One brilliant writer I know who used to be a major sports columnist keeps telling me he has
two novels in mind. This is someone who wrote four smart, densely literate columns a week at a
minimum of 1,000 words each, for years. Try it some time, it ain’t easy. After Rupert
Murdoch bought the paper he worked for, he decamped to Hollywood and became a top TV
writer-producer. But he has yet to write those novels. When I ask him why, he says it’s because
novels are the toughest test of literary merit.
Which brings me to Henry Kisor, another writer I know, whose first
mystery novel, “Season’s Revenge,” is just out. I finished
reading it the other night in one pleasurable gulp, and I have to agree that even a genre novel is
some kind of test — maybe the toughest test.
Kisor has been good before. As a journalist he’s been a Pulitzer Prize finalist in criticism. As a
non-fiction author, he’s written “Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America” and “Flight
of the Gin Fizz: Midlife at 4,500 Feet.”
I especially loved his memoir, “What’s
That Pig Outdoors?,” about how he grew up deaf with hearing
parents and how he made both his life and career in the hearing world.
Modest to a fault, he recently told an interviewer: “The tools of a
mystery writer are very much like those of a journalist except that journalists of course can’t
invent things, while mystery writers must.”
For “Season’s Revenge,” about the murder of an eccentric millionaire in Michigan’s Upper
Peninsula, Kisor invented an unusual mystery-novel hero: Deputy Sheriff Steve Martinez, who
shares something of the author’s outsider status. He’s a man caught between cultural identities.
Martinez isn’t deaf, but he is a Native American of Lakota descent who was adopted by white
missionaries and who grew up in a white world. Martinez doesn’t usually think of himself as
Native American until he’s reminded by others, largely because of his looks and their
Kisor’s development of that theme in Martinez’s dual sense of himself, along with the rich
detail he brings to the story, sets “Season’s Revenge” apart. It not only creates the sort of
suspense that kept me turning pages, it paints an authentic portrait of life in rural America. Kisor
also inserted the subplot of a budding romance, rather deftly handling the sex, and entertained me
with a lot of natural lore about bears in the northern woods (especially whether a bear can be used
as a murder weapon).
In fact, there are so many colorful characters living in fictional Porcupine County that I didn’t
want to let them go. I wished I could stick around after the mystery was solved just to see what
happens to them. Apparently Kisor had the same idea. He says he’s planning a series
of Porcupine County mystery novels with Martinez at the heart of
them and is already onto the next one.