Sunday, December 18, 2011


For decades, the holiday season in East Lansing always brought thousands of shoppers into town to buy items at Jacobson's, the elegant department store and centerpiece of the city's commercial district.

A new book by architect and historian Bruce Allen Kopytek revisits those days, carefully examining the early beginnings, growth and sad demise of a memorable retail organization.

"Jacobson's: I Miss It So! - The Story of a Michigan Fashion Institution" (History Press, $19.99) is a well organized, detailed account of a major retailer who began business as a small store selling "Fancy Goods" in Reed City in 1868.

Moses Jacobson bought a similar business in Jackson, and renamed it; the store thrived and later expanded to Ann Arbor and Battle Creek.

Nathan Rosenfeld, a Cincinnati department store executive, bought the stores in 1939; joined by his brother Zola, they continued to remodel and expand.

The East Lansing store opened in 1941 at 115 E. Grand River Ave. and grew regularly through the 1950s, eventually taking space around the corner on Abbot Road.

Rosenfeld purchased properties in East Lansing, constructing and opening a deluxe, fashionable 117,000-square-foot building there in 1970.

"Let's Do Lunch" is a chapter that includes information about the fine East Room Restaurant on the top floor of the East Lansing location; recipes and menus are also provided.

Although the East Lansing store is prominently depicted on the cover, most of the book is devoted to the growth of the company into a major business enterprise spanning 30 stores in five states.

Many chapters examine the wide variety of other expansions to the Detroit suburban area and Florida, but there's always a sense of respect for the exceptional business sense, foresight and humor of Nathan Rosenfeld.

This entertaining book includes numerous detailed photographs and drawings of storefronts; there are interior shots of many wonderful retail display areas.

Kopytek has done diligent research, using material from Rosenfeld's son Mark, who was the president of the company until 1997. Other information and photos also came from the Ella Sharp Museum of Art and History in Jackson, where the corporate records are located.

This is a great book that's likely to bring back many fond memories of shopping at Jacobson's, where exceptional customer service reigned and high quality merchandise prevailed.

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, December 18, 2011. 



With the cold wind blowing and the temperature dropping, maybe it's time get away from it all and escape — in a pair of hot crime novels set in sunny Florida.

Each book is action-packed and full of violence, starring quick-thinking heroes with a background in the military's Special Forces.

"Collateral Damage" by H. Terrell Griffin (Oceanview, $25.95) is the sixth in his popular series starring Matt Royal, a retired lawyer and Vietnam veteran who's relaxing in Florida as a beach bum.

Griffin's latest exciting tale opens with a young man being shot to death by a sniper on a beach on the day after his wedding. Royal gets involved in the case when the dead man turns out to be the son of one of his Special Forces buddies.

A dinner cruise ship nearly collides with Royal's boat; two passengers and the captain are discovered murdered.

Longboat Key Detective J.D. Duncan is doing her best to see if the cases are connected; Royal gets help from former members of his military unit and a hacker.

Griffin offers another enjoyable, carefully crafted tale filled with intriguing characters, nifty plot twists and fast-paced action.

"Thorns on Roses" by Randy Rawls (L & L Dreamspell, $14.95) is a paperback in the same category, but the hero is more twisted and the violence amplified.

Tom Jeffries is a private investigator in Broward County who had worked as a Dallas cop for many years.
He identifies the body of a 17-year-old girl who's been raped and murdered by a local street gang. She's the stepdaughter of Charlie Rogers, his best buddy, who served with him in Vietnam in the Army's Special Forces.

Swearing vengeance, Jeffries stalks and eliminates gang members in the best Charles Bronson style, with
deadly, jaw-dropping scenes.

Rawls has deftly produced a gritty, dark tale with a memorable, flawed vigilante. There's considerable room for a sequel.

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, December 11, 2011


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.



"Malibu Confidential," a quirky new crime novel by Paul-Arthur Weisenfeld, is part of a growing trend in publishing — you're not likely to find it in your local bookshop without special ordering it.

It's primarily available as an e-book on Amazon in the Kindle format for $4.99. If you want it as a fat paperback book for $24.95 (all 565 pages!), you can get it fastest by ordering it through Amazon.

Weisenfeld, an award-winning journalist who attended MSU, has ties to the local community, working as a news broadcaster in the late 1960s and early 1970s for WITL.

His debut novel, set in the late 1990s, showcases private detective Randal Bristol, who only accepts clients on a referral basis.

While this significantly limits his clientele, Bristol likes it that way, working hard to keep media exposure at a minimum.

The fast-paced novel is divided into three subsections, mostly taking place in California. Bristol's initial case involves a highly unusual blackmail scheme, a search for a lost film and the quest for a missing script.

Later segments deal with a clever terrorist who's out to stop a film's production, deadly secrets and a major wildfire.

Stylistically, this new crime novel is easy to read, with more than 180 short chapters and snappy dialogue.
Spurts of unexpected violence towards the end are a bit jolting; some transitions are not as smooth as in the earlier parts of the novel. The conclusion is complicated but satisfying; it's not completely believable but still highly entertaining.

Weisenfeld deftly captures much of the underlying craziness in Hollywood, dealing with a wide assortment of greedy filmmakers, studio executives, worn-out actors and actresses, nasty thugs and wannabe movie stars.

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, November 27, 2011.