Monthly Archives: May 2017

Serial killer mystery features a wise guy PI and a deranged yet crafty villain

Shadow of the Black Womb, By Lawrence J. De Maria. St. Austin’s Press.  204 pages. E-book $2.99.

This is Alton Rhode Mysteries #8, one of three exciting series penned by Mr. De Maria. The title, drawn from the Delmore Schwartz poem “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me,” sets a minor key note of literary erudition that plays quietly through the novel. It reminds us of how the bodily self undermines the aspirations of our more noble and –  intangible – sense of identity. Alton observes the distance between who he is and who he might be. This awareness flitters through his perceptions. He senses an inescapable twinship between two sides of one person.  

Dark doubles and duality play out in other ways in the course of the novel, one that involves a serial killer addicted to his pleasure of murdering young children. The depraved addict has a score to settle. It is Halloween, and the masked killer has a pistol hidden in his plastic pumpkin. Cormac Levine is his target.

The mystery plot –- who is this murderous madman and what are his motives –- is interrupted so that we can drop in on Alton Rhode, the main narrator. We meet his tomcat, his dog, and his gorgeous, brainy girlfriend Alice Watts –  a philosophy professor at Barnard. The two enjoy New York’s cultural offerings. Their evening is interrupted by a call from Alton’s police force buddies, using a crime family figure as an intermediary because this enforcer would know how to get in touch with Alton quickly. Already we know that Alton is well connected on both sides of the law.

De Maria

A private investigator can handle some issues more readily than the police department or the district attorney’s office can. Alton rushes over to the Richmond Memorial Hospital (Staten Island) where Cormac Levine (“Mac”) is in a coma. We discover that Mac and Alton are old friends. Alton reveals that “I was a rookie cop when he cornered a child molester.” We might wonder if the child molester, now a child killer, is settling the score with someone who sent him to jail. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 24,2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shadow of the Black Womb

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Recent biography of Herzl brings us closer to the man and his times

Herzl’s Vision: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State, by Shlomo Avineri. Trans. Haim Watzman. BlueBridge. 304 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

This gets the “must” award; that is, it’s a “must for every Jewish library.” Private or public. Personal or university. First published in Israel in 2008, it was translated into English for publication in Great Britain in 2013. BlueBridge brought out a hardcover edition three years ago. Now the paperback is here.  

There are many other Herzl biographies, many of them quite fine, but this one has a special value because it comes closer than any of the others to reflecting Herzl’s own perspective. This is because it leans much more heavily on Herzl’s diaries as well as the works he published during his lifetime. We have here Herzl the polemicist, Herzl the novelist, and Herzl the playwright – all looming large in combination many other aspects of an unusually complex Jewish man.

Like much successful biography – and fiction – this study begins with a gripping point of attack. It is the fall of 1898. Herzl and other Zionist leaders have come to interact with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who is touring the Holy Land. The chapter backgrounds the preparations for this trip, the expectations Herzl had, and the unfolding of the group’s ten days – mostly in Jerusalem. Herzl had to fight through a fever, but he was already speculating on how to restore dignity to the ancient, decaying city. Herzl had his audience with the German emperor, but his efforts at diplomacy that would lead to a Jewish State did not bear fruit. Yet seeds to that end were planted in the public arena.

What led up to Herzl making this trip? How had he prepared for it and arranged it? We must step back in time to understand how this journalist and playwright became a voice and a force for an independent Jewish nation. Then we can move forward, pick up his trail in the aftermath of his visit to Jerusalem, and follow him step by step until his untimely death in 1904.

Professor Avineri imbeds Herzl fully in his time and place. The author recreates the upheavals of later 19th century Europe, the ebbs and flows of Jewish hopes of ascendance followed by despair – which is to say the widening and narrowing of Jewish opportunities to live lives untrammeled by anti-Semitism.  He narrows the lens to focus on Herzl’s growing interest in the Jewish question and his growing understanding and rigorous search for the answer while his life and career moved through Budapest, Vienna, and Paris.


We see the importance of Herzl’s journalistic eye and curiosity in the fashioning of means to an end. How he realized the necessity of the Jewish question becoming an international question at the highest levels of political power. He sought opportunities to lecture, to organize the unsteady threads of Zionist activity and commitment, to seek the attention and the ears of government functionaries who might in time get him an audience with a major office holder who might just get Herzl an audience with someone at the top of the ladder.

With Avineri, we wind through Herzl’s newspaper pieces, his trial balloon proposal titled The Jewish State, the building of the energy and connections that lead to the First Zionist Congress in Basel Switzerland, after which the succeeding annual congresses became benchmarks of progress – or of something less than progress.

The author’s strategic use of materials from his subject’s diaries allows readers to feel something like Herzl’s emotional, ideational, and locomotive pulse. He was a traveling man. It’s not clear how or how well he rested. He mostly faced defeat. How did he keep picking himself up? How did he become a man of the world (or at least the world he had to win over), respected as the leader of a nation not yet born?

Professor Avineri examines Herzl’s several plays, drawing out how the operate to explore conditions and relationships relevant to his overarching concerns. He examines the compromised success of Altneuland, Herzl’s quasi-utopian novel that develops a middle road between collective and individual autonomy.

Avineri stands behind Herzl as the almost-prophet tries out the alternative homeland flavors – from El-Arish through Uganda (in the view of many Herzl’s greatest miscalculation). We feel the exhaustion and pain in Herzl’s need to heal the fractures that often crippled the Zionist movement.

Everywhere, the author blends Herzl the thinker with Herzl the doer – the activist: the man in motion. He does this with a sure hand and an attractive style that keeps readers engaged with the study’s scholarly underpinning.

At his death, Herzl could have been considered a failure. In the following decades, he would be revered, more and more, as the great prophet and leader who, like Moses himself, was not able to enter the Promised Land.


SHLOMO AVINERI, Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a graduate of the Hebrew University and the London School of Economics, and served as Director-General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the first government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He held visiting appointments at Yale, Cornel, University of California, Cardozo School of Law, Australian National University, Oxford and Northwestern University; and has been a Fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, both in Washington, D.C., the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) in Moscow, and Collegium Budapest.

He is Recurring Visiting Professor at the Central European University in Budapest.

In 1996 he received the Israel Prize, the country’s highest civilian decoration.

Among his books: The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx, Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State, Israel and the Palestinians, Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization, The Making of Modern Zionism, Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism, and Communitarianism and Individualism.

This review appears in the June 2017  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

Interview with Yaakov Katz, co-author of “The Weapon Wizards”

Philip K. Jason: In The Weapon Wizards, you observe that Israel’s enemies have not ceased building arsenals of rockets and missiles, even though Israel’s Iron Dome and Arrow systems have rendered such stockpiles ineffective. Is any hope that more elaborate defensive (or offensive) weapons will change the operations of Hezbollah and Hammas?

Yaakov Katz: Originally, when Israel developed its missile defense systems, it hoped that their success would make Israel’s enemies—particularly Hamas and Hezbollah—reconsider their investment in missile systems. The theory was that they would see that their missiles are ineffective and would understand that it is not worth investing in. That has not happened.

This does not mean that the missile defense systems are not effective. They are and they save Israeli lives. They have also given the government what we call “Diplomatic Maneuverability”, the ability to think before responding to rocket attacks, rather than being drawn into a conflict immediately. The systems have taken a weapon that could be of strategic consequences and turned them into a tactical issue that does not necessarily need to evolve into war.

PKJ: If there is no military solution to Israel’s quest for an end to war, can resources be allocated to programs more likely to be successful?

YK: Military means are not an end to conflict but a means to be used to reach a diplomatic resolution. Although this has not yet happened for Israel when it comes to Hamas and Hezbollah, it has worked though with the two countries Israel made peace with, Egypt and Jordan. Both countries understood, after defeat on the battlefield, that war will not overcome Israel. Israel continues to invest in additional defense and offensive programs, which will help keep Israelis safe and ensure that wars are fought quicker. But they will not defeat an enemy’s desire to destroy Israel.

PKJ: What are the benefits to Israel of its astounding success in weapon development, manufacture, and sales?

YK: The first clear benegit is that by developing top-tier weaponry, Israeli ensures its qualitative military edge in a very volatile region and as more potential conflicts loom on the horizon. The second benefit is economic: Israel today is one of the world’s top arms exporters and brings in about $6.5 billion annually to the Israeli economy in arms sales.

PKJ: How did you and your coauthor, Amir Bohbot, “share the load” of creating this book?

Amir and I are both veteran military correspondents who have worked closely together covering Israel’s different wars and operations since the early part of the 2000s. We split up the writing based on chapters: I wrote one chapter and he wrote another. The process was a bit more complicated. First, we would meet before starting to work on a new chapter. We would brainstorm for a while and the draft a chapter outline together—what stories will be there, who needs to be interviewed, etc. After spending one or two months researching and writing, when the chapter was done we’d share it with one another. Each of us would then add what was needed, make other comments, and then meet again to complete it. It was a genuine partnership.

PKJ: In the process of writing this book, did you discover any surprises? Did your research lead you to modify your views on anything, or anyone, connected with this topic? . . .

For the full interview, click here: Interview with Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Post

For the book review, click here: The Weapon Wizards: JBC.


Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

US Congresswoman kidnapped by Shining Path guerillas held for ransom high in the Peruvian Andes

Shining Path, by William Schnorbach. Aristos Press. 295-page hardcover $29.95. 346-page trade paperback $17.00.

Billed as “A Lone Wolf Thriller – Book One,” book is a piece of novelistic history that sets several fascinating characters against the turmoil in Peru born of corrupt government and a brutal revolutionary force named “Shining Path” by its founder, Manuel Ruben Abimael Guzman Reynosa (usually reduced to Abimael Guzman). He considered himself to be the fourth sword of Marxism, inspired by the Maoist third sword (following Marx and Lenin). Mr. Schnorbach focuses his narrative on four months toward the end of a twelve-year nightmare of violence for the Peruvian people. 

The principal characters are U. S. Congresswoman Marta Stone, who plans to grab a Senate seat in a forthcoming election; a Native American undercover CIA operative and “sky walker” who uses the moniker Lone Wolf, super-skilled and dangerous; and Antonio Navarro, co-founder of Shining Path who knows the movement has lost its moral compass. The three form an alliance of necessity in a world in which loyalty is bought and sold.

After Marta is abducted in Lima and held as a prisoner of war, Lone Wolf (whose legal name is Josh Barnes) is assigned to rescue her. Antonio (hereafter “Tony”), also imprisoned, is protecting her.

The novel proceeds by rolling out an unhappy mix of action and exposition. The action scenes are stunning whirlwinds of sensory experience. Over and over, Lone Wolf’s special martial skills, offensive and defensive, are on display along with other brands of physical prowess and mental acumen. He is a great planner as well as a great improvisor. He knows how to beat the odds when his team is overmatched.


He, along with Marta and Tony, must make their way through difficult terrain with insufficient nourishment and a determined, well-trained enemy. They deal with injuries and exhaustion.

Mr. Schnorbach handles this action scenes with great skill, offering vivid descriptions of the rugged environment and building pulse-racing tension from episode to episode. . . .

To read the review in its entirely, as it appears in the May 17, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 18 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shining Path

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

“Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence”

by Paul Robert Magocsi and Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern. University of Toronto Press. 320 pages. Oversized hardback $44.95.

An amazing exploration of the relationship between two marginalized peoples, Paul Robert Magocsi and Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern’s narrative is accompanied by 335 color illustrations and 29 maps in a well-designed oversized page format.


After an introduction that focuses on the stereotypes and misperceptions that Jews and Ukrainians have had about either other over the centuries, the authors of this interdisciplinary work lay out twelve chapters, at once accessible and complex, covering a wide range of topics. One explores physical and human geography, another explores history, while others examine economic life, traditional culture, religion, language and publications, material and artistic culture, and diaspora life as defined and experienced by Ukrainians and Jews. Latter chapters focus on the contemporary situation.

Petrovsky-Shtern. Photo by Andrew Collings.

The structure of each chapter is such that the section featuring some aspect of the Jewish situation in Ukraine is framed by the necessarily much larger treatment of the Ukrainian experience and situation. This pattern often becomes complicated by the fact that the Jewish situation is not necessarily uniform throughout Ukraine and because the story of Ukraine is a story of flux. Jews of Galicia, Bukovina, and Transcarpathia require treatment distinct from that of Jews who live—or once lived—elsewhere in Ukraine. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site, click here:  Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

Game warden adventures reveal an important side of Florida’s nature

Bad Guys, Bullets, and Boat Chases: True Stories of Florida Game Wardens, by Bob H. Lee. University Press of Florida. 272 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

Though its main purpose lies elsewhere, this vivid treatment of the life of game wardens underscores the fact that Florida has been impressively dedicated to the stewardship of natural resources. Across the state, smaller and larger preserves – some quite enormous – protect the habitat of wildlife. Mr. Lee’s book enables us to visit stunning (and sometimes scraggly) locations. 

The author’s focus is on the people who work for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), a combination of two previous agencies. FWC has over eight hundred conservation law enforcement officers and another thirteen hundred additional employees. The conservation officers and investigators (“game wardens”) “have full police powers and statewide jurisdiction.” From the tales Mr. Lee has collected, readers will learn that this is no job for the timid.

There are bad guys out there illegally killing or capturing wildlife for profit. They are often skilled, sometimes organized into gangs, and always ready take enormous risks to satisfy their greed or their addiction to the thrill of violence.

The seventeen chapters offer a variety of stories illustrating the skills and courage of these wardens. Although sometimes the main business is to wait in hiding while anticipating the actions of lawbreakers, most often the stories are brimming with confrontations and high-stakes action.

Bob H. Lee

Among the earlier narratives is the fascinating story of Eastern Airlines flight #401 as it streaked downwards into the Florida Everglades marshlands. Bob Lee tracks the ensuing discovery of the wrecked plane by an airboat-driving young warden, along with his role in the compromised rescue operation. His was Gray Leonhard’s first experience of such a disaster. His long game warden career included hundreds of search-and-rescue operations in which the FWC assisted other law enforcement and rescue agencies.

There are more airboat chases in the book than airboat rescue missions. Whatever the vehicle, game wardens need to foil criminal actions such as deer and turkey poaching, gill-netting operations, and other illegal activities. Confrontations with alligators, snakes, and other dangerous species are also part of a game warden’s work. Alligator and snake skins are profitable commodities, and there are laws governing the harvesting of these money-makers that wardens must enforce. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 10, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 11 Naples and  Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bob Lee

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Long-dead woman leaves legacy of manipulation and discord

Burials, by Mary Anna Evans. Poisoned Pen Press. 302 pages. Hardcover $26.95. Trade paperback $15.95.

Winner of three Florida Book Awards for earlier titles in her Faye Longchamp Mystery Series, Ms. Evans no longer lives in Florida but deserves “Florida Writer” status for her fiction mostly set in the Sunshine State. The setting is now Oklahoma (with a trace of Arkansas), but the ingredients are the ones her fans are familiar with: archaeological acumen, spellbinding mystery, horrible crimes, intrepid sleuthing, and domestic tensions.  

Hired by Chief Roy Cloud, head of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Lighthorse Tribal Police, to assist in the reopening of a dig that was closed down twenty-nine years previously, Faye finds herself involved in a murder case. The site holds the remains of another archaeologist, Dr. Sofia Townsend, who had been exploring the site before disappearing. It soon becomes clear that she was murdered, and then buried, along with several important artifacts.

Disturbing historic sites, especially burial sites, had been a controversial issue in the Muscogee Nation, and in the community of Sylacauga, Oklahoma. Those attempting to reopen the site attracted gunfire. Is that because they knew Dr. Townsend’s remains would be discovered? Is her murderer among those trying to scare people away?


More to the point: is her murderer one of those she had employed shortly before she disappeared? That group includes Sly Mantooth, father of Faye’s husband Joe, and Mickey Callahan, father of an archeologist named Carson Callahan. Carson, who had earned his graduate degrees by doing studies of Townsend’s work, is now part of the team continuing her work – and also part of the investigation of her death.

The shooting of a law enforcement officer guarding the scene of the crime adds a degree of urgency to the investigation led by Chief Cloud, and to the work assigned to Faye.

Faye’s task is further complicated by the essential reason for coming to this tiny Oklahoma town, which is to help her husband rebuild his relationship with his father. Together, they will disperse Joe’s late mother’s ashes. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 3, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 4 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Burials

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books