Craig A. Brockman’s Dead of November is a supernatural thriller that will leave readers entranced by its Native American lore, ghostly apparitions, exotic location, and homage to lost love. Set in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, one of the oldest cities in the Midwest on the shore of Lake Superior, the novel draws upon the city’s historical heritage as a former gathering place of Native Americans at the St. Mary’s Rapids, later the site of Fort Brady, and today home to the Soo Locks and a Native American-owned casino. All these places figure into the story, mixing the past with the present in a whirlpool of confusion about what is real, what is legend, and what results when the two merge into a new reality.
The story begins when Adam Knowles, a psychiatrist practicing in Lower Michigan, is asked by his old colleague, Ron, to return to Sault Sainte Marie to help at the clinic there. Adam goes out of obligation, although he knows it will mean facing his difficult past-one in which the love of his life was drowned, and one where he gained a reputation in the town for helping people who believed they were seeing ghosts. Little does Adam know people are seeing ghosts again, which is why Ron wants him to return.
Ron arranges for Adam to stay at an old inn in the Sault owned by Maggie, a Scotswoman who is herself in tune with the supernatural. Adam also has a friend, Cam, who reappears in his life at this time. Cam sort of went off the deep end years before, although Adam is not completely clear why. Now Cam is apparently having hallucinations-seeing apparitions of Native American warriors from the past, among other things.
Adam begins to realize something sinister is happening when Maggie is visited by a Potawatomi medicine man from outside the area named James Graves. Graves has created a following among certain members of the local Ojibwa tribe, but he also appears to be trying to stir up trouble. Maggie and Graves have a private meeting that makes Adam curious about Graves’ intentions. He hopes to get answers when Graves asks him to a private meeting at the casino. Adam is surprised by what he learns at the meeting, and more surprised to find himself in a semi-conscious state that makes him suspect he’s been drugged. Fortunately, a young woman working at the casino, Gracie Bird, is also suspicious of Graves and comes to Adam’s rescue.
As the novel continues, the characters learn more about Graves and the plethora of ghostly sightings that local residents are experiencing. Soon they discover Graves is trying to unleash a legendary horror, which would have dire consequences for everyone if he succeeds.
Brockman writes knowingly about all the elements he includes in this book from psychiatry to local history and Ojibwa lore. He has lived and worked in Sault Sainte Marie with Lake Superior State University and the Indian Health Service, enmeshing himself in the area he has chosen for his subject.
Although the novel is filled with the supernatural, it never falls into being cheesy or campy. The dead of Lake Superior are not your average zombies but rather apparitions that need explanations. The characters are all well-developed, many of them having pasts that need healing or which inform their actions in the novel.
I was most impressed with Brockman’s use of Native American lore. He has clearly done his research on everything from Ojibwa history to local archeology and superstition. I learned a lot about Native culture from this book, all of it presented in a manner that is always entertaining and relevant to the plot. Brockman’s ability to blend the supernatural with reality is especially impressive, causing the reader’s suspension of disbelief never to falter as we move from a dangerous, climactic moment into a tender discussion of forgiveness, all fed by a heightened sense that what we know as reality may just be a veil to a greater metaphysical world we scarcely yet understand.
Dead of November is the kind of book you can get so engrossed in that you’ll have to stop to remind yourself it’s only a story, and even when you close the book, the moaning waves of Lake Superior will continue to haunt you. I only wish there were more like it.