Monthly Archives: January 2020

Abduction, murder, and the bear parts trade spark exposé of television news business.

by Phil Jason

Fatal Ambition, by Don Farmer with Chris Curle. Publisher Page / Headline Books. 315 pages. Trade Paperback $19.95.

This is a novel in which most of the characters have few, if any, redeeming qualities. It has on display the cutthroat competition in the news business; the shallowness of the hangers-on who have no real reason to expect honest success, the extremes to which dishonesty can go, and the vulnerability of women whose low self-esteem makes them easy prey. Well, there are some women waiting to take revenge.

What’s to like? The sense of insider authenticity; the ever-tightening, hypnotic suspense; and the dark humor that keeps readers laughing at screwball situations and characters.

Set in major metropolis Atlanta and boutique, upscale Naples, Florida, the plot keeps the major characters running back and forth while also touching bases through endless communication. Some are trying to pull off a big scam, and others are trying to expose it. Do you think that “tree-hugger,” the disparaging term for naive environmentalists, has had its day? Maybe so, but what about fake tree-huggers – people who raise money ostensibly to protect a threatened species or otherwise cleanse and improve the environment? What if the money just lines the pockets of corrupt, smiling event-planners for whom taking bows at a televised campaign is a way of life?

Nikki Zachos is an attention-grabbing television anchorwoman whose ambition is to be number one in her market. She seems to have a weakness for clothing made from the skins and furs of slain animals.

An enterprising but suspect do-gooder decides to exploit Nikki’s celebrity by kidnapping her and making her the arch-enemy of animal rights activists. The ransom for Nikki might help the cause, or it might just get certain reporters and station managers great airtime to boost their ratings and salaries. Also, the money that comes in might help Rudy Decker cover his addiction to booze and gambling.

Or will his money come from feeding the black marketplace for black bear body parts, a lucrative commodity?

To enjoy the full article/review as it appears titled “News That’s Fit to Fake” in the January-February issue of Ft.MyersMagazine along with bio,  interview, and images. click on the following link: Fatal Ambition 

https://www.ftmyersmagazine.com/FtM-edit.FatalAmbition.html

You might also enjoy this review of their earlier novel. To see Headlines, Deadlines, and Death, click here: Headlines

Note: the link to the Florida Weekly page for this review is no longer operable. 

 

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“999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz,” by Heather Dune Macadam

Citadel, 480 pages. Hardcover $28.00. 

Aided by solid research, the author bears compassionate witness to unspeakable horror.

In recent years, an astonishing number of new books have provided insights about the utter darkness of the Holocaust, as well as the suffering and courage of its victims and survivors. Heather Dune Macadam’s 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitzdeserves a prominent place in this flowering of books that reshape our understanding through revelations and heartbreaking vignettes.

The author’s narrative, set in Slovakia and other crushed European countries, focuses on a program designed to destroy Jewish womanhood. The action begins in late March of 1942, when a roundup of Jewish females, announced in advance, gets underway. These women — mostly teenagers and young adults — were summoned to report to authorities and board an overcrowded train in the town of Poprad.

The screws had already begun tightening when the Slovak government implemented the Jewish Codex, a series of laws and regulations designed to cripple the country’s Jewish population. Their former rights quickly vanished.

Though pre-roundup escape plans were dangled before some, most of these tempting arrangements were hoaxes that did not pan out. Families were persuaded that the women would participate in a kind of government service for the Reich. They would work in factories and have an opportunity to be true patriots!

Macadam

Many of these female “draftees” came from the towns of Humenné and Prešov, both of which had sizable Jewish populations. And just in case they behaved irresponsibly while being shipped off, they would be policed by the Fascist Hlinka Guard, who would also beat up any interfering brothers and fathers, if required.

The women’s lives at Auschwitz do not turn out as expected. . . .

To see the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  999: The Extraordinary Young Women

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Naples novelest gives lost soul goals for redemption

Blood Moon Rising, by Richard Conrath. Gulf Shore Press. 414 pages. Trade Paperback $14.99.

This is the second installment in Mr. Conrath’s Cooper Mystery Series, following “Cooper’s Moon.” A third installment is expected. The story line for “Blood Moon Rising” continues to follow the protagonist’s despair over the disappearance of his young son, Maxie, who was abducted or otherwise lost at the age of seven. His eight-year quest to find Maxie has faltered, and his marriage has collapsed. However, he has become dedicated to and skilled in missing persons crime detection.

Indeed, Cooper had resigned his university teaching job, relocated from Ohio to Florida, became a homicide detective for the Miami Police Department, and then a private detective.

The present action opens when a call from his former teaching colleague, Jackson, who asks for help. Jackson tells Cooper that he’s the major suspect in a missing person case involving one of his female students who has vanished – and with whom he had been intimate.

Conrath

Now Cooper is plunged into confronting the human trafficking marketplace, with his lost son always on his mind.  The self-imposed assignment first takes him back to Ohio where he picks up some of the help that he needs. Then back to Florida for more support, featuring former co-workers on the Miami PD.

He is by now well aware of an international market in body parts removed by unscrupulous surgeons. Such enterprises, which have Russian mob involvement, include tricking those desperate for money to be test cases in pharmaceutical experiments that might be deadly.

Aside from his crew of old friends from Ohio and Florida, Cooper’s team includes Leo Federovich, the grandfather of a missing university student, who understands the Russian mob scene through his former role as a KGB agent. . . .

To explore the full review, as it appears in the January 1, 2020 Fort Myers, Charlotte County and Venice Florida Weekly, and the January 2 Palm Beach and  Bonita Springs editions, click here: Blood Moon Rising

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“The Moonshiner’s Daughter,” by Donna Everhart

Kensington Books. Trade paperback $15.95.

It’s 1960 in Wilke’s County, North Carolina and sixteen-year-old Jessie Sasser has a problem. In fact, she has several problems. One is an awkward and demeaning relationship with her father. He seems remote and silently critical. Jessie has asked him over and over to explain the death of her mother, which occurred when Jessie was four years old. However, she never gets a meaningful response. Her questioning is basically ignored. Her father resents her questioning, and Jessie interprets this to be, in part, the result of his complicity in her death.

The relationship is further complicated by Jessie’s rebellion against the family business of making and selling moonshine – illegal alcoholic beverages. This business supports her family, and many other families, in this place and time. It supports Jessie’s uncle, aunt, and cousin. This lazy trio does little assist Jessie’s father. They thrive on complaining.

Her younger brother, Merritt, idolizes their father and the moonshiner culture he proudly represents. Thus, Merritt cannot relate to his sister in any positive way.

In her high school, Jessie is almost totally without friends. She connects this condition of being left out or made fun of with the disgrace of the family’s low social status. Her one friend betrays her in various ways. Jessie also sees her isolation as being a consequence of her appearance. She perceives herself as obese, and to fight this vision of herself she has developed poor eating habits. She alternately binges, starves, and purges. The author’s fine, sympathetic delineation of the teenager’s severe eating disorder, along with its causes and consequences, is one of the novelist’s most powerful achievements.

Ms. Everhart provides hints that Jessie misperceives how others see her; however, her lack of self-esteem keeps reinforcing her self-image. Only her elderly neighbor, a woman of shrewd insight and compassion, takes the time to offer Jessie some tools and insights that slowly ameliorate her miserable condition. Mrs. Brewer, who is also a school nurse, is a remarkable character, drawn to perfection by the author.

At first, Jessie is defined as a rebel, fighting against the family’s moonshiner identity and the risks of such an enterprise – risks including the violence of a rival moonshining family and the county agents assigned to apprehend and jail moonshiners as criminals.

Donna Everhard-Credit Gina Warren photography

However, perhaps to win her father’s favor, she becomes cooperative and takes on a share of the work. Neither her father nor her brother is willing to trust her. Because Jessie is the narrator, we know that her change of heart is serious, but after a while she begins to have qualms about her shift in direction. When her father is arrested and sentenced to jail, she must fight the assumption of those who believe that she turned him in.

As the novel progresses, Jessie seems to be accepting the fact that she was born to the life of running moonshine stills and conveying the product to their customers. She’s good at it. She proves herself worthy. When her father is released, he finally offers Jessie some of the positive recognition that he had held back for so long. He also opens up, to a positive outcome, the truth about his wife’s participation in the business and the details about her death twelve years back.

Part of what makes Jessie a compelling character is that her flaws are recognizable. They define her without pushing the reader away. She slowly recognizes who she really is and what she can attain. This is not a story of unexpected epiphanies, but of gradual growth to an enhanced, effective self-awareness. Jessie has miles to go, but she is on the right track. She has developed inner resources that are likely to serve her well.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in running an illegal distillery, this book can serve as a training manual

Originally published in Southern Literary Review as the January Review of the Month.

Click here: Moonshiner’s Daughter

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