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Book Report: This week there's a moonshine mess, a terrier's tale

Up in Stearns County they still talk about a moonshine operation called, I believe, "Minnesota 101," which made hooch so good that it continued in operation years after Prohibition was repealed.

It was also big -- so big that the operation took over defunct creameries and converted them to stills. One of the stills is on display at a motel in Sauk Centre, Minn.

There's a fascinating first novel about an intrepid Minnesota moonshiner by St. Paul author Mary DesJarlais. "Dorie LaValle" (North Star Press, $14.95 paper) is the moonshiner's name and she's not a Stearns County resident. Her family and her still reside outside Osseo, Minn., just below Stearns County.

And the characters she serves, dairy farmers et al., at her kitchen table could very well be from Stearns County and would probably vote for Michelle Bachmann.

Dorie has a hopeless husband, Louis, and that's just the problem. He's so hopeless he can't make a living on the farm he inherited. And so Dorie, who married him to get away from an abusive father, has to take up the slack and how better than to sell moonshine, thanks to fellow Minnesotan Andrew Volstead, who gave his country the gift of Prohibition?

Dorie is aided at the still by Victor, a handsome Scandinavian, for whom Dorie has the hots. Things are going along "peachily" when Victor shows up at the farmstead hours early to make a delivery from the still located on a deserted farm nearby.

Why is he early? Well, seems he was shot by a stranger who showed up at the still. Victor is bleeding all over the linoleum, which provides Dorie with an opportunity to touch him without sinning.

She binds him up and he tells her that he also shot the stranger who shot him.

Big trouble.

Dorie heads out to the deserted farm, finds the stranger, dead, and chops a hole in the iced-over lake and shoves him in, then returns home to serve moon to those farmers who think she's really hot stuff.

I do too. Dorie has lots of moxie, but matters get more difficult when another stranger shows up. His name is Salvatore D'Agostino, and he says he wants to buy the deserted farm next door.

Salvatore is very well-dressed and he isn't from Stearns County. He's from Chicago.

Always on the ball, Dorie figures out he's probably brother to the guy in the lake and that they probably belong to a well-organized brotherhood that was founded in Sicily generations ago.

Now they've got more trouble.

DesJarlais is a fine storyteller, especially good at sensuous scenes.

You'll have to buy the book to find out what happens.

Niche marketing is a great way to go when you're breaking in to the book market. Hudson author Gary Porter is trying his hand at fiction after many years as a successful accounting professor and publisher of textbooks.

Porter has chosen a fine and pretty large niche: Dog lovers.

I'm a cat lover myself, but I found Porter's "Duffy, the Tale of a Terrier" (Beaver's Pond Press, $22.95) to be lively, charming and persuasive as he reveals the secrets of dog/person bonding.

Porter includes no prologue, only a "pro-dogue." Yes, at book's end there's an "epi-dogue."

The heart of the book is told in Duffy's voice. As it opens, Duffy dies on a vet's operating table and awakes to discover he's in dog heaven with endless bowls of exotic dog food where he can eat to satiation.

Soon he meets another dead dog, Rex, from out east, a very literate Boston Terrier, who agrees to help Duffy market his story. At first Duffy wonders why anyone would buy a book written by a dog and Rex reminds him about royalties:

"'Royalties. You sell your book and you get a percentage of the take. Royalties. They could be your meal ticket. Literally.'

"I knew little about royalties but with the mere mention of the word meal I reacted in a way you might expect from Pavlov's dog."

And so goes this very clever book as Duffy and his amanuensis, Gary Porter of Hudson, lead us through the ordeals and joys of dogdom, from "puppyhood to neuterhood."

Yes, that, too.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.