Jim Trainor’s third novel roves from the deep woods and hidden lakes of Wisconsin to the streets of Milwaukee.
A murder mystery and eco-terrorism thriller, “Up North” also reflects Trainor’s enthusiasm for the state he now calls home.
“I have a real love affair with Wisconsin,” said Trainor, who has lived in the state for a decade and currently resides on the Chain O’ Lakes. “Someone who’s lived here all their life may not recognize what a jewel they have.”
Trainor grew up and spent half his life in Los Angeles. He obtained a doctorate in physics and spent nearly two decades doing experimental physics research, first in Chicago, then back in California, and finally in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
His career then took an unusual twist when Trainor felt the call to become a minister. He attended seminary at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and was ordained into the Episcopalian priesthood in 1999.
Trainor served parishes in New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin. He was the senior pastor at Church of the Intercession in Stevens POint for more than five years until his retirement in 2010.
Before writing any novels, Trainor published “Grasp: Making Sense of Science and Spirituality” in 2010.
“I’ve never seen a conflict between science and religion,” Trainor said. “Science and theology are both very complicated fields and you need humility to talk about either of them. But when you talk about the intersection of the two, you need super humility.”
Readers will find science and spirituality woven into Trainor’s latest novel, “Up North.”
The narrator, Wil Weathers, has lost his girlfriend and his job as a physics instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is also haunted by a guilty secret from his past.
The novel opens with Weathers walking into a small rural Wisconsin town on a Sunday night. He’s there to catch a bus back to Milwaukee after spending a few days hiking with a friend in the Nicolet National Forest.
While walking along a dark street, Weathers sees blood and a body lying in the hedges.
He runs to the nearest lighted window, which happens to be at a church, and speaks to a volunteer, Sally Ladke, who calls the police.
When he returns with Sally and the police, Weathers discovers that the body is gone.
The mystery deepens after Sally goes missing and the police suspect Weathers is involved with her disappearance.
While searching for Sally, Weathers discovers that he is the target of unknown killers. He also uncovers an eco-terrorist plot that threatens the waters of Wisconsin and beyond.
As a novel, “Up North” is rare in having foot notes referencing scientific articles and news reports in its last few pages. The story’s potential environmental disaster is not simply a plot device, but a real scientific concern.
Trainor said he worked with Robert Bell, a biology professor at UW-Stevens Point, to learn more about eco-terrorist threats to lakes.
“Coming from the dry Southwest, I see what an amazing resource the lakes are,” Trainor said.
Waupaca County is not only home to dozens of small lakes, it is also part of the Great Lakes watershed.
“Twenty percent of the world’s fresh water sits in the Great Lakes,” Trainor said. “If we did ruin that system, if we destroy the fishing industry, if we destroy the drinking water, we would probably cripple the country.”
He noted that algae blooms in Lake Erie and zebra mussels throughout the Great Lakes are already threatening the system.
Several of the novel’s chapters are set in the church where Weathers first meets Sally. Here, Trainor presents the spiritual side of his book with a light touch.
In a scene that takes place beneath a stained-glass window depicting Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, a deacon tells Weathers about the four authors of the gospels. He sees the four bearded figures as stern and judgmental, but the deacon tells him stories of how one was a crook, another a coward, the third an outsider and the fourth self-serving and ambitious. She says the church is a place where people get second chances.