Monday, September 19, 2011


Rock Hole by Reavis Z. Wortham
ISBN: 978-1-59058-884-0
2011 release from Poisoned Pen
Press. HC, 284 pages

A sensitive, suspenseful debut crime novel. Full of twists, wry and earthy humor, it epitomizes the grit, the patience and the perseverance, of middle America. Folks who grew up in Texas, where the novel is set, or anywhere in the belt that runs from the northwest angle of Minnesota to the Padre Islands and from the middle of Pennsylvania to Cody, Wyoming, will recognize themselves in this novel. Their humor, their practicality, their keen natural observations, are all here to savor.

Welcome to 1964. In Center Springs, Texas, farmer and part-time constable Ned Parker is faced with a puzzling series of animal deaths. That they are brutal, atrocious unnecessary killings, only adds to the tension and suspense. Across the river, the black deputy, John Washington, is trying to find reasons for the same killings, while also dealing with the added difficulties of racism in the county. All these factors entwine to create a real and growing calamity for the small communities in the county surrounding Center Springs. As the killings continue, strange footprints are found near bedroom windows and citizens begin to carry weapons and look suspiciously at their neighbors.

Laced with forthright humor, the novel proceeds at a racing pace through event after event as suspicion grows and plot twist after twist keeps readers off-balance until the stunning climax is reached. Ned Parker is a real character who carries the story in an authentic and realistic manner.

The novel is not without its problems. Abrupt and annoying changes of points of view are occasionally confusing, but the writing, like the stories within the narrative is solid. This is an eminently satisfying novel. I look forward to the next.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


A Train In Winter

By Caroline Moorehead

ISBN: 978-0-06-165070-3

2011 release by Harper Collins

384 pages, Hard Cover

This book falls under the heading of true crime. It deals with mass murder, attempted genocide and a side of France in the 1940’s that is generally not well-known. This is also one of the most difficult and amazing books I have ever had the priviledge of reading. This is, as the cover states, “an extraordinary story of women, friendship and resistance in occupied France.”

In mid-June, 1940, the German army occupied Paris and France fell. There was, for a while, a partition, Vichy France under the aging Marshall Petain. At first, relations between the occupiers and the subjugated French were almost cordial. During the next two years many of France’s second-class citizens, it’s women, took up the battle and became foundations and facilitators of the much celebrated French Resistance, all over the nation. It’s noteworthy that French women were denied the priviledge of voting until 1944. Ironically, dismissive attitudes toward women worked to their advantage as they became top organizers and couriers in the resistance.

Gradually, informers and collaborators working with the Gestapo amassed evidence of women’s activities, arresting and gathering women into prisons. In January, 1943, 230 women, the youngest 15, the oldest in her sixties, were loaded into cattle cars and shipped east, to Auschwitz. Only 49 survived to the end of the war. This is the well-documented story of those women.

The author has, through extensive archival research, personal interviews with survivors, and family members, and the development of original sources, pieced together the individual and collective stories of these ordinary yet incredible women. The stories are set against the political and the social turmoil of the times. The women, from all classes of society across the political and social spectrums, bonded together to support one another in fighting for their survival. They had no weapons save their wits, their intelligence and their essential humanity, against a huge and terrible effort to obliterate them. Only a few were Jews. That any survived is testament to their grit, their determination and their mutual support.

This work is meticulously documented with an extensive bibliography, source notes by chapter, and short biographies of the women who live again in these pages. Moorehead’s tone is straightforward; no hysteria, no loud condemnations, there are no exclamation points. But the book, in the weight of its facts here illuminated, is condemnatory. It condems Nazis, the Gestapo, and French collaborators as well as the post-war government of France which preferred to forget much of the pestilence that came with the occupying German army.

This is a book that should be read by anyone with the slightest interest in human rights and human history. It throws a bright light on an aspect of World War II in Europe little known or studied. And the book is a reminder that we who ignore the lessons of history will inevitably suffer repetition of those devastations.