Book Review: How It Happened by Michael Koryta

How It Happened
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, May 2018
ISBN: 978-0-316-29393-8
Hardcover

Inspired by an actual event in the author’s hometown, this novel recounts the ups and downs in the life of Rob Barrett, an FBI specialist in interrogations, who is sent to a little town in Maine years after the disappearance of a man and two women.  Barrett finally reaches a witness who confesses to having participated in the murder and disposal of the bodies of a man and a woman in a shallow lake. Unfortunately, when the lake is inspected, the bodies aren’t there.  Barrett insists he believes the confession, but the prevailing view is that it is unreliable because the confessor is a known liar and drug addict. Moreover, absence of the bodies where they’re said to be is further proof.

Barrett is sent to a remote FBI office in the Midwest in disgrace, but the confession still haunts him.  Eventually, he returns to Maine on his own nickel to find the truth, which, of course, is elusive. The story becomes more complex, as he investigates more deeply, and the scope widens.

Michael Koryta has written a gripping tale about a grisly murder and cover-ups and subterfuges to hide a variety of motivations as each layer of the story is unveiled.   It is a novel describing perseverance and investigative skill.  The novel has its origins in a murder investigation which the author covered for his hometown newspaper as a young reporter, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

The Crimes of Paris
Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler
Little Brown & Company, April 2009
ISBN 978-0-316-01790-9
Hardcover

The book begins with the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 from the Louvre. It ends only a few years later when an artist of some renown named Marcel Duchamp drew a mustache on a small reproduction of La Gioconda which, in effect, as the authors say, transformed the painting from a “masterpiece of Renaissance art to an icon of modernism.”

That was in 1919. A mere eight years had passed, during which Paris had experienced a World War and been the host to nearly every giant of science, literature, the arts and politics. It was an amazing time when Trotsky and Marx, Hemingway and Picasso and Cezanne met and drank and socialized in Montmartre and Montparnasse and attended original short plays at the Grand Guiginol.

It was a period when the first professional private investigator appeared and the science of forensic investigation developed as a recognized arm of law enforcement. And it was a period during which some of the most vicious and creative gangs of criminals roamed the streets of the City of Lights.

The book is engagingly written and organized in a thoughtful way to encourage readers to delve more deeply into intriguing topics with voluminous notes, and an extensive bibliography. Yet, a reader who is only casually interested in the period and the players will find this book a fast and enjoyable read. But a casual reader will be drawn in, to the writing, the style, the language and the content. This is a fascinating work of great consequence.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 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.

Book Review: I’m Keith Hernandez by Keith Hernandez

I’m Keith Hernandez
A Memoir
Keith Hernandez
Little Brown and Company, May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-3350-1692-8
Hardcover

Full disclosure:  A Die-hard Mets fan, I have had full-season tickets for 32 years, and attend an average of 75 games each season.  I have also been an avid fan of Keith Hernandez, formerly the Mets first baseman and currently a member of the broadcast team that announces each Mets game, and the author of this wonderful memoir.  So I cannot lay claim to impartiality.  That said, this book is every bit as terrific as were/are the talents of its author.  When a book begins with the words “I Love Baseball,” what else can it be to its readers, most if not all of whom feel the same emotion?

To say that the book is replete with statistics and historical recreations of wonderful moments in the sport would be an understatement.  But that is all to the good!  To quote the author: “I want to talk about my development as a baseball player and how it got me to the major leagues; I want to talk about how I gained the confidence to thrive in the bigs despite a grueling haul; and, finally, I want to talk about how my development as a young player affects how I see the game today from my seat in the broadcast booth.”  And he does all of that, and more!  As he also says: “I want to get to the core of my baseball story.”  And he does just that, and more.

The tale begins in 1972, when Keith Hernandez “was getting ready to go to my first spring training.”  I should state here that the biggest influences on this young man – 18 years old at this point in time, were, and always continued to be, his father (a former professional baseball player), and his brother Gary (the starting first baseman for the University of California Golden Bears baseball team), to both of whom he pays tribute throughout the book, deservedly.  His Dad is a first-generation American, his parents having emigrated from Spain via the Pacific, arriving in San Francisco in 1916.   His father “broke all kinds of school records, leading his team to a championship game at Seals Stadium, Mission High School, was named MVP, and was christened by the city as the next big star to come out of the Bay Area.’ Keith had been signed by the St. Louis Cardinals minor league team, whose spring training complex was in St. Petersburg, picked in the 42nd round of the June 1971 amateur draft, one of the 500 players taking part in the spring training games, with a mind-set of “baseball superstar or bust.”  At age 18 he played in the Florida State League in 1972  “Some execs, scouts, and coaches claimed that young Keith Hernandez was the best defensive first baseman – at any level – they’d come across in quite some time.”  He talks about Pacifica, in 1961, when he was 7 and Gary 9, both trying out for Little League.  We then jump to the time after the 1972 season in St. Pete, when he was “itching to get back home to San Francisco.” But unexpectedly he joined the Tulsa Oilers, the Cardinals’ AAA team, at his father’s insistence.

The author’s prominence in his chosen field of endeavor is indisputable.  He earned more Gold Glove Awards (11) than any first baseman in baseball history.  Since 2000, he has served as an analyst on Mets telecasts for the SNY, WPIX and MSG networks, and is a member of the Fox Sports MLB postseason studio team.  Personally he and Gary Cohen are the absolute best in the business, and if I ever have to miss a game, at least I make sure I always have his play-by-play in close proximity.  His book is reflective of all of that brilliance, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone

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Title: The Unlikelies
Author: Carrie Firestone
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult

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The Unlikelies
Carrie Firestone
Little, Brown and Company, June 2017
ISBN
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Rising high school senior Sadie is bracing herself for a long, lonely, and boring summer. But things take an unexpected turn when she steps in to help rescue a baby in distress and a video of her good deed goes viral.

Suddenly internet-famous, Sadie’s summer changes for the better when she’s introduced to other “hometown heroes.” These five very different teens form an unlikely alliance to secretly right local wrongs, but when they try to help a heroin-using friend, they get in over their heads and discover that there might be truth in the saying “no good deed goes unpunished.” Can Sadie and her new friends make it through the summer with their friendships–and anonymity–intact?

I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for Sadie at the very beginning because she has lost all her close friends, even her ex-boyfriend who’s not quite totally ex to graduation. I had the opposite situation when I graduated from high school, leaving my best friend behind, and I know it’s awfully painful.

Sadie is a little at a loss the first day after her friends scatter but she’s not devastated; she has a life with a job at a farm stand, she’s saving for college, she has a good family. In short, she’s a normal, emotionally grounded teen who just happens to erupt into lifesaving mode when a baby needs help, proof that this sort of thing can happen to anyone.

On the other hand, this story has more than a touch of unreality, from the moment of Sadie’s heroism to the formation of a sort of do-gooder group. Still, these kids are interesting and we learn much about each one, warts and all, and it’s nice to see teens and parents dealing with the vagaries of life in healthy fashion.

Sometimes, the story gets a bit too sweet but it’s a nice summer read and I enjoyed it quite a lot. There are enough humorous moments to lighten what could be a preachy tale and I just couldn’t help liking these kids and their idealism that they turn into action. I recommend this for any teen or adult looking for a tale of good intentions carrying the day. Hate does not always win 😉

Note: For anyone who’s counting, this can be listed in the diversity column.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

About the Author

Carrie Firestone has lived in rural, urban, and suburban places, and, while she currently lives in the suburbs, she is decidedly a CITY person. She loves parties, and all kinds of music, and books about random people doing random things in random places. She loves to travel with her husband, and two daughters, Lauren and Emily. When she isn’t writing, you might find her reluctantly sharing her popcorn at the movies, trying to get people (or dogs) to do a conga line, or adding items to her loose ends list.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Tumblr // Goodreads

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Book Reviews: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, Bad Blood by Arne Dahl, and The Brave by Nicholas Evans

Watching the Dark 2Watching the Dark
An Inspector Banks Novel
Peter Robinson
William Morrow, February 2014
ISBN No. 978-0-06-228397-9
Trade Paperback

Lorraine Jensen, a patient at the St. Peter’s Police Treatment Center, is in the habit of getting up around dawn when her pain is keeping her awake to sit outside before the other members of the Center are up. As the light grew stronger, Lorraine thought she could see something like a bundle of clothes at the far side of the lake. Since Barry, the head groundsman and estate manager was in the habit of keeping the artificial lake and natural woodlands tidy, it was unusual to see anything that looked out of place. Although the grass was still wet with dew, Lorraine walked to where she had spotted the bundle of clothes. She did not get all the way to the spot when she realized that it was a dead body she was looking at and not a bundle of clothes.

DCI Alan Banks was immediately dispatched to St. Peter’s as soon as the authorities had been notified. Banks had visited Annie Cabbot there during her recent convalescence. Now Annie was due back to work on Monday and Banks was looking forward to working with her again. When Banks and the Dr. in attendance turned over the body, they found that the victim had been shot with a crossbow bolt. Lorraine recognized the corpse as DI Bill Quinn. Banks stated that he knew Quinn too but only in passing.

When Quinn’s room is searched, some photographs were found that placed Quinn in a compromising position. Quinn’s wife was deceased but the photographs looked as though they had been taken some time ago. Inspector Joanna Passero, of the Police Standards Division, is assigned to work with Banks to determine if Quinn has somehow done something that would reflect badly on himself as well as the department.

Banks feels hindered by Inspector Passero but has no choice in the matter. As he digs deeper into the case he keeps going back to a six-year-old missing person case that Quinn investigated and Banks is beginning to feel that there are crooked police officers involved in the old case as well as the current case of Quinn’s murder.

This is a fast moving story that keeps the reader guessing.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2014.

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Bad Blood 2Bad Blood
An Intercrime Novel
Arne Dahl
Pantheon Books, August 2013
ISBN: 9780375425363
Hardcover
A translation from the Swedish 1999 original.

This was an interesting experience, reading galleys from a book released over a year ago in the US. The original manuscript is even older, the book being first published in Swedish in 1999. All of that is explanation for the difficulties I encountered with this novel. Awkward strange phrases, missing words; are they the result of a less than stellar translation, difficulties with the original manuscript, or is some of the odd structure deliberate? Hard to say.

Still: Arne Dahl is a Hell of a writer. His vision of the world is often dark, troubling, awesome, and turbulent. Questions of good and evil, right or wrong, Islam or Christianity, dark versus light are all here, mostly unresolved. Crimes, the most horrific imaginable, perpetrated on the guilty and the innocent alike are here too in this dark crime novel. It is the story of a highly trained killing machine, a former member of a small elite American intelligence group that operated in Viet Nam. Disbanded after the war, the killing went on and the machine became a serial killer. But this is no ordinary serial killer.

An elite Swedish police unit is alerted by the FBI when a Swedish literary critic is murdered at an American airport. The killer eludes the police dragnet when he arrives in Sweden and subsequent information indicates he must be a killer who has long eluded the FBI. Or is he the reincarnation of a man destroyed in a fire years earlier?

The cast of characters, both in Sweden and the US is varied and excellent. The writer’s style is unusual and well suited to the subject matter, international conspiracy and crime. Add a large element of social commentary about some of our most troubling moral questions and the result is Bad Blood, a tension-filled thriller that is of immense proportions and a not entirely satisfying conclusion. Well worth the trouble.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The BraveThe Brave
Nicholas Evans
Little, Brown and Company, October 2010
ISBN 978-0-316-03378-7
Hardcover

In a story set both in England and the American West during the late 1950s to the present, the tale is mostly told through the eyes of Tom Bedford. A lonely child with older parents and a loving big sister, he’s an English child obsessed with watching American cowboy shows on television. His hero? The actor Ray Montane in the role of Flint McCullough, the epitome of tracker, rider, shooter and all around good guy. Tom couldn’t be happier when the day comes that his sister Diane, a rising British actress, is called for a part in one of the shows. She and Ray fall for one another and it isn’t long before she’s off to Hollywood and American fame and films.

Then we learn that instead of being his sister, Diane is Tom’s mother. She’s able to finally claim Tommy now, with Ray’s support, and Tom happily accompanies them to America where he learns to ride and shoot, living out his dreams. Until, that is, a violent blow-up brings them all down.

Shoot forward three or four decades. Tom is living now in Montana. He’s divorced from his wife when it comes out that his son Danny, estranged from him for many years, is up for court martial charged with the multiple murder of an Iraqi family.

Since I absolutely hated The Horse Whisperer, especially the ending, I’ve been reluctant to read another Nicholas Evans book. However, I can categorically state that The Brave is excellent, and that I’m happy I received this book to review. The storyline, the characters, the emotion throughout are outstanding and, as one would expect from a writer of this repute, the writing is excellent. Learning about the Hollywood of the 1950s is riveting.

The Brave receives my recommendation.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

Book Review: Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Confessions The Private School MurdersConfessions: The Private School Murders
James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Little, Brown and Company, October 2013
ISBN 97800-316-20765-2
Hardcover

I simply love a good mystery. Whenever I pick up a book that falls into the Mystery category, I envision my own, personal game of Clue. I can’t wait to figure out who, what, when, where, why and how. I enjoy mysteries so much, in fact, that I am going to try to solve one as I write this review. Why, when Mr. Patterson won’t play with me, do I keep reading his books?

Although it puzzles me, I am a James Patterson fan. A few years ago, I found myself waiting somewhere without a book. In desperation, I plucked a tattered copy of Roses are Red from the rack at the Whatever-Mart. Then, I was hooked. I went back to the first Alex Cross book and ploughed through until I was caught up at which point I dived into the Women’s Murder Club books as I excitedly awaited the release of the next Alex Cross adventure.

Because I adore Mr. Patterson’s books for adults so much; I fully expected to be blown away by his writing for Young Adults, who, quite frankly, can be a much more demanding, fickle and harder to please audience than we Older Adults tend to be.
This is a follow-up to Mr. Patterson’s first YA book, Confessions of A Murder Suspect. Although I hadn’t read the first book, the sequel was very easy to slip into. The Angel family is a captivating cast of characters within themselves. Tandy Angel, the teen-age sister is our main character and narrator. Her older brother is accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend. Both her twin brother and her younger brother look to Tandy to clear his name. In the meantime, she is a bit distracted by the fact that girls her age, attending elite private schools, just like she does; are turning up dead. Oh, and some pretty funky, mysterious and quite creepy things are going down in the Dakota, where the siblings currently reside.

The story-line is fascinating and the writing is sharp and witty. Mr. Patterson sticks with his old tricks in that he taunts me with the mystery. For example, at one point Tandy “opens the door and finds the proof that she needs.” WHAT did she find? How can I possibly solve this mystery when he won’t divulge this information? How dare he have the character hold those cards so close to her chest? His books are like Atari’s Pac Man (come on, some of you remember this). I would get annoyed and frustrated, but I always kept playing.

No, I haven’t solved my conundrum of why I keep reading Mr. Patterson’s mysteries when I know that I will never, ever be given the information to solve the crime before the hero does. I only know that his ideas are amazing and his story-telling is masterful. I guess I could say that Mr. Patterson’s books are the Candy Crush of the written word, and I am hooked.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2014.

 

Book Reviews: Propinquity by John Macgregor, The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan, and Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce

PropinquityPropinquity
John Macgregor
John Macgregor, June 2013
ISBN 9781301702114
Ebook
A 2013 release of a 1986 original

One of the definitions of the title is a nearness in time. This highly imaginative novel deals with both the twentieth century and the thirteenth. It would appear at first blush there isn’t much. Propinquity. The novel begins in Australia and it ends there. In between, the uncertain narrator touches down in England and Haiti. Moreover, the principal character in the novel is Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard I, King of England. She appears to have been a student and perhaps a dispenser of gnosis. Gnosis comes from the Greek for internal secret knowledge which, if properly recognized, leads to an exalted and serene existence.

When the novel begins, Clive Lean is a young student in school in Australia. With friends he muses over the meanings of life and the roles of religions. Once his life develops and he becomes wealthy he journeys to England and through a chance encounter with a randy student of the medieval, is able to explore the crypts of Westminster abbey and to make a surprising discovery. Here, in an unmarked coffin, lies the body of a queen of England. Perhaps.

Why here? Why now? And what messages lie in the ancient documents discovered with the remarkably well-preserved queen, a queen whom, so far as is stated by the chroniclers, never set foot on fair England’s shores. Those questions will only be answered by readers of the novel. I hasten to point out this is not a history text, nor is it a mystery in the conventional sense. Yes, crimes are committed, crimes that result in an international outcry and a multi-continent chase. All of this activity is related with considerable wit and erudition and a propinquity that will satisfy most readers.

The dialogue is often crisp and sometimes meandering, occasionally thrilling. The many characters in this morality play are clearly and humanely drawn. Unlike many novels in the genre, a good many questions raised during the narrative are never answered and that, ultimately, is, I suppose, the point. At least, one of the points. Because, finally, frustrating though it may be, I suspect that each thoughtful, careful reader will finish the novel with a sigh, a smile and a nod of recognition.

The novel was originally released in 1986 by a publisher who promptly went out of business. Thus, this is, in one sense at least, its original release, since the book had almost no circulation at that time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

 

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The Fame ThiefThe Fame Thief
A Junior Bender Mystery #3
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2013
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5280-8
Hardcover

Junior Bender, the protagonist in this, the third in this series, has a franchise, according to the eminence grise of Hollywood, the powerful Irwin Dressler, the 93-year-old mob boss. Junior prides himself as a burglar’s burglar, and has found himself much in demand by criminals as their own private investigator. And that’s why Dressler has two of his goons snatch Junior off the street and bring him to his home. He asks Junior to find out who was responsible for ruining a minor actress’ career over 60 years earlier.

This gives the author an opportunity to describe the Hollywood scene of the 1950’s, together with the glamour of Las Vegas and the prevalence of mafia bigwigs and run-of-the mill hoodlums. It is a mystery why a minor starlet became so important to the mob that she had a single starring role: testifying at the Estes Kefauver crime hearings.

I did not find Junior quite as amusing this time around as he was in the first two novels in the series, Crashed and Little Elvises, but Mr. Hallinan makes up for it in the dialogue delivered by Dressler, a Jew who was sent west by the Chicago mob to develop Hollywood and Los Angeles, as well as Las Vegas, for it. This book has quite a plot, and Junior has a tough road to hoe to solve the mystery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2014.

 

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Cold SpellCold Spell
Jackson Pearce
Little, Brown and Company, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-24359-9
Hardcover

There is something about Ms. Pearce’s writing that calls to me like a siren from the sea. Her words leap from the pages to wrap me in comfort. Picking up one of her books feels like wrapping chilly hands around a steaming mug of cocoa. The anticipation must be savored for a moment, before diving into the bliss. Cold Spell, her most recent novel, is no exception.

This enchanting interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” captivated this reader immediately. Brimming with exceptional characters exhibiting quirks, wit, sweetness, determination, talent and compassion; this seemingly simple tale of one girl persistently pursuing her soul-mate becomes a book that cannot be put down.

At the tender age of 17, Ginny has known and loved Kia for a decade. With just a twist, a typical romance is transformed. You see, Kia loves her right back. Where does a story go when it starts with an uncomplicated, true and shared love? Well, in this case, on an epic adventure including Fenris, gypsies (Travellers), a compassionate and ultra-cool couple and the sinister, selfish Snow Queen, Mora.

When the Snow Queen chooses Kia for own court, she has no clue how far Ginny is willing to go to prevent this. Even during her time as a human, Mora has never known real love; therefore, she simply can’t fathom what one person may do to save a cherished soul from a life-time of suffering, servitude and pain. Until faced with it; The Snow Queen never anticipated that a girl would be willing to kill her own soul-mate as the last resort to free him.

This alone would make a fabulous book, but true to form, Ms. Pearce gives us so much more. Ginny’s chase after Kia and his captor is enriched with colorful characters, unique life-styles with funky traditions, and surprising common bonds. As Ginny meets new people, this reader enjoyed subtle reminders that translate to real-life such as; things are not always as they seem, trust your gut-feelings; sometimes, good people appear to be doing “bad” things and, on occasion, the proverbial “bad-guy” is a hurt, frustrated and confused being with no one to turn to.

Although the story and characters are fictional; emotions, concerns and certain dilemmas aren’t really that far from reality. It is to that end, I think, that Ms. Pearce’s books bring me happiness and satisfaction. Not only are they tremendously entertaining, but they help me remember that the story-book wrap-up I tend to carry in my head is not always the best ending.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.