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."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The ARCs are here

Advance Reading Copies, that is. These are paperbound uncorrected galley proofs that are sent out well ahead of publication date (December 16 in this case) to review media, library venues and the like. Their arrival is a regular milestone in the life of a new book, and the beginning of hopes that it will be widely noticed—and bought. For more info, visit henrykisor.com.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Radio-controlled flight

After a heart attack and ensuing triple bypass in 2009, I sold my little Cessna 150 two-seater and hung up the goggles and scarf. The impulse to fly, however, never quite left me, and last year I gave in to it by taking up radio controlled model aircraft, and now I go out and fly them at every opportunity.

The aurhor and his Apprentice S 15e training airplane.
(Photo by Deborah Abbott)
There was no need, of course, to relearn the principles of flight. On a much smaller scale, R/C airplanes obey the laws of aerodynamics in the same way as the real thing.

Piloting a model plane from the ground, however, is completely different from flying a grownup aircraft, and the learning process is tricky, strenuous and full of crashes. 

It’s easy enough, for instance, to guide an airplane from the ground while it’s flying away from you. 

When it’s flying toward you, though, things are backwards. When the plane starts to drift to your left (or right, from the plane’s point of view), your pilot’s muscle memory wants to counter the turn by telling your thumb to push the joystick to the right, in the opposite direction. But that just makes the plane sharpen the existing left turn. Quickly you’ve got to push the stick to your left. The resulting maneuver—first sashaying to the right and then pulling sharply to the left—looks like drunken overcorrection.

There’s also the size of control inputs. In a real airplane, using hands and wrists to push and pull the stick or turn the yoke is measured in inches. In a model airplane, thumb inputs on the joysticks of the transmitter are measured in millimeters. Micromillimeters, even.

A sharp turn in a real airplane requires back tension on the stick, using the elevator to keep the banking airplane from sliding downward in obedience to gravity. Soon your arms learn the right amount of pull so that the airplane neither gains nor loses altitude in a turn.

With a model plane, on the other hand, accustoming your thumb to a turn takes a lot—a lot!—of practice before you learn to avoid an upward or downward spiral.

I suppose it’s my advanced age, but it took me many, many flights finally to master the radio-controlled turn. It took many crashes, too, but fortunately the training airplane I use is built of foam and is easily fixed with a little epoxy glue. Eventually the airplane looked as if it had been run through a wood chipper and I recently replaced some important and much-repaired parts, such as the fuselage, wings and tailfeathers.

Those weren’t expensive at all, less than half the price of a new airplane. Radio-controlled model flying is a lot cheaper than the real thing. (And you get to walk away from a crash.)

I won’t claim that radio-controlled flying from the ground gives a pilot the same airborne exultation of soaring aloft through three dimensions. But learning those new ropes has given me the same satisfaction in accomplishing a fresh new venture that acquiring a private pilot’s license did.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

At last, the cover

The jacket for Tracking the Beast, coming from Five Star Mysteries on December 16, is at last ready, and the book is available for advance order on both Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

It's the fifth Steve Martinez mystery and is set, as the others are, in a fictional place called Porcupine County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Five Star publishes primarily for libraries, so don't look for it at brick-and-mortar bookshops. Rather, Amazon and other online booksellers will be selling it to the public.

For more descriptive information, visit my website at henrykisor.com.

Monday, June 1, 2015

December 16

That's the official pub date for Tracking the Beast, the fifth Steve Martinez novel. And that means I'll have to arrange library talks and signings in January and thereafter: two or so down in the Chicago area, half a dozen in Upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin. Writing a book is only half the task; the rest is getting out there and selling it.