Cache of Corpses
By Henry Kisor
Forge, 300 pages, $24.95
I never had the chance to work for Henry Kisor during the 28 years he was book editor of the Sun-Times, but I heard enough about him from friends to make me wish I had. Luckily for us all, his retirement has turned into a fiction feast set in a part of the world I knew nothing about -- Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- where Steve Martinez is deputy sheriff of a place called Porcupine City.
A Lakota Sioux orphan raised by white Methodists in upstate New York, Martinez drifted into Porcupine City after the first Persian Gulf war and felt immediately at home. He likes the Yoopers (residents of the Upper Peninsula) and especially the Porkies, the Porcupine City folk whose welfare and protection is largely his job now that entrenched Sheriff Eli Garrow has decided to spend less time in the office, except on payday. (Garrow has also appointed his wife jail matron and taken the police department's new snowmobile as a personal plaything. But, as Martinez tells us, "those peccadilloes have been long forgotten. . . . [W]hile such niggardly nest feathering could cost a politician an election, it's not worth an indictment."
That's why Martinez has decided to run for sheriff, driving his boss crazy. A shy man ("I still retain an Indian tendency to hide my light under a bushel"), he nevertheless feels Porkies deserve a better lawman. And despite the fact that a couple of his recent cases have made headlines ("Season's Revenge" and "A Venture Into Murder" tell those stories), Martinez's election is no certainty. For one thing, there is his obviously Indian face: Most locals can't tell the difference between him and the Ojibwas whose casinos and government benefits are a source of irritation.
"Cache of Corpses" begins with the discovery in what was known as the Dying Room of the local Poor Farm (by two young police officers looking for a place to have sex) of a headless, handless human female body sealed in a plastic bag marked with an incomprehensible bar code. With his best friend and campaign manager, State Police forensics expert Alex Kolehmainen, Martinez tries to solve the case before it becomes cold. Then a smart, cocky 12-year-old Ojibwa boy, the foster son of Martinez's almost-too-good-to-be-true lady friend (secretly wealthy, beautiful, mature, adept at research), takes one look at the bar code and decides they should try it backward.
The story becomes more complicated when a popular Internet sport called geocaching appears. "Geocaching is the outdoor sport in which people hide treasures, mark their locations with GPS receivers, then post the coordinates on the Internet -- and other players read the postings and hunt the treasures with their own GPSes," Kisor says on his blog. "TeamObbie1, a husband-and-wife pair in Northern Virginia, stashed 'Cache of Corpses' at the geographic location N 39 02.700 W 077 30.115, which happens to be a public library in Loudoun County. It was an 'event cache,' a meeting of the Northern Virginia Geocaching Organization, at which TeamObbie1 'released' the book into the wild. At the event another cacher found the book and took it home, then posted his discovery on Geocaching.com."
Where else can you learn about this stuff -- or find out what an open wedding is? (See page 47 for details.) Kisor, who lives in Evanston, must get up to Michigan often enough to soak himself in its unique environment and habits. And did I mention that he also knows how to tell a great mystery story with style and grace?
Dick Adler reviews crime fiction for BN.com, Publishers Weekly, The Rap Sheet and his own blog, theknowledgeableblogger.blogspot.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun