Monthly Archives: February 2013

Punishment is a pleasure in debut legal thriller

Punishment, by Linda Rocker. Wheatmark. 248 pages. $18.95 trade paper; $4.61 Kindle e-book.

Retired judge Linda Rocker has set her first novel in West Palm Beach, taking us into the courthouse in significant architectural detail. Hallways, stairways, parking areas, judges’ chambers, courtrooms, and other related locations are handled with authority. So are the workings of the courthouse: trial procedure from jury selection on through the interaction between judges and other court personnel, bailiffs in particular. In fact, the primary character among many important ones is Casey Portman, bailiff to Judge Janet Kanterman. Punishment_BookCover

One plot concern has to do with an explosion in the courthouse that, while doing little damage, stirs things up and puts everyone on edge. The threat of a follow-up to this assault on the system lingers in the background. Who is behind it? What is the motive?

The main plot is the sensational trial of a man charged with using his trained attack dog as a deadly weapon in the murder of his wife. As Casey and Judge Kanterman prepare for and move into the proceedings, readers learn that the deceased women’s father is attending all phases of the trial. Doubtful that justice will prevail, he is prepared to take justice into his own hands. Thus, another plot thread is developed that takes us into the mind and actions of this tragically suffering man who is obsessed with vengeance.

When Judge Kanterman becomes too ill to preside over this trial, her colleague Judge Barbara Clarke receives the assignment. There are hints that someone may have poisoned the liberal Kanterman to get her off the bench for this trial. Clarke’s busy schedule will become even more hectic.

Things are already difficult in Judge Clarke’s office. Ben, her bailiff has been acting quite strangely, and his friend Casey is aware of it too. Shockingly, Ben is murdered. Is this courthouse doomed to violence? Casey, up to speed on the “Dogicide” case, takes Ben’s place working with Judge Clarke.


Things are not well in Clarke’s home life, either. Her scoundrel of a husband, Ellison Watson, is not only cheating on her but is mixed up in illegal drug activities. These involve not only a shadowy figure named Jack McGinty, but also the murdered bailiff.

To add to the complications, a relative of McGinty’s makes it onto the jury. This young woman somehow gets away with texting the proceedings to Jack. Why does he need to know the details of this trial?

The final plot line is the romantic one: Casey slides into an affair with police chief Luke Anderson. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 21, 2013 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly and the March 14 Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition click here: Florida Weekly – Linda Rocker

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Motives and murders collide in a multi-layered mystery

Fatal Decree, by H. Terrell Griffin. Oceanview Publishing. 336 pages. $25.95.

As comfortable as old clothes, yet relentlessly suspenseful and constantly surprising, Mr. Griffin’s latest in the Matt Royal Mystery Series confirms his place as a worthy heir to the John D. McDonald tradition. The questions come early and do not stop growing in complexity: why are early middle age women being murdered? How and why are Guatemalan and Mexican drug gangs involved? Who is out to scare or murder Longboat Key Detective Jennifer Diane (J. D.) Duncan, Matt’s good friend and wished-for lover? How is the secret agency that employs Matt’s friend Jock Algren compromised by or involved in these murders? Fatal-Decree-high-res

Do we have a national security issue? A revenge plot: payback to J. D. for someone she sent to prison earlier in her career? Unusual coincidences somehow tie together unrelated criminal and law enforcement activities. Terry Griffin will have Matt and his colleagues get to the bottom of this murky swamp filled with intertwined tentacles. Honed intuition, sharp investigative work, raw courage, and good old happenstance eventually put the brakes on an exhausting, high-tension, high-speed ride.

The intriguing main plot is rivaled as a center of interest by three other factors. One of these is the colorful cast of three-dimensional characters, each a realistic mix of consistency and complexity. Matt, J. D., Jock, the head of the police force, and even the scum of the earth whom they pursue are sharply individualized. In this outing, the author artfully explores the damage to Jock’s psychological health caused by the assassination duties he has performed over the years. Relationships are given time to grow and change. Such literary heft is unusual in genre fiction.


The secondary plot in “Fatal Decree” traces the developing yet fragile relationship between Matt and J. D. Readers will root for them to come together while recognizing the factors that keep the relationship tenuous. Matt’s desire to protect this attractive, accomplished, and sharp-witted woman comes into conflict with her desire to prove herself as the competent professional that she is. His desire to win her over into greater and ongoing intimacy comes into conflict with her need to think for herself and not be pressured. Can J. D. overcome her island fever and glass fishbowl syndromes to find contentment on Longboat Key? Could Matt follow her back to Miami and give up his Southwest Florida paradise?

How each defines the balancing point between independent identity and a shared life together provides rich, penetrating dialogue and deep reader involvement. The pulse of embrace and withdrawal resounds on several levels. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as published in the February 14, 2013 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, the February 20 Fort Myers edition, and the February 21 Bonita Springs edition, click here:  Florida Weekly – Terry Griffin

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Less is more in Marc Simon’s debut novel

The Leap Year Boy, by Marc Simon. Untreed Reads. Ebook(only) $4.99 at major online booksellers.

Untreed Reads Publishing is an ebook publisher that is proud of not adding to the demand for paper and the consumption of trees. Along with many other publishers, it believes that there are enough readers for electronic editions to abandon the business model of offering both ebooks and traditional books.  LYBlarge1-13

Naples author Marc Simon’s first novel is both historical and whimsical. It exploits readers’ interest in the long ago and the far out. Set in early 20th century Pittsburgh, it covers about six years in the life of a very special young man. Born on “Leap Year Day” in 1908, Alex Miller has the remarkable distinction of being about one quarter the size of a normal newborn. Moreover, his physical growth is in keeping with the fanciful premise: it takes him four years to grow a year. That is, he grows in terms of his leap year (February 29) birthdays. At the age of six, he is still a small toddler.

Slow as his physical maturation may be, his mental growth is accelerated.  He seems exceptionally bright – especially when his precocious articulation is released from his tiny body.

Born into a working class family with two older brothers, Alex is given plenty of loving attention. As a freak, Alex is sometimes considered miraculous, sometimes a “little darling” (especially by women), and sometimes people cruelly make fun of him. Essentially, he is “the neighborhood celebrity mascot.” However, he is also spirited and self-aware – at once innocent and mature, if not worldly.  Alex has a great deal of curiosity and a thirst for adventure.

Marc Simon

Marc Simon

But first of all, Alex is himself a curiosity. His brother’s are quick to wheel Alex down the street in a wagon to sell glimpses of him, and over the course of the novel Marc Simon’s interest is to dramatize the propensity of those around Alex to monetize his freaky charm. What people see in Alex tells us much about their own character, and little about his. 

After his mother Irene dies during a diphtheria epidemic, Alex is for a long time cared for by his maternal grandmother, Ida Murphy. He lives with her on the weekdays when his brothers and Abe are at school and at work. This woman, whose mind evolves into religious nuttiness, sees Alex as God’s messenger, maybe even a messiah figure. She gets swept up into revivalist fervor, drinks heavily, and abandons her Catholic church. She ends up dying in a fire accidentally started by Alex when his pinwheel briefly touches a votive candle. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 7, 2013 Naples Florida Weekly, the February 13 Fort Myers edition, and the February 14 Bonita Springs and Charlotte County editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Marc Simon


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Missing person, stolen art darken Florida’s sunshine

“The Birds of Winter,” by Kinley Roby. Five Star. 378 pages. $25.95.

It’s such a pleasure to settle in with a complex mystery tale by an author whose arresting characters are fully developed, whose pacing of action is superb, and whose settings are not only well chosen, but also colored and shaded with a painter’s eye. This latest entry in the Harry Brock Mystery series has all those features. Moreover, for denizens and fans of Southwest Florida, it doesn’t hurt that the setting is a mildly disguised version of Naples, along with its eastern transition into Everglades territory.  BirdsOfWinterFront

A local big-shot lawyer has put Harry in touch with a wealthy, cantankerous fellow named Gregory Breckenridge who has a big problem: his wife has vanished. He needs to find her, but he hasn’t gone to the sheriff’s office because he’s afraid that any scandal will undermine his hedge fund empire. Harry asks ordinary, sensible questions about the circumstances preceding Afton’s disappearance and about their relationship, but the contemptible bully is reluctant to answer them. Harry takes the case, and he soon engages experienced skip-tracer Caedmon Rivers to hunt Afton Breckenridge down.

Caedmon is a gorgeous woman. Harry falls in love with her, and the heat is mutual – if not the deep adoration. It’s a problem.

Another criminal matter gets tangled up with the question of Afton’s disappearance. There is strong suspicion that socialites Peter and Gwen Oglevie have been smuggling and selling stolen paintings. An employee who chanced to see something potentially incriminating is found dead soon after. The woman pastor to whom this worker had turned for advice now turns to Harry. The tangle? Gwen and Afton have been good friends. Is the art smuggling connected to Afton’s disappearance? How?

It soon becomes evident that searching for Afton Breckenridge is not healthy. Caedmon is almost killed by two professional assassins. Her physical recuperation goes well, but as the victim of such a terrible attack, which included violent rape, she is a psychological eggshell. She is simply not the same person she was before the attack, and Harry – though he tries in every way to be supportive – is simply not equipped to deal with her psychic pain.

Kinley Roby by Nick Shirghio

Kinley Roby by Nick Shirghio

Are they after her because she is close to finding Afton? Are these same people after Afton? Are the Oglevies behind it all? Is Afton even alive? If she is dead, who is manipulating her bank accounts? These questions are what Harry, now working in concert with local law enforcement and the district attorney’s office, must find out. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 30, 2013 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, and the Naples and Bonita Springs editions for January 31 click here: Florida Weekly – K.Roby

See also: Kinley Roby pdf

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