I stumbled on Henry Kisor and his character Steve Martinez in Northern Minnesota while visiting my in-laws. Which seems appropriate since the Steve Martinez novels are set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which share much with its neighbor rural northern Minnesota.
Over a dozen years later and I am still reading Kisor (who retired from his role as the Chicago Sun-Times book editor and columnist to spend half the year in the UP) and he is still writing Steve Martinez novels. The act of getting his books published has been a challenge but the stories continue to entertain.
The most recent novel, The Riddle of Billy Gibbs, came out in November but I wanted to get caught up by reviewing Tracking the Beast which I neglected when I read it last June.
Here is a plot teaser:
When the remains of three little girls turn up inside railroad hopper cars, Sheriff Steve Martinez faces a troublesome case, for the cars had sat for years on a siding deep inside his beloved Porcupine County. After Steve and his comrades do the spadework, the FBI moves in, thinking their Unsub is both rapist and murderer. But Steve believes the killer or killers instead hired someone to dispose of the bodies. With the help of lawmen of all kinds, including the Ontario Provincial Police, and even Detroit mobsters, Steve doggedly tracks the Beast.
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.
He uses the hook, in this case railroad hopper cars as a place to dispose of bodies, and turns it into an exploration of that world. For this book that means trains and their enthusiasts or “foamers.” But it also involves a tour of the coast of Lake Superior and the involvement of a number of law enforcement agencies state, local, national and international.
Kisor doesn’t offer fast paced thrillers or literary creations that explore the internal lives of their characters but intricately plotted and engaging mysteries that highlight a unique part of the country. Even though Kisor is not a former police officer or detective, You get the sense that you understand law enforcement and crime solving better when you finish his books. You understand what it takes to collect information, weigh clues, use your gut, and work together with others to find out what happened, as best you can, and compile the evidence needed to solve a crime.
You also get the perspective of the folks rarely on the mind of the so called coastal elites, those living in sparsely populated northern midwest. For Steve Martinez and his team, his longterm gal Ginny, and the other residents of Porcupine County the benefits of living in the UP outweigh the challenges.
Having gotten to know Steve and his world it is easy reading to slip back into that world and watch as he tackles the latest mystery (while juggling the politics of being a county sheriff not to mention a relationship).
In the minds of publishers Kisor may only be a regional mystery writer but I am glad he has continued to find a way to share his stories (more on that in the next review). If you or someone you know enjoys police procedurals with a unique setting and style, I recommend Kisor’s Steve Martinez series. As an added bonus, Kindle users can grab them for less than $4 each.