Book Reviews: Capital Punishment by Robert Wilson, Original Skin by David Mark, and Andrew’s Brain by E. L. Doctorow

Capital MurderCapital Punishment
Robert Wilson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2013
ISBN: 978-0-547-93519-5-5
Hardcover

It’s not often that kidnappers do not demand money in exchange for the victim.  But that is precisely what happens when Alyshia D’Cruz, daughter of an Indian billionaire, Frank D’Cruz, is grabbed one night in London, and she is subjected to intense psychological interrogation, for reasons that are unclear to her father.

The ramifications of the abduction are wide.  One possible motive is revenge on her father—but at whose instigation and for what reason: Gangster associates with whom he has been in business?  Terrorists in Pakistan, where he has operations and dealings with intelligence agents?  There are other theories involving MI-6 and other spy agencies, personal relationships of various characters, including Frank’s ex-wife, Frank’s relationship with his daughter, and her relationship with her mother (Frank’s ex-wife).  Ultimately Charles Boxer, a private security officer, is retained by Frank to rescue his daughter.

This is a very complicated novel, written with great depth and on many levels, encompassing religious fanatics, Indian mobsters, London crime lords, Pakistani politics, and British government officials, all kinds of plots within plots and distorted personal relationships.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2013.

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Original SkinOriginal Skin
David Mark
Blue Rider Press, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-399-15865-0
Hardcover

Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy showed in his debut in The Dark Winter that he not only blushes easily, but his gut leads him to see crimes passed over by others.  Once again, he follows his instincts to solve a murder chalked up by others in the CID as a suicide.  It’s not as if the Yorkshire Serious and Organized Crime Unit hasn’t enough to do, but by conducting his “informal” investigation, McAvoy brings the “solve” statistics way up as at least two more murders occur.

Simultaneously, the Unit is overwhelmed by a series of crimes brought about by a vicious group seeking to take over the drug trade previously run by Vietnamese.  But McAvoy sniffs foul play in the year-old discovery of the nude body of a young man found choked in his home, hanging in his kitchen.  So he looks into it informally, with a sort of blessing by his superior, Detective Trish Pharaoh, and learns more about underground erotic sex activities than he bargained for, as well as coming too close to politicians who can cause him more trouble than it’s worth.

The plot moves swiftly, and the interchanges between Aector and Trish are so understated and poignant that the reader can only marvel at the author’s low-key approach.  This follow-up to the debut novel is more than a worthy successor; it is a wonderful addition to the series, which, we hope, will continue strongly in the future.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2013.

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Andrew's BrainAndrew’s Brain
E. L. Doctorow
Random House, January 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6881-4
Hardcover

The eponymous Andrew reminds me of the Al Capp (Li’l Abner) character,Joe Mxstlpk, who walked under a black cloud and was followed by a calamity wherever he went.  That is the story told by this Andrew, presumably to a psychologist or “shrink,” of his life:  the trials and tribulations, loves and losses, highs and lows.  In a way, the novel also reminds me somewhat of James Joyce’s Ulysses, except that it is written in clear prose and complete sentences.  The tale is related in a disjointed stream of consciousness, flitting from topic to topic, but is grouped into eleven “chapters,” various phases of Andrew’s life.  Apparently, Mr. Doctorow set out to write a book of very different quality than his previous efforts, which include such popular novels as World’s Fair, Billy Bathgate, Loon Lake and Ragtime [which also found its way into a hit musical].

It is unfortunate that this novel may not attract readers of his previous work, although it should gain plenty of critical acclaim.  As such, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2013.

Book Reviews: Box 21 by Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom, Vienna Twilight by Frank Tallis and Death Toll by Jim Kelly

Box 21
Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom
Picador, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-65534-1
Trade Paperback

This is not an easy novel to read, but it is well worth it because it is quite different from the usual crime-cum-thriller novels from Scandinavia.  It really is a psychological study of the conflicts facing detectives in their moral and ethical judgments.  It is the story of how they not only solve cases, but deal with personal relationships and crime.

There are two plots running through the book, each posing a separate question for the main protagonist, Detective Superintendent Ewert Grens, while only one of them presents itself to his sidekick, Sven Sundkvist.  In the end, they both have to face up to reality.

The crimes are gruesome enough, one involving young Baltic women forced into prostitution and enduring humiliating circumstances instead of the promised ‘good jobs’ in Sweden.  The other deals with a sadistic enforcer for a drug lord who breaks bones at stated prices, so much for a finger or a knee, a higher price for murder.  In short, in riveting alternating chapters, the stories come together and the two detectives have to resolve the questions facing them as they relate to the crimes involved.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.

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Vienna Twilight
Frank Tallis
Random House, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8129-8100-1
Trade Paperback

Human obsession with sex and death dominate this latest in the Max Liebermann Mystery series.  And of course, the good doctor’s psychoanalytic abilities, with only a cursory assist from Sigmund Freud, are the key to unraveling a series of murders of young women, with detective inspector Oskar Reinhardt, as usual, playing a supporting role, when he is not busy consuming Viennese pastries and Turkish coffee that is.

There are three unrelated mysteries which the pair have to solve: one in which women are murdered while having consensual sex; another of a patient of Liebermann who suffers from what is termed a Sophocles Syndrome; and the third, an unfortunate woman struggling to hide her past.

In many ways this novel, the fifth in the series, is not up to the level of its predecessors in terms of history, and the turn-of-the-century atmosphere of the Austrian capital.  Nevertheless, it makes up for this lack with an abundance of psychoanalytic analysis, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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Death Toll
Jim Kelly
Minotaur Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-57352-2
Hardcover

A protagonist like DI Peter Shaw gives the author license to throw more curve balls at the reader than a major league pitcher.  Shaw, a super-cerebral, over-intuitive detective who develops more and more theories as a case develops and he encounters more facts, certainly proves the point in this novel, which has two plot lines, both based in the distant past.

As a result of severe river flooding, graves along the bank in a cemetery are being exposed.  When one is opened, a skeleton is found atop the casket which contains the remains of the landlady of a local pub.  This sets off an investigation leading Shaw to discover a number of family secrets, with dire consequences to all concerned.  The inquiries move back and forth, uncovering events from a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Shaw, and his partner, DS Valentine, continue to try to prove one Bob Mosse a murderer.  It was Shaw’s father who arrested Mosse years before, only to see the charges thrown out of court because the judge declared a crucial peace of evidence had been contaminated by mishandling.  Consequently Shaw pere took early retirement under a cloud, and his partner, Valentine, was demoted and sent into limbo.

The story moves forward on both plot lines, more or less simultaneously, with Shaw, Valentine and the rest of the team uncovering a clue here, a fact there, until finally it all comes logically together, even if the conclusion requires a bit of manipulation by the author.  Well done, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

Book Review: On Edge by Barbara Fister

On Edge
Barbara Fister
Random House/Dell, 2002
ISBN 0440237513

Suffering from a gunshot wound, Chicago cop Konstantin Slovo is running from his family, his friends and all the tragedy in his life. His partner was killed in the same shooting and the department is investigating the incident, apparently believing Slovo shot his partner in “friendly fire”.

Heading east, Slovo ends up in a small coastal town in Maine for no particular reason other than to see the sun rise over the water. Parked near the beach, he misses the sunrise when he falls asleep and is awakened by a trio of local cops. Unfortunately for Slovo, his bloody backseat immediately arouses their suspicions and his testy attitude doesn’t help matters any. It seems that Slovo has wandered into a town that has a child missing, the third in recent months, and the police force is floundering with no leads in a situation far outside their experience.

After checking Slovo’s story, the police chief releases him in the care of a patrol officer who is to return him to his car. On the way, they stop at a site about to be searched and the child’s body is found shortly after.  Wanting to get as far away from this as he can, Slovo stops in at a cafe on his way to his car and collapses with a raging fever from his infected wound. At the hospital, the doctor tells him he’ll have to stay in town for a while.

Taking a house as a temporary rental, Slovo settles in to rest but soon finds himself much more involved in the case than he wants to be. A few of the town’s residents are solicitous and friendly but, with emotions running high—inflamed further by the memories of a massive child-molesting investigation twenty years earlier—many more are suspicious of him. Still, with his background as a big-city officer, he’s a natural consultant for the local force and the state and federal investigators. His bitterness and injury notwithstanding, Slovo soon becomes immersed in finding the next missing child before it’s too late.

On Edge is an apt title, considering not only Slovo’s state of mind but also the town’s fear and hostility. Child molestation, abduction and murder suspense novels are always difficult to read because of the emotions felt by the reader but author Barbara Fister handles these subjects well with no sensationalism except that to be expected in a serial murder case. The descriptions of the bodies, while somewhat gruesome, are brief and are unfortunately realistic. Fister‘s ability to tell a tough story well is admirable and is a promising introduction to her work.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, 2002.  Slightly revised 2010.
Review first published on murderexpress.net in 2002.

Book Review: Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Homer’s Odyssey
Gwen Cooper
Read by Renee Raudman
Random House Audio, 2009
ISBN 0307704114
Unabridged Audio Book

A tiny homeless kitten is left with a veterinarian, a kitten with a terrible eye infection that could be successfully treated only be removing his eyes.  Being blind is one thing; being eyeless is quite another and the vet faces a difficult time finding a home for this little creature.  Then she introduces him to Gwen Cooper, a young woman with a love of animals, and a new life begins for the fluffball Cooper names Homer.

With Cooper‘s diligent help, Homer learns to maneuver in his sightless world, sharing space with two other cats and completely unaware that he has a disability.  His infection had taken hold before his newborn eyes opened and he had never had vision.  If you’ve never had sight, you don’t know what you’re missing and Homer sets out to conquer whatever hurdles he encounters.  Along the way, he teaches Cooper and every other person who meets him a thing or two about living beyond one’s limitations.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about one episode in Homer’s life, his survival of the horror of 9/11 when Cooper was prevented from returning home to her pets.  Cooper‘s telling of her experience during this terrible time and her fear for her cats struck a chord in me.

http://www.cncbooks.com/blog/2010/08/01/a-911-story/

I enjoy animal tales and Homer’s Odyssey is a special example of how much an animal can affect our lives.   Listening to the audio edition, I felt almost a part of this tiny cat’s life and I thank Ms. Cooper for sharing his story with us.  He is a little guy I wish I could meet in person.  Homer is now 13 years old and you can check in on him and his feline “sisters”, Vashti and Scarlett, at the author’s blog here—

http://www.gwencooper.com/blog.php

(Note: click on the “Uncategorized” tag in any post to get to the older posts.)

A portion of the author’s royalties go to animal rescue organizations and the paperback will be available this Tuesday so you’ve got no excuse—buy the book and meet this wonderful cat!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2010.

Book Review: Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Homer’s Odyssey
Gwen Cooper
Read by Renee Raudman
Random House Audio, 2009
ISBN 0307704114
Unabridged Audio Book

A tiny homeless kitten is left with a veterinarian, a kitten with a terrible eye infection that could be successfully treated only be removing his eyes.  Being blind is one thing; being eyeless is quite another and the vet faces a difficult time finding a home for this little creature.  Then she introduces him to Gwen Cooper, a young woman with a love of animals, and a new life begins for the fluffball Cooper names Homer.

With Cooper‘s diligent help, Homer learns to maneuver in his sightless world, sharing space with two other cats and completely unaware that he has a disability.  His infection had taken hold before his newborn eyes opened and he had never had vision.  If you’ve never had sight, you don’t know what you’re missing and Homer sets out to conquer whatever hurdles he encounters.  Along the way, he teaches Cooper and every other person who meets him a thing or two about living beyond one’s limitations.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about one episode in Homer’s life, his survival of the horror of 9/11 when Cooper was prevented from returning home to her pets.  Cooper‘s telling of her experience during this terrible time and her fear for her cats struck a chord in me.

http://www.cncbooks.com/blog/2010/08/01/a-911-story/

I enjoy animal tales and Homer’s Odyssey is a special example of how much an animal can affect our lives.   Listening to the audio edition, I felt almost a part of this tiny cat’s life and I thank Ms. Cooper for sharing his story with us.  He is a little guy I wish I could meet in person.  Homer is now 13 years old and you can check in on him and his feline “sisters”, Vashti and Scarlett, at the author’s blog here—

http://www.gwencooper.com/blog.php

(Note: click on the “Uncategorized” tag in any post to get to the older posts.)

A portion of the author’s royalties go to animal rescue organizations and the paperback will be available this Tuesday so you’ve got no excuse—buy the book and meet this wonderful cat!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2010.

Book Review: Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

Turtle in Paradise
Jennifer L. Holm
Random House Books for Young Readers, May 2010
ISBN 0375836888
Hardcover

Times are tough in Depression-Era America. Eleven-year-old Turtle’s Mom keeps losing housekeeper jobs and getting her heart broken by no-good men. When her Mom gets a job with an old lady who doesn’t like children, she has no other choice but to send her daughter Turtle home to Key West to live with her sister, Minerva. Turtle really isn’t sure how her Mom is going to survive since she’s the sensible one of the two of them, but hard times call for desperate measures.

Turtle arrives with her cat, Smokey, only to discover she’s going to be living in a house with boys, a dog, and nobody wears shoes on the island. At least, she’s not the only one to have a nickname, there’s Beans, Too Bad, Slow Poke and others.

She rides along with the Diaper Gang, a bunch of boys who babysit for candy, and learns the secret family formula for diaper rash.

While in the Conch Republic, she learns about alligator pears (avocadoes), rum running, sponge fishing and most importantly, that she still has a Grandma.  Prior to this, her Mom had told Turtle that her Grandma was dead. Oddly, the hard-shelled Turtle is one of the few people that Nana Philly actually likes. She also meets Key West’s most famous denizen and advises him he should be writing for the funny papers.

Jennifer L. Holm is a descendent of one of those first dwellers on Key West.  Turtle in Paradise is based upon old family stories that have been passed on through the generations.  The tale’s full of good-humored fun and a few hard lessons.  It’s not just a book that young adult readers will enjoy, though.  Anyone who wants to take a quick trip to the Conch Republic is going to love this one.

Reviewed by Rebecca Kyle, July 2010.

Book Review: Icebound by Dean Koontz

Icebound
Dean Koontz
Read by Paul Michael
Random House Audio, 2007
ISBN 0739341413
Unabridged Audio Book

A scientific team in the Arctic icefield is conducting an experiment and has just finished laying sixty explosive charges, scheduled to detonate at midnight, when a completely unexpected tidal wave hits and breaks off a huge piece of ice.  Unfortunately, the scientists are marooned on this newly-birthed iceberg with the explosives counting down and, to make matters worse, an attack on a team member indicates one of them is also an assassin with an agenda of his own.  Rescue from elsewhere is perhaps impossible as a storm is raging, preventing nearby ships from getting there before the detonations, and a Russian submarine commander may be their only hope.  Still, how does a submarine effect a rescue when there is no way to get its divers on a massive—and moving—block of ice with sheer walls?

This book has had multiple incarnations.  Originally published in mass market format in 1976 under the pen name David Axton and with the title Poison Ice, Koontz apparently extensively revised it and brought it out under the Koontz name as Icebound in late 1994, again in mass market.  An abridged audio edition (cassette) came out a few weeks later, read by John Glover, as well as a large print edition.  In 1997, it was re-issued as a trade paperback and then, in 2000, was re-issued once again in mass market and in turtleback (a library hardcover binding for a paperback).  Finally, in 2007, this unabridged audio book was released.  Whew!

I’m a Dean Koontz fan from way back but had never read this one, for some reason.  A major departure from many of his other books is that there are no animals anywhere in the story (!).  Suspense is high and rarely lets up; I did not figure out the identity of the assassin until near the time when the castaways do but that particular mystery—and the why behind the attack—take a distant second seat to the question of potential rescue.  The Russian sub’s commander is an especially interesting character in his background and why he is determined to try to save these people.

Paul Michael is a reader I haven’t tried before and I liked his performance very much.  He has a clear voice and I rarely had any confusion as to who was speaking.  Another positive aspect of this audio book is the short tracks, making it easy to find your place if you have to pull the CD out of your player and then find your place again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2010.