Recent Read: Beyond the Truth

Beyond

Bruce Coffin is a new author for me, but after reading he’s latest Detective John  Byron novel, number three in the series, I look forward to reading more. Beyond the Truth is a detailed police  procedural. A fast  paced tale about a Portland, Maine police officer, a man with a long and stellar record, who finds himself involved in the shooting of a teenage robbery suspect. The kid, a local high school sports star, had a gun, but no gun is found at the scene. During the investigation, Byron has to deal the press, politicians, and his superiors all with their own agendas that could impede the truth. Meanwhile, Byron has his own personal demons to battle.  Beyond the Truth is a complex tale with nicely drawn characters, and a super ending that won’t disappoint.

 

 

 

Recent Read: A Florida State of Mind

Florida stateFlorida! The land of sunshine, beaches, Mickey Mouse, and Disney World; it’s the happiest place on earth, or so it likes to bill itself. Florida is also the land of hanging chads, gator wrestling, 17-foot pythons, uncontrolled urban sprawl, low paying jobs, a history of violent colonization, and real estate con men; land swindles were so common, Hollywood satirized it in the Marx Brothers film, Coconuts.  Florida is the land where the Outback Steak House is considered the best place to eat, and Fried Gator Tail is a delicacy.

Florida was weird from its early beginnings. Spain was the first to try and colonize Florida but found the unfriendly hot and humid weather as well as the hostile Native Americans overwhelming. The Spanish government gave way to the Government of the United States which after multiple wars and battles forced most of the Native American population to move west.

Florida does have its good side too; the winters are mild, if non-existent. Many beaches are pristine, that is if you don’t mind seasonal red tide, and you can thank Floridian born John Gorrie for air-conditioning. You can also thank Florida for Faye Dunaway, Tom Petty, Jim Morrison, Wesley Snipes, authors Carl Hiassen, Judy Blume, Lisa Unger, and many others.

While other states can try and claim the number one spot for strangeness (California?), Florida consistently ranks number one. The most recent stories about weird Florida alone since I read this book involves the Mayor of New Port Richey, and his immediate replacement both were arrested within a month of each other, and then there was the woman crossing  I-95 naked, dodging cars as she attempted to retrieve her dog,

Author James D. Wright explains the good and the bad in his new book A Florida State of Mind. As Wright points out, Florida likes to bill itself as the happiest state in the country. In truth, depending on the survey you look at it ranks between twelfth and twenty-fourth. Wright lays out an entertaining history of the weirdest state from its earliest days right up until the 21st century. The book is nicely laid out in chapters dealing with its history, growth, politics, tourism, and the environment. An entertaining read on a subject that is never boring.

Note: I received an ARC from St. Martin Publishing.

 

 

Recent Read: Pray for the Girl

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Within the first few pages of reading Joseph Souza’s latest thriller, Pray for the Girl, I knew I was in for a page-turner that would not stop churning. Having finished the book, I am happy to report I was right.

The story is set in the small town of Fawn Grove, Maine. It’s here we meet Lucy Abbott who has returned after 15 years, most of the time working as a sous chef in New York City. Before that, Lucy was stationed in Afghanistan as a medic where she lost both her legs after an IED went off. Lucy’s life has not been easy since. Physical and psychological problems have plagued her. Returning to her hometown of Fawn Grove she is living with her wheelchair-bound (MS) sister, Wendy, her husband Russ and their teenage daughter Brynn. Lucy suffers flashback nightmares due to an honor killing she did not attempt to stop during her time in Afghanistan. Now upon her return, a teenage high school age Afghan girl is buried up to her neck and stoned to death. The local town Detective in charge of the investigation is anti-immigrant, and Lucy soon becomes obsessed with the case.  Soon after, a second kid, a non-Afghani, turns up dead near the same field the girl was killed. While the first killing seemed like a ritual within the immigrant community, the question now arises as to why was a local boy killed. The deeper Lucy investigates, the more questions come up as to who is responsible.

In Lucy Abbott, Joseph Souza has created a character like no other. Pray for the Girl is a twisty, disturbing suspense thriller taking on issues of PTSD, bigotry, nationalism, and the continuing struggle of small-town America when the one local industry supporting most residents is on its last legs. The comfort and facade of peaceful small-town life hides dark, cruel secrets that are about to be exposed.

Pray for the Girl will be published on April 30th.

Devious Tales On Sale .99 Cents

For a limited time, the Kindle version of my short story collection, Devious Tales, is now available for only 99 cents. Twelve dark short stories about revenge, lust, love, money and murder with a twist.

Devious Tales Paperback Cover

Recent Read: Hollywood vs the Author

HollywoodYou don’t have to be an author or a movie lover to find this collection of interviews/essays fascinating. It’s well known that writers in Hollywoodland are considered cesspool waste or at best necessary evils. This book is a sobering look at the life of writers who dare to go Hollywood. Among the authors included are Lee Goldberg, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins, Alexandra Sokoloff, and T. Jefferson Parker.

After reading this interesting and entertaining collection my recommendation to any author who finds himself in the position where a Hollywood producer is offering you an advance on your book, it’s best to just take the money and run.  Let them do with it what they will. They will change it, adding characters, removing  characters, locations, motivations and everything else for reasons that may or may not make sense to you. Once you sign on the dotted line you have no control on what they do to your story and your characters. What they can’t change is your book. Your vision, your story remains the same between between the pages of the book. It will remain intact in bookstores everywhere. So unless your in the Stephen King stratosphere of authors either stay away or take the money and run.

Catch-22: A Life Changing Experience

catch22-book

Ever asked what is your favorite book? Mine is Joseph Heller’s brilliant satire Catch-22. Published in 1961, Heller’s novel was prophetic portrayal of the rise of corporate power, greed, and war.  At the time of its publication many were offended, some were confused. (1) This superb anti-war novel changed my life and the way I thought. I wrote about the book and film a while back on another blog and decided to post it here.

”You mean there’s a catch?”

“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

“There was only one catch, and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.    (Joseph Heller, Catch-22)

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I first read Catch-22 when I was 19 years old. This was in the late ’60s just before being sent to Vietnam. It was the one book I took with me. Sometime during that deployment, I lost the book, but never its spirit.

Author Joseph Heller joined the U.S. Army Air Corp in 1942. He was 19 years old. In 1944 Heller found himself in Italy as a B-25 Bombardier. He flew 60 missions. For most of those flights, he encountered little or no enemy fighters or anti-aircraft artillery. He later categorized them as “milk runs.” His military experience and background would come to use later in his epic novel. His anti-hero Yossarian was a Bombardier just like him.

The illogical logic of Heller’s brilliant anti-war satire reveals the insanity of war. Yossarian (Alan Arkin) is an American Bombardier stationed in Italy. He’s convinced everyone wants him dead, not just the Germans, but his own officers. They keep sending him on dangerous missions! To stop flying these insane missions, his higher-ups inform him he needs to complete a certain number of missions. The only problem is when he or any other bombardier come near the magic number of missions required, his commanding officer raises the number of missions required to be rotated out. Yossarian insists the entire world is crazy including him. And if he is insane, he should not be flying these missions; however, the flight surgeon (Jack Gilford) declares that anyone who understands the insanity of the situation cannot be insane! Subsequently, Yossarian must continue to fly more missions. Like with many things in life, there is no escape.

Catch-22, the movie, and the book is a surrealistic trip that captures the absurdity of war, and a bureaucratic society in general, frame for frame, a mix of satire, comedy and tragedy. Though set during World War II the film, released in 1970, captured the spirit of the late 1960s: the Counterculture, the Vietnam War and the Rock Generation. Heller’s novel, published in 1962 was a progressive masterpiece that only gained in popularity, and cult status as the sixties moved on into the later years of the decade. When it was announced Mike Nichols would direct the film version, it was met with high expectations, so high that it almost guaranteed failure. Critics of the day were split. Roger Ebert called it “a disappointment.” He went on, “the movie is essentially a parasite, depending on the novel for its vitality…” On the other side of the coin, Vincent Canby writing in the New York Times said, Catch-22 “is quite simply, the best American film I’ve seen this year.” Either way, the film died at the box-office.

The film captures the anti-war message that was popular at the time and manages to convey the insanity of war, the hopelessness of the soldiers caught in the middle and the narrow-minded vision of the military mentality and its mindless gun-ho patriotic fever.

There was another anti-war film released that same year, Robert Altman’s M.A.S.H. a movie that was met with more of a universal reception and was a big hit. Though set during the Korean War, like Catch-22, it echoed Vietnam and its times.

Buck Henry who worked with Nichols on The Graduate was given the impossible task of adapting Heller’s novel to the screen, and many of the scenes are set-pieces. The cast of characters are colorful and portrayed for the most part with an absurdist bent. There’s Milo Minderbender (Jon Voight) who has set up his own business, selling valuable military gear. General Dreedle (Orson Welles) who spits out insane orders and expects them to be carried out exactly as ordered, Captain Nately (Art Garfunkel) who falls in love with a whore and Major Major (Bob Newhart) who will only meet with anyone when he is not there. Other cast members include Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Anthony Perkins, and Martin Sheen.

The film and the book are reminders that war is not glorious or heroic. Yes, men and women do incredibly heroic acts in dangerous situations and sacrifice a lot. Still, we should not glorify war. We should not make it attractive to our youth, to future generations. I know too many people who seem to relish war, in most cases as long as someone else is doing the fighting and sacrificing. They always managed not to go. But they are the first to raise the flag, hug it and yell sacrifice as long as it is not them.

(1) Read about genesis of Catch-22 here.

A Fine Wine and a Good Book

There is nothing as comforting on a cold winter evening  as a glass of fine wine and a good book! Bitter Ends: 20 Short Stories of Morder and Mayhem is available at Amazon (in book paperback and ebook) and Barnes & Nobles (ebook)

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Recent Read: A Time to Scatter Stones

Stones

It’s great to have Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder back, even if it’s a short trip. The two charges leveled against the book by many Amazon and Goodreads reviewers are 1) the book is too short and 2) there is too much sex. In both cases, these are complaints not worth listening to. In the first case, the book is listed, blatantly advertised as a novella. Complaining that a novella is too short is redundant! As for item number two, the blind, the uninformed ant all those who miss the point will whine and complain, but for those who get it, will understand that Mr. Block has written a timely tale of what we read or hear about almost every day, the idea of sexual consent.

In this story, An aging Matt Scudder and his wife Elaine Martell get involved in helping  Ellen, a younger woman, Elaine met at her support group for women, all former call girls. Ellen is being stalked and harassed by a former client who does not understand or won’t accept the meaning of the word no. We only know him by the name of Paul. Paul manages to terrorize Ellen forcing her to consent to his demands without breaking the law keeping the police at bay and making Ellen a helpless victim. Paul is obviously getting off feeling the power he has controlling Ellen.

In helping Ellen, Scudder finds himself searching for a man he has no idea who he is nor what he looks like. In digging in, putting pieces of a puzzle together,  Matt skirts the legal process himself.

A Time to Scatter Stones is a satisfying return with an old friend facing a #metoo world. It’s a short visit, but I for one did not need a full blown three and fifty-page novel to satisfy my soul. Nice to have you back Matt.

Recent Read: Murder at the Summer Theater

Murder

Ex-con Elmer Vartanian and millionaire Juliet Van Allen, The Double V’s, are back in  this cozy New England mystery; the fifth in the series. The setting is summer theater and author Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a fabulous sense of time (1950’s) and place (Summer theater on the Connecticut shore). The leading actress is missing and the amateur detectives soon find themselves embedded in the theatrical world; Juliet as an actress and Elmer as a backstage hand.

A few years back Lynch wrote an historical, well researched, and entertaining book (Comedy and Tragedy on the Mountain: 70 Years of Summer Theater on Mt. Tom, Hokyoe Massachusetts)  about the history of live summer theater on Mt. Tom. With the surplus of information she acquired writing this fascinating non-fiction book, Lynch was well equipped to use much of it as background for her novel.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for backstage mysteries, and Murder at the Summer Theater is satisfying as both a mystery and for the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.

You can read an interview I did with Ms. Lynch a few years about her biography of actress Ann Blyth here.