I suppose it is appropriate that I am posting this review on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As one of the threads running through The Riddle of Billy Gibbs is the state of race relations in America; or at least in rural America and particularly Upper Peninsula Michigan.
Here is a bit of the book blurb or teaser:
When the mutilated body of a black man is found hanging from a tree in Mackinac County 275 miles away across the wild Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Porcupine County Sheriff Steve Martinez is dismayed.
His bailiwick is ninety-nine per cent white, and the victim, an army veteran, had just been acquitted by an all-white jury in the rape of a white woman. Steve had feared racial repercussions after the verdict and suspects bigotry led to the violent death of Billy Gibbs.
But a mystery surrounds the victim himself. How could an ordinary truck mechanic possess such a large bankroll? Why was he so concerned about the well-being of his brand-new, tricked-out pickup truck?
As I noted in my review of Kisor’s previous Steve Martinez mystery:
What Kisor offers is a police procedural/mystery with an interesting hook and the people, history and culture of the Upper Peninsula as a setting and important background.
In Tracking the Beast it was railroad hopper cars, in the case of Billy Gibbs it is the issue of race and a group of veterans caught up in a complicated scheme involving millions of dollars.
What keeps this from being a lecture on race disguised as a novel is Kisor’s commitment to telling the underlying story and his appreciation for the people of rural America and the unique world of Upper Peninsula Michigan.
Yes, racists neo-Nazi types are the bad guys of the story but the people of the fictional Porcupine County and the other characters are portrayed in the messy complexity of real life. This includes race and also the highly charged subject of date rape.
Kisor’s underlying view seems to be that most of these folks are not outright racists of the obvious neo-nazi type but that there is a strand of ugliness in some of these communities that can come out under stress and conflict whether legal, economic or political. Flawed human beings can be both generous and selfish; both committed to the good of the community and holders of bigoted and even ugly beliefs.
Another interesting hook is the illegal trade scheme Billy Gibbs and his fellow veterans are involved in and how they seek to get those ill gotten riches back to the US.
If you enjoy police procedurals and mysteries with lots of interlocking parts you will enjoy the way Kisor plays it all out. Multi-jurisdictional law enforcement, stake-outs, forensics, politics and community relations are all involved in solving the case. And Kisor describes the process, strategy and relationships involved; all with the unique Yooper perspective and sensibility.
The Steve Martinez novels are obviously not high-tech, continuous action thrillers, but they are interesting stories, well told. Something to keep you entertained on cold winter nights. The flavor of the UP and the cultural and political commentary weaved in adds to the enjoyment.
In addition to the Steve Martinez mystery, the book also includes an appendix on the Adventures in Self-Publishing which details Kisor journey as an author as the book market and technology have led to significant changes.
Kisor describes how, in his words,
In the authorship game, I’m like a journeyman ballplayer that bounced around the big leagues for a few years before being sent down to the minors for good.
Like his novels, it is an interesting perspective and one those interested in publishing will want to read. I am glad this path has allowed Kisor the ability to keep his books in print and keep open the possibility of his finding new readers who will enjoy the continued adventures of Steve Martinez.