Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Another favorable review

Publishers Weekly checks in on Tracking the Beast:

In Kisor’s nicely plotted fifth mystery featuring Sheriff Stephen Two Crow Martinez of Porcupine County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (after 2013’s Hang Fire), someone is murdering preteen girls and disposing of their bodies in disused railroad cars. Det. Sgt. Alex Kolehmainen of the Michigan State Police alerts Martinez to the first body. Since the search for additional victims is difficult given that a single town stores hundreds of railroad cars, Martinez calls on the local tribal police and other agencies for help. While the FBI assumes nominal control of the cases, Jack Adamson, the special agent in charge in Detroit, wants Kolehmainen and Martinez to continue investigating. The work is slow and meticulous, but it’s Martinez who helps identify a suspect by following him on the Circle Tour of Lake Superior and then adapting a famous WWII ruse to flush out the killer. Kisor’s intimate, appreciative view of the sparsely populated, richly historic Upper Peninsula is a plus. (Dec.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015


The Hoosier State. Note the full-length dome car behind the locomotive. 
Photo courtesy Indiana Dept. of Transportation.
Quite some time has passed since I last posted a piece about riding a train. That was because I hadn't ridden any new trains in quite some time. Last week I did at last: I took the Hoosier State between Chicago and Lafayette, Indiana, just for the hell of it.

The Hoosier State is an unusual train for Amtrak. Its locomotives and cars, done up in attractive orange-and-brown livery reminiscent of the old Illinois Central during its heyday, are owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings, an outfit best known for luxury cars coupled to Amtrak trains and booked for luxury prices. The train, subsidized by the state of Indiana, runs four days a week 196 miles between Chicago and Indianapolis on the days that Amtrak's three-day-a-week long-distance Cardinal from Chicago to New York doesn't run.

Amtrak provides engineers and conductors as well as the tickets, but the service crew is from Iowa Pacific. (Tickets on the Hoosier State, by the way, cost no more than they do on the Cardinal.)

And so I decided to take a joyride just to see what the Hoosier State was like, stopping at Lafayette at 10 p.m. and getting back on the return trip at 7:36 a.m. rather than detraining at Indianapolis at near midnight and reboarding at 6 a.m. Each journey ran about 3 1/2 hours.

Last week was the first week for business-class passengers, who are accommodated on the second level of a beautifully restored full-length two-story dome car from the 1950s. They're served free drinks (alcoholic, too) and meals there while coach riders can buy dinners and breakfasts in the dining area on the first level. The coaches, by the way, are also nicely refurbished former long-distance cars from the 1960s, and the seats are roomy and the legroom ample.

Business class inside the full-length dome car.
Servers wear old-fashioned white jackets.
The service, from a quintet of veterans and eager young attendants, was pleasant and efficient. While the cuisine is hardly gourmet, it's prepared fresh on the train, is served in china dishes on white tablecloths and is acceptably tasty. The bud vases on the tables contain real flowers. There's free wi-fi, too. No complaints there, none at all.

Real roses in the bud vases on the tables, something we no longer see in Amtrak dining cars.
There were just two downsides to the trip. One is that I had to spend two nights and a day in Lafayette because the return trip to Chicago skipped a day, and Lafayette, while a honest and sturdy Indiana town full of honest and sturdy Indianans, is not the Athens of the Midwest. There isn't much for a city boy to see except the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, a Victorian mishmash of six different architectural styles. It is so homely that it grows on you, and I spent a couple of hours photographing it from every angle.

The endearingly ugly Tippecanoe County Courthouse.
The other drawback is that rural northwestern Indiana offers no spectacular views from the train, unless one is a connoisseur of farmland. It didn't matter on the nighttime trip down, but on the way back the morning sun rose mainly on cows and cornstalks. (I have the same complaint about Illinois and Iowa.)

It's still dark when the northbound Hoosier State arrives in Lafayette. The consist: GP40H locomotive, two coaches, full-length dome car, coach, another GP40H.
It's hard to understand why a full-length dome car, most suitable for gorgeous mountain scenery, is employed on this boring run. Maybe it's because Iowa Pacific has one and might as well use it. That is fortunate for people who have to go to Indianapolis, especially those who can swing business class.

I'm glad I took this bucket-list trip. I'm also glad I don't have to take it again.

(Later. From time to time Amtrak safety inspectors find something wrong with an Iowa Pacific locomotive, and there apparently are no replacements, so the Hoosier State becomes a bus to Indianapolis. If you'd rather avoid "bustitution," call Amtrak the day of the trip to make sure the actual train is running.)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

First advance review

. . . and it's not bad. Kirkus Reviews says of Tracking the Beast:

"Sheriff Steve Martinez of Michigan's Upper Peninsula tackles a complex case that involves a cluster of competing law enforcement groups plus some mobsters from Detroit.
"The bones of a little girl found on a train in Omaha find their way back to the Upper Peninsula when a Nebraska lawman tracks the train car's origin to Martinez's jurisdiction, where it's been in storage until recently. Martinez has knowledge about the railroad that proves useful; he narrates in an engaging first-person voice, folding in interesting bits of local history. The case is somehow connected to the murder of an illegal immigrant named Diego. The investigation stalls at first, but a call from the FBI concerning skeletal remains found in a train yard in North Dakota, and more in Philadelphia, complicates the case. In all, the remains of three other young female victims are discovered. Enter state troopers, numerous members of the press, and FBI agents in the flesh, uncharacteristically admitting their need for assistance. Once they decide to handle the murders of the girls, they ask Martinez and his sidekick, Alex, to investigate the adult victims found in other places. A visit from alleged crime boss Dominic Benedetto brings the simmering pot to a boil. Ultimately, Martinez needs to hit the road to crack the case. On the personal front, Martinez lends a hand to ladylove Ginny Fitzgerald in convincing her son Tommy not to forgo college to work as an activist for the American Indian Movement.
"In this fifth Martinez procedural (Hang Fire, 2013, etc.), Kisor's measured yet relaxed style is a very good match for the multidimensional case."