Monthly Archives: December 2009

Wayne Barcomb’s Passionate Police Procedural

This review appears in the Dec. 24-30, 2009 Naples Florida Weekly.

“The Hunted,” by Wayne Barcomb. Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s. 309 pages. $24.95.

With “The Hunted,” Sarasota resident Wayne Barcomb offers a sizzler of a mystery thriller. Executed with confidence and skill, it has all the ingredients of a best-seller. In homicide detective Frank Russo, Mr. Barcomb has devised an attractive, personable, and authentic protagonist with which to launch an effective series. I wanted to portion out my enjoyment of this tightly-constructed entertainment, but I found that every time I forced myself to put it down, it jumped right back into my hand.

The novel opens with the ugly but gripping scene of a young girl, nicknamed “Lucky,” cringing in terror as her father brutally murders her mother, threatening the girl as well. At trial, the girl’s testimony leads to her father’s conviction. Eighteen years later, the man is released. His violent streak, repressed in prison, is clearly not under control. As he seeks to reunite with his daughter, his feelings oscillate between a lust for revenge and a desire to rebuild the relationship. When Paul Gale discovers that his grown daughter is living in New York, he pursues his dangerous, long-delayed encounter.

Detective Frank Russo, rebounding from a short-lived, intense relationship with a glamorous model on the edge of stardom, finds himself and his partner investigating a grotesque murder case which is soon established as one in a chain of murders. A serial killer is murdering men in their apartments, leaving behind signs of uncontrollable rage as well as the symbolic signature of a wine bottle shoved up each victim’s rectum. The psychological profile of the killer suggests someone who suffered extreme abuse as a child.

The men have nothing in common, but the evidence suggests that in each case the murderer was invited in. A prostitute perhaps?

During this same period, Russo is hesitantly stepping into a romance with Denise, a gorgeous, statuesque young woman whom he encounters at his fitness club. She works for a textbook publisher (a role that Wayne Barcomb knows first-hand), and, as Russo is the author of professional articles and book chapters on police work, they have some unexplored common ground. Both Russo and the woman move cautiously, but before long Russo’s commitment to the case interferes with his availability for relationship building, just as it had with the model.  Naturally, there is a lot of pressure from the higher-ups to close this high profile case.

Mr. Barcomb teases us with alternating points of view. He not only enters the minds of Russo and Gale, but also of Denise and the murderer, who says her friends call her “Lucky,” often juxtaposing their actions and thoughts. Early on, evidence suggests that the perpetrator is a tall, attractive, physically fit woman, and the reader (though not Frank Russo) is led to suspect that Denise, whose background is a bit mysterious, might just be . . . but maybe not.

Wayne Barcomb meticulously develops his plot and characters, wringing every ounce of suspense and misdirection out of his material. The conclusion to “The Hunted” is a stunner.

Readers can find out more about Wayne Barcomb and his earlier books at These include two well-received “Sam Wallace” mysteries set in Sarasota.

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Novel Paints Nazi Plot

This review appears in the January 2010 Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County)

Clouds Across the Sun, by Ellen Brazer. TCJ Publishing. $14.95 (and available as an e-book)

What a premise! As WWII nears its end, Hitler devises a plan for world conquest through infiltration of the U. S. government and the governments of other nations. A select group of Third Reich henchman are commanded to marry well (racially and genetically speaking), make their way to the U. S. and elsewhere, program their children as Nazi operatives, and maneuver them into positions of influence and power. In two or three decades, the super-reign will begin to take hold, and world domination will be at hand.

When we meet eleven-year-old Jotto Wells, an intelligent and lovely girl living in pre-boom Naples, Florida, the process is underway. Her father, Hans, is one of those whom Hitler has selected, and Hans has readily accepted the mission. He is bringing up his daughter to be one of the stealth Nazis. Through hypnosis and other strategies, her future is being shaped.

Hans Wells is one of many Nazis who have found their way into the United States toward the close of the war and soon afterward. In its rush to gain a cadre of top-notch scientists and to accumulate information about the new adversary – the Soviet Union – the U. S. has turned a blind eye toward many suspected Nazi agents and sympathizers. Others have managed to keep their allegiance hidden.

Step by step, Ellen Brazer details the development of the plot along with the character of Jotto, who softens her name to Jo. Capable, beautiful, and yet with some kind of cloud hanging over her, the young woman excels in boarding school, college, and law school. She becomes a senator in the New York State government and the intended of a man being groomed for the presidency (in part by Nazi forces).  Along the way she is befriended by an older man, a famous and wealthy actor, one of several characters who affect Jo for the better. They function as alternatives to the parents and the uncle who continue to view Jo as a tool. Together with Jo, these friends attempt to thwart the Nazi scheme. At each revelation, the suspense thermometer shoots up a few stripes.

The novel has a broad scope, bringing us to Bolivia, several U. S. settings, Israel, and Lithuania. It also offers compelling intrigue, a series of romantic interludes, and a sophisticated presentation of the age-old question about the roots of identity. Which prevails: nature or nurture? Will Jo’s indoctrination prevail over her “better” nature? It will take a while for readers to understand how this question is complicated by the discovery that Jo’s true mother, thought to be dead, was the wife of the famous actor who had befriended her. And there are more surprises about this character. But my lips are sealed.

“Clouds Across the Sun” will engage readers with its the captivating story line, varied settings, and well-drawn characters. At, one can learn more about the author and order the book. It is available as well at major online booksellers.

Ellen Brazer employs memories of her Naples childhood in her book. In the 1960s, her family belonged to the Jewish Community Center of Collier County, which later evolved into Temple Shalom. Her uncle, Garson Dinaburg, was the congregation’s first president.

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New Titles by Naples Authors

The following “roundup” was published in the Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2009 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly.

 Out of the Darkness, by Jaime Rush.  Avon Books.  $6.99.

Out of the Darkness is part two in Jaime Rush’s “Offspring” series, an ambitious sequence of linked paranormal romances. The characters, many introduced in A Perfect Darkness, have various supernatural abilities. One converses with the dead; another can image the future and release the vision in eerie paintings. One can set fires through psychic energy. They are particularly sensitive to one another because they are all part of an extended family: in part biological, in part the result of experiments that have produced or altered them.

Their common goal is to trace their origins, master their special gifts, and discover – perhaps to thwart – the ends for which they were engineered. A rogue government project has brought them into being. Like so many projects of super-patriots, the Offspring were designed to serve the national interest – but something has gone wrong.  They pose a threat to their would-be controllers, and The Offspring themselves have divided into adversarial groups. The controllers strive to exploit the supernatural abilities of The Offspring, conduct further experiments, and destroy those whom they cannot manage.

In Out of the Darkness, Ms. Rush introduces several new characters, while elaborating upon those already established. Rand Brandenburg and Zoe Stoker are forefront, their red-hot romance simmering. Zoe, who owns a tattoo parlor, is a Goth type who has yet to control her special power of telekinesis. Biker Rand is a loner who uses his future-view talent to gamble. The terms of their relationship and the ways in which they fit into the larger Offspring family hold our interest even while we follow their quest to understand their mysterious talents and origins and foil their enemies.

Out of the Darkness is high on action and thrills, featuring otherwise ordinary twenty-something individuals whose struggles to deal with their unusual psychic powers are presented in a convincing manner within a larger conspiracy plot that does not seem so far-fetched at all.

Kroopenpopper: An Everglades Adventure, by Virginia Saalman. Moson Publishing. $15.

Written to entertain children ages 4-8, Virginia Saalman’s book brings a Maryland family to a small Everglades town for summer vacation. The children, Mary and Tommy, are frightened by a large black bear. However, as can only happen in children’s stories, the bear befriends them and leads them on a journey through the swamp to satisfy Mary’s curiosity and find the home of the squirrels. Along the way, they meet several other Everglades denizens, and each decides to join in the quest. In this way, the children (and the readers) learn about the Everglades inhabitants: the deer, the beaver, the panther, the howler monkey (a zoo escapee), the snake, the barred owl, and others. Towards the end, they arrive at the squirrels’ home at the base of a tree, only to encounter a taste of danger.

 Fanciful additions to the expected characters include a giraffe (only because Mary wants to see one) and a night-flying woofing bird – or did they just imagine that scary creature?

The author, who also wrote the well-received Frog Poop and Other Stories, does a fine job of blending entertainment and instruction, these ends supported marvelously by the stunning illustrations supplied by Patti Tedesco Jones. Mrs. Jones, who is legally blind, runs the New Sight Greeting Card Company.

Naples Oldest Tradition: Swamp Buggy Days, by Lila Zuck. Collier County Historical Research Center. $24.95.

This dazzling presentation of Naples’ history is at once a must-have, lavishly illustrated coffee table book and a treasure trove of research. Lila Zuck has turned over every relevant document in local archives, public and private, to fashion a fact-packed narrative of community life.

Ms. Zuck traces, in meticulous detail, the origins and development of the yearly tradition, now sixty years old, by which the Naples community successfully branded itself for the purpose of attracting tourism, having fun, and fostering community solidarity and pride. In so doing, the author weaves together brief anecdotes involving colorful individuals who made important contributions to the town’s prosperity and culture. Through the lens of the Swamp Buggy competitions and parades, readers become more familiar with the doings of those families whose names are recorded on the community’s street signs and public spaces. They become familiar, as well, with the contributions of lesser-known individuals whose talents and efforts have helped fashion the unique blend of ingredients that is Naples.

Swamp Buggy Days is the lively story of how a dynamic, cohesive community invented and re-invented itself, winning a place on the national map of attractive destinations. It’s a book of record and a celebration. And it’s a bargain. See

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