Monthly Archives: July 2014

Bible lyrics reveal assassin’s motives in astonishing thriller

The Psalmist, by James Lilliefors. Witness Impulse . 384 pages. E-book $2.99. Trade paperback $11.99 (due out in late August).

HarperCollins has launched a special imprint for new e-books in the mystery/thriller category, and they have lured some exciting talent – and set extremely low prices – to establish this imprint. Judging by Naples author James Lilliefors’ opener for “A Luke Bowers and Amy Hunter Mystery” series, these books are as strong as anything being featured in old-fashioned print.  Psalmist e-book

The novel’s setting, fictitious Tidewater County on Maryland’s eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, is artfully painted by Mr. Lilliefors in appropriate shades of gray. A late winter snowfall gowns a bleak, partly frozen landscape. The area, the middle section of the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware to the north, Virginia to the south), has an economy based on agriculture, the seafood industry, recreational boating, and tourism. The author’s Tidewater County, like the region in general, is dotted with small towns, many of which are drenched in history. Because of its relative isolation, it’s a great place to focus a story.

And what a story James Lilliefors has to tell.

Late one morning, Luke Bowers, pastor of the Methodist church, travels to his church office only to find a murder victim – an attractive young woman – positioned in a pew with her hands in a gesture of prayer. She had been severely beaten. Her eyes are open. Preliminary examination suggests that the woman was killed elsewhere, then transported to and posed in the church later.



Who is she? Why was she left to be discovered in the church? What are those strange numerical carvings on her hand?

The lead investigator on the case is Amy Hunter, a young detective with the Maryland State Police. She is assigned to work with and direct local law enforcement on homicide cases. The Tidewater County Sheriff, his last name – Calvert – radiating local history, is dismayed that it’s not his investigation to run. He tries to undermine Amy’s authority and credibility every step of the way. The state’s attorney is smoother, but not particularly supportive of how she’s running the case.

Although Amy has two able subordinates, Pastor Luke Bowers ends up being her main sounding board and unofficial partner in this investigation. He comes up with the idea that the numbers refer to one of the biblical Psalms. Luke’s attractive, smart, and devoted wife likes to kid him about his relationship with Amy. Is she jealous?

The search for patterns turns up three similar homicides in nearby states, each with similar Psalm numbers left to be discovered near the corpse. These murders occur within days of one another.

The investigation, which ends up involving an FBI agent whom Amy briefly dated, is a search for other common denominators. Indeed, it seems definite that these murders are the work of a serial killer. What relates these victims? How can the answer lead to discovering the motive and identity of the murderer? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 30, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 31 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Psalmist.

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Guilt is palpable in latest Lincoln Lawyer mystery

The Gods of Guilt, by Michael Connelly. Grand Central. 416 pages. Trade paperback $15.00. Readers who missed the late 2013 hardcover release of this fine addition to the Lincoln Lawyer series can now enjoy the paperback. Before this novel opens, Mickey’s career and personal life have been shattered by poor judgment and worse luck. His reduced circumstances and his fractured relationship with his teenage daughter have left him drinking too much, spying on her from afar, and seeking redemption – as well as paying clients. Now, an internet whiz PR man (read “pimp”) who pays in gold bricks has been charged with the murder of one of his clients.  ConnellyPhoto

The murdered woman was a prostitute whom Mickey had cared about and tried to help leave “the life.” The accused, Andre La Cosse, is wasting away in jail while Mickey prepares for his trial. The trial is the book’s heart, along with all the attendant planning and leg work.

You might guess that a man who runs his business from inside of his Lincoln Town Car would not be disposed to pay big rental fees for office space. For Mickey, having access to a spacious, unrented loft in a largely vacant high rise does the trick. His team meetings are delightfully breezy, yet businesslike too. The key support staff consists of one ex-wife (this one is not is daughter’s mother), her muscular husband, a bright and beautiful young woman lawyer who is eager for criminal law action, and the loyal Lincoln driver.


Mr. Connelly‘s descriptions of their interaction is magnificent, the dialogue revealing a group of memorable characters and infectious team spirit. As Mickey questions them, gathers and processes their opinions, and gives them assignments, readers get to see the shared thinking and the decision-making that leads to the defense strategy.

It’s a strategy that will have several twists and turns. Within his description of the courtroom building, its hallways, and the courtroom itself, the author provides an authentic portrait of legal procedure. Mickey’s goals include making facts from another case relevant in this one, having evidence of various kinds accepted into the record, having subpoenas served on witnesses, countering objections from the prosecuting attorney, and developing a positive courtroom relationship with the presiding judge.

Another lawyerly technique involves influencing time management in favor of his case, which means manipulating the timing of lunch recesses or adjournment. On what note does Mickey want the jury members to leave the courtroom for their individual deliberations? Speaking of jurors, Mickey has effectively worked – through eye contact and body language – to forge a positive relationship with a juror whom he feels will be committed to his view and represent it in the jury room. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 23, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 24 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Gods of Guilt

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by Gidi Grinstein / review by Philip K. Jason

This is truly a most remarkable, original, and inspirational book. While aimed at building a body of knowledge and skills for a new leadership of the Jewish people in individual communities and worldwide, it deserves a readership among all Jews and, indeed, all students of the Jewish journey through history. It is nothing less than a map for the Jewish future based upon a keen understanding of the Jewish past and the challenges of the present situation – a mixture of prosperity and power on the one hand, vulnerability on the other.  flexigidity

Get past the gimmicky title: the jamming together of the counterpoint traits of flexibility and rigidity that Grinstein sees as the essential character of Jewish experience. Get past the unconventional but highly functional design, an extended outline form laced with text boxes and boldface passages that announce the most important concepts. Forgive what seems like a technical report or systems analysis approach. This book is nothing but good sense writ large.

Although the author takes us through almost all of Jewish history to make his points about the processes of Jewish survival, he pays particular attention to the last 130 years “of radical and fundamental transformations” resulting “from the compounded effect of repetitive disasters in Europe, as well as from the dramatic successes of Zionism and Americanism.” Grinstein urges the necessity of a productive respect among Zionists and Israelis for a healthy and growing Jewish diaspora and a powerful understanding in the diaspora about the essentiality of Israel for the Jewish future. . . .

To read the entire review, as it is posted on the Jewish Book Council website for later publication in Jewish Book World, click here: Flexigidity: The Secret of Jewish Adaptability

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An eloquent, hard-hitting memoir of perseverance, pride and purpose

I Heard My Country Calling, by James Webb. Simon & Schuster. 400 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

Alluding to another writer’s warning, Mr. Webb cautions those who meet him (or read his works)  against understanding him too soon. People have been understanding him too soon for half a century, perhaps ever since he showed up as a plebe at the United States Naval Academy in 1964. Perhaps even before that. A versatile, complex man, James Webb has seemed easy to classify, to pigeonhole. In part, that’s because of his sometimes off-putting straightforwardness: he’s the guy who’s often disputing your certainties.

To be straightforward is not to be simple.  IHeardMyCountryCalling

Looking back, Mr. Webb draws a broad picture of his forebears – the Scots-Irish folks who settled and built communities in the middle of America. He details a few generations leading up to his immediate family, whose roots are in Arkansas. It’s a story of working hard to get by, toughness, religious faith, and surprising isolation from mainstream metropolitan culture and enterprise. Small towns in Nebraska, Texas, and Missouri; back roads; modest ambitions; and no patience with pretension. However, his father’s two year assignment to RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire, England was an unexpected, horizon-widening experience.

James Webb senior, a self-taught engineer, pulled himself up to positions of respect and authority in a long Army career that climaxed in the race for space between the U. S. and the Soviet Union and the missile defense system program. James senior didn’t offer his young namesake much praise, constantly challenged him to bear hardships without complaining, and taught him how to box. He also taught his son, by example, what duty means and why sacrifices are necessary.

Love of country was in James Webb’s DNA. It still is.


The family’s vagabond life at the whim of duty assignments was aggravated further by the father’s penchant for moving from house to house even during a short-term posting. Such doings make it hard to form friendships and impossible to have educational continuity. The Webb children were over and over again the new kids in town or on the army base. On the other hand, they learned to know their country by adjusting to different slices of it over and over again. These were not your ordinary Baby-Boomers.

Young Jim is thrilled to receive an NROTC scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he has a ragged but exciting freshman year before gaining a recommendation and then acceptance to join the U. S. Naval Academy class of 1968. Mr. Webb’s chapter on his USNA experience is the best short treatment of Naval Academy life during those years that one is likely to find. Midshipman Webb enjoys being tested, hates the “Micky Mouse” stuff, rises to one of the highest positions in the Brigade of Midshipman before graduation. Excelling in the humanities and leadership, he is marginal in the technical curriculum. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 17, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, click here Florida Weekly – James Webb 1 and here Florida Weekly – James Webb 2.

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Invite the essential Florida into your life before it’s gone

“Bitten: My Unexpected Love Affair with Florida,” by Andrew Furman. University Press of Florida. 192 pages. $24.95.

Florida is blessed with writers devoted to its natural splendors and to exploring the relationship between human endeavor, the environment all creatures share, and the severely threatened nonhuman creatures. I’ve had the privilege over the years to read and write about such passionate and skilled guides as Bill Belleville, Doug Alderson, and Jeff Klinkenberg. Andrew Furman, a professor of literature and creative writing at Florida Atlantic University, joins this company with his totally engaging collection of short essays about his seventeen year journey towards a deep understanding of the place he has chosen to make his home.  Bitten_cover

This place is not the Boca Raton with which most of us are familiar.

Prof. Furman’s quest was a search for understanding and belonging. He sought to remove the distance between the patterns of his daily life – the routines of suburbia and academe – and the coexistent but largely unnoticed patterns of wildlife and plant life. Over the course of many years, the accumulation of observations and knowledge took on, more and more, a spiritual dimension.

With the exception of an extended meditation on squirrels, the essays mostly concern fish, birds, and trees. The author’s amateur “field work” is accompanied by a great deal of reading and by interaction with those who share his developing passion. He finds that it takes determination – even hard work – to  make the time and effort. Energy and hours need be stolen from set responsibilities and ingrained habits. That’s where family comes in.

One of the several charms of this inspiring book is how Andrew Furman and his wife, Wendy, involve their children in this experiment. Child-rearing is enhanced by the ways in which the author shapes his children’s informal education through shared experiences of nature. A redirected use of family time deepens relationships.



The essays reveal Prof. Furman’s keen descriptive skills. He can pin down not only what we need to know, but also what we need to see in order to value the importance – the essential distinction and dignity – of the live oak, the Geiger tree, and the coontie plant. Each essay includes the author in the act of seeking and discovering. Exposition, description, and narration interact with grace and power.

This slim book includes beautifully fashioned fishing essays; gardening essays; detailed appreciations of burrowing owls, painted bunting, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the snail kite; and many essays of moral import.

Andrew Furman and his family are fighting against time, indifference, poor resource management decisions, and the seemingly inevitable consequences of paving paradise. People still don’t get it: remove a grove of trees and you remove the birds that nest only in that particular kind of tree. Every action we take in our shared environment has expected and unexpected consequences. Endangered species? What isn’t? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 10, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte edition, and the July 16 Fort Myers edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Furman

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Second chances abound in new spin-off mystery series

Tear Down and Die, by Joanna Campbell Slan. Spot On Publishing. 304 pages. Trade paperback $14.99. Kindle $4.99.

This Jupiter Island author just can’t stop. Having built a large audience for her Kiki Lowenstein mystery novels (the tenth in the series is about to appear), she recently started a series in which she brings Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre back to life. “Death of a Schoolgirl,” the first title in that series (and reviewed in this column), won the 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award for Literary Excellence. Now it’s time for Cara Mia Delgatto, spun off from the Kiki series, to have her own mystery series. The series opener is quite promising. TearDownCover

Cara, approaching early middle age, is ready for some life changes. Her parents have both recently died, and her son is entering his freshman year at the University of Miami. An empty nest adult without her mom and dad round, Cara is depressed. Having sold her home in St. Louis as well as the family restaurant she had worked in for many years, Cara is ready for a major second act in her life. Maybe Martin County on Florida’s Treasure Coast, a place she knew well when growing up, is the place to have it.

But it holds some bad memories. She’s not ready to see Dick Potter, her cantankerous grandfather who lives in Stuart; however, when her car threatens to break down on her way from St. Louis to Parent’s Weekend at her son’s college, she has no choice but to stop at Poppy’s run down gas station. It’s as if destiny were calling through the car’s threatening noises.

Joanna Campbell Slan

Joanna Campbell Slan

The meeting with her grandfather is not pleasant, but it’s at least tolerable. Cara needs a place to stay and time to sort out her feelings. She is attracted to the abandoned building that was once an attractive business – The Treasure Chest – whose owner specialized in antiques, paintings, and other items, many of which are still lying about in disrepair and disarray. When her identity is mistaken by the real estate agent, Cara impulsively signs the contract.

Soon after, literally stepping into her new venture, she finds the realtor on the floor – dead. Now we have a mystery, and Cara is an obvious suspect.

Along the way, Cara is making more friends than enemies. Skye Blue, a waitress at nearby Pumpernickel’s, offers Cara a temporary place to stay and is generous with her time and with information about Stuart. Once Cara decides to operate her own business in the building, the most valuable former employee – MJ Austin – shows up to resume her position and become another good friend.

The store and these two women, as well as Cara herself, are afforded second chances. The business itself is focused on second chances – refurbished and repurposed objects as well as new products fashioned from throw-away materials.

To read the full review, as it appears in the July 2, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 3 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Tear Down

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