My Review of the Crime Novel by Laird Barron

Isaiah Coleridge, muscle for the Chicago mob’s Alaska subsidiary and the hero of veteran horror writer Laird Barron’s first crime novel, isn’t your typical Mafia hit man. He’s college educated, frequently alludes to Greek and Roman classics and relishes his underworld moniker — Hercules.

The action is fast-paced, the characters well drawn, the settings vivid and the hardboiled prose quirky in the manner of a writer who cut his teeth on horror and poetry. Check out the full text of my Associate Press review of Blood Standard here.

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My Review of “Annie’s Bones” by Howard Owen

Annie’s Bones is the 16th novel by Howard Owen, whose most popular series character, investigative reporter Willie Black, makes only a cameo appearance in this stylishly written, sobering tale of suspicion, vengeance, injustice and an old man’s last, desperate chance for redemption.

You can find the full  text of my Associated Press review in The Washington Post here.

 

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My Review of “Caribbean Rim” by Randy Wayne White

Caribbean Rim is the 25th Doc Ford crime novel by Randy Wayne White, and I’ve enjoyed most of them; but if this one had been the first, it would probably have also been the last.

Check out the text of my book review in The Washington Post.

 

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Patricia, See What You’ve Done?

Patricia Smith, (second from right) with Rachel Eliza Griffith, Mahogany Brown and Nicole Sealey

Over the last decade, as the literary awards and the critical acclaim have continued to swell, I’ve repeatedly told my wife Patricia Smith: “This is who you are now.” But she could never bring herself to believe it. Somehow, she thought, it was all a mistake.

But maybe, just maybe, last night’s “Celebration of Patricia Smith” in Manhattan changed that.

Poet’s House was packed with her fellow poets and college professors, along with some of her students and former students, as ten of our finest poets spent more than two hours showering her with love and describing how her writing and her generosity have astonished them, inspired them, supported them, and changed their lives.

Tyehimba Jess

Among them were the great Terrance Hayes; the most recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, Tyehimba Jess; and others Patricia has long looked up to. Now here they were, testifying that SHE has been THEIR North Star.

Each of the ten chose one of Patricia’s poems to read aloud, the selections coming from her first book, her most recent one, and most of the other books in between.

When they were done, an emotional Patricia, barely able to speak at first, thanked them by reading a stunning poem she had written that afternoon—a poem composed of lines taken from the ten speakers’ own work.

After that, there was a lot of hugging.

“Believe me, now?” I asked as we took a midnight train back to New Jersey.

Another of the night’s speakers, the great Cornelius Eady, said it better this morning with this simple post on Patricia’s Facebook page: “Patricia, see what you’ve done?”

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October New England Author Appearance

I’ll be discussing my 5 hardboiled Liam Mulligan crime novels, fielding questions, and signing copies on Wednesday,  Oct 11th, 6:30 pm-7:30 pm, Queset House, 51 Main Street, North Easton, MA. If you’re in the area, please drop by.

Bruce DeSilva’s crime fiction, set in Providence, RI, has won the Edgar and McCavity awards and been named a finalist for several others.

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This Is A National Emergency. America’s Brown Shirts Must Be Stopped.

America needs to be clear about what happened in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend, even if President Trump is not. This must NOT be dismissed as a case of dueling protests that turned violent on both sides. This was a planned, coordinated act of domestic terrorism by organized groups of white supremacists and neo-Nazis and should be investigated and prosecuted as such.

The people of Charlottesville, who had peacefully debated what to do about a Confederate-era statue, and whose representatives had arrived at a decision, were invaded by thousands of helmeted, torch-carrying thugs armed with bats, brass knuckles, and in some cases firearms. These thugs marched through the streets toting torches, waving banners and spewing chants that were racist, anti-Semitic, and even (“Blood and Soil!) naked evocations of Nazi Germany.

Yes, they have the same right to free speech as every American, but that right does not include the right to violence. But inciting violence is what they did. And they did it deliberately.

Faced with such vile provocations, the decent people of Charlottesville had two choices. They could confront hateful rhetoric and acts of violence with non-violence, or they could fight back in defense of the ideals that America stands for (or perhaps, now, we can only say SHOULD stand for.) Some, including many of the city’s pastors, tried non-violence and were beaten for their trouble. Others stood and fought.

If I were there, and I were a younger man, I would have been one of those who chose to fight back. If the example of Nazi Germany has taught us anything, it is that non-violence is no defense against a determined army of Brown Shirts.

Today, America is reaping the harvest of years of calls from the right to “take America back,” and of racist, nativist, and anti-Semitic dog whistles from too many on the “legitimate” political right. And, yes, America is paying a price for Donald Trump’s own bigoted remarks and acts, and for his occasional calls for racial, religious, and ethnic tolerance delivered with a wink to his many friends in the Alt-right. Whether Trump knows it or not (and I think he does), his words and acts, his example of putting extremists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller into positions of power in the White House, and his paling around with Alt-Right extremists like Alex Jones, have given aid and comfort to this enemy in our midst.

What America needs now is for the organizers of this weekend’s events to be prosecuted for conspiracy to incite violence and conspiracy to commit an act of domestic terrorism. There’s little hope that Trump’s Justice Department will pursue this course, but perhaps we can hope for better from state and local authorities in Virginia. What America needs now is for local and state police to confront the NEXT Brown Shirts invasion (and it WILL happen again) with an overwhelming show of force and mass arrests.

This is a national emergency. If law enforcement does not act decisively, there will be blood in the streets. The very fabric of our democracy is at stake. The American Brown Shirts must be stopped.

 

 

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The Most Disgraceful Week in The History of the Presidency

This week, which is not yet over, may already be the most disgraceful one in the in the 228-year-long history of the American presidency. Considering the ignorance and dysfunction that have characterized every day of Trump’s first six months in office, that’s saying something. So many ignorant, harmful, and absurd things have happened that it’s hard to keep up, but consider this list of what has transpired in just the last few days.

A bellicose Trump tweet so alarmed Pentagon generals that for a few hours, they thought the president had just declared war on North Korea.

Trump also used Twitter to declare that “after consulting with my generals and military experts,” he was banning transgender Americans from serving in the military. But it turns out he had neither consulted with nor even informed either his national security team or the Defense Department.

Top military commanders, who depend on 15,000 transgender soldiers, many serving in critical positions, said they will take no action on this order until they hear directly from Trump and figure out how the hell to handle this. And several reliably conservative Senators and congressmen, including Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, condemned Trump’s order.

Trump continued his cruel public evisceration of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, drawing criticism from right-wingers including Breitbart, the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, and Tucker Carlson, who had long been his most vocal apologists.

As Mitch McConnell tried, and failed, to find enough votes to pass any one of several morally repugnant health care bills through the Senate, Trump threatened Republican senators about the consequences of failure while demonstrating his complete lack of understanding about the complexities of health insurance and federal health-care policy.

After Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski cast a critical no vote on health care early in the week, Trump dispatched Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to threaten her with the withdrawal of support for several federal projects crucial to her state of Alaska. But Trump and Zinke failed to take into account that Murkowski is chairman of the subcommittee that controls Interior’s budget, is chairman of the committe that controls the legislation it wants, and is thus in a position to make Zinke’s life miserable. She promptly and indefinitely postponed a hearing on a bill Zinke badly wants. Asked if this was in retalliation, she said no. Wink, wink!

Newly minted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who has no qualifications whatsoever for his new job, took to Twitter to complain that his finance disclosure report had been “leaked” to the press and that that this was “a felony.” And he all but accused White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus of being the leaker. But the report was, of course, a public document. That’s why it’s is called a “disclosure.”

Scaramucci also called New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza and demanded to know who had “leaked” the fact that Scaramucci, Sean Hannity, and former Fox News exec. Bill Shine were dining at the White House with Trump, calling the harmless news report “a major catastrophe for the American country.”  (Hint to Scaramucci: the “America country” is the United States.)  When Lizza refused to disclose his source, Scaramucci said he’d just have to fire the entire White House communications staff to root out the leaker. During this conversation, Scaramucci unleashed a tirade against Priebus and White House adviser Steve Bannon, saying among other things that Bannon sucks his own (insert dirty word here.) Scaramucci, who proudly goes by the nickname The Mouch, laced his tirade with an abundance of gutter words, some of which are rarely heard outside of biker bars and mob-owned strip clubs. Lizza taped, and then reported, the conversation.

After claiming during the campaign that Sen. John McCain was not a hero because he was captured in Vietnam, Trump declared him “a hero” when the Senator returned days after brain surgery to cast a procedural vote on health legislation this week. But when McCain cast the deciding vote that doomed repeal of Obamacare early this morning, Trump turned on him again. Listening to Trump is like listening to Gollum/Smeagle: “Nice Hobitses.” . . .  “Kill them! Kill them both!”

Trump hinted that he might fire Sessions and replace him by making a recess appointment when the Senate adjourns for summer recess. GOP Senator Lindsay Graham responded that if he did so, there’d be “holy hell to pay,” and senators on both sides of the aisle are talking about keeping the Senate in session to make a recess appointment impossible.

With Trump scheming to fire special counsel Robert Muller (which is what trying to get rid of Sessions is all about), Senator Graham and Independent Senator Angus King said they would push through legislation to make it illegal for any president to fire a special counsel investigating his administration unless a federal court finds that the president had just cause. Graham says he has support for this on both sides of the aisle. A host of other legislators warned that firing Muller would set off a “constitutional crisis” and hinted at the possibility of impeachment proceedings.

The House and Senate both overwhelmingly passed bills that not only increase sanctions against Russia for meddling in the U.S. election but that prohibit the President from easing sanctions without permission of Congress. Trump has threatened a veto, but the bills passed by such huge margins (98 to 2 in the Senate) that overturning a veto appears to be all but certain. The measures are a clear indication that Senators and House members on both sides of the aisle do not trust Trump to deal with Russia.

Trump, furious about the ongoing Russia investigation, continued his attack on the integrity of the FBI, including acting director Andrew McCabe, whose unforgivable sin is that the Clintons once contributed to McCabe’s wife’s political ambitions in Virginia. (Trump, of course, contributed to many Democrats, including the Clintons, before he ran for president.)

At the Boy Scouts of America’s annual Jamboree, Trump made a speech that was both age-inappropriate and laced with vituperative partisan rhetoric that was obviously unsuitable to the occasion. The Boy Scouts of America apologized for his remarks.

Reports are circulating that Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, is complaining that he is routinely “undercut,” and that some Trump cabinet members, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, are so disturbed by White House dysfunction in general and Trump’s irrational behavior in particular that they are considering quitting. (Tillerson denies this.)

After proclaiming during the campaign that he was a great friend of the LGBT community, Trump continued his assault on them, going well beyond his announced ban on transgender Americans serving in the military. His justice department filed a friend of the court brief in a civil case, arguing that federal civil rights laws give LGBT Americans no protection against discrimination in the workplace. And Trump named Kansas pol Sam Brownback, a noted homophobe, his International Ambassador for Religious Freedom.

Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser, Jared Kushner, and his former campaign adviser, Paul Manafort, both testified in private before senate committees whose investigations into the Trump-Russia affair seem to be picking up steam.

The Justice Department publicly identified Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch and a former Manafort business associate, as “an upper-echelon associate of Russian organized crime.” U.S. authorities are seeking his extradition to face charges that he tried to bribe Indian officials in a scheme to acquire titanium which he would then sell to Boeing.

In a campaign-style speech in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump made this absurd claim: “With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held the office.”

And in a lighter note, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who should have known better since she is White House press secretary, wore a solid green dress in a televised press briefing. In effect, she was wearing a “green screen,” allowing internet pranksters to impose all sorts of images, from humorous to scatological to scathing, onto her form.

And that’s just off the top of my head. What did I miss?

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“Double Wide,” My Crime Novel Review

After an injury blew up his once-promising professional baseball career, Prospero Stark sunk what was left of his money into a ramshackle trailer park just over the mountains from Tucson in the unforgiving Arizona desert. There, he took up residence in a battered Airstream beside a handful of outcasts who only occasionally paid the rent, and two dogs, one of whom hobbled on three legs thanks to a bullet fired by drug smuggler whose route wound down a wash not far from his property.

Stark fell into a routine of making breakfast for his tenants, caring for the dogs, vainly trying to keep cool, and ducking the occasional thunderstorms and flash floods that appear out of nowhere.

Then, one day, someone driving a pickup truck dropped a shoebox on his doorstep.

Inside, Stark found a severed human hand that, judging by its tattoos, could only belong to Rolando Molina, his catcher and best buddy during their time in the minor leagues. He wrapped the hand in a plastic bag, dropped it in his freezer, and followed the truck’s tracks through desert, hoping to find what had become of his friend. Before long, he came upon a wrecked truck and a bullet-riddled body that was not Rolando’s,

Certain that his old teammate had been killed, Stark vowed to find the body and bring it home to the Molina family.

So begins Double Wide, a new crime novel by Leo W. Banks – a book with a plot that includes a machete-wielding drug smuggler, an abandoned gold mine, a sleazy sports agent, the Tucson minor league baseball team, an aging stripper, a mountain-top ghost town, a brilliant chemist, an enormous bouncer, a thuggish body guard, a natty Tucson police detective, a terrified homeless child, money laundering, a murder epidemic, a young pitching phenom, a relentless local TV reporter, cactus spikes as a weapon, and the amazing chemical properties of the Palmer agave plant.

Out of all this, and more, Banks crafted his fast-moving plot expertly, culminating in Stark and the TV reporter not only figuring out what had been going on but concocting an ingenious plan to take down the bad guys.

The yarn is exceptionally well-written, Banks’s descriptions of the Arizona desert so vivid that you’ll rush to turn up the air conditioner, his portrayals of his colorful characters so memorable that you’ll find yourself wondering what else those who survived the tale are up to once you finish the last page.

Leo W. Banks

The book is so good that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel, but then again, Banks is far from a novice. He has written for The Boston Globe, The Los  Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated, along with publishing four books on the history of the West. And he is now a columnist for True West magazine.

Double Wide will be published in November by Brash Books. One of its founders, Lee Goldberg, a TV writer/producer as well as a crime novelist himself, sent me an advance copy to see what I thought. Now he knows.

Make a note of this one. You’re going to want to order a copy when it hits the market.

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“Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet” — My Review

Since his fiancé Diana was murdered (Debt to Pay, 2016), former pro baseball player turned small town police chief Jesse Stone has spent much of his time pounding a baseball into his glove, staring at his poster of Ozzie Smith, and throwing down glass after glass of Johnnie Walker Black Label. When an elderly woman from one of Paradise’s leading families is found dead inside her ransacked house, Stone’s trusty sidekick, Officer Molly Crane, has to sober him up and drive him to the scene.

Soon, the stakes get higher when a leading suspect in the case is found shot to death in the town’s nature preserve. With the mayor, who has her sights set on higher office, looking for an excuse to fire him, Stone manages to pull himself together just enough to dig into the case.

Meanwhile, in a gated community in another part of town, a group of promoters are planning a birthday bash for Terry Jester, a musician who was as big as Bob Dylan in the heyday of folk rock, but who disappeared from public view decades ago. The rumor was he fell into a terminal funk after recording his greatest album, The Hangman’s Sonnet, only to have the master recording—and only copy—mysteriously vanish. But now, there are rumblings that it may have been found.

Dealing with the party-goers and the unwelcome swarm of press coverage the event and the recording are sure to bring to little Paradise is another headache Stone does not need.

Eventually, Stone begins to consider the possibility that the murders and the missing recording might actually be related.

Robert Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet is the fourth Jesse Stone novel Reed Farrel Coleman has written since taking over this series, and judging by the online fan reviews, he’s taking a little heat for not hewing closely to the character Parker created.

But that’s one of the things I admire about what Coleman is doing.

Reed Farrel Coleman

In Parker’s hands, there was little to distinguish Stone from Spenser, the Boston private eye and most beloved of Parker’s characters.  Stone was just Spenser with women trouble and a drinking problem. Coleman has deepened the character, embellishing his back story, developing his friendships, and making him more human, complex, and memorable.

The result is another suspenseful, well-crafted story with intriguing characters and surprising plot twists.

I must admit that I saw the denouement coming, but that’s because I read it not just as a fan but as a fellow crime novelist. Coleman pulled the strands of the tale together the way I’d like to think I would have done it.

Robert Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet will be published by Putnam on Sept. 12, but it can be ordered in advance here. 

And you can read more about Coleman and his work here.

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My Review of Paul Doiron’s New Crime Novel, “Knife Creek”

In Knife Creek, Paul Doiron’s eighth crime novel featuring Maine game warden Mike Bowditch, the characters are so well-drawn that you can reach out and shake their hands, and the rural landscape is so vividly portrayed that you can smell wildflowers, marvel at the swarms of fireflies, and feel the sting of the blood-thirsty insects. But the author’s finest achievement is the evolution of Bowditch himself.

Doiron’s hero has come a long way since The Poacher’s Son, when he was introduced as a hot-headed, insubordinate rookie game warden struggling to keep his personal demons in check. As the series has progressed, Bowditch has gradually matured, coming to terms with his troubled past, finding love, and finally earning the respect of supervisors who once longed to be rid of him.

For the full text of my Associated Press review, click here.

To order hardcover, Kindle or audio editions of Knife Creek, click here.

To learn more about Paul and his work, click here.

 

 

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