NMJ Book Review
The Echoes of L'Arbre Croche by Andrew L. McFarlane
Donald Johnston came to know and love northern Michigan at an early age. From the cradle, as he says, his family took their vacations on Northport Point. Many years later, Mr. Johnston still takes his vacation near the shore of Lake Michigan, just a short way north, at Harbor Springs. In the years between, he maintained his bond with ships and water, as a line officer in the South Pacific for the U.S. Navy in World War II and as an ardent sailor, winning in even such prestigious races Chicago to Mackinac and the Port Huron to Mac.
Perhaps it is little surprise that when he came to writing late in life, the Great Lakes and the ships that plied them would have a place in his work. His novel, The Echoes of L'Arbre Croche (meaning the Crooked Tree) is set on the Great Lakes of 1917 and the backdrop ranges from the streets of the burgeoning city of Chicago to the dangerous waters off Beaver Island. It is an involving tale, as much about the growth of the region as it is about the well-drawn characters.
Though most of the story is set in the workaday world of shipping and settlement, Johnston has woven into it a thread of the supernatural, the legend of the Indian Drum. The tale of the drum, which Indian legend held would beat one time for each life lost when a ship went down in the waters off northwestern lower Michigan, was fictionalized in the 1917 novel, The Indian Drum. Johnston related:
"I came by a copy of the book from my mother. My first intention, at the urging of a friend who also had a copy, was to rewrite it. The book had been out of print for generations and both our copies were falling apart. The acid content of the paper of The Indian Drum is such that I expect by the turn of the century, there will be no copies left. Reading it, I just found too many words missing. My memory of the story is really from my mother."
"I've always been a northern Michigan history buff, but when I started out on this book, I never intended it to be for publication. Three years ago, I attended a publishing conference and brought what I had written and several people advised me to publish it," Johnston said.
He took their advice and now The Echoes of L'Arbre Croche is available from regional and national bookstores and has been receiving favorable reviews and orders from all over the United States.