Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More bits and pieces


I stole the title from Colin Evans.  He wrote a book for Wiley Press by that title.  It’s a fascinating look at fifteen milestone cases of probable/possible crimes that depend for their resolution on controversial forensic evidence.  He calls the question of the authenticity of the Turin Shroud a perfect crime of its type, a fraud committed several hundred years ago that persists to this day.  Of course, it is largely a benign fraud.

Those of us who are interested in the questions of evidence, as they relate to our stories of crimes and criminals, would find the book, published in 2001, a useful book for the library.  Among the crimes he dissects are some high profile cases, including  those of Napoleon, William Lancaster, Samuel Sheppard, and O. J. Simpson.  Did you know that experienced entomologists can predict very closely the time of death of a human being by examining the state of the insects found in and around that body?

Why would you ever care that the weight of a cubic foot of common red brick was 120 pounds?  Well, you might if your villain wanted to build a device to drop the brick on the head of a target, yes?  Let’s say you wanted to kill an adversary while you were miles away, so you rig a device that drops the brick on your target when he, or she, opens a certain door.

When I wrote “Devils Island,” I did some research to back up my experience with bodies in motion in water and the flight paths of emergency flare pistols.  When I wrote “Hard Cheese” I inquired as to whether a hollowed out round of cheese might hold enough drugs to make the subterfuge worthwhile.

Bolts that hold various engine parts together are chosen, in part, based on their resistance to stress.  Suppose you wanted to kill or injure someone by substituting different bolts in an engine that would give way under certain levels of stress.  Would that work?  What if you did that and then had to ride in the altered car with the intended victim?  Wouldn’t that be a harrowing experience?

Meanderings of a writer’s mind.  Evidence to be detected.  Policemen will often tell you that forensic science rarely helps catch criminals, but it does help to convict them, once a viable suspect is identified and brought to trial.


More than half of the coastline of the entire United States is in Alaska

The Amazon rainforest produces more than 20% the world's oxygen supply. The Amazon River pushes so much water into the Atlantic Ocean that, more than one hundred miles at sea off the mouth of the river, one can dip fresh water out of the ocean

The volume of water in the Amazon river is greater than the next eight largest rivers in the world combined and three times the flow of all rivers in the United States.

Antarctica is the only land on our planet that is not owned by any country. Ninety percent of the world's ice covers Antarctica . This ice also represents seventy percent of all the fresh water in the world. As strange as it sounds, however, Antarctica is essentially a desert. The average yearly total
precipitation is about two inches. Although covered with ice (all but 0.4% of it), Antarctica is the driest place on the planet, with an absolute humidity lower than the Gobi desert.

Brazil got its name from the nut, not the other way around.

Canada has more lakes than the rest of the world combined. Canada is an Indian word meaning " Big
Next to Warsaw, Chicago has the largest Polish population in the world

Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, carries an official designation M-1, so identified because it was the first paved road anywhere.

Damascus, Syria, was flourishing a couple of thousand years before Rome was founded in 753 BC, making it the oldest continuously inhabited city in existence. Current events make one wonder if this may be its last year on this earth.


Scone Island
By Frederick Ramsey
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0053-3
2012 from Poisoned Pen Press
253 pages

I’m a fan of Ike Schwartz. To my mind, he’s the model of a good county sheriff, even if he is in love with the beautiful president of a local college. Worse, to my faculty mind, she’s in love with him. This author  as this excellent main character cold. He’s intelligent, sarcastic, smart, flip and loving in all the right moments. He’s also honest and really believes he can cope with an array of weird and sometimes flawed deputies and county officials.

Sheriff Schwartz has a dark background although in previous novels we are led to believe he worked on the side of the angels. President Ruth Harris is recovering from severe physical; trauma. (for details, read the series) and she and Ike decide almost on the spur of the moment, to leave their rural Virginia homes for a vacation, a vacation away from phones, mail and drop-in problems. The couple is after some serious down time. Schwartz knows how to disappear off the grid. A small rustic cabin on a small island off the coast of Maine seems ideal. No electricity, no telephones, almost no contact with the mainland. Problem is, an ex CIA operative, named Harmon Staley thought so too. And then, somebody from the ex-CIA operative’s past figures it out and the shadow from the past has an urgent need for Staley to go away. Permanently. And then the tentacles of this very complicated story become even more entangled.

The author is a fine storyteller and if the dialogue between Ruth and Ike becomes more and arch and even a little juvenile at times, and even if there’s a small sense of convenience in the rousing climax, the sense of tension and menace that builds steadily from the very beginning overcomes those minor annoyances. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


A recent Los Angeles Times story by reporter Molly Hennessy-Fisk has some interesting characteristics. Her story concerns a movement to avoid glorifying the Aurora, Colorado, coward who slaughtered at least defenseless twelve movie-goers. The movement focuses on memorializing the names of the victims, not that of the perpetrator. Most reporting of these kinds of events provide much more about the perpetrator. Self-aggrandizement is usually found to be one of the primary motivators for these acts. Charles Manson once remarked he’s the best known man in the world.
So why bring this story up? Because in reporting on the movement, the reporter managed to insert the name of “Suspect A”-the killer- into the story eleven times. She managed to mention only one victim, twice. I think both the reporter and the LA Times editors dropped the ball here.

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings."
People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.
Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

A local candidate for the state House of Representatives has distributed a piece that accuses all “career politicians” of being thieves, of having their hands in the cookie jar. That’s popular jargon for stealing. I've complained to local television stations and newspapers about this charge and I’ve been ignored. We’ve become inured to illogical and negative political rhetoric. How does this accusation that my former representatives, at all levels of government, have been stealing from me, backed with zero evidence, help me decide how to vote?  Well, I guess this does. Anybody who makes such wild and sweeping accusations cannot be trusted to represent me at any level of government.

“Trickster’s Point,” by Kent Krueger. coming later this summer. Up to his usual high standards. Recommended.
“False Mermaid,” by Erin Hart. An emotionally complex tale of unsolved family murder, with a connection to the author’s hero, Nora Gavin and her expertise in forensic anthropology. Strongly recommended.
“The Cougar’s Prey,” by Larry D. Sweazy. A Texas frontier western tale with secret maneuverings, undercover missions, the rescue of damsels in dire distress.  Good story, and a fun novel.
“Where Danger Hides,” by Terry Odell. A romantic suspenseful novel. High-end private investigation and protection company embroiled with a women’s shelter. This odd pairing leads to murder, thievery, hot action and a fine novel. Recommended

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Excellent historical mystery

Cover Her Body
By Eleanore Sullivan
ISBN: 978-1-936214-55-6
Trade Paper, a 2012 release
From Yesteryear Press.

During its history, the United States has periodically seen the rise of religious movements of various kinds.  Sweeping westward, religion followed the colonization of the land by emigrants from Europe. In the early nineteenth century, one such revival brought colonies of survivalists from Central Europe seeking relief from the persecution of powerful main-stream religions. One such small group came from Wurttemberg, Germany in 1817, with help from Quakers in England. They called themselves the Society of Separatists. Under the leadership of a single charismatic leader named Joseph Belmer, they became a strict religious group, tightly bound, with many rules of conduct that people today would find oppressive and questionable.  That is the background for this excellent historical crime novel.

The author is a descendent of the founder of Zoar, where the members of the Society of Separatists established their village on five thousand acres of owned land on Northeastern Ohio. When the novel opens it is 1830 and the village has completed the digging of a portion of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Redemption and self-denial are fundamental beliefs of the society, such that no one travels alone, children are housed in dormitories and life is strictly regulated.  A free-thinking woman like Adelaide, principal character in the well-written novel, is seen as a disturbing influence. When she finds a young village woman dead in the nearby river, an apparent suicide, the village is thrown into turmoil and the specter of outsiders is immediately raised. Adelaide, trying to adhere to the society’s principles but still determined to do the right thing by her dead friend, represents a danger to the leaders of the community.

Subsequent events and the persistence of Adelaide lead to greater disruption and a series of decisions that are able to calm the villagers yet create moral dilemmas. The sense of place is strong and the characters always meet the test of believability. Readers will come away from this novel with new understanding of the role of some women in a very specific society, but with lessons for our broader, modern society in which we all live.  Strongly recommended, I look forward to more life lessons of tolerance and thoughtful beliefs from this author.