Sunday, August 21, 2011

There’s still a little time left to make a great escape before the upcoming holiday;
you don’t even have to pay for gas!

The latest book by M. Chris Byron and Thomas R. Wilson will whisk you away for a wonderful journey into the past, in “Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike” (Arbutus Press, $35).

Subtitled “From Sand Trails to US-31” this over-sized pictorial volume covers significant territory and includes a brief introduction from well-known historian Leroy Barnett.

This isn’t a dry, boring, scholarly history book with detailed, mostly outdated, heavily footnoted information. Instead, it’s a thoughtfully created, attention-grabbing book that’s chock full of memorable images from old photographs and vintage post cards. It’s complemented by striking graphics from many colorful advertisements and travel brochures.

The first chapter provides excellent background history of the West Michigan Pike, showing how the scenic route was developed, constructed, expanded and promoted. It notes the initial importance of bicyclists and explores further growth from dirt roads to solid pavement.
Classic images abound, including photographs of old gas stations, long departed restaurants and tourist cabins. Unfortunately, many of the buildings shown no longer exist; many sites are long forgotten or barely remembered.

The trip along Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline begins at Grand Beach and goes all the way up to Mackinaw City, with stops at every minor village, sleepy small town and bustling city en route.

Appropriate maps are also offered; areas like Benton Harbor, Saugatuck, Holland, Grand Haven, Ludington, Frankfort, Traverse City, Charlevoix and Petoskey are all well-represented.

The carefully-researched book also includes a list of illustration credits, a section of bibliography and sources cited and an index. The authors note: “We wanted to portray the sense of adventure and discovery that early motorists experienced along the pike.” They succeed in a grand fashion.

Byron and Wilson, longtime collectors of historic Michigan ephemera, postcards and photos, have turned their hobby into a fascinating endeavor. They have provided an enjoyable and much needed book that’s ideal for tourists, travelers, historians and local libraries.

Their earlier books, “Vintage Views of Leelanau County” and “Vintage Views of the Charlevoix-Petoskey Region”, won Michigan Notable Book Awards from the Library of Michigan. Their third book, “Vintage Views of the Mackinac Straits Region” was published in 2007.

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 Sunday, August 21, 2011.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Michigan writers impress

Two recent crime novels by Michigan writers feature hard-working individuals trying to solve puzzling crimes.
One showcases an aging, tough, urban private investigator while the other features a dedicated journalist who’s trying to solve a murder.

“Infernal Angels” by Whitmore Lake, Mich. author  Loren Estleman (Forge, $24.99) is the 21st in his popular series starring Amos Walker, Detroit private eye.

Walker, who’s slow to adjust to modern technology, is hired by Rueben Crossgrain to track down a bunch of HDTV converter boxes that have been stolen. Diligently checking out promising leads, Walker runs into problems when his client’s dead body is discovered.

Walker becomes a suspect, getting the attention of Deputy Marshall Mary Ann Thayer and others in authority who have conflicting ideas on how to deal with him.

The private eye follows a trail of deception and violence, getting help from journalist Barry Stackpole, who’s appeared in other Walker novels.

The case gets considerably more complicated as the real reason behind the theft surfaces – the converter boxes were filled with high-grade heroin and were accidentally shipped to Crossgrain.

Estleman is in fine form, showing the challenges facing an aging private investigator; there’s an unusual and realistic chase scene that’s quite memorable.

This is a great, classic tough guy, private eye tale that’s ideal for hard-boiled crime fiction fans.

“A Case of Hometown Blues” by Jackson Mich. author W.S. Gager (Oak Tree Press, $14.95) is the third in her series about Mitch Malone, who was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize Investigative Journalism Award.
This oversized paperback is set in the small fictional town of Flatville, Mich. where Malone grew up. He’s returned to give a seminar on investigative journalist techniques.

The seminar is the same weekend as Malone’s high school reunion, but Malone really doesn’t want to participate. Trudy Harrison, the school’s Homecoming Queen, tracks him down in a local bar after the celebration.

She’s sloshed, so Malone decides to drive her home. Big mistake! Trudy’s body is discovered the next day and Malone becomes the prime suspect.

Released from jail, the dedicated journalist digs deeper, discovering many deadly dark secrets of the small town.

While Gager’s highly entertaining tale wraps up a little too neatly, it’s still solid escapism by a promising new talent.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published by the 
Lansing State Journal on Sunday, August 15, 2011.