Friday, November 12, 2010

Latest from Walker's Wild Onion series is a winner

Too Many Clients
By David Walker
ISBN: 9780727869302
Published by Severn House,
2010, 214 pgs.

Another sparkling crime novel in the Wild Onion series. It’s always a pleasure to open a book knowing you are in the hands of an experienced storyteller. Author David Walker has been around the block a few times and he has the accolades to show for it. His latest does not disappoint. Here we have a pair of wise and witty practitioners who are married to each other. In less sure hands, the marriage of two characters often lets a lot of steam out of a relationship and sends readers searching for other divertissements.

Not this time. Private investigator Kirsten, married to uber-relaxed lawyer Dugan, takes on her husband as a client, after a bad cop is found murdered. Dugan, never a careful person, has blundered into the thing in such a way he becomes a suspect. And while Dugan can act odd at times, almost the antithesis of the hard-driving lawyer of many crime fiction novels, he is far from the only character. There’s Larry. Larry Candle is a partner in Dugan’s office. He just doesn’t come off as someone whom you’d want to represent you in court for anything more serious than a mistaken parking ticket. Yet Larry manages to get the job done all the while irritating nearly everyone around him.

As the days pass, Dugan and Kirsten continue to collect new clients who somehow all want them to locate the killer of this bad cop. To Kirsten and Dugan’s collective thinking these new clients don’t seem to be entirely above suspicion, either. Meanwhile the cops continue to zero in on Dugan. Gradually, as Kirsten digs deeper into the people who knew or knew about the dead cop, the story takes on wider and wider implications, tangling mob figures with international activities, a prominent churchman and….well, you get the idea.

Twists on top of fascinating complications.
The novel is well-paced, complicated, and a truly fun read. I look for more cheeky stories in Walker’s Wild Onion series.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Musings on errors

The following is a piece by Bo Parker from a newsgroup post which I like
and use with permission.

Since typos have become one of the topics de jour, even
though such strikes me as somewhat off the track, I'm tossing in my
two cents of comment, which is probably what's it's worth in today's
world. When I first ventured out into the "publishing world" with my
first novel some two and a half years ago, I did so with the goal
suggested by friends--that the book be used as a fund raiser for
local charities and civic groups. I quickly learned that once the
"publishing pie" is sliced, there are very few monetary crumbs that
trickle back to the source for the author or anyone else. Along the
way, I discovered the actual cost of printing the book, which led me
to take a different route, knowing full well the brush with with
which I would be tarred as an author who had a book "published" by a
method not considered "traditional."

Along the way, I did know, as some have said, "at least enough to
have the manuscript professionally edited." That I did. Four times,
by four different "professional" editors. Included in this quartet
was one who had edited published books, another who was recommended
by a published author, and one who had been "certified" after taking
"an extensive test, based on the Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA
Handbook, The Gregg Reference Manual, and Merriam-Webster's
Collegiate Dictionary, 11th, edition." Guess what? My published
book has mistakes in it. Some of them are an embarrassment to me. And
they have become a reminder of a comment made to me by a published
author. "Mistakes are why you want to go with a traditional house.
Then they can be blamed on its editors, not the author."

Based on the the majority of opinions expressed so far that
mistakes in published books are a given for a multitude of reasons,
and in a void of suggestions as to how they can be eliminated, I am
left at a loss to understand the rational behind the comment that
mistakes can make a person think less of the author. However, I have
learned a lesson. The first book as a fundraiser has exceeded my
expectations, and publication of the second in the series will follow
the same path, with one addition. On the appropriate page, below
"published by...." will be the statement, "Edited by...." That leaves
me with only one question. Will there be an editor who is willing to
have his or her name published as part of the book?

Bronson L. Parker

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE: An Outstanding Thriller

Set The Night On Fire
By Libby Fischer Hellmann
ISBN: 978-0-98406-5-7
Trade Paperback from
Allium Press, Chicago, 2010
346 pages.

Every so often a novel comes along that connects with the reader in such a visceral way that it is like a punch in the stomach. This is such a story. If you lived through the nineteen-sixties and your memory is reasonably intact, or you learned even a small amount about those turbulent times, you will connect with this story.

On one level this is the story of Lila Hilliard.

Forty-some years after a particular series of spectacular and dangerous events in Chicago that revolved around a nasty far-off war and a political convention, a mysterious fire has robbed her of the only family she has ever known. At about the same time, a man named Dar Gantner, just released from prison, returns to Chicago from prison to reconnect with a few of his former companions from the same era. One, a woman named Rain, tells Dar that another of their mutual friends has just met with an odd fatal accident. It is clear in their conversation that Rain doesn’t entirely believe that it was an accident.

From that moment on it becomes apparent that dark and unknown forces are at work. But why? Who are these people we meet at the beginning of the book, who targets them and why? Through a series of small and then progressively longer flashbacks we are transported to a time when young people believed the rhetoric, that they could indeed change the outcomes of momentous happenings, that they could affect the course of the most powerful nation in the world. Some of those players, whatever they believed, moved on to build calm and substantial lives of commerce, and politics, and contemplative existences. They don’t want to relive any part of that time.

Most readers alive today will have memories of the Chicago convention of 1968, or of the riots and will begin again to remember the emotions of the time. And even if not, the measured, artful, portioning out of connections, of information, will bring those emotions to the surface. On another level, this is the telling of the great events of the late sixties, the crimes and the abuses and the trails that descended from them, not from the newspaper headlines or the televised reports, but through the eyes and hearts of some of the young people at the center of the conflicts. But this is no polemic, nor is it an attempt to change the record.

What the author has done is produce a cracking good thriller that grips a reader by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final pages. One after another the revelations keep coming, and as the central characters struggle to stay alive long enough to solve their mysteries, the author maintains our interest in the love story, the history and the dynamics of the times. It doesn’t matter your political beliefs, then, or now; the characters and their trials will reach off the pages of this fine novel and touch you in ways that are basic to our existence as human beings. This is a fine, fine novel that well deserves the accolades it will surely receive.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


A Crooked Little House
by Susan Rogers Cooper
Publisher: Avon
ISBN: 0-380-79469-1 January, 1999
246 pages, PB

This novel is less a mystery than an in-depth examination of a few weeks in the life of an entertaining and intriguing family in suburban Texas. The mystery of who murdered a young homeless woman is really the framework from which to dangle a whole houseful of family members from bright children to irascible mother-in-law.

Eloise Pugh is a romance writer. She lives in Codderville, Texas, in a home undergoing construction of a major addition. In addition to the construction workers, assorted pets, and three children plus a husband are in residence. Written in the first person, readers are treated to EJ’s often delightful, practical and frequently artful coping techniques.

These are wonderful characters, created by a writer with great skill and a fine eye for detail. There just are no missteps, even among certain characters who I doubt very much are a routine part of the author’s environment.

EJ’s family is happily preparing for the imminent high school prom of one of her charges. Their mood is abruptly shattered when EJ’s errant sister-in-law is charged with the murder of that homeless woman. Never one to simply accept apparent reality, EJ determines to save her reluctant sister-in-law by finding the real murderer. EJ’s path of detection becomes a wandering, twisting road of deception, doubt and several surprises.

Perceptively written, well-paced, “A Crooked Little House” is a lot of fun and
informative as well.

A Matter of Motive
by Michael Hachey
Avalon Books,
December, 2004
Hard Cover, 282 pages, $26.95
ISBN: 9780803496880

A lot of books are published every year in this country, far more than all the Internet, magazine and newspaper reviewers can possibly read, digest and then comment on. Here is one such that should have received more attention than it did when first released. Dexter Loomis is the only cop in Higgins Point, a small town in rural Wisconsin. As the novel opens, the mayor drops by and tells Loomis he’s being appointed chief, since the former chief abruptly left town.

Dexter is okay with that, mainly because he is yet ignorant of the gathering storm of crime about to descend on his town. Two suspicious deaths occur within days of each other, deaths that may or may not be related. In addition, Loomis has to cope with a loud and aggressive county sheriff who means to keep tight control of everything in his baliwick.

Loomis is smart enough, even though woefully inexperienced, to know he’s over his head and liable to sink quickly. So he calls the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations for help. Enter an agent who has a direct connection to one of the murder victims. Since this is usually grounds for immediate recusal, the author has to work around this, which he does in a logical and clever way.

The writing is competent, smooth and the story develops logically as a reasonable pace. The book may be somewhat overly complicated, which leads to some unnecessary meandering, but the sense of the small community, its long time residents and the struggles of the principal characters provides a very nice if not exceptional novel of criminality and malfeasance in small-town America. Hachey’s tone and pace is just right for the setting, resulting in a very enjoyable reading experience.

Friday, October 08, 2010


Dos and Dont's for Organizing an Online Blog Tour

While organizing my own 15 day/108 stop online tour, I was contacted by a number of authors who wanted me to host them during their tours. I was very happy to do so, but in the process, I learned that not everyone is as organized as I like to be. This brings me to today's post where I'll share some tips―some dos and don'ts for organizing an online book tour.

1. Do be organized; don't be disorganized. Keep a calendar on your computer where you can post dates as your hosts book them. Note down the host's name and the blog they've said they'll host you on. Some people have more than one blog, so this is an important step.

2. Do pay attention to details; don't ignore what your host wants. Keep all emails from your hosts for references. Some will tell you specifically what they want; some have preferences on topics or themes and on word count. Give your hosts what they ask for. Be sure to add your website and buy links to each blog post, and any contest information you may have.

3. Do send info early; don't leave it to the night before. Email your hosts at least 3 days before and include the MS Word doc of your post, plus attach your book cover and author photo as jpgs. Don't zip the files or use uncommon programs. If you don't have MS Word, ask your host what he/she prefers.

4. Do send a reminder; don't expect everyone to remember. Email your host the day before as a reminder and ask them to schedule your post to go live early in the morning. I prefer to send my guest's posts out around 3 AM.

5. Do make everything EASY for your hosts; don't make them chase down info or photos on websites. Give them what they need.

6. Do check your host's post the morning of your stop on their blog; don't just forget about them. Leave a comment and thank them.

7. Do be active; don't be inactive. Check the blog post throughout the day. Answer comments or questions from visitors. Check it again over the next couple of days.


Lancelot's Lady ~ A Bahamas holiday from dying billionaire JT Lance, a man with a dark secret, leads palliative nurse Rhianna McLeod to Jonathan, a man with his own troubled past, and Rhianna finds herself drawn to the handsome recluse, while unbeknownst to her, someone with a horrific plan is hunting her down.

Lancelot's Lady is available in ebook edition at KoboBooks, Amazon's Kindle Store, Smashwords and other ebook retailers. Help me celebrate by picking up a copy today and "Cherish the romance..."

You can learn more about Lancelot's Lady and Cherish D'Angelo (aka Cheryl Kaye Tardif) here or over here. Follow Cherish from September 27 to October 10 on her Cherish the Romance Virtual Book Tour and win prizes.

Authors & Readers: What do you like best about online book/blog tours?

Leave a comment here, with email address, to be entered into the prize draws. You're guaranteed to receive at least 1 free ebook just for doing so. Plus you'll be entered to win a Kobo ereader. Winners will be announced after October 10th.

All the best,


Thursday, September 16, 2010


Vermilion Drift
By William Kent Krueger
ISBN: 9781439153840
Hard Cover from Atria,
2010, 305 pages

Authors of crime fiction, like authors working in any other genre, often use their talents to work through personal issues, sometimes intensely private issues. Although it is not entirely clear, the writer may be working through some family issues with this novel. Does that matter?

Perhaps. That depends on the result. In this case, the author, possessed of well-honed, significant writing talent, has produced a novel of finely wrought proportions, multi-layered with considerable depth. By that I mean that the characters demonstrate multiple levels of engagement, and the story itself works on more than one level. Almost every character who appears in the book is involved in the story in more than one way. Some of their levels are casual or socially related, such as what may be routinely expected of law officers in Tamarack County, the Northern Minnesota location of this novel. Other characters, Henry Meloux, for example and other Native Americans; Sam Wintermoon, appears, and of course, Cork’s mother and his father, Liam, all have, at different times, visceral involvement in the story.

The problem, if there is one, is that this story is much more a novel of family and community relationships than it is a novel of suspense, or crime, horrific and awful though the crimes were. Death is always the ultimate judge, from whom there is no appeal.

So, in my view, the problem is one of balance, or perhaps of categorization. The involvement of Cork O’Connor, now a private investigator, alone in Aurora, is mostly one of self-examination. The novel is one of Cork’s journey of discovery. What was the meaning of his occasional nightmares? What were the issues that consumed and separated the O’Connor family in those last fateful months of Liam O’Connor’s life?

The novel begins with Cork once again at odds with his Ojibwe heritage. His mother, remember, was a member of the tribe. He’s hired by the owners of the Vermilion One and Ladyslipper mines to deal with threats against the mine. But then he’s also tasked to try to locate a missing woman, sister of the mine owner. Lauren Cavanaugh has gone missing. Finding the missing woman opens a window on old unsolved crimes from a previous generation, from a time when Cork’s father was the sheriff of Tamarack County.

Sorting through old albums, records and memories, fresh and repressed, takes up the body of the novel As with all of this author’s previous novels, the explanation is logical, satisfying and meaningful. Krueger, as always, is skillful in evoking the landscape, not just its physical self, but its atmosphere, its mystical presence and its influences on the people who reside there.

In the end, this thoughtful exploration of law, truth and justice and their profound influences on all of us is a highly successful emotionally moving effort.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


In Dog We Trust
by Neil Plakcy
ISBN: 2940000889596
Ebook available from
Amazon, Smashwords,

Steve Levitan is a convicted felon. Through a lapse in internal discipline, he did a little computer hacking and soon found himself in prison. Released on parole, he returns to his home, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, where he obtains a position as a part time faculty, teaching English at a local college.
His marriage fell apart, which is another factor setting up everything that follows, murder, car chases, odd and interesting characters, such as a sort of hard guy named Santiago, Steve’s parole officer, and a couple of cops, one of whom is a long-time school buddy of Steve.

Then there is the dog. Who names their dog Rochester? The dog belonged to a dead woman, and dog and Steve bond almost immediately, although both seem to have serious issues with authority.
Without revealing too much, this is a very “now” detective novel, delving into computer and other crime. How closely do you reads your credit card statements? The novel is well written, smooth and interesting. It’s always good when a crime novel teaches or reminds readers of information they should know. This story does that, without preaching or lapsing into lecturing. The classroom scenes and internal dialogues regarding student attitudes are authentic. For anyone who enjoys a jaundiced look at small college academic life, this novel is a pleasure to read on another level.
Everything about this novel smacks of a professional, polished approach. The writing is smooth, the characters well developed, and they stay in character. The plot has been carefully laid out and proceeds at a good pace. It’s conclusion is satisfying. Then there’s the dog, Rochester.
Dog lovers will be pleased to know that the author refrains from anthropomorphizing the dog. Undeniably talented, Rochester is helpful throughout the novel, but only in naturally occurring, that is, doggy ways. “In Dog We Trust” is a completely enjoyable way to spend a reading afternoon.


A Wasteland of Strangers
Author: Bill Pronzini
Publisher: Walker & Company.
ISBN: 0-8027-7560-8
257 pages

This is another of Bill Pronzini’s intensive, commanding, explorations of current social ideas and concerns which move a national colloquy in many forums. But this is not a social treatis full of statistics. This is a moving, intense, crime novel, that will captivate and enthrall the reader. Take one large, dangerous looking, individual, John Faith, by name. He’s a traveler, a seeker, a man on the move. Insert this stranger into a small resort community during the off season. This community happens to be in northern California, but such are the author’s skills, it could be anywhere. It could be your hometown.

John Faith is the immediate object of suspicion, because he’s a stranger and he doesn’t look like he belongs. His presence gradually reveals and widens long-standing cracks in the comfortable, biased attitudes and ideas of almost everyone in town. Why has this man come to town? What are his motives? His answers are enigmatic, and even at the end we are left with questions. John Faith’s encounters with the police chief, the bigoted lake-side resort owner, some local Native Americans, and a bartender or two, are like pebbles dropped in a placid pool. The ripples expand and expand until they reach the edge of the pool and die. Except in this case, the ripples grow larger, intersect and become irresistible waves that begin to tear at the base fabric of the town.

This psychological thriller is tightly plotted, and intricately presented. It’s pace is irresistible. “A Wasteland of Strangers” is a thoughtful, satisfying crime novel. Artist Doug Henry has presented a handsome, evocative cover illustration. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 27, 2010


The Protest Singer: Pete Seeger
By Alec Wilkinson
Pub by Vintage Books, 2010,
ISBN: 978-0-307-39098-1
Trade Paper, 152 pages, including
credits, acknowledgments and testimony.

The mystery is that Pete Seeger survives and endures. In his lifetime which spans much of the turmoil of the Twentieth Century, he has been beset by some of the most vicious and evil forces we have experienced in this country and in the world. Yet, here he is, still pluckin’ and singin’ and taking on injustice and good causes, like cleaning up the Hudson River.
I suppose I’m biased. I grew up in a time when folk singing in America was in the ascendency and I have a lot of old records and memories of these folks, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, several others, and had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Seeger through the good offices of my friend, another fine folk singer, Gene Bluestein. So it was great to read about all those folks, many of whom it’s easy to think of as friends, whether personal or only through their music, through the sensibilities of Seeger and Wilkinson.
It is wonderful, although disturbing, to read this elegantly written, honest look at a man, his friends and companions, his family, his trials and his triumphs, who sang his way into the hearts and memories of a lot of people. Seeger’s influence, not just in the music world; after all, the Weavers recording of “Goodnight Irene” in 1950 sold over a million copies, is and will be enduring.
This slender book, written in the kind of engaging style that is somehow the essence of Seeger’s approach to a principled life, is a moving tribute to him and to everything that’s right in these United States. Readers may disagree with his points of view, but you cannot disagree with the way Mr. Seeger fashioned his protest. Wilkinson has set down, in a most engaging manner,for readers everywhere, the values and the reality of a true American.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


The Anteater of Death
By Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen Press,
December, 2008, Hard cover,
230 pages, $24.95,
ISBN: 9781590585603

This is the beginning of a new series for this veteran author. Just look again at the title. Somewhere in the back of my head there’s a Shakespeare quote. Ms. Webb is an accomplished writer with several excellent novels to her credit. This one is a distinct departure for her, and it seems she is almost unable to restrain herself. There are a great many asides and some tongue-in-cheek humor that sometimes distracts the reader from a rather thin plot, although the setting is intriguing and Webb uses it well.

Theodora Bentley, the central character in this drama, is a zoo-keeper in a private enterprise somewhere in Southern California in an old seaside town interestingly named Gunn Landing. This zoo is the private plaything of some very wealthy families who have deep roots in the community. The situation is made more complex because some of those family roots are deeply entangled in their own history. Thus there is a darkness to this novel which offers some opportunities for the author to move in directions which would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

One of Teddy Bentley’s responsibilities is the giant ant eater of the title, in the wild, a fearsome creature indeed, equipped with razor claws designed to rip logs open in search of ants. The book opens in the mind of this anteater, improbably named Lucy, in a highly unusual approach which has the potential to cause a number of readers to immediately close the book. I suggest that such readers persevere. Pregnant Lucy is disturbed when a male human enters her enclosure and she goes to investigate. Her investigation leads to an accusation that the animal has killed the man, a director of the zoo.

This accusation against Lucy rouses anger and frustration among the zookeepers especially Teddy. Gradually Teddy becomes snarled in the murder investigation, complicated by her own roots in the community and her past relationships with the Sheriff and several others. Eventually the smoothly written and complicated plot gets sorted out and Teddy receives lots of help from a substantial range of off-beat and even strange characters, not all of whom are caged in the zoo. Funny, ironic and sometimes irreverent, the book will give readers an inside look at zoo keeping, animal protectionism and the often distorted lives of wealthy idlers.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I scarcely know how to begin, not something a reviewer should admit publically, I suppose. This wonderfully realized and written novel is a first class literary mystery. It deals with a three-week period in l941 that marks the end of a troubled life, the life of Virginia Woolf. It is serendipitous that this novel comes to my hand at a time that epitomizes a good deal of what she was all about. In a word, independence. Independence for women and independence for writers.

Virginia Woolf was an English writer, essayist and literary critic of the early Twentieth Century. Her parents did not send her to school. She was entirely self-taught and apparently randomly tutored by her literary critic father. She was a major influence on the kind of novels being written today, yet she was always, always, self-published. Hogarth Press, established by Woolf and her husband, Leonard, a political theorist of that era, in their kitchen, published Virginia’s writings along with those of E.M. Forester, and Sigmund Freud, among many others. Growing up she knew people like Henry James, Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, and George Eliot. Her father, Leslie Stephen's, first wife was the daughter of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

In addition to her literary credentials as an accomplished novelist, she was a prolific essayist who published over 500 essays. Virginia Wolf helped coalesce the famous (or infamous) Bloomsbury Group, a collection of social, political and economic theorists of varying stripes, including artists, critics, philosophers and writers who wrote, debated, loved, married and argued life throughout the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Woolf was sexually abused by a relative as a child, and clearly had mental problems during her lifetime. Her companions through life, including relatives, were mostly liberated intellectuals who ignored social constraints. On March 28, 1941, she disappeared from her home. Three weeks later, her body was discovered in the nearby river Ouse which had already been extensively searched. Her body was promptly cremated and there was no funeral ceremony, public or private.
Which brings us to this novel. Sixty years after Woolf’s death, master garden and landscape designer, Jo Bellamy arrives in England. She is doing research for a wealthy client who wants her to recreate a famous garden of white flowers and plants at his Long Island Estate. Jo is trying to recover from her grandfather’s sudden suicide. The celebrated White Garden of the title is located at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. It was created by Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West.

What Bellamy discovers at Sissinghurst has the potential to set decades of literary analysis and speculation on its collective ear. Whilst grubbing about in some boxes in one of the garden sheds, Jo comes upon a diary which appears to have been written by Virginia Woolf. Well and good, the problem is the first entry is dated the day after Virginia Woolf is supposed to have drowned herself. Moreover, there appears to be a connection between the castle, the garden, Woolf and Jo’s dead grandfather. Shocked and amid a growing desire to learn more about her grandfather’s youth in Kent, Jo Bellamy sets out on a cross-country odyssey to try to authenticate the diary and uncover her grandfather’s connection to one of the most famous feminists and literary icons of the past century.

The novel is wonderfully written and mostly moves at an ever-increasing pace as Bellamy encounters an array of character who are far more interested in their own aggrandizement than in helping Jo. The diary is stolen, Jo has help from several people with questionable motives and engages in some pretty far-fetched antics in order to follow some tantalizingly obscure clues.

Ultimately of course, some of the questions surrounding the diary and the last three weeks of Virginia Woolf’s life are resolved, but not all. The author, skillfully evoking a past era of English letters and philosophical thought, has provided a rich and thought-provoking experience.

The novel is written with grace and is rich in atmosphere and history. It is presented as a carefully wrought piece that could be true, and that climaxes in a stunning and most satisfying conclusion.

Friday, July 23, 2010


The Deadly Percheron
By John Franklin Bardin
Millipede Press, 2006
Trade Paper, 207 pages

John Franklin Bardin was born in 1916 and during his lifetime he wrote ten dark or noir crime novels. He refused to recognize any difference between genres, once stating his belief there are only good and bad novels. According to Jonathan Lethem, who wrote a thoughtful and lengthy foreward to this edition, Bardin once said that Graham Green, Henry Green and Henry James were noticeable influences on his writing. This novel, Bardin’s first, was published in 1946 and it is a very interesting noir novel indeed.

Amnesia and paranoia are the subjects and the characters, all unusual and distinct, sustain a complicated and bizarre plot through an abrupt but eminently satisfying conclusion. This is by no means a perfect novel, and the sixty-year-old style is sometimes disturbingly devoid of emotion. Shocking action is abruptly presented and just as abruptly disposed of. There is a fairly lengthy center section in which the amnesiac who is the protagonist, is established in his new and very much lower class life on Coney Island. Dr. George Matthews, a prominent psychologist, with a practice in midtown, and a comfortable upper class living, is confronted by a new client who arrives with a fresh hibiscus in his hair. For today’s readers, especially those of us who lived through the seventies and eighties of the last century, that is nothing special about a man with a flower in his hair.

We sense something odd and a little off kilter about the good Dr. Matthews. He appears to have more than passing interest in burgeoning sexuality he observes around him and he seems to identify rather too strongly with his new patient, Jacob Blunt. Blunt reveals that while he is wealthy enough to afford the counseling service of Dr. Matthews, he is working for a couple of midtown leprechauns, not Irish, he assures the doctor, American leprechauns. What’s more, he is really anxious to be told that he must be hallucinating, is withdrawing from reality and the events he is witnessing and doing are not real. He is happily losing his mind, which is far better than being trapped in this strange alter world.

The reader is rather suddenly brought up short when the doctor almost eagerly agrees to enter Mr. Blunt’s world. From there we are drawn farther and farther with the doctor, into this weird world of murder, large horses, amnesia and paranoia.

Difficult to locate, perhaps, a novel that is well worth the effort. This edition, from Millipede Press of Colorado, carries a striking cover painting by Salvador Dali.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Connelly scores with tale of Defense Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer
By Michael Connelly
ISBN: 0-446-61645-1
Pub, Warner Books, PB,
516 pages; released, 2006

Mickey Haller is a Los Angeles defense attorney. He’s been at the job long enough to qualify as a pro. Along the way he’s acquired two ex-wives, a daughter, a free-lance investigator, a host of clients and ex-clients, a driver, and three Lincoln Town cars. Hence the title of the novel.

Connelly is an experienced crime novelist with some serious recognition in hand. He’s a fine writer and that’s a good thing. If he was any less talented, this over-long novel would really weigh you down. Compelling is an overused term, but in an odd way it applies. The novel is a long and twisting trail to a stunning conclusion in a way that almost forces the reader to deal with many of Haller’s shibboleths. His slide into near depression as he dissects and excoriates himself over the growing venality of those who try to enforce the law and those who try to manipulate the machine to preserve the lives and rights of the citizens caught up in our adversarial legal system, provides us with a disturbing inside look at the workings of our justice system. The legal system is a machine and the people in it are gears and levers and wheels. About the only people in the machine he treats lightly are the judges. Everyone else come in for some well-aimed cudgels.

Haller is the son of a famous defense lawyer who echoes his father’s concern. He is afraid he won’t recognize true innocence when he hears and sees it. Indeed, it is Connolly’s contention, as expressed in this novel, that is exactly what happens all too often. One might wonder if defense lawyers around the world have this same concern.

Connelly can be counted on to deliver a well-thought-out, strong and realistic novel, which in the fantasy world of Crime Fiction is a real accomplishment.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


An Image of Death
By Libby Fischer Hellmann
ISBN: 1590581016
April, 2004
Hard cover from Poisoned Pen Press
285 pages, $24.95

Independent video producer Ellie Foreman is unwillingly trapped between murky political history and a murderous present.

When an unknown individual delivers a video to Ellie Foreman’s front door, she is swept into a complex and dangerous set of circumstances. The video depicts the apparent murder of a young woman. Although Ellie promptly delivers the video to the local police, the scene continues to haunt her.

The pressures of her current contract to produce an upbeat video about a foster children project in Chicago, brings her into contact with members of the cream of Chicago’s Gold Coast, a group Ellie is not entirely comfortable with. Then her relationship with David begins to come apart. Things do not bode well as these disparate elements swirl about Ellie’s existence and the normal life she is trying to maintain for her teen-aged daughter.

Fischer-Hellman has fashioned a story that intriguingly entwines two separate plots, one set in the dark days of the fall of the Soviet Union, and another in the go-go-atmosphere of upscale property development in Chicago. If there is an occasional coincidence and if some of Ellie’s activities with a friendly patrol woman stretch credibility just a bit, there is plenty of gritty dark reality to balance. That she is able to maintain a high level of interest in both, demonstrates her mastery of the genre and her skills as a writer.

Thursday, May 06, 2010


Random Victim
By Michael A. Black
ISBN: 978-0-8439-5986-4
Pub: Leisure Books, pb, 323 pages,
April, 2008

How did I miss this one when it first came out? I know the author, been following the man’s writing career. He gave me a copy of this book. Still, I only recently got around to reading it. And discovered to my chagrin what I’ve been missing. Delayed a really fine read. Here is Chicago, in all its grit and insouciance, its rhythm and its nasty side.

Chicago is part of Cook County, and they have a sheriff, a law enforcement presence, and all the problems an urban county can absorb. Comes now one Sergeant Francisco Leal, back after a drug bust gone bad, resulting in a grievous wound to his person. Leal, your basic resentful cynic, doesn’t enjoy busting bad guys to see them get off too lightly, and he isn’t always quiet about his feelings, even in front of the judge. Thus, “the Dark Gable Incident,” which gave Leal a certain cache, positive in some circles, but negative in many others.

We get a really good look at the simmering anger that lies under Leal’s professional demeanor and now he has a new assignment. Along with two young, inexperienced detectives and another sergeant, Leal is assigned to a politically sensitive case that is so cold, the detective’s fingers get numb just paging through the files.

Almost a year previously a major player, a judge Miriam Walker, went missing, was found dead some time later, and there were no arrests, no apparent motive, no leads.. A random victim, possibly of a carjacking? A very cold case. Now, elections are coming and the Sheriff is being beaten up over this still unsolved case. A team is assembled in an obvious political ploy, to re-examine the case and Leal is second in command, due primarily to his seniority. The team assembles with the initial understanding that there’s almost no upside to the situation.

The characters are precisely drawn, their actions methodical and deliberate and logical. The action and the tension are low-keyed for a long time, but the writing is so fine, I was drawn inexorably to page after page until the climax exploded off the page. This is one fine police procedural. Ultimately we learn that the assumption of randomness is not the truth.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


As usual, the Minnesota Book Awards night is one of the most impeccable, well organized and well-run events you’ll ever attend. Alayne Hopkins, who with her interepid helpers runs the thing has just done another outstanding job, with the able assistance of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Here are the 2010 winners of the Minnesota Book Awards for 2009 books and related publishing accomplishments. This was the 22nd annual awards event.

The Kay Sexton honoree for longstanding and outstanding dedication to the work of fostering writers, reading and other literary activity went to Carolyn Holbrook

The award for an outstanding Minnesota book artist was awarded to Wilber H. Chip Schilling, owner of Indulgence Press.

David Housewright won the Genre fiction award for Jelly’s Gold,” from St. Martin’s Press.

Joy K. Lintelman won the award for General Nonfiction, for her work titled, “I Go to America: Swedish American Women and the life of Mina Anderson,” published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

The award for Young People’s Literature went to Kate DiCamillo, for “The Magician’s Elephant,” from Candlewick Press.

Joyce Sidman won the award for Children’s Literature for “Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors,” from Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

Jude Nutter won for poetry with “I wish I had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman.,” University of Notre Dame Press.

A special award for a Minnesota Book went to Cary J. Griffith for a production from Borealis Books, Minnesota Historical Society Press.

In the Memoir and Creative Nonfiction category, Kent Nerburn won for “The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey through a land of Ghosts and Shadows,” published by New World Library.

The book voted an award called Peoples Choice went to Dave Kenny for “Honor Bright: A Century of Scouting in Northern Star Council.”

Marlon James offering, The Book of Night Women,” from Riverhead Books/Penguin Group, was the award winner in the Novel and Short Story category.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Author: Reginald Hill
Publisher: Delecourt Press
Copyright: 1999, HC, 408 pages
ISBN: 0-385-33279-3

Cover copy calls this a work of intricacy, precision and psychological complexity. I cannot agree more emphatically. Yes, it's another in what one hopes is an endless line of Dalziel and Pascoe mysteries. And yes, it contains powerful, evocative writing.

"Here four men labored with shovels, their faces wrapped with scarves, not for disguise but as barrier against the stench of the decaying bat droppings they disturbed, while high above them a sea of leathery bodies rippled and whispered uneasily as the sound of digging and the glow of bull-lamps drifted up to the natural vault."

Peter Pascoe's wife, Ellie, is hard at work on her book. Yes, she's hoping to be a published author one day. And then, abruptly, inexplicably, there is an abduction attempt on her. Though the attempt is thwarted by Ellie's nimble-mindedness, the act sets in motion a vast, complex investigation and a plot that ranges over wide spaces of the English coastal area and pits D&P against some very nasty characters. Adding to the complications are difficulties over jurisdictional questions affecting the National Interest.

This is a complex story with a large cast of interesting characters and a strong sub-plot. It is an excellent novel by an excellent writer. Hill handles his characters, his plot and his setting with consummate skill. .More than ten years old now, it’s well worth seeking out.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Barrier Island
Author: John D. MacDonald
Publisher: Fawcett Books
Copyright: 1986
ISBN: 0-449-13179-3
259 pages

Unfortunately, readers won't find this book in most on-line or regular bookstores. The novel is out of print. And, unlike the recent reissue of the Travis McGee series, much of MacDonald's canon will remain in the hands of used book retailers. But this novel by a master of the crime novel, is one of many that brought MacDonald considerable notice and accolades for his unremitting efforts to protect the fragile coastal regions of Florida and the Gulf Coast, in addition to the recognition of his gifts as a writer. Readers of the excellent Emma Lathen series of chicanery in high financial circles, will find Barrier Island to their liking. This is clearly a work whose themes are of considerable interest and even passion to the author.

This novel could have been written yesterday, testament to the genius and skill of the author. I found nothing which was not germane and up to date. MacDonald's characters are interesting, well-developed and consistent. The book probes conflicting situations between partners in a real estate firm, and follows the conflicting desires of the partners in the ways they define a successful business.

Greed, avarice, ecological concerns and healthy community growth are all considered in this action-filled novel. There are surprises and misdirections, all couched in MacDonald's excellent prose. An excellent, thoughtful, novel.

Monday, March 08, 2010


By Libby Fischer Hellmann
Poisoned Pen Press
Hard Cover, 301 pages, $24.95
ISBN 1-59058-185-7
Released, 2005

The fourth Ellie Foreman adventure demonstrates that the author knows what she’d doing. One of the realities of life in traditional mysteries featuring protagonists who are not members of professional law enforcement, is that even cops don’t deal with murder all that often. There are, however, all sorts of amateur detectives who jump right in as the bodies fall all around. Fischer Hellmann avoids that tired construct by placing her video producer, Ellie Foreman, in a variety of normal situations with abnormal consequences. Keeps thing fresh and interesting.

What’s more, as in this case, Ellie Foreman doesn’t just jump in when a woman sitting nearby at a highway rest stop is abruptly murdered at a distance from an unseen location. That’s intriguing enough, but Ellie wisely tells her story to the responding cops and leaves. But then the slain woman’s family tracks Ellie down and importunes her to help find the killer. Another death ensues and Foreman is drawn deeper into a different part of the scene where she is already legitimately producing a video for an upscale client.

The locale of the novel is the seriously upscale Lake Geneva resort area north of Chicago. Long known for its history of attracting the wealthy and the questionable who have homes around the lake, a Playboy Nightclub, and of course, all those service personnel who are so necessary to the lifestyle of the rich and infamous.

The author nicely sets up an interesting mix of characters from high and low classes and the conflicts among them that sometimes arise. But this is not “Upstairs and Downstairs,” genteel and very British as that television series was. This story is American to the core and Ellie Foreman soon finds herself knee-deep in family secrets, along with old and new animosities. Tension rises gently but steadily though the pages and the mystery has some nice twists and turns. As with all her novels, Hellmann has a good ear for dialogue and a finely focused eye for the settings of her books.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Poltical Thriller scores well

The Fallen
By Mark Terry
ISBN: 978-193351575-5
Hard Cover from Oceanview Press
279 pages, April, 2010

The Fallen of the title of this intense political thriller are a cult-like group of professional spies, highly trained military black ops types and upper-level espionage operatives. They represent nearly all the major and some smaller governments around the world. These men have been coerced, or led into betraying their nations and the rest of the world. Now a group has focused on a meeting of twenty world leaders at the G8 summit. The initiation of their plan to highjack the meeting and grab many of the world’s top leaders begins with a series of carefully complex and precise actions. These actions have a tendency to hype the level of tension in the early part of the novel at a rapid rate.

The difficulty of this is that by the time the plot moves into its negotiation phase and the world leaders begin to formulate push-back operations, the tension tends to level off somewhat in the midsection of the novel. One way the author has fought this tendency is by breaking the book into unusually brief sections. There are eighty-eight chapters in span of 286 pages. Mostly, it works.

The writing is crisp, the dialogue and narrative littered with the jargon of high-tech electronics and military ops which adds to the atmosphere. The book is packed with action and conflicts especially among the US political and military leaders attempting to sort out and resolve the situation. An undercover asset, the hero or protagonist of the novel is the most fully developed character and he satisfactorily fills his role. An enjoyable read well-centered in the modern political thriller genre.

I note that a copy of the book was supplied at no cost.

Monday, March 01, 2010


Scottoline may have written this novel from the heart, and out of personal experience. The reader may experience more verisimilitude as a result, but that does not, nor should it, relieve the author of the obligation to edit. The novel is overlong, in what may be a misguided attempt to fool readers into believing they're getting a better deal for their money.

Good stories should not be required to support more side trips than are necessary. Nevertheless, long though it may be, this is a cracking good story, and for the most part well told. Bennie Rosato is a prominent, successful, criminal attorney who runs her own law firm in Philadelphia. It is a firm of women lawyers, some of whom come with considerable family baggage. Rosato is not excluded. She never had the standard nuclear family, her father apparently split long before Bennie had any real memories of him. Her mother is dying in a nursing home and Bennie has no one with whom to share that burden.

With only a week to go before the trial starts, drug dealer Alice Connolly, a woman accused of murdering her cop-lover, demands a new lawyer, specifically, the woman she claims is her twin sister, Bennie Rosato. Rosato has always known she was an only child. When Rosato meets with Connolly, loudly claiming a frame-up by the Philadelphia PD, she learns to her considerable and additional consternation that Connolly has been guided to the decision to contact Bennie, by an old man who claims to be the women's father. This can only be the case, of course, if Connolly is in fact, Bennie's sister.

Connolly is one of the most interesting characters in he book. Street-wise, tough as nails and amply capable of murder, her first and only priority is to use this possible connection with Bennie Rosato to get off and out from under the death penalty that goes with conviction.

Rosato, still wondering after many years of self-examination, what her family might have been, is forced by circumstances to renew the old questions and try to find the man claiming to be her father. Scottoline, a good writer, expertly weaves into the book, the story of the cloying, overly protective family of one of her associates as stark contrast to her own fragmented family. But having established her context and parameters, it's almost as if the author wants to be sure everyone who reads Mistaken Identity gets it. Readers will get it too.

The resolution, to family questions, to Connolly's claim of a frame and the murder trial itself, are all resolved in interesting ways and the book is ultimately satisfying. For fans of this author, Mistaken Identity will be a must read.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Bitch Factor
Author: Chris Rogers
Publisher: Bantam
ISBN: 0-553-58001-9
Price: $5.99
pub. date: October, 1998
319 pages, paper

A debut novel by an author who writes with authority, clarity, and tells a very good story. The title and cover hype shouldn’t put readers off. Someone has tried to position this female bounty hunter and ex assistant district attorney, into a hard-surfaced prickly feminazi who is supposed to have all the aggressive, macho attributes of some western male lawman. It isn’t true, which in no way detracts from a fine story or an interesting, worthwhile character. Dixie Flannigan is a Houston, Texas, based bounty hunter. She’s smart, competent, beset by an aggravating family, and seems to be the kind of interesting personality one would enjoy hanging out with. Her moral construct is strong and believable. She has a wide range of fascinating friends who are sometimes able to assist her in logical ways.

If the story sags a bit in the middle, the premise holds up well and the last third is a tense,
bounding race to a surprising conclusion. A worthy effort.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Recipies for murder and fun

The Proof is in the Pudding
By Melinda Wells,
Pub. Berkley Prime Crime
2010, 291 pages
Mass Market Original

This is the author’s third in her series featuring Della Carmichael. And yes it comes with several pages of what appear to be mouth-watering recipes. While noting that the author sent a copy of the book to review, I have not (yet) tried any of the recipes. However, if they are on a par with the quality of this author’s writing which is excellent, they should be worthwhile.

Della Carmichael is the hostess and chef of a West Coast cable cooking show. She also runs a small cooking school. Her deceased husband was a cop so she has some useful connections for her adventures. Make no mistake, this novel is not a cozy. Even though set in Southern California, and the circle of suspects and other characters is limited, many of readers’ expectations about cozy crime novels are broken. There are pets. There is some fine humor and the pace is enough to keep even non–foodies interested. And, this is a whee of a story.

An Important Personage is staging a celebrity cooking competition for both humanitarian and personal reasons. Della is brought in at the last minute to be one of three judges of the event. There she encounters another judge who is definitely not on her ‘A’ list of desirable guests. When the man is stabbed to death during the beginning of the cooking competition, in a delightful and well-thought-out scene, suspicion falls variously on a close friend who is a cop, the cop’s daughter and on Della herself.

Wells is a good writer and she deals with one of the major problems of writing a series in a competent and forthright manner. If a series is to continue, we can’t have the protagonist in such jeopardy that she dies. However, by recognizing the quandary , this author builds the tension in other ways, and the detecting is handled in a well-done manner. In addition, Della Carmichael acts like a real, fully realized woman, with desires, problems, and some pets and friends who are occasionally troublesome. They are interesting which contributes to the stew without distracting us from the main story.

I was completely charmed by Ms. Carmichael and her adventure. Her world is fun, funny, and as real as can be. Moreover, the story is well plotted and has a very satisfactory conclusion.

Monday, January 25, 2010


The following review by Sue Ann Connaughton was posted at
Genre Review (used with permission)

The latest in a sailing mystery series, Devils Island follows the adventures of Seattle heiress, Mary Whitney.

Mary and her relatively new husband, public relations executive Michael Tanner, share a blissful, enviable life. Her vengeful ex-husband, Edwin Tobias, resolves to destroy that life. He gets his chance when Mary and Tanner plan a fly-sail vacation to Bayfield, Wisconsin and Tanner is delayed by work responsibilities in Seattle. Mary ventures forth alone, intending to sail, explore, and contemplate the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior before Tanner arrives. In Wisconsin, Mary meets a local gadabout with information about her ancestors; cultivates a sailing buddy; and interacts with a Coast Guardsman who enlists her to note any suspicious activity on the Lake.

Always, but unbeknownst to Mary, Tobias lurks. From a motor yacht, he stalks Mary on Lake Superior until he is able to set up the optimal conditions for kidnapping her: when she is isolated and without access to radio or cell phone communications. Thus follows a thrilling cat-and-mouse sequence of scenes in which feisty Mary struggles fiercely but is ultimately bound and hoisted into the icy lake to suffer a slow, tortuous drowning.

Because it’s a sailing adventure, Devils Island naturally includes characteristics of the sport of sailing. However, I found the explanation of sailing procedures and use of jargon to be so excessive that large portions read like a sailing manual. This could have spoiled the readability of the book as a suspense novel. Fortunately, enough of a foreboding atmosphere is maintained throughout to motivate the reader to keep reading by focusing on those aspects of the story that work best: the plot, the action passages, and the interesting characters.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Short PI, Sean NMI Sean, is up for escorting his statuesque lady love to the Great Minnesota Get-together, as the State Fair is known. The annual event draws millions of folks, most regular, law-abiding types. There are many opportunities for the irregular types. Pick-pockets, grifters, hustlers and scam artists. And that’s just the ordinary ones.

Minnesota and neighbor Wisconsin are noted for their cheese production, both hard and soft. So Sean, watching a small stage performance by a polka band, barely registers a comment about hard cheese when he overhears two men talking. But later, things get dark and slippery when he enters the horse barn. Well, here, see what I’m saying....

“We were somewhere in the center of the big barn, having encountered several enormous equine creatures being maneuvered here and there down the aisles. The horses’ hooves made sharp clopping sounds on the concrete. Some of the animals seemed a little skittish so we avoided getting close. I was a few steps ahead of Catherine, who had stopped to peer through a barred grate at a small brown ass. Maybe it was a donkey. I’m no expert on these things. I went on around the corner and came face to face with an open stall. I remember there was a lot of what looked like fresh hay on the floor. Also a body.
He was slumped on the floor against a corner of the stall, one arm raised as if he were about to wave at somebody. The effect was ruined because his wrist was pinned to the wooden wall by one steel tine of a pitchfork. His striped black and white boat shirt glistened red down the front. His head drooped forward but it looked to me like his throat had been slashed.”

The short story is titled “Hard Cheese.” If you want to know the why’s and wherefores, you can download this charming bit of diversion for a ridiculously low price from Echelon Press.
The easy way is to go to the website, Then click on my name in the lower left panel. Easy.

The page gives you access not only to this story but a few others I’ve produced for Echelon.
And do come back and visit. I’ve several other nice bits and a few pieces that Echelon has promised to publish in the next few months.

Meanwhile, Good reading!