Friday, October 21, 2011

Murder in the Keweenaw by Harley L. Sachs

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Format: Kindle Edition
• File Size: 265 KB
• Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
• Price: $4.99
• ASIN: B003Z4K530

This Kindle reading is still pretty new to me, but when I browsed for e-books recently, I was intrigued to find one that took place in my favorite northern haunt and one-time residence—the Keweenaw Peninsula, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For a few bucks, it was mine.

The story of Murder in Keweenaw opens with a view into the life of a semi-retired CIA agent, written as a first person narrative, having a midlife crisis and retreating to a camp in the Keweenaw to regain his bearings. Eino, or E. J. Carlson, fits the Keweenaw demographic well. He comes of a Finnish heritage, although was born locally, in the small town of Lake Linden, on the Keweenaw Bay.

E. J. is recently divorced; his ex-wife Sonja has returned to her native Finland and taken their son, Jan Erik, with her. E. J. is brooding over the loss of his family and now lives in this small camp (what U.P. residents, or Yoopers, call cabins and cottages) in Jacobsville, spending quiet days coping with nightmares, the aftermath of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) as a result of his work as an agent, and fishing. His boat is a 22-foot sloop named SISU, Finnish for courage and an expression of Finnish pride.

While on one of his fishing trips, E. J. snags not a big fish—but a corpse. He fishes out of Lake Superior what turns out to be the dead body of a girl with a bullet hole in her back. He calls in the Coast Guard for help, reports to the local police, but can’t resist the pull of his own curiosity and tries to find out the girl’s identity and the reason for her death.

What follows is some fun background description of the area. At least for me, as a former resident and now frequent traveler in the area, I recognized most all the places and establishments named, including Lindell’s ice cream parlor in Lake Linden, where I once was hired for my first waitressing job and, happily, was fired two days later because I couldn’t stomach the boss’s directive to just dunk the dishes in a greasy sinkful of water rather than actually wash them. I just couldn’t seem to do it. But I transgress …

One thing leads to another, one clue to the next, and E. J. notes what he calls a “McMansion” that has been built near the Keweenaw Bay as an oddity. Yoopers don’t build mansions. One of the draws of the area is its return to a simpler life, a respect for wilderness. The McMansion exudes wealth, and in the U.P., wealth sticks out like a sore thumb. On closer inspection, and in line with a meeting on the water with the sexy inhabitant of a yacht, Roxy, E. J. discovers a porn business flourishing inside. Pretending to be a local offering his help, which in fact he is, E. J. ends up with an invitation to a party, where he observes porn videos being shot, and two Moldavian girls looking lost and afraid—they turn out to be a part of the sex slave trade now so epidemic in the United States.

“If these two women were illegal imports for the sex trade, no wonder they were nervous … I know now that the international sex trade traffics in thousands of women, twenty thousand to the United States alone, and even more to countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Girls looking for work respond to newspaper ads for waitresses and housekeepers, jobs in foreign countries that turn out to be brothels. The destitute are exploited in this gruesome slavery and in countries like Indonesia desperate families even sell their children to brothels that cater to pedophiles.”

E. J. pretends interest in the goings-on of the mansion on the bay in order to solve the mystery of the dead girl. When the rich men who run the operation offer him a free taste of more than just what’s on the barbeque grill, asking him if he is familiar with Hugh Hefner parties, he responds:

“'I saw it once on television,’ I said. I didn’t add that it was a lot of old men in their sixties and seventies surrounded by pneumatic groupies young enough to be their daughters or even granddaughters. The television broadcast was ostensibly a biography of Hugh Hefner, but the absence of women his own age made the scene ludicrous. It was the fantasy of adolescents who never grow up and think they are god’s gift to women. Did the men think they were attractive to those girls? The girls were all playmates or wannabes who would do anything to be the next magazine centerfold. Did they have any talent, I wondered? Or were they simply exposing themselves for profit? … the girls with their t*ts on page three had eyes reminding me of sheep. Dumb.”

And then, E. J., while solving the mystery, accepts the favors of Roxy with her implants. Perhaps more than one sheep in this pasture.

So the author and his character delve into the dark recesses of a dark industry—of girls and women coerced into work that can kill their spirit, their self-esteem, and perhaps even take their lives. The topic is timely and deserving of coverage. The book is reasonably well written and reads quickly, if with the occasional annoyance of the name “Erik” being inserted into “AmErika” and wherever else it might fit. I don’t know what the author’s idea is by doing that—a secret nod to someone named Erik?—but for my editor’s eye, it was each and every time a jarring distraction from the storyline.

The author, Harley Sachs, is a former resident of Houghton, at the base of the Keweenaw. He is the author of many books, most of which are mysteries, and most if not all of which appear to be self-published. He is also the creator of a board game named Police State.


1 comment:

Harley L. Sachs said...

Author's explanation: the problem with Amerik happened when I sometimes spelled it eric and sometimes Erik and used a global find and replace, which interfered with "America". Thanks for noting that. I'll fix it.
The book is dedicted to the memory of Glen, a local from Gay, Michigan, who was a CIA agent in Finland, married a Finnish aristocrat who divoced him and took their two boys to Finland. Glen later committed suicide. We shared a common experience as ex-agents. It's an odd brotherhood.