The Great Lakes region of Canada and the US is large, ranging from eastern Minnesota on the west, to western New York on the east. It ranges as far north as Thunder Bay, Ontario, and as far south as Cleveland, Ohio. With links among the lakes, and several deep-water ports, it’s no surprise that this region includes such large cities as Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, and Buffalo.
One post couldn’t possibly do justice to all of the crime fiction that takes place in that region, especially if you consider all of the major metropolitan areas. Setting the big cities aside for the moment (after all, that would be too easy!), it’s interesting to see the sorts of crime novels that the region has inspired. Here’s just a quick peek at it.
Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight is a PI who used to be a Detroit police officer. A shootout left him with a bullet in his chest, so he left the force. He now lives in Paradise, Michigan, a small town on the state’s Upper Peninsula, not far from the Sault St. Marie (Soo) area, where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet. He lives in one of a group of cabins left to him by his father, and rents the others to hunters, boaters, fishers, and campers. It’s a rural area, where people tend to know each other. Fans of the series will know that McKnight’s got several friends and acquaintances who figure into the stories. And what’s interesting about this series is that, in several novels, the cases he investigates involve cross-border travel. Crimes such as smuggling, of course, don’t really have borders, so it makes sense that McKnight spends his share of time in rural Ontario as well as rural northern Michigan.
The ‘P.J. Parrish’ writing team’s Dead of Winter sees their sleuth, Louise Kincaid, travel to Loon Lake, Michigan, not far from Lake Huron, to take up a new job. It’s the sort of place that attracts summer boaters, hunters, and fishers (both in the summer and during ice fishing season). He’s been hired to replace a Loon Lake police officer who was shot a few weeks earlier. His boss, Brian Gibraltar, gives Kincaid permission to continue investigating the murder of his predecessor, Thomas Pryce, so Kincaid starts work on the case. Then, the body of a former police officer, Fred Lovejoy, is found frozen under the ice of the lake. Now, it seems that someone may be targeting police officers. As Kincaid looks more deeply into these murders, he learns that Pryce was keeping secrets, and he wasn’t the only one. In the end, Kincaid finds that these deaths are related to an older case – something no-one wants to discuss. There’s mounting pressure on him from both inside and outside the police force to leave everything alone. But he persists, and eventually discovers the truth.
Another Loon Lake, this one in Wisconsin, is the setting for Victoria Houston’s series featuring Loon Lake Chief of Police Llewellyn ‘Lew” Ferris and retired dentist, Dr. Paul ‘Doc’ Osborne. Beginning with Dead Angler, the series features the fishing and sometimes hunting culture of this part of northern Wisconsin. It’s a rural area that’s within two or so hours of both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. These novels aren’t what you’d call ‘frothy,’ or even exactly ‘cosy’ mysteries. They’re a little grittier than that. But at the same time, they’re not gory or particularly explicit. Rather, they’re more traditional whodunits with a strong sense of their rural Great Lakes settings. That makes sense, too, as Houston is a native of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, which is about two and a half hours from Lake Michigan, and less than two hours from Lake Superior.
Seneca Falls, New York, is about 45 minutes from Lake Ontario. It’s the setting for Miriam Grace Monfredo’s historical (mid-19th Century) mystery series featuring Seneca Falls librarian Glynis Tryon. While Seneca Falls isn’t a large city (fewer than 10,000 people live there), it’s been a nexus for a lot of historical events, and Monfredo explores them in this series. For instance, in Seneca Falls Inheritance, the first in the series, the issues of women’s suffrage is an important plot point. And that makes sense, since the first US women’s rights convention was held there in 1848. That issue comes up in other novels, too. So does the famous ‘underground railroad,’ which spirited many slaves to freedom during the period. This series also includes a look at some of the Native American/First Nations people who first lived in the Lake Ontario area.
The Great Lakes region also includes parts of Ontario, and Giles Blunt’s John Cardinal series gives readers a look at that part of the region. Cardinal is a detective with the Algonquin Bay Police Department. Algonquin Bay is fictional, but it is based on real-life North Bay, Ontario, which is about two hours from Lake Huron. More than once in the series, there are references to Lake Superior and Lake Huron, and the settings for the novels have the distinct ‘feel’ of that part of Ontario.
There’s definitely something appealing about the Great Lakes region. Some of the finest scenery, fishing, hunting, boating and getting-away-from-it-all is available there. But the weather can be dangerous, and it can be a long time between people. And, if you read enough crime fiction, anything can happen there…
ps. Thanks, Pixabay, for the lovely ‘photo of Lake Erie!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.