Author Joseph Heywood's love for the Upper Peninsula shows in 'Beyond Beyond'

Kurt Anthony Krug
Special to The Detroit News

           Russians and Yoopers have a lot in common, says Michigan-based author Joseph Heywood.

            “They’re very direct, very self-sufficient, very hospitable, in love with dark humor,  very sarcastic, and accustomed to awful winters – though they don’t get nearly the snow the (Upper Peninsula) gets,” recalled Heywood, 77, who splits his time between Portage and Baraga County in the western Upper Peninsula.

   “Beyond Beyond,” Heywood’s latest novel, is the third to feature protagonists Lute Bapcat and Pinkhus Zakov. Formerly one of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, Bapcat is a game warden who patrols the U.P. circa 1913 when he (and Zakov, a Russian immigrant who was a colonel during 1904-05’s Russo-Japanese War) debuted in 2012’s “Red Jacket.”  

 In early 1917, Zakov vanishes without a trace. In 1918, Roosevelt summons Bapcat to Marquette, informing him that the U.S. government sent Zakov on a secret mission to Russia to find Tsar Nicholas II, who abdicated his power and has disappeared. Though Zakov’s feared dead, he manages to send word he needs help, so it’s off to Russia with Bapcat. In the midst of the flu epidemic, Bapcat meets an enigmatic, Russian-born American Marine named Dodge, who’s assigned to lead him across Russia until they locate Zakov. Around them, the Russian Revolution of 1917 turns into the Russian Civil War with levels of chaos of bloodshed far beyond anyone’s comprehension.

"Beyond Beyond," by Joseph Heywood

“Since Zakov had been sent to Russia and pulled out of his game warden job in the U.P. where his partner was Bapcat, who better to send over there to find him, and to use this actual troop movement to hide slipping into Russia surreptitiously?” said Heywood. “The book is about both the search for (Zakov) and the fate of the Russian royal family at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Not a pretty story, but a true one.”

The Bapcat series is set more than 100 years ago.

“To do research for my ‘Woods Cop’ series, I spend about one month a year (for the past 20 years) on patrol with conservation officers all around the state,” said Heywood. “Over all these years, I’ve had about 60 solo partners and more than 100 in various group undertakings… Many times, my many partners have wondered out loud what their jobs were like 100 years ago. I was interested, too, but information was damn hard to come by.”  

Over time, Heywood discovered a series of game warden letters and reports found in a cabin in the U.P., which are now housed in the Library of Michigan in Lansing. Heywood gleaned enough information for “Red Jacket.”  

“I chose the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts north off the U.P., toward Isle Royale. I picked 1913 because it was the year of a bloody union strike, which included the infamous Italian Hall incident (in Calumet, where someone shouted ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater), which has never been solved," he said. "More importantly, 1913 was the year the state moved the deputy state warden jobs from political patronage to civil service status. This was also around the time the state began to implement more and more laws and regulations concerning our natural resources.

  “There were dozens of immigrant groups up there, many who loathed each other, stubbornly maintaining their own historical, cultural, religious and social practices and largely living in enclaves where little English was spoken. How would a game warden function in those conditions?” 

The deputy state fish, game and wildlife wardens of that era were the same type of law enforcement personnel as modern-day conservation officers, who are fully sworn peace officers, Heywood said. They are an elite force and, in some instances, have far more legal power than many other law enforcement agents. They enforce not only fish and game laws, but also all other laws on the Michigan books. Further, a good portion are also federally deputized and authorized to pursue people over state borders.

“The job in Bapcat’s time was more limited in scope but with the same core focus of protecting natural resources for citizens of their time and future generations,” said Heywood. “Modern-day conservation officers cover far more ground than in the old days. The U.P. is a classic game warden’s environment, though the job in the U.P. is not much different than in the Detroit area.”

  Born in Rhinebeck, New York, Heywood moved to the U.P. when he was 15. His late father, Edwin Thomas Heywood, a career United States Affair Force officer who served in World War II, was transferred to the now-decommissioned Kinross Air Force Base in Chippewa County. That was when the author’s love affair with the U.P. began. An avid outdoorsman, Heywood has hiked, hunted, and fished, as well as photographed wildlife in the U.P. for more than 55 years.

            In 1961, Heywood graduated from Rudyard High School in Chippewa County. In 1965, he graduated from Michigan State University with his undergraduate degree in journalism. He completed graduate work in English literature at Western Michigan University.

At MSU, Heywood was a member of the lacrosse club (where he was one of the field tri-captains his senior year) and was in the last class of mandatory ROTC for land grant universities. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant upon graduation and joined the USAF, following in his father’s footsteps. From 1965-70, he was a navigator, serving in Vietnam, logging 160 missions.He was honorably discharged from the USAF as a captain and awarded the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters.

For 30 years, Heywood worked at the Upjohn Co. in Kalamazoo, retiring as vice president for worldwide public relations in 2000. His first novel was 1985’s “Taxi Driver.” His second novel, 1987’s “The Berkut,” was a “what if?” story where instead of committing suicide at the end of World War II, Adolf Hitler was captured by Josef Stalin, who tortured him for years. It was Heywood’s only New York Times best-selling book.

“Over 30-plus years, my literary reputation has soared from internationally unknown thriller writer to regionally obscure cult figure,” quipped Heywood.

The U.P. is always a character in its own right in his books, said Heywood.  It plays a role in most of his 23 books.

“When I write, I try to take readers to places and events in the U.P. they might not have occasion to visit or experience on their own,” he said. “For me, the U.P. is a natural jewel and I am always surprised by how little people know about it.”

'Beyond Beyond'

by Joseph Heywood

Lyons Press, $27.95