Book Review: Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young

Abuse of Discretion
Dre Thomas Series #3
Pamela Samuels Young
Goldman House Publishing, 2017
ISBN 978-1-530-52897-4
Trade Paperback

Here we have a suspenseful, current novel of crime and punishment that is not only engaging, exciting and enthralling, but takes a hard, insightful and sensitive look at our modern society and its attitudes and laws relating to juveniles and sex.

Because the sub-plot is so well developed, this novel is really two for one. The second plot involves the fraught relationship between an incarcerated pimp and sex trafficker and the criminally connected uncle of a kidnapped girl. Dre, the uncle, is able through his underworld connections, to thwart threats to his girl friend and others in his family which adds a level of tension to the novel.

The core of this interesting story centers around a bright fourteen-year-old named Graylin. He’s attending a private school and is found to have a single nude picture of a female classmate on his phone. He may have been set up and the novel in increasingly tension-filled chapters, traces the politically-influenced and rigidly inept laws relating to society’s attempts to deal with sex crimes such as sexting.

Graylin’s case is defended by two of the most interesting characters in the novel. Angela is a top defense attorney, companion to Graylin’s uncle Dre in a somewhat tense relationship, who is not used to working with children accused of crime. She seconds a juvenile specialist and after some early rough going, the two women bond into a formidable team. Although the final outcomes of the novel are somewhat expected, the paths to resolution are filled with disturbing and interesting barriers.

The locations, supporting characters and pace of the novel are all very well done and the ultimate resolutions are satisfying. Each chapter is labeled with the name of the character whose point of view is dominant in that chapter, allowing the author’s keen powers of observation free rein, to excellent effect.

For many reasons, I commend this fine novel to readers of crime fiction and to those likewise interested in the current state of our social affair.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Book Review: After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

After Anna
Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin’s Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-09965-5
Hardcover

Lisa Scottoline is the author of more than a dozen legal thrillers featuring a firm of women lawyers in Philadelphia and nearly as many stand-alone novels of domestic suspense. She has also published several volumes of humorous essays.

Scottoline’s legal background is on full display in her latest contemporary domestic thriller, After Anna. Maggie Ippolitti is ecstatic when she unexpectedly has the opportunity to re-connect with the daughter she lost years ago after she was diagnosed with post-partum psychosis. Happy in her second marriage, to widower Dr. Noah Alderman, and satisfied in mothering his son, she is still quick to invite Anna to live with them, even though she knows little about the nearly grown teenager.

Anna’s presence rapidly causes tension in the house that Maggie overlooks in order to keep Anna with her. Not the least of the issues is the fact that Anna is set to inherit several million dollars in just a few months from the estate of her father, Maggie’s first husband. Both Noah and Maggie think 18 is far too young to become a millionaire. When Anna is murdered less than a month after she moves in with the family, Noah is accused of the crime and stands trial in a blaze of relentless publicity.

A new piece of information near the end of the trial presents a completely different view of and motive for the teenager’s death, which Maggie follows to its unexpected conclusion.

The story is laid out in short vignettes that move back and forth in time, from the point Maggie first hears from Anna through the trial. Many of them take place in the courtroom where events leading up to the murder are revealed as the prosecutor and the defending attorney cross-examine witnesses. While this format in the skilled hands of Scottoline ratchets the suspense to an almost unbearable level, the frequent and abrupt transitions in time and place and voice are not always easy to follow.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, March 2018.

Book Reviews: Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum and Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

Infamy
A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller #28
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-4767-9321-4
Mass Market Paperback

This novel is not up to the usual standards of the author.  Usually, the first half of the book recounts a situation which sets the stage for the other half, which, ordinarily, few do better than Mr. Tanenbaum: a dramatic courtroom scene.  So it is with Infamy.  Unfortunately, however otherwise well-written the novel is, the courtroom scene is flat and perfunctory.

The novel opens with an intelligence raid by a secret U.S. Army unit in Syria which was supposed to capture at least one suspect.  Instead, they find the suspect had shot and murdered other important enemy subjects and obtained important documents which point to a conspiracy to evade sanctions on ISIS and Iraqi oil.  Butch Karp, the New York DA and protagonist of the series, enters the plot when a U.S. Army Colonel is shot and killed in Central Park, and slowly a conspiracy begins to unfold.

There are all sorts of subplots and side issues which add little to the tale, except to make it more complicated than it really is.  This reader was clearly disappointed, especially when the author decided to vent his own political views, sometimes crudely or bluntly chastising those holding conservative views.  It’s too bad, because basically Infamy began with a solid idea, but lost its way along the way from front cover to back cover.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

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Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet
A Jesse Stone Novel #16
Reed Farrel Coleman
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7144-4
Hardcover

This is the fourth Jesse Stone novel Reed Farrel Coleman has written in the series begun by the late Robert B. Parker.  And he has kept the faith.  Moreover, he has done something the master never did.  He brings in Spenser to play a minor role in solving the mystery which begins with the death of an old woman, a member of the founding family of Paradise, and the ransacking of her home.

Jesse, still reeling from the death of his beloved Diana in his presence, is slowly drinking himself into oblivion.  But that doesn’t stop him from performing his duty as Police Chief, despite the hindrance of the Mayor and her hatchet woman.  The plot basically revolves around the recovery of a supposedly long lost tape made by a now has-been rock star in time for his 70th birthday party.

Coleman performs up to the standards of the late master, while offering a clever plot of his own, written in a slightly different style (few can duplicate the pithy sentences of a Parker novel).  He gives us a deeper insight into Jesse’s personality and presumably shows the force of his iron will.  Well at least let’s hope so.  Presumably we’ll find out in the next volume in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

Book Review: Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks

Weave a Murderous Web
Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks
Melange Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-68046-252-4
Trade Paperback

Jane Larson, a high powered litigator with Adams & Ridge, a big New York law firm, takes on a domestic case as a favor to a friend. The friend is a legal assistant at the firm, Francine, who has a friend with a troublesome divorce. Gail is model-beautiful but seems more interested in extracting cash from her lawyer husband than the welfare of her daughter. There is a suitcase full of cash that Larry Hawkins, the ex-husband, is hiding from her, and she wants Jane to find it.

After attending a Young Lawyers dinner, Jane is shot and wounded by Larry . Although this attempt on her life failed, will someone try again? Carmen Ruiz, a cable news reporter, is investigating a story about another local attorney who was believed to die of a drug overdose. Carmen, who knew that the dead attorney had dealings with Larry, thinks he was killed.  A tip from Carmen leads to the discovery of a safe deposit box with cash and two insurance policies. But Gail claims that the there’s still that suitcase out there, and she is desperate for the cash.

Unfortunately, the author telegraphed the killer early on, in a bit of back story that was out of place. It was difficult to find something sympathetic about any of the characters in this tale of lies, drugs, and murder.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

Book Reviews: Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly and Trap by Robert K. Tanenbaum

innocenceInnocence Or, Murder on Steep Street
Heda Margolius Kovaly
Translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker
Soho Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-6169-5645-5
Trade Paperback

This murder mystery was written to disguise a political tract describing the author’s life in Communist Czechoslovakia during which her husband, an ardent party member and an assistant minister of trade, was falsely arrested, jailed and murdered.  Both had survived Nazi concentration camps.  The form the book takes was to somehow evade the censors and it surreptitiously tells his story as part of the plot, describing one of the characters.

Essentially, the plot revolves around the murder of a detective on a street on which a movie theater is located.  There are seven women who serve as ushers, each with a secret life, complicating the investigation into the death.  The stories of their lives unfold, together with the secrets they share with each other.

The promotional material recounts the author’s fame as a translator, and especially her love of Raymond Chandler.  It is doubtful that this work measures up to his standard of writing, and has to be judged on its own merits.  On that level, the reader has to cope with various obfuscations and, of course, the obscure Czech names and places which divert attention.  The conclusion is somewhat disappointing and really is somewhat ambiguous, whether by design or inadvertence.

The author really is known for her memoir, Under A Cruel Star, in which she describes her time in Auschwitz and the early years of Communism in her native land.  For its historical importance, the present novel deserves to be read.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016

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trapTrap
A Butch Karp – Marlene Ciampi Thriller #27
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-4767-9318-4
Mass Market Paperback

The customary courtroom drama in the Butch Karp series takes up about half of this novel, but it isn’t as dramatic as most of the prior episodes.  Although the legal description is proficient, it is highly technical in nature and less dramatic than many of the previous legal battles, which are always a highlight of a Robert K. Tanenbaum story.  This tale is a mixture of a Karp family saga, hate crimes, deranged arsonist and bomber, religious beliefs combined with Nazi sympathizers and events during the Holocaust and World War II, and the conflict between the public school system, the teachers union as led by corrupt officers and charter schools.  How’s that for a mouthful?

What leads up to the courtroom scene are a series of events and even a murder or two.  The Teacher’s Federation president is attempting to head off a bill in Albany which would result in an audit that would expose him and his cohorts for stealing funds from the union’s coffers.  The author certainly knows better than this premise.  Certainly unions are subject to regular audits.  But for the plot to work, this fact has to be ignored.

So the battle between proponents of the charter school legislation, who want a mandatory audit of the Teacher’s Federation, and the corrupt union and public officials, ultimately sets the stage for the dramatic trial.  As side issues, we have a scraggly group of Nazi sympathizers who conveniently serves as a red herring in the lead-up to murder charges, and Karp’s twin sons’ wishy-washy approach to their religious beliefs and late (by several years) Bar Mitzvah.

All in all, however, this was an enjoyable read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.

Book Review: Fox is Framed by Lachlan Smith

Fox is FramedFox is Framed
A Leo Maxwell Mystery #3
Lachlan Smith
The Mysterious Press, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8021-2504-0
Trade Paperback

In this, the third novel in the Leo Maxwell series, Leo’s older brother, Teddy, obtains a new trial for their father, Lawrence, who has served 21 years in San Quentin for the murder of his wife, Caroline.  The basis for the retrial was prosecutorial misconduct, the withholding of evidence from the defense.  In the second trial, it is never clearly explained by either the DA or the defense attorney if disclosure originally would have made any difference.  However, the new trial allows the author, a practicing attorney, to write a detailed and interesting description of the tactics and planning for a murder trial.

In the new trial, the DA introduces evidence of a “confession” made by Lawrence to a fellow inmate while incarcerated.  Soon, however, the snitch is found dead and the specter of Lawrence being charged for the murder looms over the trial.  While a brilliant attorney defends Lawrence in court, it remains for Leo to follow up on leads, both large and small.

To give the author his due, he graphically portrays the courtroom scenes realistically, showing how the judge rules with wisdom and fairness, as well as how an attorney goes about probing a witness.  He continues the high drama surrounding the Maxwell family found in the previous novels and lays the groundwork for the next addition to the series.  A very fast read, and one which is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2016.

Book Review: The Fall by John Lescroart

The FallThe Fall
John Lescroart
Atria Books, May 2015
ISBN: 978-1-476-70921-5
Hardcover

John Lescroart has written 25 previous novels, many of them with superb courtroom drama featuring Dismas Hardy.  This novel, however, highlights the introduction of his daughter, Becky, just two years out of law school, as the lead attorney in an unusual murder trial which ordinarily would test the talents of the equivalent of an F. Lee Bailey.

The atmosphere in San Francisco where the novel takes place is charged with public and political outcry after the trials of a series of perpetrators of criminal acts against black victims do not result in convictions or, even worse, not even an arrest, much less even finding a suspect.  So, when a 17-year-old black female is murdered, the police and DA rush to find a viable suspect and bring him to trial.  A chance meeting between Becky and Greg Treadway, later charged with the murder, leads to her representing him as his attorney.

Give “the Beck” (her nickname) credit for showing a great deal of legal expertise and just plain acumen far  beyond what one would expect from a neophyte attorney in a maiden trial, one for murder no less.  But then, she’s the offspring of Dismas Hardy.  Needless to say, the trial takes on a life of its own, giving the author the opportunity to exhibit some arcane legal principles.  More important, Mr. Lescroart once again demonstrates his ability to twist and turn the tables on the reader in a most unexpected way.  Although the book is interesting as a whole, it is especially recommended just for the unusual ending.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2016.