I just finished Spencerville by Nelson DeMille–read the final words yesterday at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, waiting to catch my flight back to D.C. A reader of this website had recommended it, on the grounds that the climactic scene takes place in Michigan’s Montmorency County, which is where I spend a part of each summer. That’s all I needed to hear.
I’d read a couple of DeMille books previously: Cathedral (which was excellent) and Plum Island (which was entertaining). Spencerville is expertly paced, but it’s also one of those books in which nagging questions are always floating to the surface: Would the hero really act this way? Could a police chief actually get away with a certain type of behavior? And so on. I enjoyed the book, but what really kept me going was the anticipated payoff of a violent clash in the woods of Montmorency County.
It came at the end, on the shores of Grey Lake, which I’m pretty sure is fictional though Michigan has so many lakes it’s hard to be certain. The bulk of the book takes place in small-town Ohio. At the end, however, the characters drive north. They eventually go through Atlanta (pop. 757). One of my cats comes from Atlanta. We got him at the animal shelter there. His name is Pete, which is short for Petoskey.
DeMille doesn’t say a lot about Up North–he’s all about pushing the story forward. But he does make this observation: “This was a spectacular piece of the world, but it was very far removed from Michigan’s other recreational areas. … It occurred to him that, for people used to the endless horizon and big blue sky of farm country, this place must feel claustrophobic and nearly spooky, and it was probably hell in the winter.”
When it comes to popular fiction set in northern Michigan, I recommend Steve Hamilton and Bryan Gruley. But I’ll also keep my copy of Spencerville nearby.
Atlanta, Mich., in 1949: