Henry Kisor’s first mystery novel, Season’s Revenge, was a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law. A resident of northern Minnesota she found it in her local bookstore. Living here in Ohio, I was unaware of the book or the author. For some reason, book stores assume that only people who live in certain regions can relate to mysteries set in the north woods.
I am glad she gifted me with such a present because not only have I enjoyed his books (see here and here) but I have enjoyed our Q&A’s (here and here) and his blog. This is the perfect example of word of mouth advertising at work.
I bring this up because Kisor’s latest novel, Cache of Corpses, has recently been released and it would make a great Christmas present for any mystery fans on your list.
Cache is the third in a series featuring Deputy Steve Martinez a Lakota Indian who was raised by a Methodist preacher in upstate New York but who found a home and a career in Upper Peninsula Michigan.
The “cache” of the title is a play on the hook for the novel’s plot: the modern-day treasure hunt hobby of geocaching. When Martinez finds a headless body wrapped in a plastic bag he has no idea that it will connect him to this burgeoning hobby and prove to be one of his most difficult, and dangerous, cases yet. But as further clues, and corpses, are found it becomes clear that someone has turned this technological sport into a deadly game. To further complicate matters, Martinez is running for sheriff against his old boss Eli Garrow. This is not the best time to have bodies piling up and an unresolved case ripe for gossip.
I will confess that I have a soft spot for the characters and setting of Kisor’s mysteries. I have Native American roots and, having been born and raised in Michigan, have spent some memorable summers in the UP. But regardless of whether you know anything about the area, or have any connection to it, the Upper Peninsula makes for an interesting setting and Kisor makes the most of it.
As Marilyn Stasio noted in her mention in the New York Times:
With so many American novelists grasping for terrorist plot angles to make the crimes on their turf seem less parochial, it’s a relief to turn to a bona fide regionalist like Henry Kisor, who writes with compassion and humor about the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a place that’s cash-poor but rich in character.
[. . .]
Kisor develops the mystery with expertise while working the political race for some nice laughs. But he really hooks us with his whimsy-free descriptions of life — from wedding dances and town-hall debates to the dead-end future seen in the eyes of a high-school dropout — in this beautiful but economically depressed region.
Stasio really gets to the heart of what makes these mysteries enjoyable. Kisor blends a creative and well done mystery with an exploration of the habits and culture of a little known region of the country. It is clear the author – who spends his summers in the region – really cares about the characters and the setting and wants to bring it to life for the reader. This inspires, I believe, the “compassion and humor” Stasio rightfully notes.
Kisor also explores the issues of identity and community through his lead character’s interaction with the residents of Porcupine County. As in the previous books, Martinez continues to deal with the fact that although his appearance is that of a Lakota Indian his perspective is more often that of his white protestant upbringing. He struggles with both the often unfair, or even racist, expectations and reactions of others and his own self-doubt and conflicting emotions. Running for political office provides an interesting sub-plot but also another angle with which to explore these larger themes.
No one will mistake Kisor’s books for thrillers. His style is more laid back and comfortable. But the skill with which he weaves his stories, the care he takes in developing his characters, and the love he has for the setting, and the resulting insight and detail, all make his mysteries enjoyable reads. There is a “realness” for lack of a better term, that he brings to the mystery genre that makes it at once comfortable but almost educational – not in a dry and academic sense but in an exciting and interesting sense. Kisor’s innate curiosity and good nature come through and cause his characters to come alive.
So if you have a mystery lover on your Christmas list, or if you are looking for something other than another paint-by-number thriller/mystery, check out Cache of Corpses and Henry Kisor. I have a feeling that, like me, you won’t be disappointed.