My Review of “The Perfect Liar,” a New Crime Novel by Thomas Christopher Greene

The great thing about being an artist, Max tells his students, is that you can imagine things into being. But only he knows the extremes to which he has taken that.

Max lacks the academic credentials for his job as a college professor, but he has more than enough intelligence, boldness and charisma to sustain the fraud. Everything will be just fine as long as no one finds the body of the real Max buried on a New Hampshire mountainside.

Thomas Christoper Green’s The Perfect Liar is a taut, well-written thriller, but this novel is more than that. It is also a textured examination of the lies people tell to those they love and a reminder that it is never easy to escape the traumas of a troubled childhood.

You can read the full text of my review for The Associated Press here

You can learn more about the author here.

And you can order the book here.



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My Review of Joanna Schaffhausen’s New Crime Novel, “No Mercy”

No Mercy is Joanna Schaffhausen’s second compelling novel in a series featuring FBI profiler Reed Markham and Woodbury, MA, police officer Ellery Hathaway, whom Reed once rescued from a serial killer.

The story is told in vivid, precise prose, the characters are well drawn, and the suspenseful plot is resolved in ways that readers are unlikely to see coming. But the most appealing part is the complicated, evolving relationship between Ellery, a damaged woman who shuns romantic entanglements, and Reed, a recently divorced man who is both protective of the girl he once saved and increasingly drawn to the fearlessness and beauty of the woman she has become.

Schaffhausen, a science journalist with a doctorate in psychology, explores this thread

Joanna Schaffhausen

with such insight and sensitivity that readers will be eager to learn what happens between them in the next installment.

You can read the full text of my review for the New York Journal of Books by clicking here.

You can learn more about her on her website here.

And you can order the book here.


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I Thought He Would Live Forever

Steve Parisi

At my age, old friends and colleagues die with such frequency that I have almost become numb to it, but somehow I thought that Steve Parisi would live forever.

He was a big, boisterous man with a luxurious head of silver hair, a passion for good food and drink, a closet full of Hawaiian shirts, and an addiction to rock ‘n roll. He loved his friends more than most people love their families, and he had enough of them to fill a sports arena. He was a devoted family man, doting on wives, children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces even–or perhaps I should say especially–when circumstances landed some of them on his doorstep at an age when child rearing is usually a distant memory. He was generous to strangers. His out-sized personality dominated every room he ever lumbered into.

Every time I saw him, he had a huge, ain’t-life-grand smile that rarely faded.

We met as teenagers, members of the 1964 graduating class of Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High in Massachusetts. That should have made us lifelong friends, but we weren’t. Looking back on it now, I realize that our 100-student class was a bit cliquey, although I don’t recall any meanness to it. Students in college prep classes just tended to socialize together, and Steve wasn’t one of them.

After graduation, I didn’t see or hear from him for 46 years. So I was taken aback when he got in touch in 2010, after my first crime novel was published, and invited me to dinner at Adino’s, his favorite Italian restaurant in Providence, R.I.

A few days later, as I strolled into the place, I saw a bombastic sixty-something holding court at the bar. Whatever he was saying had an audience of drinkers and barkeeps enthralled. He turned, somehow recognized me (although I looked nothing like I did in high school) and said, “Hey, I was just braggin’ about knowing you.”

I stuck out my hand. He ignored it and wrapped me up in a spine-cracking bear hug.

“Come on, let’s get a table,” he said, leading me through the restaurant to a four-top. On the way, everyone in the place shouted a greeting (“Hi, Steve!” “What’s shakin’, Steve?”) as if he were some mix of the mayor and the Godfather.

After he ordered drinks for us both, the waitress, who he knew by name, handed us menus and asked if we wanted to hear the day’s specials. Steve’s grin got wider, and he rattled them off.  She raised an eyebrow.

“Hey, I was here for LUNCH!” he said and treated the whole room to his booming laugh.

Signing a book for Steve at the Providence Public Library.

And then we talked. About my work and his. About my family and his. About the Red Sox and the Patriots. About being young and growing old. By the time I left, we were already the best of friends. And that, I gather, is how it usually went when anybody met Steve.

Over the last eight years, we met nearly every time I came to Providence, sometimes to promote my latest novel, sometimes to visit family that lived nearby. When I spoke at local bookstores or the Providence Public Library, he didn’t just come. He dragged a crowd along with him. Nearly every time, we had lunch or dinner at Andino’s. Always, I had to fight him for the check, and most times I lost. I ended up naming a recurring character for him in several of my books.

Steve the rocker

It would take more time than I’ve got, and more words than you would want to read, to tell you everything that is worth knowing about Steve’s life.  About how he went to work after high school for his father’s little basement waterproofing company and transformed it into a firm that worked on major restoration projects including Providence’s Biltmore Hotel. About how he sang in local clubs for years with a rock ‘n roll band. About how he beat throat cancer and returned to the stage, belting out 1960s classics in a voice that sounded like hard water flowing over gravel. About how he always spoke his mind and didn’t give a shit whether you liked it. About how almost everybody seemed to love him.

Steve died unexpectedly sometime over the holidays. I got the news late, alerted by a friend on Facebook. I’ll be forever grateful for his friendship and forever regretful that I didn’t get to know him sooner. I’m sure I’ll never stop missing him. If he could see me now, I think I know what he’d say. He’d tell me to buck up, order a martini, cue Dylan on the stereo, and have a good laugh.

But I have to go now and find a quiet place to be sad.

You can see Steve perform by clicking here.


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My Review of Carol Potenza’s Debut Crime Novel

Hearts of the Missing, Carol Potenza’s debut novel, is a yarn wrapped in Pueblo Indian mythology, forensic evidence, ancient rituals, DNA tests, evil spirits, greed and violence. The story involves so many characters and such a plethora of twists and turns that readers may find it difficult to keep track unless they pay close attention — and maybe even take notes along the way.

For my full review of this book in The Washington Post, please click here.


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Killed by Illegal Abortion: May Burns, My Great Grandmother.

Before Roe v. Wade, untold numbers of America women died from illegal abortions. One of them was May Burns of Middleboro, Massachusetts, shown here in her only surviving photograph.

She was my great grandmother.

May, an Irish immigrant, was married to William H. Archibald, the son of a Scotsman who crossed the Atlantic to Nova Scotia before taking his family south to find work in Massachusetts in the late 1800s.

When William grew to manhood, he got a job as a steam shovel operator on road projects. He and May had four children together.  John, the oldest, was my maternal grandfather.

After May’s youngest, Anna, was born, she didn’t want more children. Raising four in Middleboro, MA, was difficult enough on her husband’s meager pay. Unable to find anyone to help her, she performed an abortion on herself. John was seven years old when she died in the last year of the 19th century.

Because what she did was considered shameful, it was a closely-held secret on my mother’s side of the family. My grandfather would say only that she died in childbirth. But when abortion laws became a topic of national debate in the early 1970s, Aunt Lois, my mother’s younger sister, haltingly told me the truth.  My Aunt Anna, May’s youngest, also grudgingly acknowledged it. Only then did I get a lip-quivering confirmation from my mother.

There is a widely-held misapprehension that abortion was illegal in America until Roe V. Wade, but the truth is quite different. Abortions before “the quickening,” when the fetus begins to move in the uterus, were legal in colonial America and then in the United States until the mid-1800s.

The first state to ban abortions in nearly all instances was Massachusetts, and the others soon followed. But in the 1960s, some states loosened their strict anti-abortion laws. By the time Roe v. Wade was decided, abortions were already legal (under varying circumstances) in 17 states.

The number of women who died from illegal abortions during the century of strict, nationwide anti-abortion laws is widely disputed, and the true number can never be known

What is known is that abortion was listed as the official cause of death for nearly 2,700 American women in 1930, However, because the procedure was both illegal and considered shameful, many such deaths were almost certainly attributed to other causes. The official total dropped to 1,700 in 1940 and declined sharply after that as antibiotics became widely available for post-procedure infections.

Various studies put number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s at 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. Many were performed by physicians (who did so at the risk of their licenses and their freedom), so only a small percentage were fatal. But deaths were more common among poor women who could not afford physicians—or find one willing to break the law for them.

Of course, deaths don’t tell the whole story of the suffering. In 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City to be treated for botched abortions. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade was decided, 130,000 American women had illegal abortions. At least 39 of them died.

Soon, those days may no longer be a relic of the past.

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Proof That I’m a Born Romantic


The two of us

I’m a born romantic.

Take tonight when I asked my wife, the poet Patricia Smith, to join me in watching a scene from The Hitman’s Bodyguard. In it, the hitman (Samuel Jackson) is telling his body guard (Ryan Reynolds) how he met his wife (Salma Hayek.) Cut to a flashback in a bucket of blood bar in Honduras.

A creep grabs Hayek’s ass, so she tussles with him. Jackson starts to get up to help her but then settles down and watches, his cigarette dropping from his lips in astonishment as she proceeds to beat the hell out of the creep and his friends.

She finishes the last one off by tearing his throat out with a broken bottle, the scene unfolding with Lionel Richie’s song “Hello” playing in the background. Then Hayek slides up to Jackson, takes the beer out of his hand, and drains it.

THAT, I told Patricia, is the same way WE first connected. She was standing in front of a crowd of 800 at a writing conference I’d organized, began to speak, and absolutely slayed them! Like I said, I’m a born romantic. The scene in question begins a few seconds into the video below.

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My Review of Sara Gran’s New Claire DeWitt Mystery

For the uninitiated, Sara Gran’s protagonist, 40-year-old Claire DeWitt, is the woman Nancy Drew might have become if she had been raised by indifferent parents, developed a fierce drug habit, got seduced by the occult, became sexually promiscuous,  suffered with depression, and could never forgive herself for failing to solve the disappearance of her close childhood friend Tracy.

Please click here for my full, New York Journal of Books review of  Gran’s fine new Claire DeWitt mystery novel, The Infinite Blacktop.

And to learn more about Gran and her work, please click here.


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My Review of “Colorblind,” the Latest Jesse Stone Novel by Reed Farrel Coleman

When a young black police officer hired by Chief Stone guns down an apparently unarmed white suspect in a cross burning, tensions run high in the fictional town of Paradise, MA.  As a white nationalist organization from out of town muscles in, urging residents to “take your town back,” Jesse has to act fast.

The result is another well-written, fast-paced yarn from Reed Farrel Coleman, one of the acknowledged masters of crime fiction. Colorblind is Coleman’s fifth installment in the Jesse Stone series, which was originated by the late Robert B. Parker.

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

For more information about Coleman and his work, click here.


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Check Out My Review of T. Jefferson Parker’s “Swift Vengeance”

T. Jefferson Parker

For the last decade or so, T. Jeffferson Parker has been using the popular form of the thriller to explore the pressing issues of our day.

His previous series, an uneven but sometimes brilliant one featuring undercover cop Charlie Hood, examined the devastation wrought by Mexican crime cartels and America’s war on drugs.

Starting with “The Room of White Fire” and continuing with “Swift Vengeance,” Parker’s new series succeeds not only in entertaining but also in challenging readers to ponder the circle of vengeance unleashed by the Iraq war and America’s seemingly endless war on terror.

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

You can learn more about Parker and his work here.


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A Chilling Tale of Vengeance: My Review of David Joy’s New Novel, “The Line That Held Us.”

Author David Joy

“The Line That Held Us” is David Joy’s third crime novel about life in a mountainous region where family roots run deep and where some folks live by a code that puts them outside of the law. The book’s title is in the past tense because in this tale, the line between civilization and savagery doesn’t hold.

It is well told in a voice that is lyrical in its descriptions of the region’s natural beauty and graphic in its depictions of violence and death.  To read the full text of my review for The Associated Press, please click here.

You can learn more about Joy and his work here.


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