Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review of A Murder in Music City by Michael Bishop

Author: Michael Bishop
Publish Date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Pages: 330

“Paula Herring’s murder had been predicted for months. That the victim was a [pretty blond coed wasn’t all that surprising to authorities, especially since a number of young women in one of Nashville’s newest subdivisions had been targeted by a rapist for more than a year. Metro Police had predicted that the activities of the rapist would eventually escalate to murder.”

Eighteen-year-old Paula Herring was “a girl full of the joy of being alive . . . warm, lovable, intensely energetic, and full of plans for the future.” On February 22, 1964, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, freshmen was shot to death in the den of her mother’s suburban Nashville home. In the next room slept her six-year-old brother, apparently unaware of the gruesome event.

A few months later a judge’s son is convicted of the crime. Decades after the slaying, author Michael Bishop stumbled upon a secret file related to the case and with the help of some of the world’s top forensic experts—including forensic psychologist Richard Walter (aka “the living Sherlock Holmes”) he uncovered the truth of what really happened to Paula Herring, and his conclusions are completely different from what the public was initially led to believe.

In 1997, Michael Bishop, a sales executive for a healthcare learning company accidently came across files that contained information about the Herring murder case. For the past two decades he tenaciously investigated and enthusiastically followed the evidence trail, which led to a new theory of who might have actually murdered Paula Herring.

In A Murder in Music City: Corruption, Scandal, and the Framing of an Innocent Man, Bishop lays out the shocking and overwhelming evidence that led to his startling conclusion that a small group of influential Nashville residents played a significant role in covering-up evidence and actively assisted in sending an innocent man to prison for a crime he did not commit.

In this gripping page-turner, Bishop reveals the grisly realties and true story behind the murder of Paula Herring. This first time author and amateur detective proves to be amazingly effective in his writing abilities and his first-person description of the steps he used to discover evidence in the case gives the story a sense of proximity to the present.

By relentlessly following every lead and using his “sales skills” to gain the trust of those he questioned, Bishop reveals plausible proof that John Randolph Clarke was indeed framed for the murder, and goes on to formulate a reasonable and disturbing theory as to the scandalous identity of the actual killer.

Overall, A Murder in Music City gives the reader a good sense of what it was like to live in 1960s Nashville, and as his investigation into this half a century’s old closed case unfolds into the present day. Bishop’s shocking and very plausible conclusions are thought provoking and compelling. But because it tends to follow the author’s own experiences with the case, the narrative unfortunately tends to get off track and bogs down in places. With that said, true crime enthusiasts will most certainly find this book to be hauntingly compelling. A highly recommended thrill ride of narrative true crime that tells a sad story of murder, family betrayal, and political corruption that is equal parts thought provoking, captivating, and unforgettable.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review of Seance Infernale by Jonathan Skariton

Image of Séance Infernale: A novel

Author: Jonathan Skariton
Publish Date: August 30, 2017
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 304
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/S%C3%A9ance-Infernale-novel-Jonathan-Skariton/dp/1101946733/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504127838&sr=8-1&keywords=seance+infernale

Alex Whitman is a successful movie memorabilia dealer, “part archeologist, part detective” who is widely known to be able to locate any object related to the film industry.

“His almost photographic memory of catalogs, locations, and specifications allowed him to beat out collectors and dealers who wagered thousands of dollars depending on whether . . . a film reel found in the depth of a dank basement contained lost scene or desirable splices.”

In the autumn of 2002, Whitman is hired by eccentric film collector Andrew Valdano to find and piece together what could be fragments of the first film ever made, Séance Infernale. In 1890, its creator, Augustin Sekuler, planned to unveil his “motion picture machine” to the public.
He boarded a train headed from Dijon to Paris, but never arrived at Gare de Lyon train station. Sekuler and his invention mysteriously disappeared somewhere along the way, and his claim as the creator of the moving picture vanished with him.

A modern day search to solve the mysterious disappearance leads to curious discoveries that may (or may not) shed light on Sekuler’s darkest secret. While searching out these answers Whitman’s investigation takes a personal turn. Two years before Sekuler’s own disappearance Whitman finds out that the inventor’s young daughter disappeared under suspicious circumstances. In a weird coincidence Whitman’s five-year-old daughter, Ellie, had also disappeared in Edinburgh never to be heard from again—a macabre kinship the two men would share nearly a century apart.

“Her disappearance had marked the last in a number of high profile child kidnappings that had prompted fear throughout the city of Edinburgh, beginning with the kidnapping and death of Danielle McKenzie in February of 1984, followed by a series of further abductions.”

The search for the elusive Sekuler film was now personally intermingled with the police investigation of an unapprehended serial killer. When Whitman successfully tracks down what could be fragments of Sekuler’s lost film, the discovery raises more questions than it answers. Could the greatest mystery in the history of film involve a train, a disappearance, a grieving family, and a possible patent war?
Séance Infernale is Jonathan Skariton’s debut novel. In it the author pays loose homage to the action adventure/ supernatural thriller genre that spawned novels such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The basic plot of Skariton’s novel bears resemblance to a series of unexpected trap doors that pop open and closed, and although this technique is very clichéd it lends just enough intrigue to keep your fascination.

Overall, the initial plotline is satisfactorily captivating: Movie memorabilia hunter traverses the globe in search of the first motion picture only to discover the film has a dark and supernatural theme and history. After that the story takes on a murky and chaotic journey that involves a psychotic serial killer roaming the streets of Edinburgh with an unbelievable and unnecessary personal connection to the protagonist.

On a whole, Séance Infernale is an entertaining read, and the horror and constant pain of Whitman’s personal loss is poignant, heart wrenching, and palpable: “It was easy to surrender to the painful nostalgia of Ellie’s memory. At night in bed, if he closed his eyes, in that gulf of space perception before falling asleep, he could see her, a warm and miraculous fantasy. Wakefulness would take away what he’d glimpsed and he’d experience the loss all over again.”

The reader must be warned that the novel does contain explicit language and disturbing descriptions of sexual acts, gruesome death scenes, autopsies, rape, and murder. Although these unsettling and often unnecessarily graphic descriptions are titillating and not for the faint of heart; the gothic and supernatural atmosphere of the novel is its most engaging facet and this alone will most certainly keep the average mystery/ thriller reader on the edge of their seat until the heart pounding final pages.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review of Holding by Graham Norton

Author: Graham Norton
Release date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 272
Buy book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Holding-Novel-Graham-Norton/dp/150117326X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501601603&sr=8-1&keywords=holding

Sergeant PJ Collins was not born in Duneen, but he has been the little town’s resident police officer for more than a decade and a half. Significantly overweight, PJ uses his size as an emotional shield to explain away his loneliness. As policemen go, he is liked by the denizens of the insular Irish village, even if he was no ball of fire. But little happens in Duneen anyway—until one day, when something quite dramatic occurs. Builders putting up a housing estate on the long-deserted Burke farm find the remains of a body buried on the land. Now the sleepy, gossipy town is all atwitter, and PJ is excited to have his first real case.

“When PJ hung up the phone, he felt strangely deflated. Help was on the way, which was what he wanted, what he needed, but once it arrived this would no longer be his case. He would just be another useless man standing around at the scene, a sort of crime butler servicing those who would find out the identity of the body and how it died.”

Do the remains belong to Tommy Burke, the young heir to the farm who disappeared about 20 years ago? Rumor has long held that Tommy was seen boarding the bus to Cork the day he went missing, but has he been buried there all along?

Turns out the builders have opened up more than a hole in the ground—they have opened old wounds, as well. PJ quickly discovers that just before he disappeared, Tommy was at the apex of an ugly love triangle involving two young women in the village, both of whom still live in Duneen. Brid Riordan was engaged to marry Tommy, but a knockdown, drag-out fight in the street with Evelyn Ross told the town all it needed to know about Tommy’s true affections.

Now, all these years later, PJ needs to piece together the events surrounding Tommy’s disappearance. His investigation leads him to close quarters with both women—Brid a dissolute alcoholic and Evelyn a sheltered spinster—and triggers surprising, quite different forms of intimacy with each. But there are others in the town, including PJ’s own housekeeper, Mrs. Meany, who all seem to know more than they are saying. And then the police discover something quite surprising about the body. . . .
In Graham Norton’s debut novel, Holding, the author uses his typically sharp and piercing sense of humor to breathe life into a multitude of delightful characters. The author is an award-winning television talk show host and comedian in the U.K. and in 2016 published his bestselling memoir, The Life and Loves of a He Devil. He also writes a weekly advice column for The Telegraph.

Set in the tiny village of Duneen, Ireland, which has “somehow managed to slip through the World Wide Web. No 4G, no 3G, no signal.” The plot of Holding revolves around three main characters: Sergeant PJ Collins, Evelyn Ross, and Brid Riordan. The mystery itself—the discovery of a skeleton found buried at the sight of a new housing project—is astonishingly not the central focus of the plot. Its main emphasis is how the discovery affects each of the main characters through love, secrets, and loss.

Overall, Holding admirably captures the peculiarities of small town Ireland. Although the mystery plot is not the most riveting, it is certainly entertaining and succeeds in capturing a unique perspective on the peculiarities of life in rural Ireland. At times both distressing and tender, and yet darkly comedic, Graham Norton has created a charming debut novel that is well-worth reading.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review of Perish From the Earth by Jonathan F. Putnam

Author: Jonathan F. Putnam
Publish date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Crooked Lane
Pages: 304
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Perish-Earth-Lincoln-Speed-Mystery/dp/1683311396/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499788543&sr=8-1&keywords=perish+from+the+earth

“plenty of intrigue to delight mystery genre enthusiasts, enough historical accuracy to placate any history buff, and sufficient courtroom drama to satisfy any legal eagle.”

Two hundred and nine years after his birth in a log cabin in Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln continues to fascinate. His moral clarity, his extraordinary gifts with language, his decisive role in preserving the Union and what some consider his ultimate martyrdom combine to make Lincoln a mythic figure that still has a firm hold on our collective imagination. It is commonly known that Lincoln had a deep commitment to the rule law and an abhorrence of mob rule. A conservative estimate puts the number of books written about the 16th President at around 16,000.

Nationally renowned trial lawyer and avid amateur Lincoln scholar Jonathan F. Putnam adds to this number with his new historical novel Perish from the Earth, the second installment in the Lincoln and Speed mystery series. In this sequel to These Honored Dead (2016), we find Kentucky gentleman Joshua Speed once again teaming up with the future president to help solve a murder aboard a Mississippi riverboat in 1837.

“The circuit was a kind of traveling legal circus. Several times a year, during breaks in the court calendar in Springfield, a group of lawyers would pack their saddlebags and, with a judge in tow, ride an irregular, winding path—a circuit—through the outlying towns and villages that lacked a regular court. At each stop, the lawyers would set up temporary offices, usually under a stout old tree on the village green, and persons of the community having legal issues would come to consult. The judge would erect a rump courtroom, and civil trials would be conducted. Then, after three or four days in any one place, the whole group would pack up and move off together to the next stop.”

Newly minted trail lawyer Abraham Lincoln is riding the circuit, traveling by carriage with other lawyers and a judge to bring justice to the remote parts of Illinois. Meanwhile, Lincoln’s close friend Joshua Speed steams up the Mississippi River aboard a steamboat owned by Speed’s father. Suddenly, his journey is interrupted when a rigged card game turns violent and then to murder.
Speed enlists Lincoln to defend the accused, but soon they come to discover that more than just the card games are crooked aboard the Speed family’s ship. As the Day of Judgment hurtles toward them, Lincoln and Speed must fight to save not only the life of Lincoln’s client but also the merit of Speed’s good name.

Perish from the Earth is an admirable sequel and meticulously researched. In it we see Lincoln as an eager young trial lawyer, employing his gift of storytelling and turning his failures into successes. While Putnam points out that this is a work of “imaginative fiction,” he also states that “the people, places, and cases populating it are drawn from Lincoln’s actual life and times.” Nearly everything in this novel feels plausible and is in keeping with what is historically known about Lincoln and his times. Although the pace of the plot is a bit sluggish and a little unengaging at times, fans of historical and legal fiction will not be disappointed. Overall, there is plenty of intrigue to delight mystery genre enthusiasts, enough historical accuracy to placate any history buff, and sufficient courtroom drama to satisfy any legal eagle.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review of Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

Author: Susie Steiner
Release date: July 4, 2017
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 312
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Persons-Novel-Susie-Steiner/dp/0812998340/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499356090&sr=8-1&keywords=susie+steiner

As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound.

“He’s really scared now; nervously places a hand to his chest. His shirt is wet through but it’s not raining. He looks at his hand. It is glistening dark; the color unclear because of the dark and the orangey street lighting.”

He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman’s name on his lips in his last seconds of life. Detective Manon Bradshaw handles only cold cases. Five months pregnant, in pursuit of a work-life balance rather than romantic love, she’s focused on being a good mother to her adopted 12-year-old son, Fly Dent, and the new baby. But the man died just yards from the police station where she works, so Manon can’t help taking an interest.

And as she sidles in on the briefing she learns that the victim, a banker from London worth millions, is more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. When the case begins to circle in on Manon’s home and her family, she finds herself pitted against the colleagues she once held dear: Davy Walker and Harriet Harper. Can Manon separate what she knows about the people she loves from the suspicion hanging over them? Can she investigate the evidence just as she would with any other case?

Persons Unknown by celebrated author Susie Steiner brings back fearless detective, Manon Bradshaw in this complex and thrilling sequel. Steiner is the London based author of Home Coming and Missing, Presumed, and has worked as an editor for The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Evening Standard.

An electrifying sequel to 2016’s Missing, Presumed. Readers quickly discover that several years have passed since we last saw Bradshaw. She has adopted 12-year-old Fly Dent, an orphan, is now pregnant, and has moved in with her sister, Ellie, and her young son Solomon in Cambridgeshire. Manon works as a cold case investigator at the local police department. She hopes the change of scenery will bring stability to the family but didn’t consult Fly about the decision.

In London she had “an encroaching fear that he was getting in with the wrong crowd, or possibly that he was the wrong crowd.” Much to his apprehension, Fly hates being the only black kid in town where racial profiling is prevalent; he soon becomes the prime suspect in the murder of his aunt’s ex-boyfriend, Jon-Oliver, a rich London banker. Convinced of her son’s innocence, she conducts her own investigation to uncover the truth behind the killing.

“I can’t leave him here. I can’t . . . someone has to be kind to him. No one’s being kind to him. I was supposed to protect him from stupid adults and look what’s happened.”

Persons Unknown is a gripping and tense, character driven story. It has a complex narrative that keeps the reader captivated and engaged. Susie Steiner effortlessly weaves into the plot a fascinating exposé on social and cultural issues such as race relations and family.

Overall, this an entertaining and absorbing read that strikes all the right chords. The sophisticated and genuine characterizations portrayed in this book series are clearly its greatest strength. Persons Unknown is a complex, exhilarating, and multifaceted murder mystery that includes insightful social and cultural perspectives. Manon Bradshaw is an enchanting protagonist who merits placement among the pantheon of much-loved fictional investigators. A highly recommended read that will definitely excite the most devoted fans of the murder mystery genre.

Michael Thomas Barry's most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is the author of six other nonfiction books and is a columnist for CrimeMagazine.com.

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on July 5, 2017 - http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/persons-unknown

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review of JD Barker's The Fourth Monkey

Author: J.D. Barker
Release date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 416
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Fourth-Monkey-J-D-Barker/dp/0544968840

“Hello, my friend. I am a thief, a murderer, a kidnapper. I’ve killed for fun, I’ve killed out of necessity. I have killed for hate. I have killed simply to satisfy the need that tends to grow in me with the passage of time. A need much like a hunger that can only be quenched by the draw of blood or the song found in a tortured scream . . . Who am I? You most likely know me as the Four Monkey Killer . . . We are going to have so much fun, you, and I.”

For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago, torturing his victims before he kills them. When he himself is killed in a freak bus accident, police are horrified to learn that at the time of his death the killer was on his way to deliver one final message, which proved he had taken one last victim, who might still be alive.

When lead detective Sam Porter, who is battling his own demons, discovers a diary on the killer’s body, he instinctively knows that the murderer though dead is not finished. With only a handful of clues, the Four Monkey Killer taunts police from beyond the grave. Detective Porter soon finds himself caught in the mind of a psychopath, frantically attempting to decipher the killer’s ramblings in hopes of finding his last victim before it’s too late.

The killer lives by the enigmatic teachings of Confucius’s wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and do no evil. “Should someone see or hear evil, there is little one can do . . . when someone speaks evil, there is fault to be had, but when they do evil . . . well, when they do evil there is no room for forgiveness.”

J. D. Barker’s new novel, The Fourth Monkey is a delightfully twisted and thoroughly engaging crime thriller that takes a spine-tinging peek inside the depraved mind of a serial killer. Barker is the international bestselling author of Forsaken and a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award.

The Fourth Monkey’s plot effortlessly and succinctly alternates between Detective Sam Porter’s investigation and the serial killers diary entries. Porter has been pursuing the FMK for many years and desperately hopes to outmaneuver the deviously clever murderer before time runs out. The killer’s diary entries are terrifying and spellbinding, and outline’s how and why he became a monster.

“Mother brought the knife down into the man’s thigh with such force, the tip clunked as it passed through the leg and struck the concrete floor. He let out another shriek, then began to cry again. I found this to be a little funny. Grown men should never cry. Father told me so. Mother twisted the knife nearly a full turn, then yanked the blade back out. This time there was blood, a lot of blood. A fresh pool began to form under his twitching leg. I couldn’t help but smile . . . it was nice to see him get what he deserved.”

Overall, The Fourth Monkey is a highly recommended and beguiling page-turning thriller that is both disturbing and immensely entertaining. It is filled with creepy atmosphere and plot twists that skirt the bounds of moral ambiguity. The reader must be warned that this is an extremely violent and graphic novel that’s not for the faint of heart. But if that’s your cup of tea, you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review of Murder in the City: New York, 1910-1920 by Wilfried Kaute

Author: Wilfried Kaute
Release date: June 13, 2017
Pages: 244
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Press
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Murder-City-New-York-1910-1920/dp/1250128692/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497996128&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=murdein+the+city%3A+New+York

Why is society so fearful of crime, but also fascinated by it? Why do the details of a gruesome murder, rape, or other heinous crime hold our attention? We wonder why people kill, and we are intrigued by the ways in which the act is accomplished. For years, psychologists and criminologists have tried to answer these questions, but thus far no one has been able to come up with a solid explanation.

We are both seemingly seduced and repulsed by these taboo acts of rebellion against the morals of society. Every day we are bombarded with crime stories, whether it’s in the newspaper, on television, radio, or our computer. Some of these crimes are inconspicuous and easily forgotten, while others linger forever in our collective memory because they elicit shock and horror.

In the real world, there is in fact a practical duty we share in understanding the means and the motivations for crime. Understanding is necessary for prediction, prevention, and protection. But the popular fascination with homicide goes far beyond the practical. The story lines are a staple of art and literature and a subject for both drama and comedy. The murder mystery is often most compelling when it abandons reality and is framed in fantasy.

There’s an old saying in the news business: If it bleeds, it leads. The nightly news and other media outlets are filled with stories of crime, killing, and sorrow. But here’s the dirty little secret: They wouldn’t show us all that murder and mayhem if we didn’t covertly crave it. Deep down, psychologically, we all want a glimpse of the darker side of humanity but from the safety of our living rooms and recliners.

Wilfried Kaute’s Murder in the City: New York, 1910–1920 is a shocking assortment of photographs and crime scene reports. Unearthed during renovation of the former NYPD headquarters, Murder in the City tells a tragic story through photos of missing persons, pickpockets, shooting victims, gang fights, and botched robberies. The author, who is based in Cologne, Germany, is an award winning documentary cameraman and film producer. This is his first book.

Kaute emphasizes that the photographs used in this book were not taken by trained professional photographers but by amateurs and is an examination of the art of crime scene photography. Kaute further explains, “Crime scene photographs revolutionized policing in New York in the 1910s. This book collects forgotten pictures and newspaper articles from a lost era. By dint of their simple objectivity, these photographs impressively depict the growth of the city. The still ‘gateway to the New World.’ New York in these photographs is on its way to becoming the first real mega-city.”

The images included within this book are intended as purely objective documentation of crimes and offer little to no personal identification of the victims. Combining extensive research in the New York City Department of Records and the Library of Congress, Murder in the City offers a distinctive piece of social history.

Most of the photographs presented in this book are shocking and revolting, while some have a stunning sophistication—this collection of 150 black-and-white photographs presents a rare and thought provoking look into a bygone era. Readers will find themselves repulsively captivated as they gaze upon the dead. The photographs show victims prostrate on sidewalks, stabbed, shot, and butchered in stairwells and bedrooms of tiny apartment buildings, their faces and wounds clearly visible. The causes of death are stated if known.

Yet despite the explicit nature of these photographs, there is a poignant and emotional intimacy portrayed. The deceased’s fragile humanity is clearly visible as they are shown surrounded by valued personal belongings. Overall, Murder in the City serves as an emotionally striking glimpse into New York’s unsavory past. Readers must be warned that the descriptions and images presented within are disturbing, distressing, and gruesomely graphic in nature.

The review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on June 20, 2017 - http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/murder-city

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review of "Magpie Murders" by Anthony Horowitz

Author: Anthony Horowitz
Release date: June 5, 2017
Pages: 300
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Fiction; Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Magpie-Murders-Novel-Anthony-Horowitz/dp/0062645226/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497284614&sr=8-1&keywords=magpie+murders

The Golden Age of detective novels is almost universally agreed to have occurred between the 1920s and 1930s. The majority of novels of that era were "whodunits" and dozens of authors excelled, most notably Agatha Christie. She is a novelist whose works are rivalled in sales only by the Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Within her mystery novels are many layers, so many complexities, clues, and red herrings that try as hard as you can to get to the conclusion before the detective, very few people actually succeed. Every Christie fan is familiar with that sense of mounting tension as they approach the climax of one of her novels: the struggle, in particular, to keep one’s eyes from straying too far ahead in case they catch, before they’re meant to, the presiding sleuth’s “And the name of the murderer is . . .”

The Christie reader is, naturally, an armchair detective, a detective by indirect means. They don’t identify with the hero gumshoe but operate independently of him. Shifting the various clues that have been strewn across their path by an author whom they can’t help regard as a murderess by proxy, a designation encouraged by her faintly ghoulish public image, of a bespectacled old dear with an incongruous partiality to homicide. New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz pays homage to the Golden Age of detective mysteries and Agatha Christie in his new novel, Magpie Murders.

“I opened the wine, I unscrewed the salsa. I lit a cigarette. I began to read the book as you are about to. But before you do that. I have to warn you. This book changed my life.” These lines appear near the beginning of the novel and set a chilling and ominous tone.

Present day London: Susan Ryeland, head of fiction at Cloverleaf Books has edited all eight of Alan Conway’s previous crime novels which are set in the 1950s England. These novels feature the unconventional private investigator Atticus Pünd, and Susan looks forward to spending the weekend reading number nine. But when she finishes Magpie Murders, she is both puzzled and troubled to find that there is no final chapter.

Adding mystery to these circumstances, Ryeland soon learns that Conway has committed suicide. But, as she goes in search of the missing chapter, Susan starts to question whether Conway’s death might not have been self-inflicted. After meeting the people in Conway’s complex life, she begins to realize that there are real life parallels between the cantankerous writer’s reality and his fictitious works. How much did Conway copy from that reality in creating his successful mystery series? And how close can Susan get to the facts before she herself is at risk?

While at first glance it might appear that Horowitz has created a new type of detective novel, make no mistake, Magpie Murders is basically a tribute to the classic detective novels of the past. It is obvious that the author found great pleasure in conceiving and writing what is basically a novel within a novel. And while being two mysteries in one, Horowitz has covered two categories. He gives readers of the genre a cliché period style thriller while also paying tribute and celebrating Agatha Christie and turn-back-the-clock detective mysteries of yesteryear.

It is extremely challenging to successfully incorporate two divergent storylines within one novel, but within, Magpie Murders, Horowitz has masterfully navigated this slippery slope. The author of numerous bestselling works that include Trigger Mortis, Moriarty, and The House of Silk, Horowitz has in this new novel created a classic that is filled with old school intrigue, character, and style.
Susan Ryeland is a believable amateur sleuth, and the two mysteries coincide cleverly while Horowitz effortlessly manages to provide the reader with both endings simultaneously.

Horowitz also allows Alan Conway to utilize old time detective skills while using puzzles and cryptic clues as devices in the modern day storyline. What Anthony Horowitz has done here is something very clever and it works very well. It would be nice to see Susan Ryeland return in her own mystery series.

Be warned, those readers who are expecting something new and unique within the detective mystery genre will be greatly disappointed and would be better served if they look elsewhere. Overall, Magpie Murders is an ingenious, twisting tribute to the sleepy English countryside murder and will thoroughly entertain readers of old fashioned detective thrillers.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review of "Al Capone's Beer Wars" by John J. Binder

Publish Date: June 5, 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Prometheus Books

Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Capones-Beer-Wars-Organized-Prohibition/dp/1633882853

“a wide-ranging and comprehensive interpretation of how mobsters like Al Capone and his associates came to control the criminal rackets . . .”

The City of Chicago during Prohibition and the Roaring ’20s was the apex of excesses, extreme contrasts, and extra ordinary violence. The Windy City was a place where men of questionable morals became extremely wealthy from the sale and smuggling of illegal alcohol, as well as other vices such as prostitution and gambling. Chief among these rising mob personalities was Al Capone.

“Chicago’s Prohibition Beer Wars were a complicated series of conflicts over more than ten years in which the Capone mob was the greatest winner. By the end of the 1930s it dominated the battlefield, leading to the creation of the Chicago Outfit, which controlled Cook County’s underworld . . .”

With few exceptions other than perhaps Jack the Ripper, no historical crime figure has garnered more morbid fascination than mobster Alphonse Gabriel Capone. One of the best-known gangsters of the Prohibition era, Al Capone is still a household name in Chicago and around the world. Although “Scarface” has been dead for over 70 years, his legend still endures mainly because of his bigger-than-life persona. He was a flashy, extremely wealthy, and an outspoken quasi-celebrity who had the audacity to shake-up Chicago’s criminal underworld during the Roaring ’20s.

Why do so many people glamorize mobsters and violent crime? No one holds the Son of Sam or Charles Manson in high regard. So why are Capone and his crime minded cronies seen as mythic figures by the general public? Why are members of the mafia treated more like celebrities than unsavory criminals?

Part of the answer is historical: The glamorization of the mob started with Prohibition. In the early years of the 20th century, mobsters were just small-time hoodlums. Then came the Volstead Act, which outlawed alcohol. One of the side effects was to solidify organized crime and create a real, international organization out of what was, in essence, small criminal groups.

Because Prohibition was hugely unpopular, the men who stood up to it were heralded as heroes, not criminals. It was the start of their image as people who thumbed their noses at bad laws and at the establishment. Even when Prohibition was repealed and the services of the bootleggers were no longer required, that initial positive image stuck.

Books and movies such as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather helped glamorize and communicate the notion that mobsters were men who cared about the happiness of their communities and who lived by their own codes of honor and conduct, impervious to the political whims of the establishment.
In Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition, author John J. Binder examines the turbulent and complete history of organized crime in Chicago. The author of two other books on organized crime, Binder pulls from his vast knowledge of the subject matter for this in-depth study.

A major focus of the book is how the Capone gang—one of 12 major bootlegging mobs in Chicago at the start of Prohibition—gained a virtual monopoly over organized crime in northern Illinois and beyond. The author also describes the fight by federal and local authorities, as well as citizen’s groups against organized crime. In the process, Binder refutes numerous myths and misconceptions related to the Capone gang, other criminal groups, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and other gangland killings.

The end result of Al Capone’s Beer Wars is a wide-ranging and comprehensive interpretation of how mobsters like Al Capone and his associates came to control the criminal rackets during the period. Overall, it is well researched and expertly interprets one of our country’s bloodiest and most colorful time periods. This book will most definitely appeal to true-crime enthusiasts and historians of Prohibition-era crime. It is a fascinating and informative read that would make an excellent addition to any library.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review of "Murder in Saint-Germain" by Cara Black

Release Date: June 6, 2017
Pages: 336
Publisher: SoHo Crime

Buy the Book: https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Saint-Germain-Aim%C3%A9e-Leduc-Investigation/dp/1616957700/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496768600&sr=8-1&keywords=cara+black

“a complex and seductive page-turner that will not disappoint devoted fans and casual readers of the New York Times bestselling series.”

Paris, July 1999: Private investigator Aimée Leduc is walking though Saint-Germain when she is accosted by Suzanne Lesage, a Brigade Criminelle agent on an elite counterterrorism squad. Suzanne has just returned from the former Yugoslavia, where she was hunting down dangerous war criminals for the Hague.

Back in Paris, Suzanne is convinced she’s being stalked by a ghost: a Serbian warlord she thought she’d killed. She’s suffering from PTSD and her boss thinks she’s imagining things. She begs Aimée to investigate. Is it possible Mirko Vladic could be alive and in Paris with a blood vendetta?

Aimée is already working on a huge case, plus she’s got an eight-month-old baby to take care of. But she can’t say no to Suzanne, to whom she owes a big favor. Aimée chases the few leads, and all evidence confirms Mirko Vladic is dead. It seems that Suzanne is in fact paranoid, perhaps losing her mind—until Suzanne’s team begins to turn up dead in a series of strange and tragic accidents. Are these just coincidences? Or are things not what they seem?

Murder in Saint-Germain is Cara Black’s 17th edition to her wildly successful Aimée Leduc mystery series and is her most exhilarating, unsettling, and complex escapade to date. Each book in the series takes place in another area of Paris; this one takes place in the left banks Sixth Arrondissement of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The quarter has several famous cafés that include the Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, and the Brasserie Lipp. During the 1940s and 1950s, it was the center of the existentialist movement which is associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Saint-Germain is also home to the École des Beaux-Arts, the famed school of fine arts which is a setting for part of the story.

The latest installment of the Aimée Leduc series finds our heroine dodging villains while effortlessly balancing motherhood and her detective agency and scampering across rooftops, slithering through rat infested sewers. She finds herself entangled in two mysteries, one blackmail, the other a thorny plot involving a team in Bosnia and an allegedly dead murderer. As usual, Aimée’s sexiness is in full display as she fights crime and corruption.

“Aimée Leduc’s bare legs wrapped around Benoit’s spine as his tongue traced her ears. His warm skin and musk scent enveloped her. Delicious. Early morning sunlight pooled on her herringbone wood floor.”

As with all of Cara Blacks’ other novels in the series, it is a great joy to experience her obvious and on-going love affair with the City of Light. The stories in this mystery series are chockfull of spine-tingling adventure, and anyone who has ever visited Paris will find familiar sites within every chapter.

“In the early evening, Aimée stepped out onto the narrow street leading away from the Seine. The heat had barley cooled even as the shadows of the seventeenth-century building lengthened. No taxi in sight and a scorching three blocks to the Metro. Forget the bus with traffic at a standstill. Only a ten-minute walk if she hurried through Saint-Germain. But before she could even cross the street, the sky opened. Late July was nothing but heat, showers, and tourists here on the Left bank.”

Murder in Saint-Germain is another superbly sophisticated edition to the long running Aimée Leduc mysteries. Every moment of Aimée Leduc’s life is taken up with pressures and obligations. She is constantly dashing off to face the next challenge, and this makes for a fast paced and white-knuckle read. Overall, it is a complex and seductive page-turner that will not disappoint devoted fans and casual readers of the New York Times bestselling series.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review of "The Sixth Victim" by Tessa Harris

book cover of 

The Sixth Victim

Release Date: May 30, 2016
Publisher: Kensington Books
Pages: 304
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Sixth-Victim-Constance-Piper-Mystery/dp/1496706544/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496189904&sr=8-1&keywords=tessa+harris

The Whitechapel district of London’s East End in the latter decades of the 19th century was a popular place for immigrants and the poor working class. During the late summer and fall of 1888 its foggy lanes became the nighttime hunting ground of one of history’s most notorious serial killers, Jack the Ripper. No woman was safe.

“There’s blood in the air. Again. They’ve got the scent of it in their nostrils and they’re following it, like wolves honing in for the kill. Only the killing’s already done. It’s the third in a month here, in Whitechapel, and the second in little more than a week and everyone’s in a panic.”

Flower girl Constance Piper is not immune to dread, but she is more preoccupied with her own strange experiences of late. Clairvoyants seem to be everywhere these days. But are such powers real? And could Constance really be possessed of second sight? She longs for the wise counsel of her mentor and champion of the poor, Emily Tindall, but the kind missionary has gone missing.

Following the latest grisly discovery, Constance is contacted by a high-born lady of means who fears the victim may be her missing sister. She implores Constance to use her clairvoyance to help solve the crime, which the press is calling "the Whitechapel Mystery," attributing the murder to Jack the Ripper. As Constance becomes embroiled in intrigue far more sinister than she could have imagined, assistance comes in a startling manner that profoundly challenges her assumptions about the nature of reality. She'll need all the help she can get—because there may be more than one depraved killer out there.

Tessa Harris is the acclaimed author of the Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mysteries, which includes Secrets in the Stones and The Anatomist’s Apprentice. In her new novel, The Sixth Victim, Harris delves into “Ripper” lore with the first rendering of the Constance Piper Mystery series.

The novel is set in 1888 as Jack the Ripper has just begun his reign of terror. The storyline alternates between two perspectives, Constance’s and Emily’s. Constance lives in Whitechapel and comes from a poor family; she and her sister make money by stealing from the rich. Emily Tindall is from a good background; she is a Sunday school teacher and has taken Constance under her wing, teaching her to read and showing her a life far removed from her own.

Although The Sixth Victim shadows the murders of Jack the Ripper, the main story is Constance’s search for Emily who seems to have gone missing and how her psychic abilities slowly, and much to her astonishment, grow. Constance is also approached by a lady from the upper classes who fears her sister has been victim of the “Ripper.” The lady asks for Constance’s help in solving the mystery.

With The Sixth Victim, Harris has managed to create a very colorful and sometimes horrifying image of Whitechapel, showing a stark distinction between the lives of the less-fortunate residents of London’s East End to that of the more well-to-do who live in the grand houses and hotels of London. It was easy to imagine the sights and sounds of the area and understand why the women of that time lived in constant fear.

“This may be swanky Piccadilly, where the ladies and gents dress up to the nines, and it could be a million miles away from Whitechapel, but still heart’s beating twenty to the dozen and my mouth’s dry as sandpaper. Bold as brass they were, all cocky and brave. And they can be, ’cos they’re not the ones he’s after. He’s after girls and women who work on the streets. The ones who are out at night, drinking their gin by the gill, so they don’t feel the pain as much; so they don’t have to think on what they’ve become.”

In the Author’s Notes at the beginning of the novel, Harris admits that she is not an expert in “Ripperology” and readily concedes to being an amateur in the field of Jack the Ripper studies. She also states that she has “no wish to contribute to any debate as to the identity of the killer, or killers, in Whitechapel of the late 1800s.” She declares that her purpose in writing this book was “purely to explore the grisly episodes in a fictitious context.”

Overall, The Sixth Victim is well written and will most definitely satisfy readers who enjoy historical fiction and murder mystery. Be warned, if you aren’t into gory descriptions of Ripper style murders this probably isn’t the book for you.

In general, the characters have significant layers of complexity and humor. They are well formed and realistic, and the plot comes together in a logical manner. Constance, the main character, is courageous, moral, curious, and keen to better herself. She’s an amateur sleuth with psychic capabilities who has lots of potential to carry the series forward.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review of "The Scholl Case: The Deadly End of a Marriage" by Anja Reich-Osang

The Scholl Case

Author: Anja Reich-Osang
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: Text Publishing
Pages: 208

In December 2011, a corpse was found in a forested area near Ludwigsfelde, a tiny and quiet village south of Berlin, Germany. The body was hidden between pine trees and covered with leaves. The victim was Brigitte Scholl, the 67-year-old wife of Ludwigsfelde’s former mayor. Three weeks later, the police arrested and charged the victim’s husband Heinrich Scholl with murder. On the surface, the Scholls appeared to be happy, but behind closed doors there were many secrets.

In 2012, Heinrich Scholl was found guilty of his wife’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. Yet to friends and neighbors this was a shock. How could this soft spoken and well respected man have committed such a heinous act? He had been one of the most successful mayors of East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Award winning author and journalist Anja Reich-Osang followed the trial and was given unprecedented access to Heinrich Scholl. In her new book, The Scholl Case: The Deadly End of a Marriage, she attempts to delve into the minds of the Scholls.

Reich-Osang writes, “Heinrich Scholl had assembled trucks in Ludwigsfelde automobile works and made chairs for East Germany’s state circus. When the wall fell, he became involved in local politics, helping to found social democracy in Brandenburg, and was soon one of the most successful politicians of the new federal states. Like the country, he reinvented himself. His life seemed symbolic . . . But what price did he pay for his ascent? What temptations did he withstand . . . ?” And what had happened to his marriage in the almost twenty years in which he transformed Ludwigsfelde into a flourishing place of business?”

The Scholl Case is a terribly sad story that outlines the anguishes of an unhappy marriage. The history of their 40-plus year marriage is told as bluntly as possible, partly because the author is intent on uncovering the facts. She peels back the layers of deception covering the couple’s seemingly normal life and reveals not merely who committed the crime, but the more intriguing question of why the crime was committed.

But there’s a paradox at the center of The Scholl Case. The author seems to respond to the story with disappointment, and her lackluster dramatization of the details of the murder seems to generate only a sense of wonder from the author. Because she is not able to articulate her own feelings about the case, the story takes on an air of diluted lameness.

In the end, The Scholl Case is a sordid tale of sex, lies, politics, and a marriage in which nothing was as it appeared. It is most certainly not a typical true crime book and whether or not it can be truly labeled as nonfiction is debatable. This could be due to its translation; it is more a mixture between historical fiction and crime thriller, although the main focus is on the history of both the mayor and his wife rather than the murder case. Reich-Osang makes no judgment on his guilt or innocence and this leaves the reader to come to their own conclusions.

Despite these minor flaws The Scholl Case is well written and a worthwhile read. It will most certainly satisfy those readers who enjoy the combination of the psychology of marriage and true crime.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review of "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" by Amanda Quick

Anna Harris is the private secretary to wealthy New York socialite, Helen Spencer and for the past year has lived a fast paced life filled with glitter and glamour. This lifestyle is horrifyingly shattered when she stumbles upon the body of her boss, who has been brutally stabbed to death.

“There was blood everywhere in the elegant, white-on-white boudoir. It soaked the dead women’s silver satin evening gown and the carpet beneath her body.”

A menacing warning, “Run,” has been written with victim’s own blood on the wall, and in that moment she knows that the idyllic life she has been living was a deception. Fleeing the scene, she drives across country to Los Angeles, where she attempts to find peace and security. She changes her name to Irene Glasson, which she thinks has a “Hollywood ring to it” and accepts a position as a cub reporter at Whispers, a small tabloid newspaper.

Her quiet life is shattered when murder follows her west. A hot lead about a lured affair between up-and-coming actor, Nick Tremayne and starlet Gloria Maitland takes Irene to the lavish and private Burning Cove Hotel, 100 miles north of Los Angeles.

Arriving for the midnight appointment, Irene finds her source, Gloria Maitland, dead at the bottom of a pool. Once again she finds herself fleeing the scene of a murder, but this time Irene is determined to prove the drowning was not an accident. She partners with Oliver Ward, formerly a famous magician and now the mysterious owner of the hotel to discover why this woman may have been silenced. Seeking the truth, they both soon learn that the glamorous paradise hides dark and dangerous secrets.
“And that past, always just out of sight, could drag them both down.”

Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz, who also writes as Jayne Castle), has written more than 50 New York Times bestselling novels. In her newest release, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Quick transports readers back to the golden age of Hollywood and through clever plot twists unmasks the gritty realities that hide behind tinsel town’s glitzy facades.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a solid murder mystery, although not one of Quick’s best efforts. It is ripe with details and dialogue. Its short chapters accelerate the story forward at breakneck speed. Main protagonists, Irene and Oliver, are amiable but aren’t easy to attach to. Both are complex characters, so it takes some time to get to know each of them. There are several confusing storylines and trying to keep track of it all is not always easy. Some of the villains you know right away and some are surprising.

Nonetheless, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a fun, spunky, read that contains plenty of simmering sexual chemistry, which will most definitely satiate the most ardent fans of Amanda Quick. Although it’s a little bit anti-climactic once it’s over, lovers of romantic historical murder mysteries will enjoy the suspense, characters, and atmosphere of old Hollywood.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Review of "Convicting Avery" by Michael D, Cicchini

The review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on April 3, 2017 - http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/convicting-avery-bizarre-laws-and-broken-system-behind-making-murderer

Buy the book from Amazon through the following link - https://www.amazon.com/Convicting-Avery-Bizarre-Broken-Murderer/dp/1633882551/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491347433&sr=8-1&keywords=convicting+avery

In 2015 Netflix released the controversial documentary Making a Murderer, which explored the story of Steven Avery, a man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who spent nearly two decades in jail for the rape of Penny Beerntsen, before being cleared by DNA evidence in 2003. After his release he sued the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department for wrongful conviction but was arrested in 2005 on charges of murdering Teresa Halbach, a local photographer.

“For every piece of evidence that initially pointed to guilt. Avery’s defense team presented conflicting evidence and also exposed law enforcement’s motives, inconsistent stories, and, at the very minimum, incredibly shoddy investigative work.”

In 2007, Steven Avery was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In Convicting Avery: The Bizarre Laws and Broken System Behind “Making a Murderer,” author Michael D. Cicchini dissects the tangled legal procedures and sketchy evidence that was used to convict Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. The author himself is a criminal defense attorney in Wisconsin, blogger, and author of several legal books that includes Tried and Convicted: How Police, Prosecutors, and Judges Destroy Our Constitutional Rights (2012). He is also a contributing columnist for the Wisconsin Law Journal.

At the beginning of Chapter two Cicchini writes, “When I first opened my criminal defense practice . . . I started with a naïve belief that trial judges would be wary of wrongfully convicting an innocent defendant . . . but after a few months of practicing law, I completely abandoned my unfounded beliefs and stood corrected.”

By scrutinizing key evidence in the Avery case such as tainted physical evidence, dubious witness testimony, and illegal police searches, Cicchini skillfully examines and explains the legal how’s and why’s of these controversial convictions. He successfully uses the Avery case to highlight police misconduct and the obviously broken Wisconsin legal system while convincingly demonstrating that the injustices perpetrated against Avery and others were not an unusual occurrence. Cicchini writes, “Wisconsin loves its massive, draconian, ever-expanding, and increasingly irrational criminal justice industrial complex.”

Convicting Avery will most definitely captivate fans of the documentary, and while Cicchini had no direct involvement in the Avery case, this book adds expert legal depth to the key procedural and evidentiary issues that were raised in the original documentary. It provides a rare glimpse inside the complex American criminal justice system.

Although this book certainly assumes that the reader is acquainted with the Making a Murderer documentary, the author’s writing style and concise analysis allows those not familiar with legal terminology to easily comprehend the complexities of the case.

Overall, Convicting Avery is a revealing and fascinating read that will interest readers of true crime, criminal law, or American legal procedures. It will most certainly stimulate further discussions of how someone can be railroaded and falsely convicted of a crime. But regardless of your position on Steven Avery's guilt or innocence, the content of this book raises important concerns about a clearly broken legal system.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Review of "The Ambulance Drivers" by James McGrath Morris

This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on March 27, 2017 http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/ambulance-drivers

“Paris represented everything their homeland was not for the generation of Americans writers like Hemingway and Dos Passos who had come of age during the Great War. An incomprehensible number of men, more than 9 million, had been killed, and twice that number had been maimed. It seemed to these young aspiring writers . . .the world was no longer the same and never would be again.”

John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway initially crossed paths in 1918 as ambulance drivers in war torn Italy. The two literary icons would met again in the early 1920s in the American expatriate society of Paris where the allure of the city had seduced many writers, artists, and composers. By this time, Dos Passos was already an established author and highly respected, while Hemingway was still an up and comer on the brink of greatness. Throughout the 1920s and better part of the 1930s they were best of friends and honest critics of each other’s works.

“John Dos Passos was one of the few people at certain times whom Ernest could really talk to” and “Their nascent friendship rose out of a unique common bond . . . they dreamed of penning the great books of their generation. They were almost alone among American writers of their age in having witnessed the war that defined their generation.”

Although these two former Chicagoans had many things in common on the surface, they were complete opposites as far as philosophy and temperament. Hemingway was arrogant, certain of himself, willing to get ahead at the expense of others, and athletic. Dos Passos was well educated, timid, considerate to a fault, and not an athlete.

By the mid-1930s, their relationship began to deteriorate. Hemingway became more obsessive about his writing and even more self-centered in his relationships. Dos Passos, who was busy with his own writing was inattentive to Hemingway. The latter’s egoistical selfishness to friends was worsened by his almost total lack of social awareness, his preoccupation with the horrors of war, and his own self-destructive psychoses.

Tiny incidents accumulated to an intolerable level, at least in Hemingway’s mind, and he began to lash out at his baffled friend. The ultimate breaking point, however, came in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway and Dos Passos were in Spain, when José Robles a patriot in the leftist Popular Front and good friend of Dos Passos disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The Hemingway-Dos Passos relationship finally reached its endgame on April 22, 1937, when Hemingway, brimming with confidence and cruelty, told Dos Passos that Robles had been shot as a proven fascist collaborator, a renegade, a dirty spy, a betrayer of his friends. Dos Passos was left shocked and devastated. Their friendship never recovered.

James McGrath Morris, the author of several critically acclaimed biographies, including the New York Times bestselling Eye on the Struggle and Pulitzer delves head first into the mercurial relationship of these two American literary legends in his new book, The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War.

Throughout this riveting biography Morris expertly narrates the journeys, relationships, and life-changing events that inspired two of the greatest authors of the 20th century. While Hemingway believed that literature should be a perfect representation of an imperfect world, Dos Passos wanted his writing to change the world. Both versions played a significant role in shaping what would become the voice of the Lost Generation.

The Ambulance Drivers is a lively and engaging biography that takes a fresh look at the life of Dos Passos, but fails to shed any new light into Hemingway, whose life has already been well documented. Although readers may at first hesitate to embark on yet another analysis of Ernest Hemingway, Morris’ framing of the context of his fragile and contemptuous relationship with fellow literary giant John Dos Passos creates a worthwhile read. It will most certainly fascinate Dos Passos and Hemingway aficionados, as well as the casual literary biography enthusiast.

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes America’s Literary Legends: The Lives & Burial Places of 50 Great Writers.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Review of Murder in Plain English by Michael Arntfield & Marchel Danesi

Murder in Plain English: From Manifestos to Memes--Looking at Murder through the Words of Killers

The review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on March 6, 2017 http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/murder-plain-english

Buy the book through Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Plain-English-Manifestos-Memes-Looking/dp/1633882535/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488840796&sr=8-1&keywords=murder+in+plain+english

“Humans are the planet’s outliers when it comes to murder. We are, needless to say, also the only species that has the ability to document our experiences associated with murder through the written word.”

Why are we as a society so obsessed with crime? Our fascination with murder in particular has led to the writing of countless volumes of books which have further stoked the insatiable need to know as much as possible about these heinous acts as possible. Is there a link between murder and literature? And how can we use the writings of killers to identify them, catch them, and stop them? Murder in Plain English: From Manifestos to Memes—Looking at Murder through the Words of Killers, co-authored by Michael Arntfield, a professor of criminology at Western University and Marcel Danesi, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto, attempt to answer this unique and thought provoking question.

“The first book to examine murder through the written word, not only the writings of the killers themselves, but also the story of murder as told in literary fiction and crime dramas that are now a staple of film and television. Based on extensive research and interviews with convicted murderers, the book emphasizes the often-overlooked narrative impulse that drives killers, explaining how both mass and serial murderers perceive their crimes as stories and why a select few are compelled to commit these stories to writing whether before, during or after their horrific acts.”

Arntfield and Danesi call their tantalizing theory, “literary criminology,” the study of crime through literature and language. In this book they attempt to “penetrate the raison d'être of murder, through two sets of eyes, those of the literary writer and those of the murderer-as-writer.”

Early on in the text the authors make an astounding statement that they believe “countless deranged killers . . . were failed writers of one kind or another,” and further state, “literary genius . . . is rather common. Mass murderers, terrorists, and serial killers alike, regardless of education or literary level, demonstrate a consistent narrative impulse to both document and rationalize their grisly crimes.” Although part of this statement is true, they never fully backed up the murderer as “literary genius” claim with any evidence.

Murder in Plain English includes an extraordinary large and impressive collection of murderers and their foul deeds, both well-known and obscure. Be warned this is not a book for the faint of heart and is explicit in its descriptions. Unfortunately, the sheer number of stories, its rambling disjointed nature, and academic writing style makes for a difficult and often unpleasant read.

While the books premise is extraordinarily unique, the author’s obvious bias and often forced inferences on the evidence, instead of reasoning from facts to conclusions leave the reader confused. Despite all the specifics, analysis, and provocative nature of the subject matter there is no greater understanding of the reasons why people commit murder. The mere statements of killers and madmen, whether in written confessions, letters, diary entries, manifestos, or memes cannot be considered literature and any attempt at connecting the two is a stretch beyond the point of reason. In the words of the authors themselves “This linkage between writing and murder has undergone very little expert scrutiny or analysis,” and to be honest there’s a reason for that.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review of Illusions of Justice by Jerome F. Buting

Image of Illusion of Justice: Inside Making a Murderer and America's Broken System

Book review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on February 28, 2017 http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/illusion

Buy the book through Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Illusion-Justice-Inside-Murderer-Americas/dp/0062569317/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488301738&sr=8-1&keywords=illusions+of+justice

“Yes, I believe [Steven] Avery is innocent. This is my opinion, which I know is not worth very much, but my opinion is based on an assessment of the evidence.”
—Jerome F. Buting

In 1985, Steven Avery was convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder and served 18 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence. After his release, he filed a multimillion dollar civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. In November 2005, while this suit was pending, he was charged and later convicted of the murder of Teresa Halbach and sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

The handling of the Halbach murder case was highly controversial and his defense lawyers, Jerome Buting and Dean Strang, argued that their client had been set up by his judicial rivals. Avery’s 2007 murder trial and its related issues were the focus of the wildly popular and provocative Netflix original documentary series, Making a Murderer, which was released in December 2015.

In Illusions of Justice: Inside making a Murderer and America’s Broken System, Jerome F. Buting links his version of the Avery murder trial with other cases from his 35-year career as a criminal defense attorney. From his early career as a public defender to his success overturning wrongful convictions working with the Innocence Project, Buting’s first foray into memoir delivers an insightful look at the rampant bias and shocking realities of criminal defense law.

“. . . with greater regularity than people outside the system might expect, the American criminal justice system leads to results that are unreliable, unjust, and sometimes both.”

Buting states that his purpose in writing this book was not to “retry the Avery case day by day” but to highlight what he saw as the central issues in the case. He states that his perspectives were shaped not only by the facts of the case but also by his previous experiences as a criminal defense attorney.
In this easy to read narrative, Buting explores his personal life, which includes a deeply personal and emotional account of his battle with cancer, while explaining and outlining his career-defining cases. He also sheds light on the imperfections of America’s justice system and provides a thought provoking and credible outline for its improvement.

“I have always looked at the career of a criminal defense lawyer as more of a vocation than a job. But cancer was a wake-up call. It helped me understand how people must feel when they find themselves wrongly accused as a defendant in court, totally dependent on an expert . . . to guide them through the labyrinthine criminal justice system.”

He goes on to write, “The saga of Steven Avery, which unfolded in a sweeping narrative studded with intricate detail, stunned many as a portrayal of a badly warped American justice system.” When he agreed to team-up with fellow defense attorney Dean Strang in the Avery case, he instinctively knew that they were involved in a tragic case that bordered on Shakespearean proportions.

“This was the kind of profound challenge that a good attorney in the prime of his career should not shy away from. The Avery case would test our faith in this system like few others. It had all the elements of the awesome power of the government juggernaut arrayed against one man, who had been an outcast his whole life.”

Buting’s Illusion of Justice is thought provoking and delivers critical interpretations and powerful commentary on the problems that are plaguing our criminal justice system. Through painstaking analysis and evidence, the author provides an unyielding and persuasive argument both for Steven Avery’s innocence and the need for change within our criminal justice system. His unwavering advocacy for justice in the face of overwhelming obstacles is commendable and must be applauded. This book is a must read for legal scholars, true crime enthusiasts, or anyone interested in the complexities of America’s criminal justice system.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review of Blue on Blue by Charles Campisi

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on February 6, 2017 http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/blue-on-blue

It’s often said that the police are the “thin blue line,” the fragile wall standing between the public and unrestrained anarchy and crime. But within the realm of policing there is no more despised or guarded assignment then Internal Affairs.

“Their work is often misunderstood, by the public and by others cops. It is racked with uncertainties and ambiguities, not simple black and white but varying shades of grey.”

The domain of Internal Affairs is filled with lies and betrayal, a world of squealers and snitches, wires and wiretaps, shadowy surveillance and covert operations. By necessity officers of Internal Affairs have to operate in the shadows, in secret, separated from their fellow officers. Good cops who recognize that the work they do is essential, are happy they don’t have to do the job themselves. But without these brave, honest, and faithful officers, the thin blue line would most certainly collapse from within.

In Blue on Blue: An Insider’s Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops, author Charles Campisi, a recently retired chief of the Internal Affairs Bureau for the NYPD recounts his 40-year career of flushing out crooked cops and combating police corruption. With assistance from veteran reporter and journalist Gordon Dillow, Campisi offers a fascinating and illuminating description of his career within the NYPD from a lowly rank and file officer in some of New York City’s most crime ridden precincts to his reluctant acceptance of head of the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB).

Campisi is honest but cautious about his assessment of his new job post: “as I leave Ray Kelly’s office . . . All I know is that our mission now is to transform Internal Affairs and I know that’s not going to be easy. Because anybody who thinks he’s going to change the way the NYPD handles corruption and misconduct within its ranks has a lot of history to overcome first.”

With aggressive support from superiors, Campisi sought ways to alter the IAB’s bad reputation.
“As far as most cops are concerned, other cops go into IAB for only three reasons: one, they’re cowards or shirkers who are too afraid or lazy to work on the streets; two, they’re rats who jammed up by their own corruption or misconduct and agreed to work for IAB and rat out other cops to save their own skins; or three, they’re zealots who simply get a sick and twisted pleasure out of persecuting cops.”

During Campisi’s 18-year tenure (1996 to 2014) at the IAB the number of people shot, wounded, or killed by cops declined by almost 90 percent, and the number of cops failing integrity tests shrank to an equally startling low. But to achieve these results wasn’t easy, and Campisi had to triple IAB’s staff, hire the very best detectives, and put the word out that bad apples wouldn’t be tolerated. Although he concedes that eliminating all significant police misconduct is virtually impossible, he emphasizes that the majority of cops do their work professionally and honorably.

Campisi’s narrative is thought provoking, and as an ultimate insider he offers the reading public a rare glimpse inside one of the most secretive branches of policing. Within its pages, he recounts the most critical cases that put the IAB to the test and which ultimately helped clean up the department.
Charles Campisi’s Blue on Blue is a compelling behind the scenes account of what it takes to investigate police officers who cross the line between guardians of the public to criminals. It’s a mesmerizing exposé on the harsh realities and complexities of being a cop on the mean streets of New York City and the challenges of enforcing the law while at the same time obeying it. The breadth and depth of experience of the author and his unwavering commitment to justice makes this a refreshing read that will most certainly enthrall true crime enthusiasts and those interested in the history of modern law enforcement and particularly how police misconduct is handled.