Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Review: 'Death on Lake Michigan' by Steven Arnett

Georgia author Steven Arnett earned his degrees from Michigan State University and the University of Maine. Born in Detroit, Michigan he currently lives in Johns Creek, Georgia. To date he has published three novels – THE LABYRINTH, WINNERS AND LOSERS, THE SUMMER OF ROBERT BYRON and DEATH ON LAKE MICHIGAN.

Steven understands the importance of character building as is evident in a small excerpt from the opening of the book that introduces the mystery serving as the center of focus – ‘I’m tall and fairly handsome, which has helped me out in more ways than the obvious—in this business, women are much more willing to talk to you if you are, and men respect guys who are big even when it comes to things that have nothing to do with size. My complexion and hair are just dark enough so that people have a hard time figuring out what my nationality is: Could I be partly Mexican, or am I maybe from one of those Eastern European countries that most Americans don’t know much about? Throw in my blue eyes and last name, and people get even more confused. That’s OK, though: I like being a mystery to people. I have a moustache and hair that’s long enough to be cool but not quite long enough to offend the older adults I more or less have to get along with to get my job done. I thought it was ironic that I was having such a hard time getting out this week’s edition, which because of the Harbor Festival should have been the easiest paper to do of the whole year. I asked myself for about the millionth time why in the hell I ever applied for that job, though I knew the answer well enough, and I laughed as I reached for my coffee cup and thought how absurd it was to be drinking coffee on a day like that. I was wondering how coffee could get so cold on such a hot day when Pearson walked up. “You ready for this?” he said, taking the cigar out of his mouth. “A body washed up over at Ashley Beach. You’d better get over there and find out what the hell is going on.” “Who is it?” I said, with some concern. In a town with only 2,022 people, I couldn’t help but be afraid it would be somebody I knew. He shrugged. He was bald and wore bow ties and had a look that made you think that when he was a kid he must have been a real smart a**. “I don’t have any idea. Clara Whitman just called and said that a crowd’s formed around the body, and she thinks it’s a man. But with her eyesight it could be Marilyn Monroe. You’d better get over there. We can BS about it later.”

The plot of this engrossing mystery follows: ‘A mystery is set in a glamorous town on the shore of Lake Michigan in the summer of ’73. Mike O’Brien, once the crusading editor of the Michigan State News, now the assistant editor of the Gull Haven Observer, becomes obsessed with solving the murder of Rich Mallon, one of the most notorious and well-known summer citizens of Gull Haven—and finds love in the process. A body washes ashore late one night during the biggest party night of the year in Gull Haven. Murders are almost unheard of in this rich and trendy town, so the story is really big news—especially when it turns out that it belongs to Rich Mallon, one of the most notorious and well-known summer citizens of Gull Haven, a man who most of the locals believe was in the drug dealing business. Mike O’Brien is as fascinated about the murder as anyone and is glad to finally have a story with some meat to it to investigate. His investigation ends up becoming almost an obsession, especially as more and more leads surface about it and it becomes known that Rich Mallon was really Richard Nearing, the prodigal son of Edward Nearing, scion of a wealthy and prominent family from Chicago. As he follows up the leads in the story, he encounters an oddball and unlikely group of suspects that only deepens the mystery rather than leading closer to a solution. Who will the murderer turn out to be? Grant Fields, who rumor has it, was his partner in crime but whom he had a terrible argument with on the night Rich was killed? Could it be Becky Westworth, the beautiful and sexy but notorious woman who was Rich’s girlfriend until they had a bitter breakup just a couple of weeks before the murder? Or could it be Jack Engler, a fairly respectable young business owner in Gull Haven who has never committed a crime in his life but has hated Rich since he stole his girlfriend away from him a few months before the murder and who has been heard to say he’d like to kill Rich. Another suspect is Langdon Smith, owner of the largest fruit operation in the area, whose son died of an overdose of drugs that he always believed he got from Rich. It could even be Virginia Nearing, Rich’s elegant young stepmother whom he hated so much he hadn’t visited his father in many years but who may need to get Rich out of the way if she is going to stand any chance of inheriting her husband’s millions. With the help of the irascible Lt. George Dirkman of the Lake County sheriff’s department, Mike unravels the mystery and even finds love along the way.’

That hints at the fascinating story Steven brings to life. He has a fine sense of place and his pacing in excellent. Refreshingly, there is enough humor to make the story sail along. This is a fine novel for an exciting and entertaining summer read. Grady Harp, July 18

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.