.

Will faces more challenges, including his addiction to morphine. His former fiancee, a determined cop and young members of what will become the infamous Purple Gang play a vital part of the action.

Johnson is in fine form as he describes Detroit, a hustling, bustling town full of new immigrants and crooked cops. He throws in cameo appearances by an assortment of automotive pioneers including Ransom E. Olds; Edsel Ford, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are also involved.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, December 4, 2011.

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