A Photo From the Estate of Gilded Age Robber Baron Jay Gould Finds It’s Way Home

This daguerreotype, which I just sold on eBay, has a penciled note inside the case identifying it as coming from the estate of notorious Gilded Age robber baron Jay Gould.

The buyer says: “I believe the baby is my great great grandmother Helen Day Miller Gould. The woman holding the baby strongly resembles adult pictures of Helen Day Miller Gould who was born two years after her husband.”

Helen Day Miller married Jay Gould in 1863.

I LOVE it when one of my finds ends up back where it belongs!

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

My Review of “Blood in the Water,” a New Thriller Set in Boston

Jack Flynn does a fine job developing complex characters while keeping the tension high in Blood in the Water, his fast-paced yarn of intrigue, violence and personal betrayals.

His prose, for the most part, is tight and precise. And his setting — the waterfront docks and the mostly abandoned harbor islands that are unfamiliar even to most Bostonians — is vividly portrayed.

So is the weather, the action unfolding during a bitter winter that has clogged the shipping lines with ice floes.

To read the full text of my review for The Associated Press, please click here.

\

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Vicious Cycle of Homelessness in America

We are repeating vicious a cycle that is as old as the settlement of America.

In colonial times, people who couldn’t take care of themselves, including homeless children, the mentally ill, old folks suffering from dementia, and those we used to call mentally retarded, were lumped together as “the indigent.” There were no public facilities for them, so local communities would “board them out.” That meant turning them over to farmers and shopkeepers who put them to work without pay and who were usually given a small public stipend for their care. The result was that many were horribly abused — fed slop, housed in chicken coops, and that sort of thing. There are even documented cases of some of these helpless people starving or freezing to death.

Horrified, physicians and do-gooders beginning in colonial times created various small institutions for them: orphanages for children and hospitals for those with mental problems, mostly major cities. By the 1840s, as the country’s population swelled, so did the number of such institutions, most of them funded by the states.. However, they proved to every bit as horrible as the boarding out system.

Starting in the 1840s, reformers such as Dorothea Dix toured those for the mentally ill and exposed overcrowding, filth, and physical abuse. Many “patients” were even chained to walls. Given the state of medical knowledge at the time, there was no effective treatment, so these places were just huge warehouses, and few who were admitted ever left. When they died, many were buried in unmarked mass graves.

Dix and a number of others led a nationwide movement to create decent, publicly funded asylums to provide humane care. (Note the word asylum, a word whose connotation, at least back then, indicated a safe and peaceful place.) The matter largely faded from the public consciousnesses until the 1950s and 1960s, when journalists (including me in Rhode Island) investigated the asylums and found all the same old neglect and mistreatment. In Rhode Island in the early 1970s, I toured buildings where thousands of people, most drugged into a zombie state, slept on concrete floors and spent their days sitting in or wandering hallways, often sloshing barefoot through puddles of urine.

In many institutions, including Rhode Island, the worst wards were in buildings named for Dorothea Dix.

By then, the availability of new psychotropic drugs offered the hope that some of these people, or at least NEW patients who hadn’t been damaged by years of abuse, could be “deinstitutionalized.” Some, it was thought, could be managed at home by their families. And those who could not, it was believed, could be cared for in small “group homes” that would be located in neighborhoods and operated by professional staff.

If done right, it could well have worked. But in practice, it has proved largely to be a return to something akin to the colonial boarding out system. It has failed miserably. Why? The group home system was never properly funded, nowhere near enough of them were created, some were operated by people who cared only for state money, and lots of folks objected to group homes in their communities.

So now, many who would once have been institutionalized sleep on the streets.

Today, some are advocating a return to the asylum system that was long ago proven to be a failure. It failed because of under-funding and lack of public oversight, but I see no reason to believe that there is a public will to do it right this time. And some of those who advocate bringing it back are concerned more about unsightly people on the streets than about taking proper care for them.

Meanwhile, it should be pointed out, at this point, that many of the homeless are NOT mentally ill or mentally deficient. Many are just people who can’t afford a place to live because they lost their jobs, are mired in addiction, or lack the skills to work in a modern economy. And I don’t hear anybody proposing a workable and humane way to handle them, either.

Meanwhile, the problem of homeless children was addressed earlier and somewhat more effectively with the creation of the foster child system. That has worked better than anything we have done for the mentally ill, but it still has significant and well-documented problems.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Julia Keller’s Heartbreaking Blues Song of a Novel–My Review

Julia Keller’s eighth yarn featuring West Virginia crime fighter Bell Elkins is a heartbreaking blues song of a novel, employing beauty to evoke despair while reminding readers that even in the darkest of days, there might also be light.

The plot of The Cold Way Home gets rolling when Elkins stumbles onto a body near the overgrown ruins of an old mental hospital. The roots of the case  sink deep into local family histories and the horrors that were once routine in the almost forgotten institution. The murder and the reasons behind it are revealed as ghastly, but Elkins manages to achieve some measure of justice in her economically depressed, meth-infested little town.

To read the full text of my review for the Associated Press, please click here.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tensions Run High in C. J. Box’s New Cassie Dewell Thriller

After losing her law enforcement job following a tumultuous serial killer investigation in Paradise Valley, Cassie Dewell resurfaces as a struggling private detective in C.J. Box’s new crime novel, The Bitterroots.

Hired to examine what appears to be an open and shut case against a creep charged with raping his 15-year-old niece, she ventures into the mountains of western Montana to talk to the local sheriff, review the case file, and interview witnesses. There, she is met with hostility by nearly everyone in town. The tale unfolds in a landscape thick with smoke from forest fires, the gloom serving as an apt metaphor for the evil she encounters.

Box’s characters are well developed, his writing is vivid, the tension runs high, and the plot unfolds at a rapid pace. To read the full text of my Associated Press review, please click here.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Fine Private Eye Novel by T. Jefferson Parker

In T. Jefferson Parker’s new Roland Ford thriller, The Last Good Guy, the search for a missing girl leads the private eye to a mysterious date farm with military-grade security, a security firm owned by a racist billionaire, a decommissioned nuclear plant, and a charismatic evangelist who may or may not be a pedophile.

Along the way, Ford begins to suspect that the girl’s disappearance may have a connection to a looming terrorist plot.

Although all of this may seem wildly unlikely, Parker does a fine job of pulling the threads together and maintaining the tension.  Best of all, Parker tells the tale in tight, vivid prose that at times borders on the lyrical.

To read my full Associated Press review of the novel, please click here.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Dangerous Man,” the New Thriller by Robert Crais, is One of His Best Yet

Joe Pike is about to climb into his Jeep on Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile when he sees a man force a young woman into the back seat of a waiting car. When the car pulls away from the curb, Pike follows, catches the car at a stoplight, smashes the driver’s side window, drags the driver and his accomplice out, and roughs them up enough to give one of them a concussion.

But when the young woman is promptly kidnapped a second time, it’s apparent something more than a simple abduction is at work.

This is the 17th Cole and Pike novel by Robert Crais, putting it well past the point that many crime fiction series become repetitive or otherwise lose their steam. But A Dangerous Man — suspenseful, fast-paced, tightly written and peopled with compelling characters — is one of Crais’ best.

To read the full text of my review for The Associated Press, please click here.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

My Review of “Lost You” by Haylen Beck, AKA Stuart Neville

Surrogacy — in which a woman agrees to carry a baby for another person or couple — is a legal swamp in America, and in this, veteran crime novelist Stuart Neville, writing under the pen name Haylen Beck, has found the makings of an emotionally wrenching psychological thriller.

Lost You toys with readers’ emotions, leaving them uncertain until the very end about who — if anyone — is in the right. The story unravels at an anxiety-inducing pace, and shocking twists appear around every corner.

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ben Coes, Thriller Writer, Has a Temper Tantrum

I didn’t find anything to like about The Russians, the new thriller by Ben Coes, but I WAS amused by his petulant temper tantrum over my review for the Associated Press.

I rarely write negative book reviews. I think life is too short to waste hours reading a bad book, so if I’m not enjoying one, I usually toss it away after a few chapters. But The Russians is such a train wreck that couldn’t tear my eyes away. You can read the text of my review by clicking on this link 

Meanwhile, here, for your enjoyment, is the email he sent me about it last night:

“Bruce,

“I just read your review. Thanks for spelling my name right.

“You should have passed on the review. What if someone were to critique your silly little books as if they were fact as you seemed to have done? They’re fiction you silly looking poseur. Fortunately not a lot of people read your books and hopefully that carries over to your reviews!

“You come from a mill town ‘where analogies were as rare as truffles’ or whatever your asinine bio says and have the gall to opine on my writing? I have more talent in my left testicle than you will ever have.

“Ben”

Perhaps next time he should let his left testicle do the writing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Review of “Deep Dive” by Chris Knopf

Deep Dive, the new crime novel by Chris Knopf, is suspenseful, fast paced, and peopled with well-drawn characters.  Knopf’s prose goes down so easily that the novel isn’t so much read as inhaled.

In the end, the protagonist, Sam Acquillo, exposes an unspeakable conspiracy involving some very wealthy people. As Sam puts it in a moment of reflection, “the rich can achieve a level of depravity and hate both invisible and incomprehensible to the rest of us.”

To read the full text of my book review for the Associated Press, please click here.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment