Let me explain.
In 1835 there was a skirmish between the powerful senators from Ohio and the boy-governor of the Michigan territory. Both parties wanted the southern strip of land at the base of the mitten. The senators won, of course, but Michigan was awarded the consolation prize of the Upper Peninsula.
I think we got the best end of that deal.
The U.P., in particular the Keweenaw Peninsula, a spar of land that pokes into frigid Lake Superior, is a weird and quirky place. During the long, long winter it sustains hundreds of inches of snowfall. The first part of the short-short summer brings swarms of blackflies and mosquitoes who thrive around the fresh water of the Great Lakes. There are few jobs, more deer than people and, thanks to the copper mining boom that ended nearly a century ago, there are leftover mine shafts, ghost towns and elegant edifices like the gothic cathedral in Calumet.
A large percentage of the folks who live there are descendants of Finnish copper miners and the Finnish influence is strong in the close-knit community. They are kind and generous to tourists and loyal to each other and their home. It is an awesome place to visit and, I decided, it is an awesome place to use as the setting for a mystery series.
In the first book, A STITCH IN CRIME, Hatti Lehtinen, recently separated from her Ojibwe husband, has returned home to run her stepfather’s bait shop. She, her sister, cousin and another friend form a knitting circle and she decides to sell yarn supplies along with worms and she changes “Carl’s bait Shop” to “Bait & Stitch.”
When her stepfather, the police chief, is injured in a hit-and-run snowmobile accident, the town’s funeral director and Grand Pooh bah, Arvo Maki, asks Hatti to step in as temporary, acting. Hatti is completely unqualified to be a law officer but folks in tiny Red Jacket are accustomed to wearing more than one hat and Arvo assures her she’ll be called on to do nothing more onerous than trying to pry the coins out of the frozen parking meters on Main Street. But Arvo is wrong. On the night before the Christmas Festival, Pikkujoulu, after he discovers the body of the reigning St. Lucy on the floor of his sauna, he pleads with Hatti to find out who killed the girl and why, not an easy task when she’s known most of the suspects all her life.
I think small towns make the most interesting settings for stories because just like in a large family, there are always tangled relationships and complicated relationships involved.
Lenny Bruce once said that he hated small towns because once you’ve seen the cannon in the park, there’s nothing left to do. I guess he forgot about love, marriage, betrayal and murder.