Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review of Holding by Graham Norton

Author: Graham Norton
Release date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 272
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Holding-Novel-Graham-Norton/dp/150117326X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501601603&sr=8-1&keywords=holding

Sergeant PJ Collins was not born in Duneen, but he has been the little town’s resident police officer for more than a decade and a half. Significantly overweight, PJ uses his size as an emotional shield to explain away his loneliness. As policemen go, he is liked by the denizens of the insular Irish village, even if he was no ball of fire. But little happens in Duneen anyway—until one day, when something quite dramatic occurs. Builders putting up a housing estate on the long-deserted Burke farm find the remains of a body buried on the land. Now the sleepy, gossipy town is all atwitter, and PJ is excited to have his first real case.

“When PJ hung up the phone, he felt strangely deflated. Help was on the way, which was what he wanted, what he needed, but once it arrived this would no longer be his case. He would just be another useless man standing around at the scene, a sort of crime butler servicing those who would find out the identity of the body and how it died.”

Do the remains belong to Tommy Burke, the young heir to the farm who disappeared about 20 years ago? Rumor has long held that Tommy was seen boarding the bus to Cork the day he went missing, but has he been buried there all along?

Turns out the builders have opened up more than a hole in the ground—they have opened old wounds, as well. PJ quickly discovers that just before he disappeared, Tommy was at the apex of an ugly love triangle involving two young women in the village, both of whom still live in Duneen. Brid Riordan was engaged to marry Tommy, but a knockdown, drag-out fight in the street with Evelyn Ross told the town all it needed to know about Tommy’s true affections.

Now, all these years later, PJ needs to piece together the events surrounding Tommy’s disappearance. His investigation leads him to close quarters with both women—Brid a dissolute alcoholic and Evelyn a sheltered spinster—and triggers surprising, quite different forms of intimacy with each. But there are others in the town, including PJ’s own housekeeper, Mrs. Meany, who all seem to know more than they are saying. And then the police discover something quite surprising about the body. . . .
In Graham Norton’s debut novel, Holding, the author uses his typically sharp and piercing sense of humor to breathe life into a multitude of delightful characters. The author is an award-winning television talk show host and comedian in the U.K. and in 2016 published his bestselling memoir, The Life and Loves of a He Devil. He also writes a weekly advice column for The Telegraph.

Set in the tiny village of Duneen, Ireland, which has “somehow managed to slip through the World Wide Web. No 4G, no 3G, no signal.” The plot of Holding revolves around three main characters: Sergeant PJ Collins, Evelyn Ross, and Brid Riordan. The mystery itself—the discovery of a skeleton found buried at the sight of a new housing project—is astonishingly not the central focus of the plot. Its main emphasis is how the discovery affects each of the main characters through love, secrets, and loss.

Overall, Holding admirably captures the peculiarities of small town Ireland. Although the mystery plot is not the most riveting, it is certainly entertaining and succeeds in capturing a unique perspective on the peculiarities of life in rural Ireland. At times both distressing and tender, and yet darkly comedic, Graham Norton has created a charming debut novel that is well-worth reading.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review of Perish From the Earth by Jonathan F. Putnam

Author: Jonathan F. Putnam
Release Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Crooked Lane
Pages: 304
Buy book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Perish-Earth-Lincoln-Speed-Mystery/dp/1683311396/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499788543&sr=8-1&keywords=perish+from+the+earth

“plenty of intrigue to delight mystery genre enthusiasts, enough historical accuracy to placate any history buff, and sufficient courtroom drama to satisfy any legal eagle.”

Two hundred and nine years after his birth in a log cabin in Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln continues to fascinate. His moral clarity, his extraordinary gifts with language, his decisive role in preserving the Union and what some consider his ultimate martyrdom combine to make Lincoln a mythic figure that still has a firm hold on our collective imagination. It is commonly known that Lincoln had a deep commitment to the rule law and an abhorrence of mob rule. A conservative estimate puts the number of books written about the 16th President at around 16,000.

Nationally renowned trial lawyer and avid amateur Lincoln scholar Jonathan F. Putnam adds to this number with his new historical novel Perish from the Earth, the second installment in the Lincoln and Speed mystery series. In this sequel to These Honored Dead (2016), we find Kentucky gentleman Joshua Speed once again teaming up with the future president to help solve a murder aboard a Mississippi riverboat in 1837.

“The circuit was a kind of traveling legal circus. Several times a year, during breaks in the court calendar in Springfield, a group of lawyers would pack their saddlebags and, with a judge in tow, ride an irregular, winding path—a circuit—through the outlying towns and villages that lacked a regular court. At each stop, the lawyers would set up temporary offices, usually under a stout old tree on the village green, and persons of the community having legal issues would come to consult. The judge would erect a rump courtroom, and civil trials would be conducted. Then, after three or four days in any one place, the whole group would pack up and move off together to the next stop.”

Newly minted trail lawyer Abraham Lincoln is riding the circuit, traveling by carriage with other lawyers and a judge to bring justice to the remote parts of Illinois. Meanwhile, Lincoln’s close friend Joshua Speed steams up the Mississippi River aboard a steamboat owned by Speed’s father. Suddenly, his journey is interrupted when a rigged card game turns violent and then to murder.
Speed enlists Lincoln to defend the accused, but soon they come to discover that more than just the card games are crooked aboard the Speed family’s ship. As the Day of Judgment hurtles toward them, Lincoln and Speed must fight to save not only the life of Lincoln’s client but also the merit of Speed’s good name.

Perish from the Earth is an admirable sequel and meticulously researched. In it we see Lincoln as an eager young trial lawyer, employing his gift of storytelling and turning his failures into successes. While Putnam points out that this is a work of “imaginative fiction,” he also states that “the people, places, and cases populating it are drawn from Lincoln’s actual life and times.” Nearly everything in this novel feels plausible and is in keeping with what is historically known about Lincoln and his times. Although the pace of the plot is a bit sluggish and a little unengaging at times, fans of historical and legal fiction will not be disappointed. Overall, there is plenty of intrigue to delight mystery genre enthusiasts, enough historical accuracy to placate any history buff, and sufficient courtroom drama to satisfy any legal eagle.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review of Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

Author: Susie Steiner
Release date: July 4, 2017
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 312
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Persons-Novel-Susie-Steiner/dp/0812998340/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499356090&sr=8-1&keywords=susie+steiner

As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound.

“He’s really scared now; nervously places a hand to his chest. His shirt is wet through but it’s not raining. He looks at his hand. It is glistening dark; the color unclear because of the dark and the orangey street lighting.”

He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman’s name on his lips in his last seconds of life. Detective Manon Bradshaw handles only cold cases. Five months pregnant, in pursuit of a work-life balance rather than romantic love, she’s focused on being a good mother to her adopted 12-year-old son, Fly Dent, and the new baby. But the man died just yards from the police station where she works, so Manon can’t help taking an interest.

And as she sidles in on the briefing she learns that the victim, a banker from London worth millions, is more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. When the case begins to circle in on Manon’s home and her family, she finds herself pitted against the colleagues she once held dear: Davy Walker and Harriet Harper. Can Manon separate what she knows about the people she loves from the suspicion hanging over them? Can she investigate the evidence just as she would with any other case?

Persons Unknown by celebrated author Susie Steiner brings back fearless detective, Manon Bradshaw in this complex and thrilling sequel. Steiner is the London based author of Home Coming and Missing, Presumed, and has worked as an editor for The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Evening Standard.

An electrifying sequel to 2016’s Missing, Presumed. Readers quickly discover that several years have passed since we last saw Bradshaw. She has adopted 12-year-old Fly Dent, an orphan, is now pregnant, and has moved in with her sister, Ellie, and her young son Solomon in Cambridgeshire. Manon works as a cold case investigator at the local police department. She hopes the change of scenery will bring stability to the family but didn’t consult Fly about the decision.

In London she had “an encroaching fear that he was getting in with the wrong crowd, or possibly that he was the wrong crowd.” Much to his apprehension, Fly hates being the only black kid in town where racial profiling is prevalent; he soon becomes the prime suspect in the murder of his aunt’s ex-boyfriend, Jon-Oliver, a rich London banker. Convinced of her son’s innocence, she conducts her own investigation to uncover the truth behind the killing.

“I can’t leave him here. I can’t . . . someone has to be kind to him. No one’s being kind to him. I was supposed to protect him from stupid adults and look what’s happened.”

Persons Unknown is a gripping and tense, character driven story. It has a complex narrative that keeps the reader captivated and engaged. Susie Steiner effortlessly weaves into the plot a fascinating exposé on social and cultural issues such as race relations and family.

Overall, this an entertaining and absorbing read that strikes all the right chords. The sophisticated and genuine characterizations portrayed in this book series are clearly its greatest strength. Persons Unknown is a complex, exhilarating, and multifaceted murder mystery that includes insightful social and cultural perspectives. Manon Bradshaw is an enchanting protagonist who merits placement among the pantheon of much-loved fictional investigators. A highly recommended read that will definitely excite the most devoted fans of the murder mystery genre.

Michael Thomas Barry's most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is the author of six other nonfiction books and is a columnist for CrimeMagazine.com.

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on July 5, 2017 - http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/persons-unknown

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review of JD Barker's The Fourth Monkey

Author: JD Barker
Release date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 416
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Fourth-Monkey-J-D-Barker/dp/0544968840

“Hello, my friend. I am a thief, a murderer, a kidnapper. I’ve killed for fun, I’ve killed out of necessity. I have killed for hate. I have killed simply to satisfy the need that tends to grow in me with the passage of time. A need much like a hunger that can only be quenched by the draw of blood or the song found in a tortured scream . . . Who am I? You most likely know me as the Four Monkey Killer . . . We are going to have so much fun, you, and I.”

For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago, torturing his victims before he kills them. When he himself is killed in a freak bus accident, police are horrified to learn that at the time of his death the killer was on his way to deliver one final message, which proved he had taken one last victim, who might still be alive.

When lead detective Sam Porter, who is battling his own demons, discovers a diary on the killer’s body, he instinctively knows that the murderer though dead is not finished. With only a handful of clues, the Four Monkey Killer taunts police from beyond the grave. Detective Porter soon finds himself caught in the mind of a psychopath, frantically attempting to decipher the killer’s ramblings in hopes of finding his last victim before it’s too late.

The killer lives by the enigmatic teachings of Confucius’s wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and do no evil. “Should someone see or hear evil, there is little one can do . . . when someone speaks evil, there is fault to be had, but when they do evil . . . well, when they do evil there is no room for forgiveness.”

J. D. Barker’s new novel, The Fourth Monkey is a delightfully twisted and thoroughly engaging crime thriller that takes a spine-tinging peek inside the depraved mind of a serial killer. Barker is the international bestselling author of Forsaken and a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award.

The Fourth Monkey’s plot effortlessly and succinctly alternates between Detective Sam Porter’s investigation and the serial killers diary entries. Porter has been pursuing the FMK for many years and desperately hopes to outmaneuver the deviously clever murderer before time runs out. The killer’s diary entries are terrifying and spellbinding, and outline’s how and why he became a monster.

“Mother brought the knife down into the man’s thigh with such force, the tip clunked as it passed through the leg and struck the concrete floor. He let out another shriek, then began to cry again. I found this to be a little funny. Grown men should never cry. Father told me so. Mother twisted the knife nearly a full turn, then yanked the blade back out. This time there was blood, a lot of blood. A fresh pool began to form under his twitching leg. I couldn’t help but smile . . . it was nice to see him get what he deserved.”

Overall, The Fourth Monkey is a highly recommended and beguiling page-turning thriller that is both disturbing and immensely entertaining. It is filled with creepy atmosphere and plot twists that skirt the bounds of moral ambiguity. The reader must be warned that this is an extremely violent and graphic novel that’s not for the faint of heart. But if that’s your cup of tea, you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review of Murder in the City: New York, 1910-1920 by Wilfried Kaute

Author: Wilfried Kaute
Release date: June 13, 2017
Pages: 244
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Press
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Murder-City-New-York-1910-1920/dp/1250128692/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497996128&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=murdein+the+city%3A+New+York

Why is society so fearful of crime, but also fascinated by it? Why do the details of a gruesome murder, rape, or other heinous crime hold our attention? We wonder why people kill, and we are intrigued by the ways in which the act is accomplished. For years, psychologists and criminologists have tried to answer these questions, but thus far no one has been able to come up with a solid explanation.

We are both seemingly seduced and repulsed by these taboo acts of rebellion against the morals of society. Every day we are bombarded with crime stories, whether it’s in the newspaper, on television, radio, or our computer. Some of these crimes are inconspicuous and easily forgotten, while others linger forever in our collective memory because they elicit shock and horror.

In the real world, there is in fact a practical duty we share in understanding the means and the motivations for crime. Understanding is necessary for prediction, prevention, and protection. But the popular fascination with homicide goes far beyond the practical. The story lines are a staple of art and literature and a subject for both drama and comedy. The murder mystery is often most compelling when it abandons reality and is framed in fantasy.

There’s an old saying in the news business: If it bleeds, it leads. The nightly news and other media outlets are filled with stories of crime, killing, and sorrow. But here’s the dirty little secret: They wouldn’t show us all that murder and mayhem if we didn’t covertly crave it. Deep down, psychologically, we all want a glimpse of the darker side of humanity but from the safety of our living rooms and recliners.

Wilfried Kaute’s Murder in the City: New York, 1910–1920 is a shocking assortment of photographs and crime scene reports. Unearthed during renovation of the former NYPD headquarters, Murder in the City tells a tragic story through photos of missing persons, pickpockets, shooting victims, gang fights, and botched robberies. The author, who is based in Cologne, Germany, is an award winning documentary cameraman and film producer. This is his first book.

Kaute emphasizes that the photographs used in this book were not taken by trained professional photographers but by amateurs and is an examination of the art of crime scene photography. Kaute further explains, “Crime scene photographs revolutionized policing in New York in the 1910s. This book collects forgotten pictures and newspaper articles from a lost era. By dint of their simple objectivity, these photographs impressively depict the growth of the city. The still ‘gateway to the New World.’ New York in these photographs is on its way to becoming the first real mega-city.”

The images included within this book are intended as purely objective documentation of crimes and offer little to no personal identification of the victims. Combining extensive research in the New York City Department of Records and the Library of Congress, Murder in the City offers a distinctive piece of social history.

Most of the photographs presented in this book are shocking and revolting, while some have a stunning sophistication—this collection of 150 black-and-white photographs presents a rare and thought provoking look into a bygone era. Readers will find themselves repulsively captivated as they gaze upon the dead. The photographs show victims prostrate on sidewalks, stabbed, shot, and butchered in stairwells and bedrooms of tiny apartment buildings, their faces and wounds clearly visible. The causes of death are stated if known.

Yet despite the explicit nature of these photographs, there is a poignant and emotional intimacy portrayed. The deceased’s fragile humanity is clearly visible as they are shown surrounded by valued personal belongings. Overall, Murder in the City serves as an emotionally striking glimpse into New York’s unsavory past. Readers must be warned that the descriptions and images presented within are disturbing, distressing, and gruesomely graphic in nature.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review of "Magpie Murders" by Anthony Horowitz

Author: Anthony Horowitz
Publish Date: June 5, 2017
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 300
Genre: Fiction; Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Magpie-Murders-Novel-Anthony-Horowitz/dp/0062645226/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497284614&sr=8-1&keywords=magpie+murders

The Golden Age of detective novels is almost universally agreed to have occurred between the 1920s and 1930s. The majority of novels of that era were "whodunits" and dozens of authors excelled, most notably Agatha Christie. She is a novelist whose works are rivalled in sales only by the Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Within her mystery novels are many layers, so many complexities, clues, and red herrings that try as hard as you can to get to the conclusion before the detective, very few people actually succeed. Every Christie fan is familiar with that sense of mounting tension as they approach the climax of one of her novels: the struggle, in particular, to keep one’s eyes from straying too far ahead in case they catch, before they’re meant to, the presiding sleuth’s “And the name of the murderer is . . .”

The Christie reader is, naturally, an armchair detective, a detective by indirect means. They don’t identify with the hero gumshoe but operate independently of him. Shifting the various clues that have been strewn across their path by an author whom they can’t help regard as a murderess by proxy, a designation encouraged by her faintly ghoulish public image, of a bespectacled old dear with an incongruous partiality to homicide. New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz pays homage to the Golden Age of detective mysteries and Agatha Christie in his new novel, Magpie Murders.

“I opened the wine, I unscrewed the salsa. I lit a cigarette. I began to read the book as you are about to. But before you do that. I have to warn you. This book changed my life.” These lines appear near the beginning of the novel and set a chilling and ominous tone. 

Present day London: Susan Ryeland, head of fiction at Cloverleaf Books has edited all eight of Alan Conway’s previous crime novels which are set in the 1950s England. These novels feature the unconventional private investigator Atticus Pünd, and Susan looks forward to spending the weekend reading number nine. But when she finishes Magpie Murders, she is both puzzled and troubled to find that there is no final chapter.

Adding mystery to these circumstances, Ryeland soon learns that Conway has committed suicide. But, as she goes in search of the missing chapter, Susan starts to question whether Conway’s death might not have been self-inflicted. After meeting the people in Conway’s complex life, she begins to realize that there are real life parallels between the cantankerous writer’s reality and his fictitious works. How much did Conway copy from that reality in creating his successful mystery series? And how close can Susan get to the facts before she herself is at risk?

While at first glance it might appear that Horowitz has created a new type of detective novel, make no mistake, Magpie Murders is basically a tribute to the classic detective novels of the past. It is obvious that the author found great pleasure in conceiving and writing what is basically a novel within a novel. And while being two mysteries in one, Horowitz has covered two categories. He gives readers of the genre a cliché period style thriller while also paying tribute and celebrating Agatha Christie and turn-back-the-clock detective mysteries of yesteryear.

It is extremely challenging to successfully incorporate two divergent storylines within one novel, but within, Magpie Murders, Horowitz has masterfully navigated this slippery slope. The author of numerous bestselling works that include Trigger Mortis, Moriarty, and The House of Silk, Horowitz has in this new novel created a classic that is filled with old school intrigue, character, and style.
Susan Ryeland is a believable amateur sleuth, and the two mysteries coincide cleverly while Horowitz effortlessly manages to provide the reader with both endings simultaneously.

Horowitz also allows Alan Conway to utilize old time detective skills while using puzzles and cryptic clues as devices in the modern day storyline. What Anthony Horowitz has done here is something very clever and it works very well. It would be nice to see Susan Ryeland return in her own mystery series.

Be warned, those readers who are expecting something new and unique within the detective mystery genre will be greatly disappointed and would be better served if they look elsewhere. Overall, Magpie Murders is an ingenious, twisting tribute to the sleepy English countryside murder and will thoroughly entertain readers of old fashioned detective thrillers.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review of "Al Capone's Beer Wars" by John J. Binder

Publish Date: June 5, 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Prometheus Books

Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Capones-Beer-Wars-Organized-Prohibition/dp/1633882853

“a wide-ranging and comprehensive interpretation of how mobsters like Al Capone and his associates came to control the criminal rackets . . .”

The City of Chicago during Prohibition and the Roaring ’20s was the apex of excesses, extreme contrasts, and extra ordinary violence. The Windy City was a place where men of questionable morals became extremely wealthy from the sale and smuggling of illegal alcohol, as well as other vices such as prostitution and gambling. Chief among these rising mob personalities was Al Capone.

“Chicago’s Prohibition Beer Wars were a complicated series of conflicts over more than ten years in which the Capone mob was the greatest winner. By the end of the 1930s it dominated the battlefield, leading to the creation of the Chicago Outfit, which controlled Cook County’s underworld . . .”

With few exceptions other than perhaps Jack the Ripper, no historical crime figure has garnered more morbid fascination than mobster Alphonse Gabriel Capone. One of the best-known gangsters of the Prohibition era, Al Capone is still a household name in Chicago and around the world. Although “Scarface” has been dead for over 70 years, his legend still endures mainly because of his bigger-than-life persona. He was a flashy, extremely wealthy, and an outspoken quasi-celebrity who had the audacity to shake-up Chicago’s criminal underworld during the Roaring ’20s.

Why do so many people glamorize mobsters and violent crime? No one holds the Son of Sam or Charles Manson in high regard. So why are Capone and his crime minded cronies seen as mythic figures by the general public? Why are members of the mafia treated more like celebrities than unsavory criminals?

Part of the answer is historical: The glamorization of the mob started with Prohibition. In the early years of the 20th century, mobsters were just small-time hoodlums. Then came the Volstead Act, which outlawed alcohol. One of the side effects was to solidify organized crime and create a real, international organization out of what was, in essence, small criminal groups.

Because Prohibition was hugely unpopular, the men who stood up to it were heralded as heroes, not criminals. It was the start of their image as people who thumbed their noses at bad laws and at the establishment. Even when Prohibition was repealed and the services of the bootleggers were no longer required, that initial positive image stuck.

Books and movies such as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather helped glamorize and communicate the notion that mobsters were men who cared about the happiness of their communities and who lived by their own codes of honor and conduct, impervious to the political whims of the establishment.
In Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition, author John J. Binder examines the turbulent and complete history of organized crime in Chicago. The author of two other books on organized crime, Binder pulls from his vast knowledge of the subject matter for this in-depth study.

A major focus of the book is how the Capone gang—one of 12 major bootlegging mobs in Chicago at the start of Prohibition—gained a virtual monopoly over organized crime in northern Illinois and beyond. The author also describes the fight by federal and local authorities, as well as citizen’s groups against organized crime. In the process, Binder refutes numerous myths and misconceptions related to the Capone gang, other criminal groups, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and other gangland killings.

The end result of Al Capone’s Beer Wars is a wide-ranging and comprehensive interpretation of how mobsters like Al Capone and his associates came to control the criminal rackets during the period. Overall, it is well researched and expertly interprets one of our country’s bloodiest and most colorful time periods. This book will most definitely appeal to true-crime enthusiasts and historians of Prohibition-era crime. It is a fascinating and informative read that would make an excellent addition to any library.