Michigan Authors and Books Set in Detroit or Michigan

Detroit in Pink

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Whether you want a who-done-it or a historical epic, chances are you'll find a book to your taste that not only spins a good yarn but features Detroit and or Michigan prominently. To give you a taste, here's a smattering of books by Michigan Authors or set in Detroit and/or Michigan.

Detroit Author, Detroit Back Drop

As it turns out, you tend to write what you know, which is probably why the following novels feature Detroit:

  • Harriette Arnow: The Dollmaker was originally published in 1954 and followed the story of the Nevels family as they moved from Kentucky to Detroit.
  • Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex follows the path of a Greek-American family. The story is told by several family members over an 80-year period that includes the family's move to the Motor City in the Prohibition era and stays put in Detroit through the 1967 riots. The main character of the story is Cal/Calliope, a hermaphrodite seeking to understand his/her place in the family history. The book won Eugenides a Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
  • Elmore Leonard: Leonard was from Michigan and consequently set many of his thrillers in Detroit, making use of its gritty setting. In fact, he was known as the "Dickens of Detroit." Books set in the city include City Primeval and 52 Pickup.
  • Joyce Carol Oates: Oates has published over 70 books, but one of her best-known series was known as the Wonderland Quartet and published in the late 1960s. One of the books in the series, Them, was set in Detroit from the 1930s to the late 1960s.

Memoir Detroit

While the Motor City provides a gritty backdrop to many a fictional story, it also hosted some true-story memoirs:

  • The Slave Across the Street by Theresa Flores is the true-life story of its author, who fell into the world of sex trafficking as a teenager while living in a middle-class Detroit suburb.
  • Ten Little Police Chiefs: A Detroit Police Story is the story of Robert M. Haig, a Detroit police officer on the job for three decades. The story includes not only incidents he witnessed on the streets but the politics he encountered off the streets.

Detroit and/or Michigan Guest Stars

The Mitten State guest starts in the following books by famous authors or part of well-known series:

  • Corktown, the first novel in the Abby Kane series by Ty Hutchinson, has the FBI agent investigating the murder of a victim found in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit.
  • Love in a Nutshell is a mystery set in Keene's Harbor, Michigan by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly.
  • True North and Returning to Earth are two books set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula by author Jim Harrison, who was born in Grayling, Michigan and attended Michigan State University. That being said, Harrison is better known for Dalva set in Nebraska and Legends of the Fall set in the Rocky Mountains.
  • Winter Study is the 14th novel in a series of mysteries by Nevada Barr based on Anna Pigeon, a park ranger. The book follows Pigeon as she is sent to Isle Royale in Lake Superior to study wolves and, of course, solve a mystery.

Mystery and Thriller Series

For some reason, the Mitten State spawns a lot of mysteries and thrillers. In fact, there are several well-known series by authors who live in Michigan and tend to set their mysteries in the state as well:

  • Michigan Chillers & American Chillers: Each book in the Michigan Chillers series by Johnathan Rand (AKA Chris Knight) is set in a different Michigan city. The idea became such a success that Rand expanded the idea to the American Chiller series, which aims to set a book in each of the 50 states. True to form, the first of the series was set in Michigan: Michigan Mega-Monsters.
  • Loren D. Estleman has written a series of books based on​ Amos Walker, a private investigator in Detroit.
  • Steve Hamilton's crime-fiction series is based on Alex McKnight, a former Detroit police officer who retired to Paradise, MI.
  • JoAnna Carl summers in the state and sets the books of her Chocoholic Mysteries series in a resort town along Lake Michigan.
  • Joseph Heywood sets the books of his Woods Copy Mysteries in the Upper Peninsula.
  • Andrew Hartwood sets his mysteries in Grosse Pointe.
  • Susan Holtzer sets her Anneke Haagen Mysteries in Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.
  • Lisa Reardon sets her crime novels in Michigan. Her best known, The Mercy Killers, is set in Ypsilanti.

Books Made into Movies

Sometimes, a book set in the state inspires a movie.

  • Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (aka John D. Voelker) was based on a 1952 murder case in Big Bay, Michigan.
  • The Road to Wellville by T. Coraghessan Boyle is a work of fiction based on John Harvey Kellogg's sanitarium in Battle Creek.
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