Book Review: Cheater’s Game by Paul Levine @Jake_Lassiter

Cheater’s Game
A Jake Lassiter Thriller #14
Paul Levine
Herald Square Publishing, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-7342510-0-5
Trade Paperback

The latest in Levine’s Jake Lassiter Thriller series finds Jake in what can only be called a “ripped from the headlines” situation.  Jake’s beloved nephew Kip whom Jake raised, has been working with a brilliant millionaire who has set up a program to help the children of rich parents get into universities that they would not otherwise qualify for under any circumstances.  Is this beginning to sound familiar?  Yes, the story is much like, though not the same as, the current scandal playing out in the federal district court in my hometown of Boston.

Kip, not unlike many other 20-year-old young people, believes he not only has come up with an infallible scheme that fits very well with that of his new mentor but that it’s not illegal and, in any case, his mentor will never give him up, as Jake did not give up his mentor when the FBI came calling.  Alas, it isn’t so.  When the FBI then approached Kip’s mentor and presented an offer he couldn’t refuse, he threw Kip under the bus.  So, now facing numerous federal crimes and the possibility of spending decades in prison, to whom does he turn?  Why to his uncle Jake, of course!  Now, Jake is a long-time criminal defense lawyer and a very good one.  But he is also a former football player who suffered many head injuries and has bouts of memory loss for which he is being treated with an experimental protocol by his fiancée, a neurologist.  That said there is a serious question about whether, as good as Jake is – or was – as a lawyer, is he up to defending Kip against the government’s 37 claims of racketeering, mail fraud, and money laundering, all supported by his mentor’s testimony against him?

The trial is as dramatic as anyone could possibly want.  I don’t know what the rest of the series is like, but I highly recommend this book and if the others are as good, you’re in for several very good reads.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, April 2020.

Book Reviews: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat and Courage and Defiance by Deborah Hopkinson

Untwine
Edwidge Danticat
Scholastic Press, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-42303-8
Hardcover

Preamble be damned, Untwine begins in the present and with purpose. Mum and Dad aren’t getting along. Identical teen-aged twin girls are tight, but right now, each is feeling a bit out of sorts. Everyone in the family car, each in a funk. And they are running late. Suddenly–another vehicle slams into them. The tightly knit family is shattered; metaphorically and then, quite literally.

Realistic fiction with a fresh focus features a situation that anyone can relate to. Rather than opening with an obligatory, typical-teen-turning-point type of event, it’s a regular day and a random accident. With all the ripple effects. Giselle relays events to the reader, moving both backward and forward, but in a fluid kind of way—painting the picture piece by piece.

Ms. Danticat’s story struck me as unique in a couple of ways. First, I felt a solid sense of loss for someone I’ve never known. Not sadness, sympathy or empathy; but an actual aching emptiness, and all for a character the author doesn’t even introduce. Second, subtle nuances–almost behind-the-scenes actions, that demonstrate strength and support of extended family I found to be both impressive and inspiring.

Mum and Dad, each with a sibling, immigrated from Haiti to the U.S. and they made their home in Miami. The accident brings the twins’ maternal aunt, as well as their father’s brother, to the hospital and straight to Giselle’s bedside. When Giselle is released from the hospital, she has rigid, ridiculous rules to follow, but they are for real. If she wants her brain to heal, that means no screens whatsoever, no reading, and no writing. Everyone else has their own injuries, so grand-parents come from Haiti to help out.

A sad story, with subtle silver linings, is simply the best.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2018.

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Courage & Defiance:
Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark
Deborah Hopkinson
Scholastic Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-59220-8
Hardcover

In April of 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and the quiet, common thread running through the Danish people was plucked. If ever there was a more resilient, resolved and remarkably sympathetic collection of human beings, they are unknown to me. Ms. Hopkinson honestly portrays the dangers of dismal, every-day-life under occupation as well as the cruelty and despair of concentration camps, simultaneously displaying the intuitive empathy and bravery of the Danes.

What strikes me the most is that each person has an individual ‘line he will cross’ while still doing his level best to resist, if not fight, against the gruesome German goals. That is, until learning of Hitler’s plan to round up and relocate Danish Jews to concentration camps. The unspoken, unanimous decision to prevent this was almost palpable as plans for moving Jewish Danes to Sweden were formed.

I do not have the ability to aptly convey the reasons that I will be highly recommending this non-fiction nugget, so I’ll just leave you with this: reading Courage and Defiance reminds me of the quote that Mr. Rogers would share from his childhood. When he would see scary things in the news, his mother advised, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Reviews: Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg and Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey

GangsterlandGangsterland
Tod Goldberg
Counterpoint Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-578-3
Trade Paperback

The idea of juxtaposing the mafia, a hit man, and a Reform Jewish temple in Las Vegas forms the basis for this outrageous but satisfying novel.  It is filled with a variety of characters and a plot that carries the theme with aplomb.  While the concept may appear to be beyond the realms of reality, the author carries it out with grace and humor.

It all begins in Chicago, where Sal Cupertine is an extraordinary hit man for the mob, efficient, careful and never caught.  Until one day he is assigned to meet with some purported drug sellers who turn out to be FBI agents and, for the first time, his face becomes known, so he has to kill them for self-preservation but has to flee the Windy City hidden in a refrigerated truck.  Sal ends up in Las Vegas, undergoes facial surgery and, because he has a retentive memory, is turned into Rabbi David Cohen, part of a new racket.

While many of the Talmudic and Biblical references, which colorfully emit from David’s (Sal’s) lips throughout the novel, may be questionable, they set the tone for the incredible plot.  If there is one drawback to the novel it is the final passages which to this reader did not ring true, although, supposedly, are intended to provide a morality to this mafia story.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2015.

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Shark Skin SuiteShark Skin Suite
Serge Storms #18
Tim Dorsey
William Morrow, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-224001-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  “Bottom feeders beware: The Sunshine State’s favorite psychotic killer and lovable Floridaphile, Serge Storms, has found a new calling, legal eagle, and he’s going to make a killing as a crusading attorney – – and star as a dashing lawyer on the big screen – – in this madcap escapade . . . When it comes to swimming with the sharks, there is no bigger kahuna than Serge Storms.  Binging on a marathon of legal movies set in Florida, Serge finds his vocation:  the law.  Never mind law school or that degree; Serge becomes a freelance fixer – – wildcat paralegal and pilgrim to the hallowed places where legal classics of the big screen such as Body Heat, Cool Hand Luke, and Absence of Malice were filmed practically in his own backyard.”

I found it nearly impossible to summarize the plot of this book; suffice it to say that I began and ended the book with a silly smile on my face, which was the default display for much of everything in between.  As stated above, much of the novel is an homage to those classic films; to say that Serge is a movie buff is a huge understatement.  In addition, the author captures the feel of the Florida streets in, e.g., downtown Miami:  “The foot traffic was determined in the midday heat.  Folded newspapers, briefcases, take-out bags with Cuban sandwiches.  A teenager sprinted up the middle of the street with a fistful of wristwatches.  A whiskered man on the corner of Flagler had been screaming and kicking his own bicycle for five minutes.  A shopowner chasing the shoplifting teen was hit by an ambulance.  One of the folded newspapers told of a mysterious eyeball the size of a cantaloupe that had washed upon the beach.  Everything was normal.  Pedestrians continued chatting on cell phones.”

The author’s writing style is certainly unique, and the resulting work is recommended.  Just what I needed after a fairly steady recent diet of dark, death- and danger-filled books.  (Although I should perhaps add that there are a couple of dead bodies before the book comes to a close.)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2015.

Book Review: Red Tide by Jeff Lindsay

Red TideRed Tide
A Billy Knight Thriller #2
Jeff Lindsay
Diversion Publishing, October 2015
ISBN 978-1626817210
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Billy Knight wants to ride out Key West’s slow-season with the occasional charter and the frequent beer. But when he discovers a dead body floating in the gulf, Billy gets drawn into a deadly plot of dark magic and profound evil. Along with his spiritually-attuned terrier of a friend, Nicky, and Anna, a resilient and mysterious survivor of her own horrors, Billy sets out to right the wrongs the police won’t, putting himself in mortal peril on the high seas.

The mood is somber in the opening pages of Red Tide as Billy’s charter boat business is down in a slow economy, his girlfriend is drifting away from what seems to be a moribund relationship and he spends his afternoons in the morose company of a bunch of diehard barsitters. Things get worse when Billy picks a fight in the bar, landing himself and said girlfriend, Nancy, in the Key West jail. In the drunk tank, Billy meets a rich kid named Rick Pearl who will show up in Billy’s life later but he’s probably seen the last of Nancy.

So begins the second in the Billy Knight series following Tropical Depression which was first published more than 20 years ago and re-issued this past August. Red Tide itself is new and may or may not lead to more stories featuring Billy, a retired cop relocated from Los Angeles to Key West, a world away from his past.

While the plot is done quite well, it’s the characters that really appealed to me, and not just Billy who’s kind of a romantic at heart and a man who’d rather leave the detecting life behind but can’t help himself. I also have become very fond of his annoying friend, Nicky, who is as hyper as they come, no more than five feet tall, and determined to rescue Billy from his own unhappiness.

In this entry, Billy finds himself involved with the Haitian refugee problem and a touch of voodoo but it’s a woman named Anna who gives him reason to investigate when the police have no interest in the dead body he and his wacky pal, Nicky, found in the Gulf. Following leads in Miami, Billy soon learns that human trafficking has come too close to home and he’s soon in pursuit of a mysterious ship on the high seas.

Lindsay’s Dexter series has had its fans—in droves—as well as its detractors—also in droves. After all, not everyone has a taste for serial killers and those books are rather gruesome at times. Readers who’ve avoided Dexter should give Billy a try as these books are much more in the private investigator vein (but a bit on the dark side) and Billy himself is a likeable guy with a dry sense of humor that lightens the mood now and then. In fact, this is a story that nicely blends a typical thriller with adventure, some humor and an interesting mystery. I’m a Dexter fan but I’ve also come to like Billy and I do hope Mr. Lindsay will give us more.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2015.

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An Excerpt from Red Tide

Miami has this problem with its boaters. Some of them are still sane, rational, careful people—perhaps as many as three or four out of every ten thousand of them. The rest act like they escaped from the asylum, drank a bottle of vodka, snorted an ounce of coke, ate 25 or 30 downers and decided to go for a spin. Homicidal, sociopathic maniacs, wildly out of control, with not a clue that other people are actually alive, and interested in keeping it that way. To them, other boats are targets. They get in the boat knowing only two speeds: fast and blast-off.

I mentioned a few of these things to the boats that tried to kill me. I don’t think they could hear me over the engine roar. One of the boats had four giant outboard motors clamped on the back; 250 horsepower each, all going at full throttle no more than six inches from Sligo. If I had put the boom out I would have beheaded the boat’s driver. He might not have noticed.

“To get a driver’s license,” I said to Nicky through gritted teeth, “you have to be sixteen, take a test, and demonstrate minimal skill behind the wheel.”

Nicky was busy fumbling on a bright orange life jacket, fingers trembling, and swearing under his breath.

“To drive a boat—which is just as fast, bigger, and in conditions just as crowded and usually more hazardous—you have to be able to start the motor. That’s all. Just start the motor. There’s something wrong with this picture, Nicky.”

“There is, mate,” he said. “We’re in it. Can you get us out of here?”

My luck was working overtime. We had four more close scrapes—one with a huge Italian-built motor yacht that was 100 feet long, cruising down the center of the channel at a stately thirty knots, but I got us out of the channel alive and undamaged. When I cleared the last two markers and turned into the wind I told Nicky, “Okay. Raise the sails.”

He stared at me for a moment. “Sure. Of course. How?”

It turned out Nicky had never been on a sailboat before. So he held the tiller while I went forward to the mast and ran the sails up. Then I jumped back into the cockpit and killed the engine.

“Home, James,” said Nicky, popping two beers and handing me one. “It’s been a bitch of a morning.”

I took the beer and pointed our bow south.

It was a near-perfect day, with a steady, easy wind coming from the east. We sailed south at a gentle five knots, staring at the scenery. Cape Florida looked strange, embarrassed to be naked. All its trees had been stripped away by the hurricane. Farther south, the stacks of Turkey Point Nuclear Reactor stuck up into the air, visible for miles. It was a wonderful landmark for all the boaters. Just steer thataway, Ray Bob, over there towards all them glowing fishes.

• • •

The weather held. We made it down through the Keys in easy stages, staying the first two nights in small marinas along the way, rising at dawn for a lazy breakfast in the cockpit, then casting off and getting the sails up as quickly as possible. Part of the pure joy of the trip was in the sound of the wind and the lack of any kind of machine noise. We’d agreed to do without the engine whenever we could.

That turned out to be most of the time. Nicky took to sailing quickly and without effort. We fell into the rhythm of the wind and the waves so easily, so naturally, that it was like we had been doing this forever, and would keep doing it until one day we were too old and dry and simply blew gently over the rail, wafted away on a wave.

The third night we could have made it in to Key West. But we would have been docking in the dark, and working a little harder than we wanted to. So we pulled in to a small marina with plenty of time left before sunset.

Nicky used the time doing what he called rustling up grub. I don’t know if that’s how they say it in Australia, or if he heard it in some old John Wayne movie. From what he’d told me about Australia, there’s not much difference.

I sat in the cockpit with a beer, stretched out under the blue Bimini top, and waited for Nicky to get back. I had a lot to think about, so I tried not to. But my thoughts were pretty well centered on Nancy.

It was over. It wasn’t over. I should do something. I should let it take its course. It wasn’t too late. It had been too late for months. Eeny meeny miny mo.

Luckily, Nicky came back before I went completely insane. He was clutching a bag of groceries and two more six packs of beer.

“Ahoy the poop,” he shouted. “How ’bout a hand, mate?”

I got him safely aboard and he went below to the little kitchen. It sounded like he was trying to put a hole in the hull with an old stop sign while singing comic opera, so I stayed in the cockpit, watching the sun sink and thinking my thoughts.

There is something very special about sunset in a marina. All the people in their boats have done something today. They have risked something and achieved something, and it gives them all a pleasant smugness that makes them very good company at happy hour. A few hours later the people off the big sports fishermen will be loud obnoxious drunks and the couples in their small cruising sailboats will be snarling at them self-righteously from their Birkenstocks, but at sunset they are all brothers and sisters and there are very few places in the world better for watching the sun go down than from the deck of a boat tied safely in a marina after a day on the water.

I sipped a beer. I felt good, too, although my mind kept circling back to Nancy, and every time it did my mood lurched downwards. But it’s hard to feel bad on a sailboat. That’s one reason people still sail.

Anyway, tomorrow we would be home. I could worry about it then.

Early the next morning we were working our way towards Key West, about two miles off shore on the ocean side. We had decided on the ocean side because of the mild weather. With the prevailing wind from the east, we would have a better sail on the outside, instead of in the calmer waters of the Gulf on the inside of the Keys.

And because the weather was so mild, we went out a little further than usual. Nicky was curious about the Gulf Stream, which runs close to the Keys. I put us onto its edge, and by early afternoon we were only a few miles out of Key West.

Nicky had dragged up his black plastic box and, surprise, pulled out a large handgun.

Like a lot of other foreigners who settle in the USA, Nicky had become a gun nut. He was not dangerous, or no more dangerous than he was at the dinner table. In fact he had become an expert shot and a fast draw. The fast draw part had seemed important to him out of all proportion to how much it really mattered. I put it down to the horrors of growing up a runt in Australia.

Somehow Nicky managed to rationalize his new love for guns with his philosophy of All-Things-Are-One brotherhood. “Simple, mate,” he’d said with a wink, “I’m working out a past life karmic burden.”

“Horseshit.”

“All right then, I just like the bloody things. How’s that?”

Nicky had a new gun. He wanted to fire off a few clips and get the feel of it. Since we were out in the Stream and the nearest boat was almost invisible on the horizon, I didn’t see any reason why not. So Nicky shoved in a clip and got ready to fire his lovely new toy.

It was a nine millimeter Sig Sauer, an elegant and expensive weapon that Nicky needed about as much as he needed a Sharp’s buffalo rifle, but he had it and so far he hadn’t blown off his foot with it. I was hoping he would stay lucky.

“Ahoy, mate,” called Nicky, pointing the gun off to the south, “thar she blows.”

I turned to follow his point. A bleach bottle was sailing slowly out into the Gulf Stream.

“Come on,” Nicky urged, “pedal to the metal, mate.”

I tightened the main sheet and turned the boat slightly to give him a clear shot and Nicky opened up. He fired rapidly and well. The bleach bottle leaped into the air and he plugged it twice more before it came down again. He sent it flying across the water until the clip was empty and the bottle, full of holes, started to settle under.

I chased down the bottle and hooked it out with a boathook before it sank from sight. There’s enough crap in the ocean. Nicky was already shoving in a fresh clip.

“Onward, my man,” he told me, slamming home the clip and letting out a high, raucous, “Eeee-HAH!” as he opened a new beer. We were moving out further than we should have, maybe, out into the Gulf Stream. It’s easy to know when you’re there. You see a very abrupt color change, which is just what it sounds like: the water suddenly changes from a gunmetal green to a luminous blue. The edge where the change happens is as hard and startling as a knife-edge.

“Ahoy, matey,” Nicky called again, pointing out beyond the color change, and I headed out into the Gulf Stream for the new target. “Coconut!” Nicky called with excitement as we got closer. It was his favorite target. He loved the way they exploded when he hit them dead on.

I made the turn, adjusting the sheet line and again presenting our broadside, and swiveled my head to watch.

Nicky was already squinting. His hand wavered over the black nylon holster clipped to his belt. He let his muscles go slack and ready. I stared at the coconut. From fifty yards it suddenly looked wrong. The color was almost right, a greyish brown, and the dull texture seemed to fit, but—

“Hang on, Nicky,” I said, “Just a second—”

But the first two shots were already smacking away, splitting the sudden quiet.

I shoved the tiller hard over and brought us into the wind. The boat lurched and made Nicky miss his second shot. He looked at me with an expression of annoyance. I nodded at his target. He had hit the coconut dead center with the first shot. It should have leapt out of the water in a spectacular explosion. It hadn’t. The impact of the shot pushed it slowly, sluggishly through the water and we could both see it clearly now.

It wasn’t a coconut. Not at all. It was a human head.

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About the Author

Jeff LindsayJeff Lindsay is the award-winning author of the seven New York Times bestselling Dexter novels upon which the international hit TV show Dexter is based. His books appear in more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies around the world. Jeff is a graduate of Middlebury College, Celebration Mime Clown School, and has a double MFA from Carnegie Mellon. Although a full-time writer now, he has worked as an actor, comic, director, MC, DJ, singer, songwriter, composer, musician, story analyst, script doctor, and screenwriter.

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Book Reviews: One Shot by Lee Child, Lassiter by Paul Levine, Kill My Darling by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Boca Daze by Steven M. Forman, and Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

One Shot
Lee Child
Dell, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-345-53819-2
Premium Mass Market Paperback

As I am among those looking forward to the upcoming film simply called “Jack Reacher” [or not, in view of the controversy surrounding the fact that Tom Cruise will play the lead], I thought I’d go back to the book, initially published in 2005 and now with a new “Movie Tie-In Edition,” before seeing the film.  I tried to put everything that’s transpired in Jack Reacher’s life in the years since 2005 in the recesses of my mind to come at this book fresh [so to speak].

The novel jumps right in with a scene fraught with tension:  A person described only as “the man with the rifle” is putting into motion an obviously well-thought-out plan, in a scene that culminates with him using a rifle to kill five people, strangers all, each with one shot to the head, in a business area in the heartland south of Indianapolis, Indiana teeming with people leaving work into the heart of the rush hour, and then escapes scant minutes before all hell breaks loose.

Forensics give the police enough data to name a suspect, a 41-year-old US Army veteran, an infantry specialist [read “sniper”] who they quickly, in the early hours of the following morning, take into custody.  Ironically, a newly minted attorney who just happens to be the daughter of the District Attorney handling the case agrees to defend the accused man at the behest of his sister.  The man himself has refused to speak with anyone, prosecutors or defense attorney, other than to say “Get Jack Reacher for me.”  Enigmatic, to say the least, since their past encounter had been less than friendly.

Reacher himself is en route, having seen and read all about the massacre.  As the author describes it:  “Mostly he had rocked and swayed and dozed on buses, watching the passing scenes, observing the chaos of America . . . His life was like that.  It was a mosaic of fragments.  Details and contexts would fade and be inaccurately recalled, but the feelings and the experiences would weave over time into a tapestry equally full of good times and bad.”  And as we all now know, Reacher is an imposing man, in mind and body, and doesn’t let anything stop him when on a mission, having been honorably discharged seven years ago as a major in the army, and for fourteen years an MP.   (He’s also a man who knows every stat about every professional baseball player who ever played for the NY Yankees.)  And to steal a line from an old James Bond movie, nobody does it better.

The same could be said for Lee Child.  Ingeniously plotted, wonderfully well-written, terrifically entertaining, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2012.

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Lassiter
Paul Levine
Bantam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-553-80674-8
Hardcover

Lassiter is prefaced with a quote from Lenny Bruce:  “In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.”  A very realistic assessment of the US legal profession and justice system, one which comes alive in the ensuing pages.  The newest novel from Paul Levine moves along in a very entertaining manner, until suddenly it evolves into something much tighter and delivers a dramatic courtroom scene a la Perry Mason or, more contemporaneously, Law & Order.  Which I really should have expected from this author, having read many of his thirteen previous books and enjoyed them all.  Presented with wry humor and a very likeable – well, perhaps I should say ‘sympathetic’ – protagonist, and with nary a[n explicit] lawyer joke included!

The past of Jake Lassiter, Mr. Levine’s criminal attorney protagonist, self-styled ‘follower of his own rules,’ who refers to his clients as ‘customers,’ comes back to haunt him on the day he is hired by a lovely woman who introduces herself as Amy Larkin, in jail in Miami on a charge of First Degree Murder, who swears her innocence.  He soon realizes that she is the sister of a teenage girl he had very briefly known [and with whom he was even more briefly intimate] nearly two decades earlier, who seems to have disappeared and is presumed dead. The man Amy is accused of killing had presumably been mistaken for her true target:  The man quite likely to have been the one responsible for her sister’s fate; a man who in those years was involved in the making of pornographic movies, among other even sleazier operations, and the last person Lassiter himself had seen her with before she disappeared.

Since that man has in the intervening years become quite a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, having been known to contribute quite heavily to the coffers of some prominent politicians and office-holders, proving him complicit in the earlier events will be quite a difficult task. Jake, who has himself evolved from the jock he had been [a linebacker with the Miami Dolphins, and whose dog is of course named Csonka], after which the night-school lawyer has become a somewhat successful criminal attorney with an office in South Beach and a strong sense of justice, no matter how that end must be achieved.  The ensuing investigation goes down many unexpected roads, to a stunning conclusion that left this reader riveted.  The book sort of sneaks up on you, until suddenly you’re hurtling through an incredible and thrilling tale with all the ingredients: a good mystery, funny dialogue and great characters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

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Kill My Darling
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Severn House, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8137-3
Hardcover

In the newest [and very welcome] Bill Slider mystery, the Detective Inspector is presented with a missing persons report:  Melanie Hunter, a young woman who is a paleontologist at a prestigious Kensington museum, has not been seen in a day, and though that is normally not a matter for the police at that early stage, there is a hint of Sherlock Holmes in the fact that her dog, usually a very quiet animal, has been left alone in her apartment and has been barking a lot.  When her downstairs neighbor lets himself into the apartment with the key he had been provided for just such purpose, he takes the dog back with him and reports the incident to the police.  The worst fears are realized in short order when the woman’s dead body is discovered.

Suspicion first falls on that self-same neighbor, who is found to be a convicted murderer, though out of prison for several years.  Although everyone who knew Melanie says she was very friendly and loved by all, there are soon several serious suspects, and no real proof or evidence to narrow it down.  Slider, always a sensitive soul, finds the girl’s death haunting him.

Slider is a wonderful protagonist, and his colleagues in Shepherd’s Bush cop shop are delightful creations all, including D.S. Porson, king of the malapropisms and mixed metaphors, described variously as having “the looks and charm of a bunion,” wearing a “greatcoat, the folds of which were so voluminous a Bedouin could have kept his entire family in there, and several of his favourite horses as well.”   The author’s trademark evocative descriptions of people and places are terrific as always; the writing throughout is wonderful in its humor and poignancy, and the mystery thoroughly satisfying, with a fascinating resolution that is truly unexpected – – though all the clues are there.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2012.

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Boca Daze
Steven M. Forman
Forge, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2876-2
Hardcover

Eddie Perlmutter, a 61-year-old p.i. in Boca Raton, FL, is still a crusader who cannot, it seems, help himself:  He has to save whatever otherwise lost causes present themselves, from homeless people living on the streets, beaches or wherever else, to the endangered sea turtles with nests on the shores. A former Boston cop who, as he says, was that city’s “most decorated and demoted policeman in my prime and best marksman on the force,” he retired to Boca three years ago. Widowed for many years, he is now living with his gorgeous [and much younger] Haitian-born girlfriend [whose own claim to fame includes cutting a man’s head off with a machete before leaving Haiti], still working with Louie Dewey, computer genius extraordinaire.  Eddie having been dubbed the Boca Knight, and attained not a small bit of celebrity, by a young newspaper reporter, following an anti-Nazi rally in Palm Beach, among other things, he runs the Boca Knights Detective Agency, with Louie’s invaluable assistance.

Louie is only one of many other quirky characters with equally quirky names, e.g., “Three Bag Bailey,” a homeless woman, and Liam Michael “Mad Mick” Murphy, a journalist from Key West.  Although brutal and violent in many spots, the book is filled with humor, as were the two earlier entries in this series.  He is obviously very fond of his adopted State.  Eddie mentions in one instance that “over a thousand endangered species live in South Florida.  The Early Bird is not one of them, and in another, when about to drive after sustaining a serious head injury, and asked if he is fit to drive, he responds “I’m in better condition than most drivers in Boca.”

Always a crusader and “a sucker for a good cause,” Eddie promises to look into an attack on a homeless man dubbed “Weary Willie” [after the sad-faced clown of many years ago] – – apparently the homeless problem in Florida just as bad as, if not worse than, any other part of the country – – and uncovers several other criminal activities along the way, including political corruption, and erstwhile pain clinics, really “pill mills,” apparently another blight in Florida, with millions of pills sold annually in strip malls and office parks by non-medical corporations.  But the worst crime uncovered is one reminiscent of the Bernie Madoff affair [with the latter even making a cameo appearance].

Don’t let the fact that Eddie is on speaking terms with a particular body part be off-putting; it’s really just another aspect of this very funny book with a wonderful protagonist who has a tendency toward random philosophical musings.  It is a terrific and fast read, and I look forward to the next book in the series.  Parenthetically, I loved the tip of the hat to the Mystery Bookstore in Pineapple Grove as well.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ghost Hero
S. J. Rozan
Minotaur, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00693-6
Trade Paperback

Lydia Chin, young New York private investigator, although she is what she refers to as an ABC [American-Born Chinese], cannot imagine why a new client wants to hire her for an investigation dealing with contemporary Chinese art [what he refers to as a “cutting edge collecting area” in the West], freely admitting that she has no clue about art.  Despite her reluctance, she agrees to accept his retainer to check out rumors of some new pieces of art by one Chau Chun, known as the Ghost Hero.  This despite the fact that Chau is believed to have died 20 years ago in the uprising at Tienanmen Square.

This particular artist’s work was known to contain “hidden” political symbols, and the putative new work contains current political references. There is a suspicion, then, that the work is contemporary, not created over two decades earlier.  But the potential value of the Ghost Hero’s “ghost paintings” is enormous, since in the past his work was worth half a million dollars, give or take.

As always with work by this author, there is a full quotient of clever, witty dialogue from clever, witty people – well, a few people in particular: Lydia; her cousin, Linus, tech geek [read “hacker”] extraordinaire; Bill Smith, a mid-fifties white guy [referred to by Lydia’s disapproving mother as the “white baboon” – can you tell she doesn’t like him?], also a p.i. and over the past few years Lydia’s partner; and Jack Lee, a  2d generation ABC from the suburban Midwest and art expert as well as a p.i., in this case having also been hired [by an unnamed client] to investigate the possibility of the existence of the self-same paintings.  The stakes are raised when the investigation sparks the interest of the wrong people, and bullets and threats start to fly.

Parenthetically, I have to admit to some small confusion on my part keeping the Asian names straight, but ultimately that is of small moment, as in the end the author makes everything clear.  Brilliantly plotted, and with protagonists the reader cares about and roots for, the book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2012.

Book Reviews: The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish, Buried By the Roan by Mark Stevens, Iron House by John Hart, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, and Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

The Killing Song
P.J. Parrish
Gallery Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5135-5
Trade Paperback

A diversion from the long-standing Louis Kincaid series for which this sister-writing-team is well known, this standalone features a hard-drinking investigative reporter headquartered in Miami, Matt Owen, who is confronted with his younger sister’s sudden disappearance and subsequent murder.  When he suddenly discovers her Ipod with a Stone’s song on it, he realizes he may have found something of a clue, and flies to Paris.

In the City of Light, aided by an old newspaper friend and a female French Inspector, he begins to track the murderer, first in Paris and then London and Scotland and back to Paris again, developing, step by step, a picture of the culprit and his past crimes, leading to an interesting chase.

It is quite a story, with well-developed characters, especially that of the villain, and an intensive investigation to find him.  Whether or not the reader can accept Matt as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well or a talented, tenacious reporter attempting to redeem himself, is a question that can only be answered by the reader.  But, then, we’ll always have Paris.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buried By the Roan
Mark Stevens
People’s Press, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9817810-9-9
Trade Paperback

The second Allison Coil Mystery begins with a hunting party Allison and her guides are heading in Colorado.  Among the participants is the owner of a ranch who supposedly is in the forefront in the community of “striking it rich” by collecting gas royalties as the controversy swirls about ruining the environment by fracturing underground sources of hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately he dies up on the mountain, apparently in an accident.  But was it?

From that point, the convoluted plot progresses and the reader has to work doubly hard to reach the end.  The writing is uneven, with spurts of excellent descriptive material, especially with regard to elk-hunting and the environment in which the activity takes place. But it is confusion that greets the reader on the topic, pro or con, concerning environmentalism.

The mystery surrounding this novel is why the first 100 pages were not cut before publication.  It is only when the reader plows through one-third of the book that a plot of a sort begins to emerge.  And then, it is just frequently confusing.  Apparently, the theme is supposed to be pro-environmental in nature, a controversy similar to the protests against the proposed pipeline from Canada south.  Or the natural gas fracturing taking place throughout the country.  But it is hard to tell.  That said, fans of western mysteries should be pleased.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Iron House
John Hart
St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2
Hardcover

Iron House was originally built in the Western North Carolina mountains as a psychiatric facility for Civil War veterans, later to be converted into an orphan asylum, one that was poorly supervised and maintained.  Into the home came Michael and Julian as babies.  Through the next decade Michael, the stronger brother, sought to protect his younger sibling who was continually victimized by five bullies.  Then Julian reached the breaking point, stabbing the leader of his tormenters.  Knowing his brother couldn’t hack it, Michael removed the knife from the dead boy’s neck and ran away, “accepting” blame for the murder.

Ironically on that same day, a young woman, wife of a very rich and powerful U.S. Senator, arrived at Iron House specifically to adopt Michael and Julian.  And so it came to be that the weaker brother grew up in luxury, developing into a gifted author of children’s books, while the stronger one arrived in New York, drifting to Harlem as the leader of a gang of boys, soon to be “adopted” by a notorious mob leader and developed into an enforcer and killer.  Then Michael falls in love and wants out of the mob life so he can lead a “normal” life.

That is the background from which the book develops.  The remainder is the chase of Michael and his woman by the mobsters who fear he would betray them, and his attempts to protect his brother and his lover from them.  At the same time, other complications develop to keep the reader’s interest at a peak.  While on the whole this is a gripping tale, one could view it as a potboiler, full of cliché-ish overtones. Nevertheless, it is a very well-plotted, interesting read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7
Hardcover

The son of a woodcutter on an estate where a young girl has attracted his attention, Wilfred (“Wolf”) Hadda sets his sights on marrying her. She challenges him to refine himself and become rich.  He goes away for seven years and performs many mysterious functions, eventually returning with the necessary social graces and a small fortune.  So they get married, and Wolf leads a charmed life in the City, amassing more money and a title.  Then the fairy tale ends.

A police raid one early morning results in the discovery that Wolf’s computer contains porn.  He’s arrested and charged, and it goes downhill from there.  Of course, the current financial crisis forces the collapse of his empire, and the loss of his fortune.  Financial fraud is added to the original charges.  He spends the next seven years in prison, gaining parole only when he acknowledges his crime to a psychiatrist, convincing her of his repentance.

Then comes the twist.

The intricate plot is a study of double-crosses and the uncovering of the plot which sent him to jail, evolving into a quiet study of revenge and retribution.  The characters are well-drawn, and the writing tight.  A well-told tale, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues
Michael Brandman
Putnam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-3991-5784-4
Hardcover

It is quite a challenge to be asked to pick up where a master like Robert B. Parker left off.  But that is exactly the dare the author faced when the publisher asked him to continue writing the popular Jesse Stone series.  Mr. Brandman was no stranger to Parker:  they were friends for many years and collaborated on several Spenser and Stone movies on television.   Still it was a formidable task.

So let us begin by noting that we will not compare this work with any of Parker’s oeuvre, simply because it would not be fair to either. Instead, let us judge the work on its own merits.  To begin with, it is constructed like a Jesse Stone novel, with many of the elements that have made them so popular, with good plotting and short dialogue and witty Stone comments.

It involves three separate story lines, both of which affect Jesse as a Chief of Police and as an individual.  They take place just as the summer tourist season is about to begin in Paradise, MA.  One involves carjackings, another something out of Jesse’s past, and the last a serious situation involving a young girl holding a school principal at gunpoint.  Each requires Jesse to solve it in his own inimitable fashion.

With that, the conclusion is that an assessment lets us accept the book, as it is presented, favorably.  It is possibly unfortunate that the publisher chose the title to ride the coattails of the late, esteemed Grand Master, somewhat like the producers of the current “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” renamed an opera that has stood the test of time for eight or more decades.  A book should stand on its own, and this one does.

Enough with comparisons already:  Just read it and you’ll recommend it, as I do.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

Book Reviews: The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish, Buried By the Roan by Mark Stevens, Iron House by John Hart, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, and Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

The Killing Song
P.J. Parrish
Gallery Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5135-5
Trade Paperback

A diversion from the long-standing Louis Kincaid series for which this sister-writing-team is well known, this standalone features a hard-drinking investigative reporter headquartered in Miami, Matt Owen, who is confronted with his younger sister’s sudden disappearance and subsequent murder.  When he suddenly discovers her Ipod with a Stone’s song on it, he realizes he may have found something of a clue, and flies to Paris.

In the City of Light, aided by an old newspaper friend and a female French Inspector, he begins to track the murderer, first in Paris and then London and Scotland and back to Paris again, developing, step by step, a picture of the culprit and his past crimes, leading to an interesting chase.

It is quite a story, with well-developed characters, especially that of the villain, and an intensive investigation to find him.  Whether or not the reader can accept Matt as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well or a talented, tenacious reporter attempting to redeem himself, is a question that can only be answered by the reader.  But, then, we’ll always have Paris.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buried By the Roan
Mark Stevens
People’s Press, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9817810-9-9
Trade Paperback

The second Allison Coil Mystery begins with a hunting party Allison and her guides are heading in Colorado.  Among the participants is the owner of a ranch who supposedly is in the forefront in the community of “striking it rich” by collecting gas royalties as the controversy swirls about ruining the environment by fracturing underground sources of hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately he dies up on the mountain, apparently in an accident.  But was it?

From that point, the convoluted plot progresses and the reader has to work doubly hard to reach the end.  The writing is uneven, with spurts of excellent descriptive material, especially with regard to elk-hunting and the environment in which the activity takes place. But it is confusion that greets the reader on the topic, pro or con, concerning environmentalism.

The mystery surrounding this novel is why the first 100 pages were not cut before publication.  It is only when the reader plows through one-third of the book that a plot of a sort begins to emerge.  And then, it is just frequently confusing.  Apparently, the theme is supposed to be pro-environmental in nature, a controversy similar to the protests against the proposed pipeline from Canada south.  Or the natural gas fracturing taking place throughout the country.  But it is hard to tell.  That said, fans of western mysteries should be pleased.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Iron House
John Hart
St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2
Hardcover

Iron House was originally built in the Western North Carolina mountains as a psychiatric facility for Civil War veterans, later to be converted into an orphan asylum, one that was poorly supervised and maintained.  Into the home came Michael and Julian as babies.  Through the next decade Michael, the stronger brother, sought to protect his younger sibling who was continually victimized by five bullies.  Then Julian reached the breaking point, stabbing the leader of his tormenters.  Knowing his brother couldn’t hack it, Michael removed the knife from the dead boy’s neck and ran away, “accepting” blame for the murder.

Ironically on that same day, a young woman, wife of a very rich and powerful U.S. Senator, arrived at Iron House specifically to adopt Michael and Julian.  And so it came to be that the weaker brother grew up in luxury, developing into a gifted author of children’s books, while the stronger one arrived in New York, drifting to Harlem as the leader of a gang of boys, soon to be “adopted” by a notorious mob leader and developed into an enforcer and killer.  Then Michael falls in love and wants out of the mob life so he can lead a “normal” life.

That is the background from which the book develops.  The remainder is the chase of Michael and his woman by the mobsters who fear he would betray them, and his attempts to protect his brother and his lover from them.  At the same time, other complications develop to keep the reader’s interest at a peak.  While on the whole this is a gripping tale, one could view it as a potboiler, full of cliché-ish overtones. Nevertheless, it is a very well-plotted, interesting read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7
Hardcover

The son of a woodcutter on an estate where a young girl has attracted his attention, Wilfred (“Wolf”) Hadda sets his sights on marrying her. She challenges him to refine himself and become rich.  He goes away for seven years and performs many mysterious functions, eventually returning with the necessary social graces and a small fortune.  So they get married, and Wolf leads a charmed life in the City, amassing more money and a title.  Then the fairy tale ends.

A police raid one early morning results in the discovery that Wolf’s computer contains porn.  He’s arrested and charged, and it goes downhill from there.  Of course, the current financial crisis forces the collapse of his empire, and the loss of his fortune.  Financial fraud is added to the original charges.  He spends the next seven years in prison, gaining parole only when he acknowledges his crime to a psychiatrist, convincing her of his repentance.

Then comes the twist.

The intricate plot is a study of double-crosses and the uncovering of the plot which sent him to jail, evolving into a quiet study of revenge and retribution.  The characters are well-drawn, and the writing tight.  A well-told tale, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues
Michael Brandman
Putnam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-3991-5784-4
Hardcover

It is quite a challenge to be asked to pick up where a master like Robert B. Parker left off.  But that is exactly the dare the author faced when the publisher asked him to continue writing the popular Jesse Stone series.  Mr. Brandman was no stranger to Parker:  they were friends for many years and collaborated on several Spenser and Stone movies on television.   Still it was a formidable task.

So let us begin by noting that we will not compare this work with any of Parker’s oeuvre, simply because it would not be fair to either. Instead, let us judge the work on its own merits.  To begin with, it is constructed like a Jesse Stone novel, with many of the elements that have made them so popular, with good plotting and short dialogue and witty Stone comments.

It involves three separate story lines, both of which affect Jesse as a Chief of Police and as an individual.  They take place just as the summer tourist season is about to begin in Paradise, MA.  One involves carjackings, another something out of Jesse’s past, and the last a serious situation involving a young girl holding a school principal at gunpoint.  Each requires Jesse to solve it in his own inimitable fashion.

With that, the conclusion is that an assessment lets us accept the book, as it is presented, favorably.  It is possibly unfortunate that the publisher chose the title to ride the coattails of the late, esteemed Grand Master, somewhat like the producers of the current “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” renamed an opera that has stood the test of time for eight or more decades.  A book should stand on its own, and this one does.

Enough with comparisons already:  Just read it and you’ll recommend it, as I do.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.