Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Reckoning: Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land

by Patrick Bishop. Harper. 320 pages. $26.99.

Reviewed by Philip K. Jason on Washington Independent Review of Books, January 29, 2015.

Recounting the hunt for a home-grown terrorist in the closing days of Mandate Palestine.

Most literature about the steps that took Mandate Palestine to its demise and Israel to its rise focuses on Zionist enterprise in Europe, the U.S., and Palestine. In such explorations, little attention is paid to the purpose and effectiveness of the Palestine Police Force as a primary agent of British rule. What’s fresh about Patrick Bishop’s The Reckoning is his decision to focus on the PPF. In the book, we see less of the usual gallery of Jewish heroes and more of the upper-level British governing establishment in Palestine.
Ultimately, it is an archetypal David and Goliath story. David, as the Jewish terrorist cop-killer (freedom fighter?) Avraham Stern, and Goliath portrayed by Geoffrey Morton, assistant superintendent of the Palestine Police Force. Morton is a rigid law-and-order man — a purist. In his own way, Stern is also a purist, his fanaticism more obvious and much closer to madness. . . .
Read the rest of this comprehensive review by clicking here: The Reckoning: Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land | Washington Independen

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New series honors the human-canine partnership in crime investigation

Breaking Creed, by Alex Kava. Putnam.  320 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Stranded, Ms. Kava’s recent Maggie O’Dell novel, introduced a fascinating character named Ryder Creed. Ryder is an ex-Marine who has built a successful business near Pensacola as a canine search-and-rescue dog trainer. His dogs can locate cadavers, captive or injured victims, drugs, explosives, and so forth. With Breaking Creed, Alex Kava launches a new series featuring Ryder, though Maggie is very much in the picture. BREAKINGCREEDjacket

As the novel opens we meet fourteen year old Amanda and her handler, Leandro. Amanda stays alive by swallowing dozens of condoms stuffed with cocaine. She is both protected and controlled by Leandro and a woman called Zapata. Readers get a quick glimpse of the horrid life led by kidnapped or runaway girls exploited as slaves in a drug distribution network.

The scene shifts abruptly one in which Creed is transported by Coast Guard helicopter to a cutter. Along the way, we learn how he has developed a business with multi-million dollar annual billings and an undesired high profile. Creed’s exploits, followed in the popular media, have made him a new kind of pop culture star. His undercurrent motivation is the hope that he will find his sister who disappeared some fifteen years earlier.

We also learn about his partnership with Hanna and the facility they have built to secure, care for, and train their dogs.

Creed is traveling with Grace, the smallish Jack Russell terrier that is his favorite and most versatile dog. Creed’s job is to explore, with Grace, a large fishing boat, “Blue Mist,” thought to be working for a new Colombian drug cartel called Choque Azul (Blue Shock).  Grace sniffs out human cargo – children hidden beneath the floorboards.

Alex Kava

Alex Kava

The next plot strand brings us to the edge of the Potomac River, where FBI agent Maggie O’Dell has been sent to investigate a corpse found there. She arrives to find the DC medical examiner, Stan Wenhofff, hard at work. The body, which had been in the water at least a week, carries a strange tattoo, an odd rash, and ligature marks. The man had been tortured and perhaps killed while being held in place to be attacked by fire ants.

Then Ms. Kava introduces an assassin self-named the Ice Man, a killer adept at arcane tortures and killings. We imagine a link between him and the fire ant victim. The man’s identity is easily revealed; his driver’s license had been found shoved into his throat. Trevor Bagley.

Soon enough, the story involving Amanda and the story involving Bagley link up. Thus Creed’s case and O’Dell’s will also link up. The Choque Azul cartel has left its message, the tortured Trevor Bagley, as a warning to others who might get out of line. The human trafficking and the drug trafficking are connected enterprises. Before long, Creed’s name appears on the cartel’s hit list. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the January 28, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 29 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Breaking Creed


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One to Go by Mike Pace

Oceanview Publishing. 365 pages. $26.95.

Posted on Washington Independent Review of Books, January 5, 2015

Are dreams or demons driving the protagonist of this thriller?

Deux ex machina is not only a literary device, but also a theme in this unusual genre-crossing novel. Billed as a paranormal thriller, One to Go raises suspense by manipulating readers into wondering if the supernatural occurrences and personages perceived by the central character are hallucinations, hoaxes, or true manifestations of the spirit world — both godly and ungodly.Tom Booker’s high-pressure life as an underling lawyer in a world-class DC law firm pits the demands of the firm against his responsibilities as a father. The pressure has already ruined his marriage, but he is trying to hold onto his relationship with his 7-year-old daughter. Maintaining two households and paying alimony have compromised Tom’s lifestyle, and he often has to make excuses when his promises to young Janie are sacrificed to the demands of his superiors at the firm. To deal with these pressures, Tom has been relying on liquor way too much.As the story begins, Tom is supposed to bring his daughter and her friends to a field trip. Delayed by running into the head of the law firm on his way to the office garage, he is fearful about how angry his ex-wife, Gayle, will be if he once again doesn’t come through.Traffic conspires against him, too, and Tom is surprised to see the girls in his sister-in-law’s minivan. Wondering about a change in plan, Tom is forced into an accident. He awakens after a blackout to see the minivan teetering on the edge of the road and about to fall into the river. Janie’s face is pressed against the window. . .  .

To read the entire, juicy review, click here:  One to Go | Washington Independent Review of Books

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Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye

The Big Finish, by James W. Hall. Minotaur Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

The cover flap announces that this book is the series finale, but I can’t believe it. It’s hard to say goodbye to an old friend. James W. Hall’s Thorn novels have long been such a central, exemplary, and yet distinctive part of the Florida mystery tradition that many readers will be going through separation anxiety. Mr. Hall, please say it isn’t so.  BigFinish,The

The current of ecological concerns that has gained strength over the series reaches flood stage in “The Big Finish,” the title perhaps a spoof on expectations in life and art. Thorn’s son, Flynn Moss, whom he and the readers have only recently met, is in trouble. Flynn – or someone – has reached out to Thorn about criminal practices in the North Carolina pig farming industry.

Thorn’s son, a member of the underground environmental activist organization known as ELF, has been working to expose and destroy a major player in this industry. At least four kinds of evil are running wild in this remote town. One is the exploitation of workers through intimidation. Another is the cruelty to the piglets crowded together and pumped up for sale to slaughterhouses. Yet another is incredible pollution from mismanagement of the toxic waste from the pigs.

Finally, there is the secretive nurturing of a plant with “downward hanging trumpet-shaped blooms” from which a dangerous drug is produced.  Some of Dobbins’ workers “had tragically succumbed to an overdose of the trumpet flower’s pollen. Losing a well-trained man was always a setback, but it was the unlucky cost of doing the kind of business he was engaged in.” Such is the moral code of Webb Dobbins. This drug business is supporting the hog farm, which is staggering under enormous debts.

Thorn sets out with a plan to partner with his old detective buddy Sugarman, but from the beginning the mission is compromised by a scheming, unstable former FBI agent, Madeline Cruz. This woman has her own plans and motives and is manipulating Thorn, understanding his need to rescue his son at all costs. She is suspicious of Sugarman’s new girlfriend, Tina, who is along on the ride to North Carolina. Cruz suspects Tina of criminal activity.

James W. Hall

James W. Hall

So, Thorn’s mission has grown far more complicated and desperate. He perceives the trouble signs, but feels he has to play this game out in order to find Flynn. Cruz admits (or perhaps lies once more) that the plan is to use Thorn as bait to draw out suspects in a big government operation.

Other characters provide further complications.

X-88 is a rock of a man who served at Railford in the same cell block with Manny Obrero, a drug dealer who had been Madeline Cruz’s husband. Manny has connected X-88 to Madeline, so X is now part of her enterprise and enjoying the company of her daughter, Pixie. Am I going too fast? Here’s more: X-88 murders Sugarman’s deceitful girlfriend Tina by forcing three hamburger patties down her throat to suffocate her.

Murder by force feeding. Something like how they fatten pigs. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 21, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 22 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Big Finish

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Sleuthfest 2015 Coming to Deerfield Beach

A knock-out group of presenters and attendees / A must-go for mystery & thriller writers.

SleuthFest 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015 – Sunday, March 01, 2015
DoubleTree by Hilton
(954)427-7700, (800)624-3606
100 Fairway Drive
Deerfield Beach, Florida 33441
United States

Map and Directions


Contact Information

  • SleuthFest Co-Chairs:
    Joanne Sinchuk and Victoria Landis
    Contact at



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FDA approval process generates sizzling medical thriller

After the Fall, by Patricia Gussin. Oceanview Publishing. 378 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

This fourth Laura Nelson thriller is a page-turner par excellence. An accidental fall leaves Laura in great pain. Her smashed hand cannot be reconstructed sufficiently for her to continue performing surgery. The title phrase, however, has other echoes – like a fall from grace or esteem. Such a fall is something that Laura fears when confronted with the need to reveal – or have revealed by others – painful secrets from her past.  AfterFall

Having done research on a new drug and spoken on its behalf before an FDA Advisory Committee, Laura is sharing the expectation that Immunone will soon be approved and be in production by Keystone Pharma. Keystone had gained control of the drug, a major anti-rejection advance for organ transplant patients, by investing in Replica, a much smaller company that had developed Immunone under the leadership of its prime researcher, a beautiful Iraqi scientist named Adawia (“Addie”) Abdul.

The sooner Immunone is approved, the sooner Addie can receive a contracted payment of $7.5 million and rush off to Iraq where she will comfort her ailing father and perhaps take over his work as chief scientist for Iraq’s chemical weapons program.

Addie, quite Americanized after a dozen or so years in the U. S. as a graduate student and research scientist, is reluctant to go, but sees no alternative. Someone else very much wants her to stay. Jake Harter, the FDA project manager for the Immunone case, is smitten with Addie, sick of his failed marriage, and frustrated by being undervalued by the medical professionals and administrators. To keep Addie around, he makes a false claim about incomplete documentation that will delay the drug’s final approval – and the payoff to Addie.

This ex-Marine is a sociopath who murders his wife (divorce might be difficult and drawn out); runs down Dr. Minn, a skilled advocate for the drug’s approved; and courts Addie assiduously.

Patricia Gussin

Patricia Gussin

Keystone Pharma had offered Laura Dr. Minn’s position – Vice President for Research – effective upon his imminent retirement. With Minn killed in the horrible hit and run, the company needs Laura immediately to accomplish the drug’s final approval.

On the same night as Minn’s death, Laura takes that terrible fall in icy Philadelphia, her hand shattered beyond functional reconstruction. With her career as a Tampa surgeon cut short, she accepts the Keystone Pharma position.

One more piece: Laura has been a widow for many years. Her old friend and constant admirer, Dr. Tim Robinson, has now come forcefully into her life and proposed marriage. Laura hesitates. As she thinks about how to prepare herself and her five children for such a change, she realizes that she needs to come clean about certain past deeds. She moves in with Tim in his City Center Philadelphia home. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 14, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 15 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – AfterTheFall 1 and here: Florida Weekly – AfterTheFall 2

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Interview with Yossi Klein Halevi

Yossi Klein Halevi’s first book, Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, was first published in 1995 and was reprinted in fall 2014. At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land appeared in 2001. His latest book, Like Dreamers: The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, won the Jewish Book Council’s 2013 Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award and was released in paperback in fall 2014. Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Philip K. Jason recently spoke with Yossi about his writing and his current project.

Philip K. Jason: In the course of your research and interviews for Like Dreamers, what were your most surprising discoveries?

Yossi Klein Halevi: I was constantly amazed at the intensity of life in Israel, from the very founding of the state. I kept wondering how one small country could contain so much history. One of the characters in the book, Arik Achmon, participated in every one of Israel’s wars, beginning in 1948. Where else does life make such demands on the citizens of a nation? Sometimes it seemed to me as if we were trying to compensate for centuries of Jewish life without sovereignty by cramming as much experience into our national life as possible.

I was struck too by the manic depressive nature of the Israeli experience. In 1967 we were euphoric with victory; in 1973, only six years later, we were in despair. And yet, militarily at least, the Yom Kippur War was in some senses more impressive than the Six Day War.

One pattern emerged in the post-67 story of Israel that has particular relevance today, and that is this: When Israelis feel that the international community is against them, they retreat into hardline positions. When they feel more accepted, they are ready to take risks for peace. The Oslo process was launched in an atmosphere of growing acceptance of Israel, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the first Gulf War. By contrast, the settlement movement became mainstream in the weeks following the 1975 UN Zionism-Racism resolution. Israelis pushed back by embracing the settlers.

PKJ: In Like Dreamers, you position yourself as a centrist, someone who is obligated to listen to both (or all) sides – perhaps more than listen. Has this stance helped you gain you access as a journalist?

YKH: Being open to hearing opposing voices gave me emotional access – allowed me to empathize with opposing camps. I moved to Israel at the beginning of the first Lebanon War in 1982, when Israelis were literally shouting at each other on the streets. That was the first time that war had failed to unite the country – worse, the war itself was dividing us. As a new immigrant I had two choices. I could either choose a camp, or learn to listen. I chose the second option and forced myself to listen deeply to what all of Israel’s political and cultural and ethnic groups were really saying. What were the fears of left and right? The visions of Israel being expressed by secularists and religious Zionists and ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis? I not only tried to become absorbed into Israeli society, but to absorb Israel, in all its complexity, into my being. That’s how I became an Israeli.

These exchanges are just the beginning of a hefty, provocative interview that appears in full on the Jewish Book Council blog. Click here: Jewish Book Council Interview With Yossi Klein Halevi. The interview also appears in Jewish Book World, Spring 2015, Vol. 33 no. 1. It was republished, with permission in the May 2015 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).

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Unwelcome changes open door to redemption in a small Florida town

Heart of Palm, by Laura Lee Smith. Grove Press. 496 pages. Trade paperback $16.00.

This is the one I’ve been waiting for. The big surprise. A debut novel set in Florida that has it all: family, community, dreams, secrets, the best kind of local color, tragedy, humor, hatred, compassion. Love. Change. HOPCoverArt

It’s 2008. Arla Bolton Bravo, of the fashionable St. Augustine Boltons, is sixty-two years old. Her no-account husband Dean, who fathered their four children, has been long gone. When she chose Dean without even considering more appropriate suitors, her parents could hardly bear the disgrace. The Bravos were riff-raff, troublemakers.

When handsome, reckless Dean took Arla to the moonshine town of Utina, just outside of St. Augustine but culturally light-years away, the fulfillment of a promise that Arla had carried into her eighteenth year – the promise of being truly special – was poisoned. When he accidentally severed her foot during a boating frolic, their relationship was double-doomed. How could they survive her handicap and his guilt?

How could they, Dean and his older sons in particular, survive the accidental death of the youngest child, Will, whom Dean had egged on to drink himself silly as a proof of manhood? It wasn’t long after that disaster that Dean took off.

Arla had purchased a local restaurant, Uncle Henry’s Bar and Grill, and Frank had been its nonstop manager for two decades. It was a modest success, enough to keep them going what with the oldest child – troubled, unmarried Sofia – coming in early each morning to scour the place from the crud and spills of the day before. Uncle Henry’s was notable for its beautiful view along the Intercoastal Waterway. When its next door rival, Morgan’s Fish Camp and Fry House, burned down, Frank hired Morgan Moore to assist him and put Morgan’s most popular items on the menu.

Frank had a pile of deferred dreams, but he never seemed to be able to go beyond meeting his family responsibilities. One of those dreams had died when Carson had stolen the beautiful Elizabeth whom Frank had adored in high school.

Laura Lee Smith

Laura Lee Smith

Carson, his older brother, was much more ambitious. He had pieced together some education and credentials, eventually opening up a financial management firm. Until the economy went south, he was doing well, but then he slipped into pushing hollow new investments to pay the promised income of those already gone bad. He hated himself for running a Ponzi scheme and frantically sought a way to dig out of the hole.

The way comes. An Atlanta-based real estate development company has its eye on the combined properties of Morgan and the Bravos, which include Uncle Henry’s as well as  Arla’s dilapidated but imposingly-sized home that Dean had incongruously named Aberdeen. The fear of change depresses Arla and her dependent forty-three year old daughter, and to some extent Frank – so fully identified with Uncle Henry’s. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 7, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly; the January 8 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions; and the January 29 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here Florida Weekly – L.L. Smith 1 and here Florida Weekly – L.L.Smith 2

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Florida Writers Association 2015 Mini-Conferences

Here’s an upcoming writers’ conference that might be just what you need.
      FWA 2015 Short Shorts Mini-Conference

Bentley’s Boutique Hotel
1660 S. Tamiami Trail
Osprey, FL 34229

On-site Registration begins at 8:30 am
Conference hours:  9:00-4:00
Lunch is included

Would you like to register?  Click here to go to our online store.
Check the
conference program for details on the faculty and workshops.

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A Pat on the Back for Phil

philjason loves booksIt’s no secret that one of my favorite reviewing homes is the Washington Independent Review of Books. As 2014 closed, the staff members at WIROB pooled their reactions to the year’s work and selected mine among their favored dozen. Certainly I love what I do, but it’s especially uplifting when others who do similar work give you the thumbs up! On top of that, I was happy I’d decided to use an unconventional approach and that others (1) accepted it for publication and (2) honored it by inclusion on this list. Better yet, it capped off (for now) a career based in large part on writing about Anais Nin. My first piece on her work appeared in 1971! That is a long, long time ago. So now I’m patting my own back.


12 of Our Favorite ReviewsTop12

posted December 30, 2014

We published too many terrific reviews this year to count, but some have stuck with us more than others. Here, in no particular order, are a dozen of our faves from 2014. [click on the link below]

12 of Our Favorite Reviews | Washington Independent Review of Books

Enjoy all 12 reviews and please explore the range and depth of this amazing web site. You can find a truncated version of my Mirages review and other Nin materials by clicking the Anais Nin link under “Topics” on the right-hand menu.


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