Book Report: New novel mixes history with espionage

by Dave Wood

Tom Nash seemingly has it made. He’s a retired British spy.  He lives on the Cote D’Azur, the French Riviera, hobnobs with artists and writers and expatriates like Gerald and Sara Murphy. His reckless days as a secret agent seem well behind him and he’s so confident that he’s out of thewoods he leaves his Beretta revolver locked up in a desk drawer.

Then one night someone tries to kill him. Who might that be. It’s 1935 and the world is working its way to another war, with Nazis and Communists and everything in between plying their spycraft in the most unlikely places.

It’s all told in “House of the Haunted,” by Mark Mills (Random House, $26). Mills, who lives in Oxford, England, won the British Crème Writers’ Association Memorial Dagger award for his first novel, “Amagansett.”

It’s easy to see why after a romp through “House of the Haunted” as Mills mixes history with espionage.

For an inexpensive trip to one of Wisconsin’s premier tourist sites, read “The Baileys Harbor Bird and Booyah Club,” by Dave Crehore (University of Wisconsin Press, $19.95). Crehore, a longtime resident of northeastern Wisconsin and retired writer and photogapher for  the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has captured the spirit of Door County in fictional form.

Although his new book reads like a documentary of the goings on in Door County in the off- as well as the on-season, it’s actually made up of characters created by Crehore.  The focal point is the courtship, marriage and life of George and Helen O’Malley, who grew up in Door County, moved on to Chicago, then returned to their natal place upon retirement.

When they were kids the hordes of tourists had not discovered Door County, so the O’Malleys were shocked to learn of the current real estate values and found they couldn’t afford to buy a conventional retirement home.  Instead, they purchased an abandoned tavern on an obscure lake called “Coot” and settle in for the duration of their lives.

Of course they have neighbors, like Hans Berge, a psychiatrist from Chicago and “Bump” Olson who makes his living pumping septic tanks. The various neighbors have beer parties, Thanksgiving potlucks, eat pizza topped with codfish, attend class reunions and generally have a swell time, angle to catch Marilyn “a buxom eight-pound smallmouth bass.”

Crehore’s book gave me a welcome taste of what life is like in that beautiful neighborhood when the tourists leave and return to Chicago where they belong.

Editor’s note: Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. 

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