Monthly Archives: August 2014

Florida noir trilogy wraps up with a big bang

The Big Hello, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 215 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Michael Lister is the bard of the Florida Panhandle. His crime novels, distributed through several ongoing series, set a very high standard for originality, style, and impact. The Big Hello, the third and final installment in the Soldier series, features an ex-cop private eye named Jimmy “Soldier” Riley who is at once as tough as they come and as filled with romantic longing as anyone should be. In this series, both homage to and fulfillment of the hard-boiled Florida noir tradition, the story line is drenched with death. BigHelloLow

However, the story line – easy to follow in some ways – is also something of a problem. In this chase to save the woman of his dreams, if in fact she is alive, Jimmy is tangled up in a chase after the super-perverse serial killer who abducted her. One thing is clear: Lauren Lewis in not in her grave!

One-armed Jimmy and his sidekick, a one-eyed Negro named Clip, are regularly arrested by members of the local constabulary (the action runs back and forth between Panama City and Tallahassee during the early 1940s), some of whom are competent, others less so, and others corrupt.

The number of characters juggled in a relatively short book, the nonstop mayhem, and the sketchy development of back story, can leave readers disoriented. I’m thinking this book is best enjoyed by those who have read the two previous volumes in the series, “The Big Goodbye” and “The Big Beyond.” Yet it is highly enjoyable, though a bit perplexing, in itself.

Perhaps the sense of chaos and disorientation is deliberate:

“What’s our next move?” Clip asked.

                We were standing back over near the ambulance again, waiting on Collins.

                “I have absolutely no idea.”

                He nodded and seemed to think about it. “And how is that different from any other time?”

                I managed a smile.

                He was right. That was the job. Stumbling around in the darkness, being lied to and misled by some while others attempted manipulation, intimidation, and bribery, all while not giving in, not giving up.

Okay, I can groove on this.


The book has many spectacular scenes, including the gallery of macabre art by the serial killer, Flaxon De Grasse, who juxtaposes body parts in his surrealistic compositions (or decompositions). In portraying wartime Northern Florida, Mr. Lister projects – without excessive, show-off detail – the feel of the cars on the pre-Eisenhower roadways, the roadside saloons, motels and other accommodations, and the countless stops at payphones.

Jimmy and Clip comprise an odd couple, a black and white pair unusual in this time and place. Their respect for and loyalty to one another and their handling of situations in which Clip is disrespected or blocked from access are handled by the author with just the right touch. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 27, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 28 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Big Hello

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

A brilliant mosaic of voices, genres, and insights

Zachary Lazar, I Pity the Poor Immigrant: a Novel. Little, Brown. 256 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

This high-end literary novel is challenging and enthralling. It points in many directions, but its intertwined journeys ultimately have a rich closure. A fiction made in part of purported memoir(s), it probes the nature of memoir both philosophically and psychologically. The psychology of immigrant status and identity is another concern, here understood as having a connection to the Jewish condition throughout history.  The novel also explores the violent edge of Jewish experience, using the poles of King David and Meyer Lansky as well as the quandary of an incessantly armed Israel. I Pity Cover

The novel’s time line begins in 2012 before shuttling back and forth at intervals large and small. We meet Hannah Groff, a journalist nearing forty, who opens her relationship with her readers by telling of a meeting with her father that underscored the distance between them. She mentions her first book, “a memoir of my brief marriage,” and then goes on to tell of her 2009 visit to Israel. Hannah feels compelled to research and investigate the murdered poet-essayist David Bellen.

But this quest leads to Gila Konig, a Hungarian-born refugee who once knew Hannah’s father all too well when Hannah was a child. In fact, Gila worked in the Hebrew School of the Temple the Groffs belonged to. As we will later discover, Gila knew Meyer Lansky at least as well. So, yes, all of these lives touch: Gila also knew Bellen, author of a book called Kid Bethlehem that fashions King David as a twentieth-century gangster.

And then we jump back to meet Gila Konig in Tel Aviv circa 1972 during the time of Lansky’s failed appeal for citizenship and asylum in Israel. The reputed tough guy is “understated” and mannerly. Konig and Lansky are both immigrants to different countries (Lansky to the U. S.) at different times. They are part of the immigrant nation that is the still-dispersed Jewish people and, somehow, accounts for the existence of a Jewish mafia – even an Israeli mafia.



Then we jump back to New York at the end of the Roaring Twenties and find a much younger Lansky, making his way in the world of crime and easily available women.

And so it goes, layers of re-imagined history and biography with pure invention artfully blended into the mix, their several voices – all strangely haunted – wrapped inside of Hannah’s. Intriguing secondary characters, including Hannah’s father, an Israeli journalist named Oded Voss who serves as Hannah’s guide and interpreter during her research on Bellen, and a piecemeal portrait of King David – the primal Jewish gangster.

Hannah in particular, but also the other characters in this literary mosaic, is endlessly introspective.

One of the novel’s major sections is Hannah’s memoir of her investigation into Bellen’s death. She describes Bellen’s 2008 collection of poems as “in many ways a critique of current Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories.” This characterization suggests a motive for Bellen’s murder, but there are other possibilities. Following Bellen’s path allows Lazar, via Hannah, to bring the reader through Israel’s political, artistic, and physical landscape. It seems as if murder is everywhere.

Lazar also creates a voice and technique for Bellen’s own work, which forms another part of the intricate mosaic. When Hannah meets Bellen’s son Eliav, she learns even more about a heavy depression that clouds Israeli life. When she meets Eliav’s ex-wife, still other tones enter the novel.

Jewish mafia stories weave in and out of the novel, touching on Lansky’s later doings in Las Vegas, Cuba, and Miami.

The attraction of I Pity the Poor Immigrant lies in its sheer inventiveness, its surprising juxtaposition of incongruent elements that eventually click into place. Portions of the book are made up of short, polished vignettes that turn around in the reader’s brain like mismatched puzzle pieces until they fit. For example, as part of an extended linking of such short pieces – presented as a stretch of David Bellen’s essay called, of all things – “I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” Lazar juxtaposes a piece called “Intifada” and another called “Permanent War.” The first piece, set in Israel in 2001, records events of the Second Intifada while at the same presenting Bellen’s worry over his son’s further withdrawal from their relationship.

“Permanent War” jumps to the constant conflict between “American’s heartland Protestants” and the threatening immigrant tides. The tides brought those who would become the Italian and Jewish gangsters, sometimes attacking the establishment, sometimes murdering each other.

Zachary Lazar spins these two passages in a way that allows them to echo and reflect one another.

Eventually, the book becomes a hall of mirrors, its various narrators, tales, and techniques forcing the reader to do the work needed to own the important insights that it offers. Making that effort pays off big-time.

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


Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

Flawed hero becomes a shark’s best friend

Shark Fin Soup, by Susan Klaus. Oceanview Publishing. 344 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Myakka City, Florida (in Manatee County near Bradenton) is where Susan Klaus lives on her forty acre farm and writes novels. That’s when she’s not busy as the manager and part owner of the Matrix, a Thoroughbred horse farm and cattle ranch that is currently raising rodeo bulls. Or when she’s not busy with her internet radio program, “The Authors Connection,” that reaches listeners in 148 countries.  Shark-Fin-Soup-high-res

In the fall of 2013, Ms. Klaus published her second novel – “Secretariat Reborn” – a thriller that focused on the Thoroughbred racing scene and introduced Christian Roberts. Christian is a startlingly handsome young outdoorsman who has become enormously wealthy. Recently married, Christian’s idyllic life is plunged into misery when his wife is killed on their 47-foot sloop while they are sailing around the Bahamas. The investigation of her death launches this new Christian Roberts novel in which Christian is immediately a person of interest. Something just doesn’t ring true in his explanation of Allie’s death aboard “Hank’s Dream.”

From Nassau, local policeman Sergeant Drake enlists the assistance of the Miami FBI, and soon Agent Dave Wheeler and his young partner Ralph are on the case. It becomes clear that men do not like blonde Adonis-types with tons of money. Jealous maybe?

Did Christian return from a bit of diving fun to find his boat plundered and his wife murdered, as he tells the investigators? Well, not really. There is a good reason those shark fin harvesters have not been found. While Christian may very well be a murderer, he is not the murderer of his wife. However, he does feel terribly guilty about putting her in harm’s way. The loss of his wife has plunged him into suicidal despair.

And where is that fishing trawler, anyway?

Klaus and friend

Klaus and friend

Soon teamed up with Vince Florio, his semi-retired underworld friend and confidant, Christian fully commits to saving the sharks that are headed for death once their fins are harvested for the favored Asian soup – shark fin soup. Through Christian’s concern, which was initially Allie’s, readers learn about the accelerating diminishment of the shark population through a lack of regulation and the greed of shark fishermen of all kinds, notably the shark fin strippers. Hiding behind the invention of an eco-terrorist persona, Captain Nemo, Christian takes great risks to keep a deathbed promise to Allie: a promise to do all he can to stop the ecological carnage by first saving the sharks.

He knows that the loss of the sharks is undermining the ecosystem that depends on shark appetites to control a natural balance that is now severely threatened. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 20, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 21 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – SharkFinSoup.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Lakeland Book Fair

Lakeland Book Fair


Come Join The Fun!  Authors, publishers, book

sellers, illustrators, and comic book dealers are all

welcome to gather together to showcase their books.


This will be an annual event that will grow every

year to make Lakeland a major attraction for book


October 10th is put aside for school children to

experience the Lakeland Book Fair.  Trade persons

will also be admitted free with the presentation of a

business card.  Media and press will be invited to

cover the event.

October 11 and 12, the Lakeland Book Fair will be open to

the general public.  Admission for adults is $8.00 which included

Free Parking.  Children will be admitted free.  25% of the gate fee will be donated to charity READ Polk.

This charity teaches reading to adults.

Patrons, while at The Lakeland Book Fair may sign up for a FREE BOOK.

Lakeland Book Fair Open Times:  October 11 —-  10:00 am. to 5:00 pm.

October 12 —-  10:00 am. to 4:00 pm.

The Lakeland Center provides food concessions by Ovations.

The Lakeland Center is located at 701 Lime Street, Lakeland, Florida

More information, please contact Francis Edwards    e-mail

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Coming Events

Latest Hannah Smith outing is a tone poem in darkness and determination

Haunted, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 352 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

This novel, the third in the Hannah Smith series, contains some of Mr. White’s best writing ever. He has deepened Hannah’s character, addressing her demons, passions, intelligence, and moral fiber in ways both compelling and profound. He has painted the area around Florida’s Caloosahatchee River with artistic brilliance, often using the darkest pigments on his palette. He has collected a gallery of grotesques – human and near-human – that will make your blood curdle. He has once again dangled a bit of local history, this time Civil War era, to complicate while enhancing our understanding of the present action, layering its impact and meaning. jacket_large_Haunted

This time out, we meet Hannah assisting the aunt of her good friend, Deputy Sheriff Birdy Tupplemeyer. The aunt, Bunnie Tupplemeyer, is a manipulative Palm Beach widow with a problem. She is part of an investment group that had purchased just over six hundred acres of land on the north side of the Caloosahatche River between Arcadia and Labelle. Now she wants to get out of her part of the deal. What she has discovered about the history of the property is unsettling. So is its intended use as a condo development. Her lawyer believes that the seller had broken a disclosure law and that Bunnie can use that infraction to recoup her investment.

Hannah’s job is to explore the property, which includes an historic home named Cadence Place, and strengthen Bunnie’s case. A history buff whose family has long roots in the region, expert fishing guide and part-time detective Hannah is excited about this unexpected assignment – it’s not her usual case. What she discovers, however, is a nightmare of twisted minds and destructive obsession.

Has this place been poisoned by terrible things that have happened there?


Briefly, Hannah and Birdy make the decaying old mansion their base of operations. Before long, they are frightened out of their wits by strange sounds of all kinds. They are assaulted, or at least feel threatened, by scorpions, snakes, and various other critters. Though an experienced outdoorswoman, Hannah has difficulties with the dark spookiness of the place. Is the ghost of the beautiful Irene Cadence still restlessly haunting her home? Is that the wind . . . or Irene’s scream?

Then there are the devilish humans. First among these is Dr. Theo Ivanoff, a youngish man purporting to be an assistant professor with expertise in Civil War history. The first impression, that he’s “a tad strange,” turns into something much worse when the true madness and cruelty of this individual is revealed. Ivanoff is soon a threat, assisted by a seeming half-wit named Carmelo and a strange breed of chimpanzees – a couple with something very close to human intelligence, enormous strength and cunning, and ferocious loyalty to their master. There is also a witchy woman named Lucia and a hidden population of frightening, if not altogether dangerous, characters. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 13, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 14 Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Naples editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Haunted.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Sleuthfest 2015 Early Registration Now Open


SF15 Header 3 







Early Registration is open!

Registration for the conference is open and the link to the hotel is also live. We are bringing Sleuthfest back to Deerfield Beach. The rate is $159/night, and is available a few days before and after for those attendees who want to combine an exciting conference with a vacation.

Our keynote speaker is James Patterson.

  • Florida Guest of Honor is James W. Hall.
  • Agent appointments to pitch your work.
  • Forensic lectures, techniques, and hands-on workshops.
  • Manuscript critiques by agents and editors.
  • Practice your pitch workshops.
  • Sunday morning Flamingo Pitch Tank.
  • And more, much more!

Early Bird Registration starts now and goes until September 30, 2014.  Sign up now and save $20 on a three-day registration (MWA members $265, non-members $305).  Included in the three-day registration price are two lunches (Friday and Saturday), two cocktail parties (Friday and Saturday evening), and Sunday Brunch; four tracks with panels, lectures, and workshops; and Agent and Editor appointments for those ready to move to the next step in their career.

Sign up now!

For more info about the Florida Chapter:

Mystery Writer’s of America – Florida Chapter
Casey Lane
Port Orange, Florida 32129

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Coming Events

Ethnic tension, desperate passion drive young adult romance

Before You, by Amber Hart. KTeen/Kensington. 321 pages. Trade Paperback $9.95.

More and more, writers for the young adult marketplace are crafting powerfully engaging books that signal a change in reader expectations. Although I didn’t have high hopes when I opened this book aimed at the older teen market, I was strongly impressed by its evocative style, its insights, and its literary dimension.

Like her characters in Before You, Amber Hart is courageous. Whether her readers’ high school lives were fulfilling or not, they will admire and enjoy what she has accomplished here. BeforeYourevised

When Cuban refugee Diego Alvarez shows up at Oviedo High School, he seems to have a chip on his shoulder. He is totally uncooperative when Faith Watters, the student assigned to welcome and orient him, attempts her task of showing him around. Each wears a mask of manners, and both need to keep their true natures and feelings hidden. In different ways, both are at once tough and vulnerable. Well, this is a romance: though neither intends this to happen, soon sparks are flying.

Diego has managed to escape from an ugly world in which he has worked as an enforcer for a major Cuban drug cartel. His scars and tattoos reflect his experiences. Handsome and athletic, his is lucky to be alive. However, his reputation had preceded him and a local (Orlando area) gang attempts to recruit him with an unsubtle “sign up or die” approach. He refuses. This is not the life he wants – nor did he ever want it. In Cuba, that life was his only means of protecting his family. His gruff exterior is his defense mechanism.

Faith is a fake good-girl. She dresses tastefully but conservatively, is nice to everyone, and pursues excellence at school. Captain of the dance team, she is also a shining representative of her clergyman father’s values and community status. She lives to meet other people’s expectations, but she hates that life. It’s not really her. The public lie that she spent her junior year studying abroad covers the fact that she was in drug rehab and is still vulnerable to temptations. Her size-to-big clothing helps hide her figure and her tattoos.

Amber Hart

Amber Hart

Faith’s autophobia – her fear of being alone growing out of having been abandoned by her mother –eerily complicates her situation.

Both want – in fact, desperately need – to find their true selves and live their lives accordingly. The course of the novel is their journey toward honesty, openness, and trust that can allow their slowly admitted, deeply passionate love to flourish in spite of societal prejudices and expectations. Ms. Hart manages her portrayal of this journey with exquisite skill. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 6, 2014 FortMyers Florida Weekly and the August 7 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – Hart 1 and here Florida Weekly – Hart 2.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors