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Suspense Thriller Draws on Michigan’s Mining History


Those of us that know Mel Laurila know that, in addition to his professional achievements in mineral processing, he has always aspired to write that novel. It’s a desire shared by many engineers and scientists in the mining industry, but few put pen to paper. Laurila not only found the time to write Mine Games, he also found a publisher and the book will be available soon.

Mine Games is historical fiction based on a resurgent mining boom in Michigan’s copper country or Keweenaw Peninsula, something local residents have dreamed about since the last of the copper mines shut down in the late 1960s. Two Chicago venture capitalists, Jim Thomas and his partner in Wolverine Ventures, Alan Larsson, have just undertaken their greatest investment, the acquisition of the old Wolverine mine.

With rising copper prices, mining activity in the region is rebounding. The Wolverine mine has millions of pounds of native copper still in the ground and exploration geologists have discovered a small, but rich copper ore zone that contains silver that previous miners had overlooked. Wolverine Ventures has limited funds. After being rejected by Chicago financiers, the men meet Elizabeth MacIntyre, an heiress to the estate of a mining magnate from Michigan’s copper country. She is beautiful, smart and determined. And, it seems she has set her sights on more than just an investment.

Thomas finds himself needing to spend more and more time away from home so he can oversee the mining operation and achieve his dream. Soon his marriage becomes strained. Caught up with the pressures of business and family, he succumbs to MacIntyre’s advances. He decides not to let it happen again.

Determined to succeed and use the money from the successful venture to live a life of luxury with his wife and kids, Thomas’ best laid plans go awry when three people, including his partner, are killed by a cave in. A buyout offer days after the accident makes Thomas suspicious and he will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. Finding the person who murdered Larsson and solving the mystery becomes an obsession for Thomas.

Wolverine is a small community located just north of Calumet, Michigan. The Wolverine mine began mining operations in 1882 and two years later had two underground shafts. It went through several periods of start-ups and shutdowns until it was reorganized as the Wolverine Copper Mining Co. and resumed operations in 1890. By the turn of the century, Wolverine had sunk four shafts and annual output had increased from 500,000 lb to more than 9 million lb of refined copper. Copper and silver did occur together at the Wolverine mine as shown in the photo of specimens from the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum below. These “half breeds” were quite rare and are today prized specimens in any mineral collection.

Laurila has spent a lot of time in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and he details the setting well. Dialogue peppered with regional dialect make the characters seem believable. Similar to any novel, however, Mine Games requires a stretch of the imagination, especially for mining professionals. The story embellishes the grade of the ore body and quantity of the metals found in the mine and speculates as to how the refined product could play a key role for hybrid and electric car market. The amount of copper contained in an electric car is triple that of a gasoline powered car; 150-180 lb. Most of this is used in electric motors and inverters.

A pre-release event was held by the Michigan Tech Alumni Association October 4 at the Victorian Hall Bed & Breakfast in Laurium, Michigan. This 1906 mansion is a key setting in the book. Laurila will host a book signing at the Bookstore & Coffee House in Ishpeming, Michigan, December 10, 2011, from noon-3:00 p.m. and another at the Bookstore at Fitger’s Inn in Duluth, Minnesota, December 11 from 2:00-5:00 p.m. On December 14, 2011, from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Laurila will host a reading and discussion at the Calumet Library in Calumet, Michigan.

Mine Games is available from Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC, wwww.tatepublishing.com.

From the Editor

Happy New Year! The big news this month is Sibanye Gold acquiring the Stillwater Mining Co., an iconic U.S. platinum group metals (PGMs) miner based in Montana. In a little less than four years, Sibanye, which was spun out of Gold Fields in February 2013, has grown from a South African gold miner to a South African precious metals miner to a...
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