Monthly Archives: September 2016

Loose ends of the Atlanta Child Murders are tied up in new novel

Blood Cries, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 266 pages. Hardcover $26.99. Trade paperback $16.99.

The tenth John Jordan Mystery has the added distinction of being volume two of “The Atlanta Years” subset. Thus it is the second installment treating John Jordan’s coming of age before he worked as a policeman, prison chaplain and reluctant private detective in panhandle Florida. Like its predecessor “Innocent Blood,” it explores in fictional mode the historical Atlanta Child Murders, for which the FBI’s records are available online. The arrest and conviction of Wayne Williams for two murders left a lot of loose ends regarding the fate of several boys murdered or missing during his reign of terror. perf5.500x8.500.indd

These loose ends connect to similar murders and/or abductions that Wayne Williams could not have done. They leave a depressed, alcoholic divinity school student, eighteen year old John Jordan, with an obsessional sense of duty to bring those children and their families justice and healing.

Following Jordan around involves readers in the life of a grieving community, with caring people striving to support one another emotionally and spiritually. Jordan has developed an uneasy relationship with the local police, most of whom find him likely to get in their way or show them up. Mr. Lister keeps readers aware of the fact that police resources are always strained and setting priorities is not something that always takes a community’s needs into account.



Jordan realizes that finding out what the missing boys in the recent streak of disappearance have in common is at the heart of the case. He discovers that almost all of the six that he is searching for live in the same corner of the city and share sadly similar family situations. He also tries to profile the abductor (possibly also a murderer) from what he has learned from his independent reading and by thinking things through carefully.

His pursuit of justice is compromised by several things. One of these is his problem with alcohol. Another is his unsettled sense of himself and his direction in life. Yet another is his lack of experience in the world. Developmentally, he feels in over his head even though he is quite intelligent and has sharp instincts.

He is driven by his worst fears about the fate of these boys, based on his knowledge of what had happened to others during the Atlanta Child Murders nightmare. He even visits Wayne Williams in prison to stare him down and pick his warped brain for clues. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 27 2016 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Blood Cries

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“Mischling,” by Affinity Konar

Lee Boudreaux Books. 400 Pages. Hardcover $27.00.
Set in the autumn of 1944 and the first half of 1945, Affinity Konar’s fictional treatment of Dr. Josef Mengele’s maniacal experimentation on young twins and other victims incarcerated at Auschwitz is astonishing.Mischling (meaning “hybrid” or “mixed-blood”) is a novel based on carefully mastered research processed by the author’s artful and spiritually charged imagination. It is the most risk-prone type of coming-of-age tale that one is likely to encounter, held as it is in a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic frame.
Konar - credit Gabriela Michanie

Konar – credit Gabriela Michanie

The first half of the novel is set primarily within Auschwitz, in the dormitories, labs, and operating stations known as the Zoo. We meet the Zamorsky sisters, Pearl and Stasha, who have been temporarily saved from the usual work camp-to-execution passage due to Mengele’s mad interest in exploring the physical and psychological nature of twinship. He considers himself a rigorous scientist above all else, but it is clear that his perverted genius is driven by something quite different from a passion for scientific method. As the experiments go on, one twin loses much of her sight and hearing while the other loses the use of her legs. Mengele, who asks his charges to call him Uncle Doctor, works by taking the sisters away from each other, watching the consequences of their bonded natures being severed. . . .
To see the full review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site, click here: Mischling by Affinity Konar | Jewish Book Council

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Punta Gorda author works for fair, full, and informed voter participation

Make Democracy Work Again: A Blueprint for the 2016 Election and Beyond, by Teresa Jenkins. Book Broker Publishers. 362 pages. Trade paperback $15.99.

Playing off the principle slogan of the Trump campaign, with its implicit racial and cultural elitism, Teresa Jenkins has crafted a mighty call for a strong resurgence of true democracy as viewed from the left side of the political pulpit.  makedemocracyworkcover5-19-16

The author presents a carefully researched and reasoned argument that is really three arguments in one. The first strives to extoll the virtues of what enemies would call big government. Ms. Jenkins applauds having a government big enough to continue the social benefits that, beginning with FDR, the Democratic liberal-leaning agenda has brought forth. She sees these accomplishments, from Social Security to the Affordable Care Act, as part of a continuum that must keep advancing.

Her second argument is for the absolute necessity of respectful political debate in which the contest is truly one of ideas, not slogans or name-calling or fear-mongering.

The third argument calls for the widest possible enfranchisement of citizen voters. The more that citizens embrace the ballot box and all the other means of engagement that shape government action, the more the American Dream is realized. This outcome requires self-education and open-minded listening.



Twelve tightly organized chapters, each compressing a heap of fact and a measure of passionate, honest opinion, drive home Teresa Jenkins’ concerns. First comes a historical overview of our major political parties, focusing on changes that evolved through the second half of the 20th century and continue today. Pivotal figures are President Nixon, Newt Gingrich, and George Wallace.

The second chapter establishes a pattern of analyzing and criticizing Republican policies and politics. Though she always sets the issues in the context of each party’s stance and rhetoric, Ms. Jenkins’ emphasis on Republican negatives does not allow much room for Democratic positives. I’m not sure how effective this strategy will be in winning over anyone from the enemy camp. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 21, 2016 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 22 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Jenkins

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“Adolfo Kaminsky: A Forger’s Life,” by Sarah Kaminsky. Trans. Mike Mitchell

DoppelHouse Press. 256 pages. Trade paperback $18.95.

 finalcover-kaminsky-webSarah Kaminsky provides a brilliant biography of an enormously complex, creative, and heroic individual: her father.

Based on Adolfo Kaminsky’s extensive answers to his daughter’s questions, Adolfo Kaminsky: A Forger’s Life was first published in French in 2009 and was subsequently released in many European languages before reaching English readers.

Adolfo with daughter Sarah.

Adolfo with daughter Sarah. Credit Amit Israeli

Adolfo Kaminsky’s remarkable journey was powered by intelligent longing and a deep, engaging sensitivity to personal destiny, Jewish peoplehood, and freedom. As a teenager, Adolfo (who wore many names in many roles) was fascinated by chemistry and technology. During the Nazi occupation of France, he became an important member of the Resistance movement—a collection of loosely linked organizations attempting to undermine Nazi domination and save lives in one way or another.

One important initiative of the Resistance was its provision of convincing identity documents that would fool authorities, which enabled many would-be victims of the Holocaust to avoid arrest (or worse) with these false papers and even cross the borders of Europe to freedom and safety. Adolfo became an essential player, managing to hide his own identity and activities while mastering the art of forgery. This art included the fabrication of authentic-seeming papers, inks, dyes, seals, solvents, and bindings of all kinds, as well as typography, signature forging, stain removal, and the production of rubber stamps. Adolfo invented solutions to technical problems and also developed skill as a photographer, which quickly proved itself another useful tool in his forgery career—and something he could use to support himself: though often starving, Adolfo took no money for his forgery efforts. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site, click here: Adolfo Kaminsky: A Forger’s Life by Sarah Kaminsky | Jewish Book Council Review

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Nostalgia is now in colorful Florida guidebook

A New Guide to Old Florida Attractions: From Mermaids to Singing Towers, by Doug Alderson. Pineapple Press. 184 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

In this gloriously illustrated book, with many of the 132 color photographs by the author, novelty and nostalgia blend and complement one another. Mr. Alderson provides a feast of adventures for the Florida tourist and the long-time resident who has not yet ventured forth to the distant corners and often remote inland crossroads of this varied and sizeable state.

aldersoncoverhiresIn the first part of his book (divided into five chapters), Doug Alderson presents a sturdy and engaging history of Florida tourism. Here he underscores the early fascination with Florida through referencing several classic studies of Florida exploration. In chapter 1, we learn that tourism as an industry began to flourish after the Seminole Wars and the Civil War. The late 19th century ushered in the interest in Florida’s freshwater springs, especially the supposedly restorative mineral springs. Just as popular were rides on the steamboats that plied several of Florida’s rivers. White Sulphur Springs was the first commercialized mineral spring, though over the decades it has had many rivals.

Today’s nascent medical tourism industry owes a debt to the heritage of health tourism. I’ll take a mineral spa to a hospital any time.

In Chapter 2, Mr. Alderson’s guidebook focuses on the interest, then and now, in Florida’s coastal delights. Beach tourism, tourism involving Native American history and customs, and the growing ease of tourism that followed the proliferation of automobiles and highways receive detailed, vivid attention. We are now familiar with roadside attractions, but first came the roads! The early prominence of St. Petersburg as a tourist destination became more and more challenged by the growing highway network.

The author treats nature tourism in chapter 3. Here Mr. Alderson pays attention to national and state parks, the high profile of St. Augustine and environs, and environmental challenges that came with growth and incursions into the Florida wilderness. The beauties of the Everglades, the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the abundance of historical museums all get energetic discussion.



Chapter 4 considers further the uneasy blending of the natural and the man made in the development of tourist destinations. Many such destinations are detailed later in the book, but for now we can ponder the hybrid nature of such attractions as Cypress Gardens (now absorbed into LEGOLAND), Jungle Island, Monkey Jungle, Tombstone Territory, and various places where concrete dinosaurs and other creatures can’t quite roam the earth.  But you might be able to climb on one, have someone take your picture, and perhaps enjoy a snack and miniature golf. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 14, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 15 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – New Guide to Old Florida

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“The Upright Heart,” by Julia Ain-Krupa

 New Europe Books. 192 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.


Stylistic virtuosity, penetrating emotional power, and a post-apocalyptic vision combine to make this highly individualist effort a brilliant literary achievement. Demanding and rewarding, Ain-Krupa’s book is being marketed as a novel, and it certainly has a strong narrative dimension, though it might be better described as a sequence of prose-poems.

The apocalypse, in this case, is the destruction of European Jewry. What’s left to return to in 1945? Why return? What do survivors do with their survival? What are the sources of identity and relationship in a world of death? These are the questions the author explores, questions more felt than articulated.

Julia Ain-Krupa

Julia Ain-Krupa

A Polish Jew named Wolf returns to a shattered homeland from Brooklyn, where he had managed to live during the Holocaust years. He travels by rail with a young man named Wiktor, who seems a ghostly presence. and with a dog he picks up along the way. Wolf gets to his home town, the neighborhood, the cemetery, but what is left seems unreal. There is nothing to attach himself to. Death is everywhere. He belongs in Brooklyn, where it is easier to live with his memories.

We learn of a school that taught mostly Jewish girls, a school that went up in flames, as did the forty-one girls—all named Sarah. We sense their ghosts, and we imagine the ghosts of the children they did not grow up to birth. We ponder on all of those Sarahs, of all the meanings we can connect to the matriarch’s name.

To enjoy the full review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council site, click here: The Upright Heart: A Novel by Julia Ain-Krupa | Jewish Book Council Review

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German luxury liner becomes the main character in a stunning Holocaust narrative

The Nazi Titanic, by Robert P. Watson. Da Capo Press. 292 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

An award-winning historian and professor at Florida’s Lynn University, Boca Raton resident Watson has sunk his scholarly teach into a fascinating subject. His story involves the several careers of the German luxury passenger ship, the “Cap Arcona,” built in 1927 as a symbol of Germany’s return to prominence after crushing defeat in World War I. The ocean liner ran routes to and from South America for many years, until the great Depression lessened demand.  NaziTitanicCover

Prof. Watson introduces the first career of the estimable floating grand hotel by backgrounding its design, presenting engaging information about the company that built it, and the premier cruise line that owned it. Whenever possible, the author gives us capsule biographies of those who a hand in the planning, construction, and operation of the ship. Indeed, his portraits of the major players in the ship’s checkered history bring life and personality to his otherwise inanimate subject.

Taken out of service and essentially mothballed through much of the 1930s, the later roles of the “Cap Arcona” are imbedded in Holocaust history.

To contextualize the ship’s wartime career, Prof. Watson offers a well-rounded treatment of the rise of Hitler’s Nazi regime, with its unparalleled publicity machine run by Goebbels that rationalized the persecution and destruction of Europe’s Jews. Goebbels initiated a monumental propaganda film that would symbolically attach the Third Reich’s destiny to the sinking of the “Titanic.” Indeed, Goebbels had by now become obsessed with filmmaking and had learned a lesson about subtle styles of propaganda by studying America’s wartime patriotic cinema.

With an enormous and ever-expanding budget, a prominent director and screenwriter, and strong support from Hitler, the project moved forward but finally collapsed under its own weight. The film debut of “Cap Arcona” as the title character “Titanic” revived the ship through restorative maintenance, a facelift, and refurnishing. However, it was not officially released; few got to see the old girl’s performance. Prof. Watson provides a glimpse of maniacal Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda minister), as well as of other players in the Nazi regime.


After its show business fiasco, “Cap Arcona” became a transport vessel – essentially a part of the German navy. It moved German soldiers and civilians from Baltic ports away from the onslaught of the Red Army. As Allied forces pressed upon the Nazis in 1945, Hitler’s stooges sought to hide evidence of the concentration and death camps, forcing tens of thousands of half-dead prisoners, mostly Jews, onto floating concentrations camps – several ships in the Baltic Sea port at Lübeck Bay. Many of these prisoners came from the notorious Neuengamme concentration camp. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 7, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 8 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Watson


Robert P. Watson will appear at a Collier County Jewish Book Festival event at Beth Tikvah synagogue on Monday, January 23 at 1:00pm. For more information, see Also on the program will be Josh Aronson, author of Orchestra of Exiles.


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“Karolina’s Twins: A Novel,” by Ronald H. Balson

  • St. Martin’s Press. 320 pp. Hardcover $25.99.

An emotionally rich Holocaust thriller about long-kept secrets.

Karolina’s Twins is the third book in a trilogy (hopefully, to be a series) by Ronald H. Balson. Part legal thriller and part Holocaust narrative, the story echoes the pattern of Balson’s first novel, the highly successful Once We Were Brothers. As with the earlier book, the author risks the possible tedium of putting readers through long stretches of extremely detailed conversations in which one voice dominates. This time, it is the voice of Polish-born Lena Scheinman Woodward, a Holocaust survivor who has a complex story to tell, a promise to keep, and a secret. In her late 80s, Lena is in fine physical and mental condition; she speaks with elegance and precision.


The setting for her storytelling is primarily the law office of Catherine Lockhart, a lawyer whom Lena insists should represent her. But as much as Lena reveals to Catherine, the lawyer feels that her client is holding something back. Meanwhile, Lena’s son, Arthur, is prepared to have her declared incompetent: He fears she will squander family resources on an old obsession, and he strives to take control of the assets.

To Arthur, Lena appears obsessed and delusional. But Lena’s preoccupations stem from a promise to return to Poland and find her best friend Karolina’s twin daughters. The infant girls, traveling to a concentration camp along with Karolina and another woman, were cast out of a railroad car in order to save their lives.

The unfolding narrative, which requires many meetings, is in part shaped by Catherine’s questions. Often, Catherine’s husband, private investigator Liam Taggart, is in the room. It will be Liam’s task to verify the facts of Lena’s story — including the reliability of her memory.

So there is the story Lena tells, mostly focused on her experiences during the Holocaust, the story of the legal proceedings, and the story of the relationship between Catherine and Liam, appearing in the trilogy together, for the third time (including the second book, Saving Sophie).

The Holocaust narrative is fascinating, horrifying, and yet on the whole, uplifting. We are witness to terrible suffering via the full range of Nazi cruelty and the defiant, generous actions of a handful of individuals. It lives in the authentic details of place, especially the Scheinman family’s small town, which is occupied by Nazi forces. Balson’s historical research goes far beyond the story he was told by the woman whose life served as his main source. Moreover, he employs that research smoothly and stunningly.



Once the legal proceedings are underway, Balson is writing a courtroom drama. Arthur’s lawyer is truly nasty: a fine match for his client. The unfriendly, self-important judge threatens Catherine with contempt of court if she does not reveal information that would sacrifice attorney-client privilege. The competency hearing requires more than the display of Lena’s obvious mental and physical health. How can she prove that she is neither fabricating nor imagining seemingly far-fetched events?

To read the full review, please click here: Karolina’s Twins: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

Mr. Balson will be speaking about this novel at the Collier County Jewish Book Festival on January 11 at Temple Shalom. Also on the program, which begins at 1:00pm, will be Alyson Richman, author of The Velvet Hours. Full JBF program soon available at

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Rural Florida town harbors a nutcase killer and a nosy sleuth

Mud Bog Murder, by Lesley A. Diehl. Camel Press. 268 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

Cozy mysteries have established themselves as a thriving mystery subgenre. While there’s plenty of suspense and plenty of investigatory action, the cozies have a warm feeling. Often humorous and usually uplifting, they are on the other side of noir. While the queen of this category is Nancy J. Cohen (who even wrote a how-to book about this subgenre), Lesley A. Diehl is a contender. Mud_Bog_Murder_300

Mud Bog Murder, the fourth Eve Appel Mystery, is set in a place called Sabal Bay, Florida – which I take to be a fictional stand-in for Ms. Diehl’s rural residence of Okeechobee. Here, on the ranching property owned by Jenny McCleary, disaster strikes during the mud bog race, a favorite local entertainment that can bring the person whose property is rented a nice piece of change.

In fact, the disaster strikes Jenny, whose severed head is found flying through the air, spun up by the churning wheels of a participating monster truck. Pieces of her alligator-torn body are found near the Miccosukee tribe’s airboat business.

Jenny had recently begun shopping at the quality second-hand clothing business owned and run by Eve Appel and her pregnant friend Madeleine. Theirs is a mobile business about to be transformed into a fixed address store in town.

They might have become friends with Jenny, who was about the only property owner around who didn’t resent seeing Eve and Madeleine among the environmental protesters. Why should these two be telling the ranchers how to use their land and trying to take away the pleasures of monster truck fans?



Resentment toward the protesters threatens the business. They can’t even get local tradespeople to do repairs on the store, which the previous owner had left in terrible condition.

When Eve’s friend Grandfather Egret (his grandson Sammy is cautiously attracted to Eve) is arrested for the murder, Eve just knows this is a mistake and has to prove it. Her PI boyfriend Alex resents her snooping ways, as does Frida, a local police officer. Yet Eve pushes on, and Alex becomes enlisted in the investigation. All want to help bring justice for Jenny’s teenage daughter, Shelley, who in her disorienting grief has begun leaning on Darrel, an exploitative, abusive lowlife she calls her boyfriend.

Who would have had it in for Jenny? Where do the clues point? . . .

To read the full review and the accompanying author interview, as they appear in the August 31, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 1 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Diehl 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Diehl 2

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