Monthly Archives: May 2011

New “Lincoln Lawyer” thriller surprises and satisfies

“The Fifth Witness,” by Michael Connelly.  Little, Brown and Company.  448 pages. $27.99.

Hard times have hit the man known as “The Lincoln Lawyer.” Criminal cases have dried up for Mickey Haller, so to make ends meet he has plunged into the foreclosure defense business. There is no shortage of foreclosure action in Los Angeles, and Mr. Connelly’s exploration of this legal domain is timely, insightful, and dramatic. 

When Mickey hears that his first foreclosure client, Lisa Trammel, has been arrested for murder, he is not particularly surprised. In a way, he is pleased – criminal defense is his passion.

Lisa is a difficult client. Headstrong and intense, she has garnered a lot of publicity as an advocate for foreclosure victims. Lisa sees banks and mortgage companies as fraudulent enterprises conspiring to fleece innocent borrowers. She may be right. She is also an undisciplined force who regularly ignores Mickey’s advice.

The man Lisa is accused of killing, Mitchell Bondurant, was a senior official at WestLand Financial, the bank foreclosing on her loan. Already suspecting Lisa of having a bipolar disorder, Mickey now suspects she just might be guilty. Certainly the case against her is a strong one, though largely circumstantial. It is so strong that Mickey is at first considering a plea bargain. But Lisa insists on her innocence, and Mickey tries hard to believe in her.

As Mickey sets his team into motion, the reader enjoys Michael Connelly’s skill at building the colorful cast of characters that populate his hero’s world. There is his investigator, Cisco, ex-member of a biker gang. There is an ex-wife, Lorna, now managing the nonexistent office out of her home. There is Mickey’s driver, Rojas, a man who cannot be fully trusted. There is his new and idealistic associate, Jennifer Aronson, nicknamed “Bullocks” for the department store building that nowhouses the law school where she earned her degree.  Each is sharply individualized and each contributes to the investigation.

Michael Connelly

As the case builds, Mickey quickly sees the need for a real office and sets one up. The back seat of the Lincoln won’t do for what is becoming a high profile case. Indeed, he sees the murder case as potentially a financial windfall, what with his share of rights to any media projects that the trial can produce. However, he has competition. A Hollywood hustler named Herb Dahl has been romancing Lisa Trammel, promising her fame and fortune. She seems an easy mark, and Mickey takes pains to make her see Dahl’s true motives.

To enjoy the complete review as it appears in the May 11, 2011 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the May 12 Naples and Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda editions, click here: Connelly pdf – 1 and here: Connelly pdf – 2

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Character is destiny for Macomber’s Commander Wake

“Honor Bound,” by Robert N. Macomber. Pineapple Press. 392 pages. $21.95.

Robert N. Macomber’s ongoing fictional representation of later 19th century U. S. government maritime enterprise dazzles in its mix of historical fact and imaginative embellishment.  Mr. Macomber now presents the valiant and often unruly intelligence officer, Commander Peter Wake, in a satisfying new blend of romantic and life-threatening adventures. 

This, the ninth title in the “Honor Series,” finds Wake essentially abandoning an espionage mission regarding Spanish naval preparedness. Why? Cynda Saunders, a woman he first met during the Civil War, comes upon the present scene (in 1888), crossing Wake’s path in St. Augustine. She is determined to find her teenage son, Luke, who is missing on a treasure-hunt adventure in the Caribbean and possibly in bad company.

 The Commander feels “honor bound” to help her, given her distress and their former acquaintance. That she is powerfully attractive seals the deal. Wake, as ever in the company of his trusty aide Sean Rork, rounds up a team of eccentric characters to assist Cynda. The most notable of this group is ethnologist Cornelius (Corny) Rathburn; however, the Bahamian Seminole and the Polish-Haitian soldier (who joins the group later) are not far behind. The team must seek out the Condor, the schooner on which Luke has found employment (or perhaps enslavement).  The schooner’s master, Captain Kingston, may be up to no good.

Robert N. Macomber

As the story develops, readers enter a murky world in which revolutionary forces are challenging established European governments in Russia and elsewhere.  More than one person they encounter is, like Peter Wake when on assignment, a covert intelligence agent probing for information and advantage. It may seem odd that the setting for this activity involves such places as Key West, Nassau, Andros Island, Great Inagua Island, Haiti, and other Caribbean locations. However, Robert Macomber’s extrapolations from historical sources are remarkably convincing. . . .

To read this review in its entirely, as it appears in the May 4, 2011 edition of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 5 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Robert Macomber 2

PDF version: Macomber pdf-1 and Macomber pdf-2

See also: Florida Weekly – Robert Macomber

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“Southern Comfort,” by Fern Michaels

Fern Michaels is a writing machine. Best known for the Sisterhood and Godmothers series, she has over 75 million books in print and is still going strong. Though she grew up in Hastings, Pennsylvania, Ms. Michaels moved to South Carolina in 1993. She has continued to flourish as a best-selling author, adopting the American South and making it the setting for some of her recent works. Southern Comfort is not only one of her latest novels (she writes so many that several can be “new” at the same time), but perhaps also a way of talking about Fern Michaels’ relationship with her adopted home territory. 

Southern Comfort is part mystery, part romance – with the romance element trumping the mystery plot. Though essentially a novel for women, it includes several well-drawn male characters and avoids being defined as solely or merely a read for women. Set primarily in Miami and the Florida Keys, it features a mysterious mansion on Mango Key, a retired police officer who has become a best-selling author, a prominent Florida family, and a group of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents.

One of these agents is Kate Rush, an attractive and dedicated woman who finds that she has denied too much of her personality and zest for life in the routines and petty politics of her job. The last straw is the cruel, demeaning behavior of her superior, Lawrence Tyler, whose insolence and mean-spirited manner drive her (and others) to leave the agency. Agent Tyler, son of Florida’s governor, is a man of many weaknesses and insecurities who overcompensates by bullying others. Readers wonder if he has any redeeming qualities.

Kate decides to return to her native Miami and finish up a doctorate program she has put on hold. Coincidentally, her friend and DEA coworker Sandra Martin takes a similar path and joins Kate at the University of Miami. It stretches probability and does nothing to advance the plot when both women emerge less than a year later with Ph.D. degrees. However, it does get them to Miami and within range of a DEA office that is looking into what might be a major case. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears at, click here: Southern Comfort, by Fern Michaels « Southern Literary Review

To find all my Southern Literary Review contributions, click here: Philip K. Jason « Southern Literary Review

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The missing child case that revolutionized law enforcement

“Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America,” by Les Standiford with Det. Sgt. Joe Matthews. Ecco. 304 pages. $24.95.

Les Standiford’s career has taken a fascinating turn. Once best-known for his popular genre novels, notably the John Deal mystery series, he has now become a first-rate fashioner of suspenseful and informative nonfiction narratives.  Some of these books, like “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (about Charles Dickens) and “Washington Burning” (about Pierre L’Enfant and the founding of Washington, DC), re-imagine important historical figures and their times. Others, like the already-classic “Last Train to Paradise” (about Henry Flagler’s railroad fantasy) and the present title, explore more recent, Florida-based historical materials, investing them with the urgency, cultural insight, and telling detail of the best fiction. 

“Bringing Adam Home” is less about the crime that took the life of TV host John Walsh’s son and Walsh’s achievements through the “America’s Most Wanted” series than it is about an endlessly bungled investigation. Though Mr. Standiford attends to how John Walsh and his wife Revé turned their grief into transforming the ways in which crimes against children are handled, his gripping, central story is about the combination of laziness, arrogance, and unprofessional police work that left a readily solvable crime unsolved for decades. It is also about serial killer Ottis Toole, who committed the crime, confessed to it over and over again, and yet escaped responsible detection until after his death.

Here’s where Joe Matthews comes in.

Early on, soon after Adam Walsh’s disappearance from a shopping mall Sears store, Joe Matthews was borrowed from the Miami Beach police to help the Hollywood, Florida police department with this case. He had the expertise and experience to make a difference.  However, Detective Hoffman, in charge of the case, seemed reluctant to make full use of Matthews’ talents and suggestions. Hoffman pursued the fruitless investigation of his favorite suspect and wouldn’t take seriously any ideas that pointed elsewhere. The case Hoffman attempted to make went nowhere. . . .

Les Standiford (photo by Marla Cohen)

To read the entire review as it appears in the April 27, 2011 issue of  Fort Myers Florida Weekly and April 28 issue of the Naples edition, click here:  Florida Weekly – Les Standiford.

pdf version: Standiford pdf-1 and Standiford pdf-2

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We never outgrow the need to make new friends

“Make New Friends . . . Live Longer: A Guide for Seniors,” by Sunie Levin. Royal Heritage Press. 86 pages. $13.95.

Sunie Levin

Three cheers for the compact, clear, practical and upbeat book that helps people help themselves. Sunie Levin’s latest book is just such a volume. For today’s seniors, especially those who either must or choose to relocate in their retirement years, making new friends is a real problem. Ms. Levin has faced the problem herself, given it much thought, and offers sound advice spiced with brief illustrative stories of seniors taking control of their lives in new surroundings. 

While Ms. Levin is concerned for those who are housebound, divorced or bereft of a spouse, or trapped in caregiver situations, she is just as much concerned for those who “are simply watching their circle of friends dwindle year by year and area at a loss how to replace them.”

Many of her suggestions are familiar or simply exercises in common sense. However, the author’s caring, reassuring tone is what makes the difference. She persuades readers that they can make the changes that they need to make in order to avoid isolation and despair.

Here’s one of the most aggressive tactics that  Ms. Levin records.  A newcomer had a T-shirt made that read “I’m New Here – Displaced From Ohio. Please Talk to Me.” This simple, if flamboyant, tactic worked. Most of us, however, are not so extroverted.

We need to scour community newsletters, join clubs, invite new neighbors over for meals, ask their advice about doctors and beauticians, sign up with volunteer organizations, and take classes. We need to project a sunny disposition and avoid turning people off by complaining. Most importantly, we need to become good listeners; after all, there will be plenty of times when we need someone to listen – really listen – to us.

Establishing relationships with new people means being able to remember their names, how to contact them, and something about their interests. As we age, short-term memory loss weakens our ability to hold onto such information. Documenting what you learned about a new acquaintance allows you to make the next conversation more effective. People are delighted that you’ve remembered things about them. Moreover, this discipline of writing things down is in itself a memory aide.

To read this view in its entirety as it appears in the April 21, 2011 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Sunie Levin

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