Monthly Archives: December 2013

Racial hatred survives the embers of the Holocaust

The Tenth Witness, by Leonard Rosen. Permanent Press. 288 pages. $29.00.

Set in 1978, the second Henri Poincaré Mystery is actually a prequel to the award-winning All Cry Chaos (2010).It relates the events that change Henri from an ambitious young engineer working frantically to establish a viable business into an Interpol agent. It is a dark, painful story about the aftermath of the Holocaust and the racial hatred that enflamed a continent.

We meet Henri and his partner Alec as they put specially designed structures in place to assist a shipwreck salvage operation. Their contract has taken them to the Wadden Sea at the edge of Holland, working for the giant insurance company that insured the sunken ship and hopes to recapture its losses. The steel used in this operation was ordered from Kraus Steel, a post-war industrial giant that has sprung out of war-time enterprise that supplied steel needed for the Nazis war effort.

Leonard Rosen

Leonard Rosen

It is Henri’s fate to run across the lovely, intelligent Liesel Kraus, who enjoys spending time as a tour guide in this part of Holland that is near a Straus family estate. She and her brother Anselm are heirs to the Straus fortune, though Liesel is mostly occupied with community relations and charitable projects.

Anselm is interested in maximizing profits, and this means developing technologies to recycle steel from sunken vessels. Such operations, and others, take advantage of lax regulations in third-world countries, allowing Kraus Steel to use what is virtually slave labor and horrendous working conditions to exact maximum profits.

As Henri’s guarded engagement with Liesel’s family develops, he finds reason to suspect some kind of criminal (war crime) complicity of the Straus steel enterprise with Nazi racial suppression, abuse, and murder. He has doubts about what went on in the combined Straus factory and slave labor camp at Drütte, officially the Reichswerke Hermann Göring munitions factory. He questions the glorious biography of Otto Straus that daughter Liesel shares with him.

Something just isn’t right – especially that part about the ten Jewish witnesses who testified under oath that, given the wartime circumstances and the workings of Hitler’s regime, Otto was a fair and even generous man who made their lives much less painful and arduous than they would have been without his concern.

Though warned away from looking into the family’s past, and even physically attacked, Henri cannot keep himself from pursuing the truth. He seeks out documents in various archives that bring him closer and closer to the horrors of Otto’s operation. Moreover, he seeks out the witnesses who are still alive in order to substantiate their veracity. Perhaps they signed the document only to save their own lives.


He has an additional motive. One of the names on the list is familiar to him: Jacob Zeligman, a man who was a friend of Henri’s “Uncle Isaac.” Isaac Kahane was a Jewish neighbor and friend of Henri’s parents who played a special role in young Henri’s life. It now seems as if Isaac, too, was a survivor of the Drütte’s slave labor operation that enriched the Krause family. Henri needs to bring justice to those who once tortured this beloved family friend.

Finding the tenth witness, the only one left as others are killed during Henri’s pursuit, is Henri’s main hope of achieving his goal.

On several occasions, Henri’s dangerous mission brings him into contact with an Interpol agent, Serge Laurent, who has spent years working a parallel investigation. They are helpful to one another, and it’s no secret, given Mr. Rosen’s earlier novel, that Henri eventually becomes an Interpol agent.

The Tenth Witness is a gloriously literary thriller. The author’s handling of dialogue, interpersonal relationships, Henri’s powerful attraction to Liesel and his equally powerful revulsion at her family’s activities (both in the past and the present), the splendidly drawn settings (including Buenos Aires), and the clockwork plotting all contribute to a high-level achievement sure to bring Leonard Rosen more acclaim and more readers.

With great sensitivity and skill, Mr. Rosen brings each reader closer to a personal understanding of the undying power of racial hatred – a beast that he suggests lies within us all to a greater or lesser degree.

This review appears in the January 2014 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Charlotte and Lee Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota / Manatee).

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Teenage girls are hell in Neapolitan mystery novel

Naples: Paradise Can Be Deadly, by Diane Ketcham. Tidelow Press. 312 pages. Trade paper $14.95.

Ms. Ketcham’s New York journalist A. J. (Agatha Jasmine) Billings is staying real close to her boyfriend, Naples area congressman James “Whit” Whitman. The couple is making the all the right moves to enhance Republican Party chances in the upcoming elections. There are fundraisers galore, many focused on the re-election of Carson Wicklow, chairman of the governing county commission. “Jazz” is enjoying her hot relationship with Whit, though she’s a bit perturbed at having her identity reduced to the woman in his life. After all, she is – or has been – an independent somebody.  KetchamCoverHigh

As one might expect in a mystery story, there is trouble in Paradise. A young man has vanished without a trace, leaving his tennis playing girlfriend, an acquaintance of Jazz, getting nowhere with the local constabulary. They just don’t take her missing person complaint seriously. Jazz tries to help, but she too is stonewalled. What’s going on here?

Worse, Commissioner Wicklow’s gorgeous teenage daughter Cara, who has been incarcerated in a hard case private school for troublesome girls – for her own good – is found dead. At first her death looks like suicide, but a closer look suggests murder.

What’s a somewhat bored award-winning journalist to do? Check out the secretive school and the teenager’s friends, that’s what. Why not connect with her boss-editor at the New York paper and get assigned to do a feature on this weird school and the even weirder sorority whose initiation rites are extraordinarily perverse . . . and dangerous?

There is one person who is likely to give Jazz the best insights into Cara, and that is her twin sister Chasen, who has been somewhat reclusive since the murder. Yes, I said twin sister. Use your imagination.

The tenuous state of Jazz’s love life and domestic life is a cause of additional suspense throughout the novel. Her large diarrhea-prone Labrador Retriever is not at all welcome in the condo where she and Wit live, and confrontations with the condo overlords threaten.

And why is Wit spending so much time with Mara, the former stepmother to Wicklow’s twins? Is it just election campaign business – or something more? Jazz’s lover is not so much a loverboy now that she is plying her journalistic trade; he seems rather standoffish and preoccupied. What’s the problem?

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 25, 2013  Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 26 Naples and Bonita Springs issues, click here  Florida Weekly – Ketcham 1 and here Florida Weekly – Ketcham 2.

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Faith and folly vie in mystical murder mystery

Rituals, by Mary Anna Evans. Poisoned Pen Press. 286 pages. Hardcover $24.95, Trade Paper $14.95.

In her eighth Faye Longchamp Mystery, Ms. Evans sets her archaeologist heroine down in a Spiritualist enclave in western New York. Her rather tedious task here is to help professionalize a town museum in fictional Rosebower. She will lend her credentials and industry to assessing the archives and artifacts that have piled up over the years. Faye’s scientific training makes her a skeptic regarding the psychic readings industry that flourishes in Rosebower, but she is curious – as is her recently adopted daughter, seventeen year old Amande, who is assisting her on this assignment. RitualsCover

The big mystery is whether or not all this Spiritualist stuff is simply artful quackery – or is it earnest mass delusion? However, the immediate mystery has to do with the death of Tilda Armistead, the community’s most prominent practitioner of channeling communication with the dead.

Soon after performing an eerie séance that Faye attended, Tilda miraculously escaped from her burning home only to expire soon after from smoke inhalation. Avery, the fire inspector assigned to investigate, feels that the evidence points to arson and probably murder. Indeed, the door to the room Tilda escaped from had been nailed shut just ahead of the conflagration. But who would murder one of the town’s most revered citizens? And with what motive?  And how in the world did Tilda get out of that room?

The cautious, deliberate, and determined fire inspector unofficially teams up with Faye, multiplying the investigative brainpower.

Ennis LeBecque, in a stumbling and suspicious fashion, cares for his great-aunt Sister Momma, a semi-invalid whose herb and root elixirs are in great demand. Ennis is learning the business and building its online presence.  However, he has something at stake that might lead him to doctor his aunt’s medications in ways harmful to her and to patrons like Tilda and Tilda’s sister, Myrna.

Tilda, after all, had been the town council leader and a key property owner controlling land on which a shady entrepreneur, Gilbert Marlowe plans to build an attractive tourism development. Ennis is looking for part of that action, as is Willow, Tilda’s son-in-law and assistant to his wife Dara, who practices the psychic arts in a showy manner that has not been respected by her mother or her Aunt Myrna.

Evans Photo

If Dara believes that she is her mother’s heir, she could have a lot to gain, as could Willow, by inheriting land needed for Marlowe’s project. If Myrna, already a significant landholder, is the heir, then her life may be in jeopardy. Is it a coincidence that her health is deteriorating with alarming speed?

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 18, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the Decembr 19 Bonita Springs, Naples, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rituals

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Tim Dorsey mini e-book one day special

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Whispering in full voice: Jerry Greenfield’s wine wisdom

Secrets of the Wine Whisperer, by Jerry Greenfield. Creative Book Publishers International. 313 pages. $17.95.

Mixing encyclopedic how-to with personal narrative, Fort Myers marketing guru Jerry Greenfield has written a hilarious memoir of his passion for wine. Even someone with little or no interest in wine, like myself, will find Mr. Greenfield’s grapacious journey delightful. For those who want to learn the ins (and inns) and outs of wine as delicacy, wine as hobby, wine as business, wine as investment, wine as social lubricant,  wine as vocabulary builder, or wine as geography, “Secrets” is a must.


The enthralled author carefully and wittily traces the steps of his passion for vino. His breezy chapters show us a man (accompanied by his wife) learning how to educate his palate, learning how to shop, learning how to store, learning how to appreciate the connection between the liquid in the bottle and the culture and soil of its origins.

Once smitten, Mr. Greenfield and his wife heard themselves talking like this: “Well, there’s some cedar on the nose, but the first thing that hits me on the palate is the dark plum, with a little bit of eucalyptus kicking in at the finish.” He continues, “We truly deserved to be severely beaten about the head and shoulders. Some of our friends began to hate us, while others called us during office hours from a wine store, wanting to know if 1997 was a good year for Burgundy. (It wasn’t.)”

Full absorption requires that you enter a world of like-minded devotées and disengage from those supposed friends who just will not follow you into the valley of the grape escape.  Jerry-3

To allow yourself to be seduced by the wine muse requires that you become prepared to spend beyond your means – always. You will sign up for wine tastings large and small, praying for an opportunity to sip a bit of what you can never afford to buy. You will need to meet the vineyard owners and wine masters, as well as the renowned critics and standard bearers.

You will manipulate invitations to exclusive wine events and to the European estates at which the perfect mating of wine and (other) food is realized.

Early in your mania, you will convert a guest room to a wine storage and tasting facility. Later on, you will build a house designed to feature the spoils (not spoilage) of your ferocious collecting: the wine shrine. . .

To read the entire review, as published in the December 11, 2013 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here  Florida Weekly – Greenfield 1 and here Florida Weekly – Greenfield 2.

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Phil’s Top Picks 2013

philjason loves booksTop Picks 2013

The following titles, which I prefer to list without ranking them, are my top picks among those published in 2012-2013 that I reviewed during 2013. It would be easy to find room for another 5-6 fiction titles, but I’m staying with the top ten selected.

In past years, the nonfiction list was limited to a “top 8” because I reviewed far fewer nonfiction titles than fiction. That circumstance has changed somewhat and this year’s list for nonfiction is now also a “top 10.”

The first two lists reflect my favorites among the trade publications that I reviewed. Separately, I’ve listed 3 self-published titles that seem to me especially worthy of notice plus two dazzling  portfolios – coffee table gems by amazingly talented visual artists.


FICTION [trade]

Michael Connelly, The Black Box

Lisa Black, Blunt Impact

Nancy Richler, The Imposter Bride

James W. Hall, Going Dark

Robert N. Macomber, Honors Rendered

John Dufresne, No Regrets, Coyote

Randy Wayne White, Deceived

Naomi Ragen, The Sisters Weiss

Kinley Roby, The Birds of Winter

Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank


Lillian Faderman, My Mother’s Wars

Ilan Stavans, Singer’s Typewriter and Mine

Helene Aylon, Whatever Is Contained Must Be Released

J. Michael Lennon, Norman Mailer: A Double Life

Seth Lipsky, The Rise of Abraham Cahan

Jeremy Dauber, The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem: The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevya

Rod Dreher, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming

Bill DeYoung, Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought It Down

Christopher Benfey, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, & Survival

Steven T. Katz and Alan Rosen, eds., Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectivies.


Dan Chabot, Godspeed: A Love Story

Nina Harkness, A Sahib’s Daughter

Gary Schmeltz, Journey to the Edge of Eden

 SPECIAL MENTION [art books]

Alan S. Maltz, photographer, with narrative by Karen T. Bartlett, Journey Through Paradise: Naples, Marco Island, and The Everglades.

Paul Arsenault, Paul Arsenault: My Journey as a Painter

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Eco-terrorists threaten nuclear plant in James W. Hall’s latest

“Going Dark,” by James W. Hall. Minotaur Books. 320 pages. $25.99.

There is no more delightful companion for a habitual reader than a new book by James W. Hall. Even taking into account the spectrum of darkness signaled by Mr. Hall’s perfect and provocative title, readers will have to agree that the maturing of Thorn, the author’s continuing character, is in itself a delight. In addition, Mr. Hall’s virtuoso manipulations of plot, theme, setting, and atmosphere will draw waves of delighted appreciation from alert, perceptive readers.  GoingDark

The plot concerns an environmentalist group’s campaign against nuclear power plants. Activists from the Miami cell of a loose federation called ELF (Earth Liberation Front) are preparing to take a major stand. Their goal: to shut down the Turkey Point nuclear power plant that feeds electricity to a large swath of Florida. If they are successful, “lights out” will be the least of the consequences.

Flynn Moss, a young man who is Thorn’s recently discovered son, has determined to do something useful with his life, and he has chosen the ELF group and this mission as his own. Little did he know the degree to which it has been infiltrated by extremist nut-cases who have a far more devastating goal: nuclear disaster.


Two of the local ELF leaders are Leslie Levine and Cameron Prince.  Leslie’s concerns include the survival of the crocodiles that live in the cooling canals of the power plant.  The novel opens with a scene in which Leslie is following a mother croc to where she had buried her eggs. Cameron, whose family is legendary in the Miami / Keys area, is filming the activity. Suddenly, the croc mother is alerted to her presence and Leslie is gone!

Leslie surfaces later in the novel (don’t be surprised). She and Cameron are heading up the shut-down of Turkey Point. They prepare to counter the forces arrayed to protect the plant and head off any threats. The plant’s own security force is led by a maniacal schemer who seems bent on having the plant under attack so he can be its heroic savior. A federal task force headed by Thorn’s old FBI friend Frank Sheffield is assigned to thwart the suspected sabotage. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 4, 2013 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 5 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here Florida Weekly – Going Dark

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