Two new books by Michigan authors are timely and thought-provoking.
"Red Jacket" by Portage author and MSU graduate Joseph Heywood (Lyons Press, $24.95) focuses on the challenges facing Lute Bapcat, a trapper and former cowboy who also served with Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders.
In 1913, Bapcat is asked by Roosevelt to become Deputy Game Fish and Forestry Warden for Houghton and Keweenaw counties in upper Michigan.
As one of the state's first game wardens, Bapcat has to deal with many assorted issues. His life is made significantly more difficult as problems escalate between devious copper mine owners and angry immigrant mine workers who want to strike.
Deer are being slaughtered and their carcasses left behind, depriving strikers of a potential food supply. As Bapcat and his Russian sidekick Zakov investigate, they discover unusual allegiances, crooked cops and clever cover-ups.
Heywood, who's written eight books in his popular Grady Service "Woods Cop" series, deftly combines fact with fiction by using some real individuals as characters, such as athlete George Gipp and union organizer Mother Jones. Heywood even comes up with an usual explanation for the cause behind the horrific Italian Hall disaster which claimed 73 lives.
The author pays a lot of attention to historical detail; at times it's difficult to keep track of all of the characters. This is the first volume in a realistic new series, which should only increase Heywood's popularity.
Mitch Albom, one of America's best-selling authors, won't have to worry much either - his loyal fans will certainly be pleased.
His latest novel, "The Time Keeper" (Hyperion, $24.99), is told in a fast-paced, sometimes choppy style that showcases Dor, the inventor of the world's first clock.
The fable has Dor being punished for trying to measure God's greatest gift. He's banished to a cave for centuries, where he's forced to hear Mankind's innumerable requests for more time.
Amazingly, he doesn't go completely crazy, but he is obsessed and eventually becomes Father Time. He's given a chance to prove himself by teaching two mortals the true meaning of time.
The rest of the slim novel is set in the present, with Dor trying to help a struggling teenage girl and a dying billionaire discover the true value of time.
While undeniably a tearjerker, Albom's timely tale is both enjoyable and thought provoking; if you have no great expectations, reading it is time well spent.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop,
has reviewed Michigan books and crime novels regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on October 21, 2012