Monday, October 17, 2011

Force of Blood: A Woods Cop Mystery by Joseph Heywood

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Hardcover: 384 pages
• Publisher: Lyons Press (September 1, 2011)
• Price: $24.95
• ISBN-10: 0762772840
• ISBN-13: 978-0762772841

Couple days prior to writing this review, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing on air the author, Joe Heywood, at Kalamazoo, Michigan’s WMUK radio station, the local NPR affiliate. Am I now too star-struck to write an unbiased review? Nah. I’m convinced the author is fully as tough (and as entertaining, and with the same spicy sense of humor) as his main character, DNR detective Grady Service, the woods cop of Heywood’s now eight-book mystery series. He can take it.

Z and author Joseph Heywood at WMUK studios
My bias is of a different kind. I was born with a compass embedded inside me, I’m sure of it by now. It always points north and that’s increasingly the only direction I seem to comfortably travel. Heywood’s series is set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the woods cops in the books solve their mysteries in the thick woods and breathtakingly beautiful wilderness of the U.P. That’s why I picked up the first in the series, Ice Hunter (2001), in the first place. I don’t read mysteries. I do read all things U.P.

That bias could have worked against Heywood, actually. I expect the author of stories set in my beloved U.P. to do them right. Describe those surroundings accurately, capture the life sense of the “Yooper” truthfully, bring vividly alive that unique northern territory I have known since childhood. He did.

And in the newest of the series, Force of Blood, he has—again. The story opens in the Mackinac area, that point between Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas, in 2007. It’s a time when the economy is running thin, and funding for state jobs such as those of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is no exception. As jobs are cut, those dedicated to their work sometimes find themselves working without pay—and so Grady Service takes on a favor for a friend, checking out the unethical handling of Native American artifacts on the shores of Lake Superior.

From there, the story takes off at top speed. As he does throughout the series, Heywood keeps the reader turning pages (or clicking forward furiously on their Kindles) as fast as possible, no turning back. It’s the kind of book you read standing in line, waiting in the waiting room (irritated when it’s finally your turn), on your lunch break, propped against your plate.

Grady Service is a sharp, by now slightly aging, cop who loves walking his woodsy beat, no matter how high he rises in the ranks. He’s tough but fair, a man of integrity. His ongoing relationship with his arch enemy, Limpy Allerdyce, Yooper savvy criminal and delightfully colorful character, is a treat. Once again, Limpy helps him solve the mystery, along with a long list of other memorable characters. As usual, their names are hilarious (Heywood told me he gets many of these gems out of U.P. telephone books): Jane Rain, Belphoebe Cheke, Tuesday Friday, Lacey Lucey, Delmure Arcton Toliver, Flin Yardley, Odetta Trevillyan, Karylanne Pengelly, Ladania Wingel, Luticious Treebone, Persia Hunger, Crispin Franti, Marldeane Youvonne Brannigan, Godfroi Delongshamp, Summer Rose Genova, Honeypat, Zhenya Leukonovich, Ozzien Shotwiff, a cat called Cat, and on it goes.

Yet for all the laughs—oddball names, witty Grady Service lines, hilarious scenarios (a woods cop partner who paints her own WHAT?)—the topics can also get serious. The title, Force of Blood, alludes to the call in our blood to be who we really are. Call it genetics, call it cultural upbringing, call it being in touch with our innermost selves, but no matter what you do to a person to bury their personal reality, it will still win out in the end. In this case, the force of blood refers to Native Americans, who have historically been repressed and mistreated by the white man, sometimes forced to abandon their own language and traditions, yet will always bounce back in accordance to their truth. This particular story is about how to protect and handle the artifacts of an ancient culture.

Also of note in the storyline is how the DNR handles a 20,000-acre-wide sudden forest fire. It’s fascinating to read how such an emergency is handled, how quickly fire spreads, how people respond each in their own way.

My only gripe about the entire series is the usual love interest Service entertains. There’s always one—or several. This is where the well-researched reality of the woods cop adventures takes a detour, as these women tend to be, well, what one unfortunately expects from too many mystery/detective series—the stereotypical hot female with only one thing on her mind. Indeed, it almost seems that Grady Service has only one conversation with any of his women, even though they are said to be educated and smart and could surely enjoy relationships of broader scope. Each one seems identical to the others. At least Service’s relationship with his granddaughter has greater range.

Watch for other fun moments in this book, such as a surprise appearance of the author himself crossing paths with Grady Service. Drool-worthy pages appear again when Service enters the kitchen. He’s quite the cook. But it’s Service’s honing in on his target that will keep us coming back for more, and more, and more. If there are hints in this book that the woods cop is thinking about retirement, we hope it’s not too soon. Not for at least several more books …

Joseph Heywood is a resident of Portage, Michigan, but regularly spends many months of the year in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, riding along with woods cops as research for his books. He also writes poetry and nonfiction, and paints.

A short story by Joseph Heywood will appear in the Fall/Winter 2011-2012 Issue of The Smoking Poet.

1 comment:

tinygeezer said...

I've had a great time reading all of Joe's books, starting with "The Berkut" and into the Woods Cop series. I wasn't sure I'd like a series about the UP DNR cops since I have little familiarity. But, then again, most of my detective novel favorites are in settings far beyond my own. Silly me. If Joe could hook me into reading about Adolf Hitler and a cat-and-mouse game involving an international cast and a wow of a finish, then I had to grab on to something set in my home state. Can't wait to catch up with Grady again.