Monday, January 30, 2012


Under The Dog Star
by Sandra Parshall
ISBN: 978-1-59058-878-9
a 2011 Poisoned Pen release,
303 pages

The story is already in full-bore action when you open the book. “In the silver moonlight, the dogs appear as a dark mass moving down the hill and across the pasture.” Contrast of light and dark. Questions immediately arise. Are these dangerous dogs? Feral dogs? Where are we and who is observing this? Why should we care?

In the hands of this careful, experienced writer, you know you are in for a wild ride. Veterinarian, Rachel Goddard, runs an animal clinic in the mountains of Virginia, a place where people are used to taking care of their problems in direct fashion. Wild dogs threatening livestock? Never mind they are or were somebody’s pet, shoot ‘em. This is anathema to Rachel and she mounts a county-wide attempt to trap and rescue the dogs before they are shot. The county is thrown into an uproar and her competence is questioned when a prominent physician is discovered with his throat torn out and plenty of evidence that a dog was the culprit.

Rachel’s lover, Tom Bridger, a deputy sheriff in the county is worried about Rachel’s safety as he struggles to understand the crime. Both Rachel and Bridger come up against one of them most dysfunctional families I have ever read about. There are other complications and false trails that have to be dealt with. The author handles dog fighting and other crimes is a forthright yet sympathetic manner. Readers will get the vivid pictures the author draws, but won’t have to wallow in the degradation. Parshall makes her points cleanly and evocatively, just as she illuminate the settings, both by contrast and depiction.

There were times when I wanted to grab Rachel and inject a little backbone into her and Bridger is sometimes entirely too controlling. Nevertheless, this is a strong, well-written chiller with crackling dialogue, great characters and a powerful resolution.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Haftmann's Rules a dark, bumpy PI novel

Haftmann’s Rules
by Robert White
ISBN: 9780982945971
a 2011 release from Grand
Mal Press, TP 236 pages

Thomas Haftmann is an ex homicide cop living in Ohio. Now he’s a private investigator pretty near the end of his profession. Clients are few and he’s struggling with some major physical and mental problems. Haftmann is not your typical upstanding white knight of a PI. He confronts his drinking problem by hanging out in sleazy bars, has sex with women he finds on the Internet, and abuses the good will of the few friends he still retains.

He’s bright and the novel is littered with his political and philosophical ruminations. His intimacy quotient is low, as his ex-wife would quickly testify. Somewhere in his core, however, is a moral kernel that leads him to put his sanity and his life on the line to try to tease out an unusual serial killer operating in the sleaziest sections of Boston. His entry into this dark and dangerous segment of society, in a town where he has no resources at all, is a search for his client’s missing daughter who may be stripping in one of Boston’s unsavory clubs.

The novel is well-written, coherent and fast-paced. Make no mistake it is very dark, violent and pretty explicit in several instances. It is a very modern story in that much of the motivations on the dark side are rooted in some of the nastier beliefs of today. The novel takes some effort to get into but somehow, for this reader at least, Thomas Haftmann, in spite of his bizarre rules, grabbed me by the collar and held my interest until the ride was finished.

Sunday, January 08, 2012


The Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, in its eleventh year, once again provided a marvelous forum for an unusual music experience. Six young composers presented recent works.  Three received their world premieres, the others first performances by a major orchestra.

It was an amazing evening at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Michael Holloway’s “Theta Beta Theta” evoked heart and brain rhythms, with oriental underpinings, particularly in the center section.

Andreia Pinto-Correia’s “Xantara” certainly evoked misty shores and images of mysterious Moorish castles floating above swirling fog banks. There was no evidence of her jazz background in the piece, but there was a sense of directional loss at times.

Hannah Lash offered up a piece in two parts, “God Music Bug Music,” a polyrhythmic brass-heavy clash of subtle tonal changes and an incessant driving pulse.

Shen Yiwen, from Shanghai provided the most American-sounding piece. His “First Orchestral Essay” provided immediate connections to Aaron Copeland and was the most melodic work of the evening.

Adrian Knight’s “Manchester,”  brought to mind a series of musical interludes from the West Coast, called  Music of the Spheres. Composer Brian Eno had a persistent presence in that series. This was a quiet, peaceful, contemplative work.

The evening ended with Brian Ciach’s strange and sometimes wonderful offering called “Collective Uncommon: Seven Orchestral Studies on Medical Oddities.” He had a very specific point in this piece.  It was written for the Mutter Museum of Medical Oddities, located in Philadelphia. A number of non-traditional sound producers were utilized, including sundering heads of lettuce, and talking dolls.

Fred Child of NPR handled the host duties, introducing and interviewing each of the composers, Osmo Vanska led the brilliant orchestra. The Institute and this program of “Future Classics,” was under the able direction of Aaron Jay Kernis. The composers were warmly received. I think the audience recognized the enormous efforts these compositions represented, as well as considerable effort from the orchestra. Altogether, this was an enthralling, sometimes difficult but really interesting evening.