The trails, towns, and natural beauty of the UP are the best-kept secrets of the Midwest and make for a unique setting, especially for mystery writers. We can't decide if it's the solitude of the thick woods, the quirky small town characters, or the legacy of Robert Traver's classic, Anatomy of a Murder, that has birthed so many murder mysteries, but the UP's literary landscape is ripe with them and we've include a few of our favorites, among other genres, below. So throw another log on the fire, wrap that flannel blanket around yourself, and take a step into the northern woods. Here are our favorite books set in or about Michigan's Upper Peninsula to read before or during your next trip.
Books Set in the UP
By Angeline Boulley
This soon-to-be Netflix series will transport you to Sault Saint Marie, MI and the nearby Ojibwe reservation where teenagers are mysteriously dying and scandals are piling up. After learning the attractive new player on her brother's hockey team is not all he appears to be, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine finds herself at the heart of an FBI investigation into a local meth ring that may be tied to the recent deaths. An excellent choice for those interested in the Eastern UP, specifically Sault Saint Marie, Sugar Island, and Paradise, and contemporary Ojibwe life.
The Marsh King's Daughter
By Karen Dionne
When the notorious child abductor known as The Marsh King kills two guards and escapes from prison, Helena knows she's the only one with the skills to find him in the vast marshes and woods of the Upper Peninsula. She also knows that as his daughter, and the reason he was put behind bars, she needs to find him before he finds her. The story goes back and forth between the manhunt and Helena's time growing up in captivity along with her mother who was abducted by The Marsh King as a preteen. The book is reminiscent of Where the Crawdads Sings by Delia Owens but has even more edge. A great choice for fans of psychological mysteries and suspense.
The Birchbark House
By Louise Erdrich
If you're a fan of Little House on the Prairie, then you'll enjoy this story of an Ojibwa girl living on Madeline Island in Lake Superior...technically located in Minnesota today, but just off the UP! As the sole survivor of a smallpox epidemic in 1847, Omakayas is saved and welcomed into a new family on a neighboring island. From encounters with bear cubs to tanning moose hides, you'll learn about Omakayas daily life and experiences of joy and grief as she settles into her new routine and develops an understanding of the world around her. This is the first book in a series and a great choice for ages 8 and up.
A Cold Day in Paradise
By Steve Hamilton
If you're heading to the Tahquamenon Falls area, then Hamilton's Alex McKnight mystery series is a must-read. Alex is a former Detroit police officer who moves to a cabin in the woods outside the supposedly sleepy town of Paradise, MI following the death of his partner and surviving a near-fatal injury of his own. Alex is just settling into his new life as a private investigator in the great piney north when a string of local murders occur with a striking resemblance to those done by his partner's killer, despite his being behind bars. Alex must solve the case before he becomes the next victim.
Books About The UP
Points North: Discover Hidden Campgrounds, Natural Wonders, and Waterways of the Upper Peninsula
By Mikel B Classen
This exceptional guidebook is the perfect introduction to the UP's numerous waterways, trails, parks, and museums. You'll come away with background information about stops already on your itinerary and discover many more to add to it. In addition to travel tips, Classen includes fascinating and fun historical information which made this book a winner of the 2020 State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan. If you want to learn more about the UP and only have time for one book, pick this one!
Death's Door: The Truth Behind the Italian Hall Disaster and the Strike of 1913
By Steve Lehto
On Christmas Eve 1913, "fire" was yelled at the entrance of the Italian Hall in Calumet, MI where a party was being held for the children of striking copper miners. As a result, 73 people, including 59 children, were crushed to death in the stairwell leading to the exit. Lehto provides historical insight into what life was like for miners and the events surrounding the tragedy. The Hall was demolished in 1984, but be sure to see the remaining stone archway in downtown Calumet. Highly recommended for fans of history and true crime.
Upper Peninsula of Michigan: A History
By Russell M. Magnaghi
This detailed read covers the entire history of the Upper Peninsula from prehistoric times to the present. You'll learn which indigenous populations have called the UP home, how the UP's rich natural resources, including furs, copper, iron, timber, and fish, were critical to the development of the United States as a nation, the rise of tourism, and so much more. You can't claim to know the UP until you've read this book.