Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review of No Good Deed by Victor Gischler

Image of No Good Deed: A Thriller
Author: Victor Gischler
Release date: September 4, 2018
Publisher: Tor Forge Books
Pages: 256
"Francis could see only the vague outline of her in the darkness, but it seemed as if her head was cocked, listening. A few seconds later, she blew out a sigh, seemed satisfied, and flipped on the light switch. ‘I need my suitcase.’ She wasn’t what Francis had pictured.”
Francis Berringer is a minor cog in a corporate machine. His girlfriend just left him. He can’t tie his tie straight. His life takes a sudden turn when he’s running late for work one morning and stumbles across a suitcase full of women’s clothes and an odd business card with only an email address on it. He knows he shouldn’t get involved but can’t resist. He sends a message to the email address and arranges the return of the suitcase. The way Francis’ life is going, he could use a little karma, so why not do a good deed?
“A blinking red flag on his computer monitor caught his attention, a message in his in-box. I have your office address. I’m coming for the suitcase. Do not contact me via this email again. Ghost Girl. He sighed. You have a way with the ladies, Francis.”
And then the girl shows up, a slender good looking blond, nose ring, tattoos, bomber jacket, army boots, and all. Berringer is intrigued by the attractive stranger and soon finds himself dodging bullets and doing his best to stay alive, wishing he’d never bothered with that suitcase in the first place. A muscle car, automatic pistols, and a girl with a secret. Francis doesn’t have a lot of experience with these things, and all he knows is that the bad guys are after him and the good guys are, too.
Victor Gischler’s writing spans multiple genres—crime thrillers, satirical science fiction, and epic fantasy. Gischler’s debut novel Gun Monkeys (2001, Dell) was nominated for the Edgar Award, and his novel Shotgun Opera (2006, Dell) was an Anthony Award finalist.
No Good Deed tells the story of a regular guy who tries to do the right thing but finds himself in an unexpected situation. Who doesn't root for a down-on-his-luck, reluctant good guy protagonist who’s unwittingly mixed up in a mystery? Toss in a good-looking woman who’s filled with secrets, throw in a gang of criminal hooligans, and a cold-hearted antagonist government agent and you’ve got the recipe for a fun and rewarding read.
“The squeal of tires and the roar of an engine drew Francis’s attention. His head snapped around to see a black sedan rounding the corner behind him. It gunned the engine again, bearing down with alarming sped. ‘Run!’ The girl sprinted ahead, not even waiting to see if Francis followed.”
Overall, Gischler’s writing style is fast-paced, humorous, and loaded with thrills and chills. The plotline is dynamic and chock full of edge of your seat surprises. This gripping, free-wheeling joy ride of a whodunnit invariably leaves the reader unabashedly cheering for the heroes and jeering the villains.
Michael Thomas Barry is a staff reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and the author of eight nonfiction books.
This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on September 10, 2018 -

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Review of Monster City by Michael Arntfield

Image of Monster City: Murder, Music, and Mayhem in Nashville’s Dark Age
Author: Michael Arntfield
Release date: September 4, 2018
Publisher: Little A
Pages: 300
“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe.” —Henry Davis Thoreau, “Winter”
Nashville is a hub for hopeful musicians and a magnet for country music fans. It’s often referred to as Music City, and by the time Pat Postiglione arrived there in 1980, it had already borne witness to a string of brutal unsolved sex slayings. These murders would serve as a portent to worse things to come. As Postiglione was promoted from Metro beat cop to detective sergeant in the elite cold-case unit “Murder Squad,” some of America’s most heinous, elusive, and violent serial killers were calling Nashville home. Over the next two decades, the body count continued to climb.
From Vanderbilt University to dive bars and out-of-the-way motels, Postiglione followed the blood-stained tracks of these ever-escalating crimes—each perpetrated by a different killer who had one thing in common: the intent to murder without motive or remorse. But of all the investigations, of all the fiends Postiglione hunted, few were as frightening, or as game changing, as the Rest Stop Killer: a homicidal trucker who turned the interstates into his trolling ground. His next stop was Nashville, but Postiglione was waiting.
“. . . he hadn’t returned to Music City for the pedal steels, fiddles, or line dancing . . . He was awake now. His eyes wide open. When it was all over, they would use newfangled terms like activated psychopath and malignant narcissist to try to capture the essence of his malevolence—to clinically classify and quantify his pure evil . . . He’d inevitably fooled just about everyone . . . But there was one person he couldn’t fool. It was the one cop who’s caught him—the same cop who’d solved his first murder and who’d lock him up . . .”
Michael Arntfield is a true crime broadcaster, university professor, former police detective, and author of over a dozen books and articles that include the bestselling Murder City: The Untold Story of Canada's Serial Killer Capital, 1959–1984 (2015, Friesen Press). In his captivating new book, Monster City: Murder, Music and Mayhem in Nashville’s Dark Age, Arntfield examines the true accounts of the serial killers who terrorized Nashville during the last decades of the 20th century and the elite police squad that was determined to bring them to justice. In it he contends that the characteristics of the serial killings committed during this time frame were perpetrated by “the hedonistic-thrill killer . . . a special breed of psychopath with an insatiable desire for stimulation.”
Throughout Monster City Arntfield does an excellent job of detailing the investigations, forensics, and theories behind the motivations of these brutal murders. It is a powerful expose that studies the deep dark nature of the criminal mind.
Although at times Arntfield’s writing style tends to be a little bit sensational and there’s some repetition, overall this book is informative and shines a spotlight on some of Nashville’s most brutal and long forgotten crimes. It also does an excellent job of describing the heroic police detectives who put themselves in harm’s way. These brave men and women through countless hours of self-sacrifice to pursue these heinous criminals to make our streets safe for everyone. Their steadfast resolve and persistence must be honored and applauded. Monster City will make an excellent addition to any true crime enthusiast's library.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of eight nonfiction books and a staff reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.

This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on September 7, 2018 -

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review of The Other Sister by Sarah Zettel

Image of The Other Sister
Author: Sarah Zettel
Release date: August 28, 2018
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pages: 380
“There’s a misconception that the woods are the destination in a fairy tale. The woods are just something to get through. Scary, yes. Necessary, of course. But it’s when you finally get to the castle that the real trouble starts.”
Geraldine Monroe is the bad sister. Reckless and troubled, she ran away shortly after the mysterious death of their mother 20 years ago. Marie, on the other hand, has always been the good sister. She is the obedient daughter and a loving mother to her son.
Now Geraldine has come home, for good it seems, and no one, not the aunts or uncles or cousins really knows why. The most suspicious of all is Martin Monroe, the father who rules the extended family and their small town with a toxic combination of money and cold-heartedness. But even he doesn't realize what the truth is: that the sisters have become allies in a plot to murder him.
Bound by blood and a need to right the past, Geraldine and Marie set their plan in motion. When old secrets and new fears clash, everyone is pushed to the breaking point . . . and the sisters will learn that they can't trust anyone, not even each other.
The Other Sister by Sarah Zettel is a quasi-fairy tale type murder mystery that features two sisters—one perceived as good, one bad. Geraldine Monroe is the bad sister, an irresponsible and troubled soul. While Marie Monroe is the good sister, always the obedient daughter and responsible mother, she stayed in the family home and cared for their father.
Zettel is the critically acclaimed author of more than 18 novels and many short stories, spanning the full range of genre fiction. Her debut novel, Reclamation (1996, Aspect Books), won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her second release, Fool’s War (1997, Aspect Books), was a 1997 New York Times Notable Book.
Now 25 years later, Geraldine has apparently come home for good and no one knows why. The most suspicious of all is her father, a manipulative and controlling man who might have been responsible for his wife’s death and possibly others. When Geraldine and Marie set their plan into motion dark secrets begin to emerge that call into question their sisterly bonds and push everyone to the breaking point.
“Fairy tales are not big on second chances. The wicked sister never gets to turn and say, you know, that thing where I tried to kill you and marry your husband? That was a mistake. I have reconsidered my life choices. In the stories, redemption can only come from the hand of God, and God is a tight-fisted old bastard.”
In this often disturbing and distressing tale of family loyalty and deceit, Zettel does an adequate job of mixing humor and wit into an unsettling plotline that alternates between the past and present viewpoints of narrators Marie and Geraldine. Unfortunately these switches are often hard to follow and tend to confuse the story.
But if the reader is able to stick it out despite these pitfalls they will be rewarded with an excellent psychological thriller that’s filled with dark family secrets and plenty of intrigue.
Michael Thomas Barry is a staff reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and the author of eight nonfiction books. 
This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on August 28, 2018 -

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review of Chopin's Piano by Paul Kildea

Image of Chopin's Piano: In Search of the Instrument that Transformed Music
Author: Paul Kildea
Release date: August 14, 2018
Publisher: WW Norton
Pages: 288
In November 1838, composer Frédéric Chopin, French novelist George Sand (Amantine Lucile Dupin), and her two children sailed to the Spanish Island of Majorca to escape the cold damp Parisian winter. They settled in an abandoned monastery at Valldemossa in the mountains above Palma where Chopin finished what would eventually be recognized as one of the great and revolutionary works of musical Romanticism: his 24 Preludes. There was scarcely a decent piano on the island, so Chopin worked on a small pianino made by a local craftsman, which remained in its monastic chamber for the next 70 years.
Chopin’s Piano: In Search of the Instrument That Transformed Music by Paul Kildea traces the history of Chopin’s compositions through the instruments on which they were written, the musical historians who interpreted them, and the traditions they have come to represent. Kildea is a composer, pianist and the author of Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century (2013, Penguin Global). He was formerly the head of music at the Aldeburgh Festival and artistic director of the Wigmore Hall in London.
Chopin’s Piano begins and ends with the Majorcan pianino, and is organized in two parts, the first examines Chopin's 24 Preludes; the studies the critical responses to this composition, the composer himself and the history of the diminutive piano on which it was written.
Most of the second portion concentrates on Wanda Landowska, a legendary harpsichordist, who in 1913 rescued Chopin’s pianino from its monastic cell. After she fled France for the United States in late 1941, all of her possessions—including rare music manuscripts and beloved instruments—were confiscated by the Nazis. Only a small portion of her possessions managed to survive the war and were eventually returned. The pianino would attain an astonishing level of cultural symbolism during the Second World War as a representation of Chopin and his music of which the Nazi regime was determined to use for propaganda and ideological purposes.
“The looting never seemed to stop. In the summer months of 1943 two freight trains containing 120 upright and several grand pianos left France for Germany . . . Some of the most notorious instances of plunder and redistribution of instruments . . . were carried out on behalf of the Reich’s Bruckner-Orchester, which was dreamed up by Hitler . . .”
While it is assumed that most readers are aware that the Nazi’s looted art, what isn’t as well known is the theft of other cultural symbols such as musical instruments. Kildea does an excellent job of tracing and attempting to solve the mysteries of what happened to one of these iconic symbols.
The author’s enthusiasm for the subject is very apparent and he expertly and effortlessly illustrates how Landowska’s trials and tribulations relates to Chopin’s, a saga which redefined portions of the cultural and political history of mid-20th century. Captivating and intriguing, Chopin’s Piano will most certainly entertain both novice and hardcore music historians.
Michael Thomas Barry is a staff reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and the author of eight nonfiction works.
This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on August 13, 2018 -