Category Archives: Florida Authors

A haunting serial killer novel with spirited pacing and surprising twists

The Bricklayer of Albany Park, by Terry John Malik. Blank Slate Press. 342 pages. Trade paperback $16.99.

A psychological thriller with a strong dose procedural detail, Mr. Malik’s debut novel is the surprisingly solid achievement of a man who had never before attempted fiction writing. Its success is largely dependent on an impressive amount of well-integrated research, a masterful understanding of Chicago, and an equally keen grasp of extreme mental illness. The author provides plenty of surprises for his readers, as well as a torrent of suspense. 

Most of the novel is presented through two alternating perspectives. One narrative voice is that of Detective Francis (Frank) Vincenti, a once-aimless young man who has become a stellar investigator for the Chicago Police Department. In this way he was unlike his childhood friend, Tony Protettore, who was constantly preoccupied with thoughts of joining the police thoughts.

Readers learn of Frank’s odd friendship with and training by ex-cop Thomas Aquinas Foster, his CPD partnership with Sean Kelly, and his disastrous marriage to Beth – an aspiring lawyer.

Malik

The other narrator is simply known, through much of the novel, as Anthony. A serial killer who hunts down, punishes, and eradicates child molesters, Anthony is a meticulous planner (though sometimes his plans go wrong). Mr. Malik provides the gory details of Anthony’s crimes and stresses the killer’s interest in being celebrated for his work in cleansing Chicago of those who exploit children. Anthony stages his murders and the places where the mutilated corpses will be discovered. He thrives on publicity, and he bates the police officers, who efforts to protect children are insufficient. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 9, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 10 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bricklayer

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Jeff Klinkenberg’s fourth collection is another Florida treasure

Son of Real Florida: Stories from My Life, by Jeff Klinkenberg. University Press of Florida. 248 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

You’re not likely to find a book that can top this one for love of its topic, wisdom, curious information, and a quiet, self-deprecating humor. If Florida has a soul, then Mr. Klinkenberg is its singer. If you enjoy unforgettable characters, nature, history, or intriguing places, this author has plenty of well-turned vignettes to hold your attention and bring a smile to your face. 

However, it’s not all smiles. There’s a sadness here too: Much of what he calls “real Florida” is gone, and much more is fading. Jeff Klinkenberg respectfully memorializes what’s gone. He makes his peace with what has replaced it. He is somewhat comforted by what’s left.

Mr. Klinkenberg has divided the book into ten chapters, each of which has several smaller sections – on average five or six to a chapter. This design makes for easy reading. While the book has various kinds of flow and continuity, there are plenty of resting places to enjoy before moving on.

Klinkenberg

After looking back to his relationship with his father, Mr. Klinkenberg (hereafter “Klink”) ruminates on what kind of lifestyles define Florida: beach bums, a taxi-driving woman from a small town making endless round trips to and from its tiny airport, a swampland wedding, or living among rattlesnakes.

Representative special Florida people include Miss Martha the oyster shucker, Sheepshead George the fisherman, and that rare phenomenon: an Afro-American Florida cowboy. The profiles are vivid, affection, and likely to stay with you. They deserve rereading.

What is real key lime pie? This author has the answer. What happened to the citrus shops that used to dot the highways? Klink knows what and why. Then there is the problem of designing and growing the perfect, yet affordable and transportable, tomato. . . .

 

To see the entire review, as it appears in the April 25, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Son of Real Florida

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Florida series premier focuses on predators who kidnap and sell children

Cooper’s Moon, by Richard Conrath. Gulf Shore Press. 400 pages. Trade Paperback $14.99.

This gripping debut novel is the first in a projected Cooper series. Timely issues, elaborately painted South Florida settings, a strong protagonist, and haunting horrors will keep readers engaged and on edge.  

Cooper is a driven man. Seven years before the story’s point of attack, Cooper and his wife Jillie suffered a marriage-destroying tragedy. Their young son Maxie was inexplicably gone from their lives, probably kidnapped from the neighborhood of their rural Ohio home. Their local searches go nowhere. The marriage collapses under the weight of mutual recriminations.

Seeking a fresh angle on finding his son, Cooper leaves his college teaching job and moves to Miami, where he has connections. He becomes a homicide detective in the Miami Police Department, and he lives in a community called Oceanside.

Readers meet him seven years into his second career, working a case involving the shooting of a twelve- year-old boy. Soon after, he gets involved in a case about a teenage girl, Tamara Thompson, whose corpse was found in a cemetery. It’s easy for Cooper to be sympathetic with Tamara’s parents.

Cooper’s lack of progress on the hunt for his son’s fate and his frustration with police bureaucracy leads him to leave the police department and become a private investigator. He manages to hold onto some of his police friends, including his former partner Detective Tony DeFelice, but they never let him forget that he “copped out” on them.

Conrath

Soon enough, Cooper learns that there are several unsolved child murders in or near his Oceanside community. And other children are missing. Even though leads are scarce, the road to information leads to a seminary whose candidates for priesthood are also trying to save area youths from lives of crime or from other kinds of danger. Cooper’s first case as a PI leads him there. Cooper finds the leaders to be either closed-mouthed or speaking with false, forced sincerity.

Mr. Conrath has taken us into the hideous world of human trafficking. These innocent kids are for sale via an international marketplace where their abductors compete for goods for which there is an insatiable demand. Is the seminary a cover operation? Who’s ultimately pulling the strings?

. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the April 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Cooper’s Moon

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Shedding a Bright New Light on Old Age

The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life, by Dr. Marc E. Agronin.  Da Capo Press. 227 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

This book should be on the desk of every geriatric specialist, senior living facility staff member, and senior citizen caretaker. Most senior citizens will also benefit from its wisdom, compassion, and sensible guidelines for successful living at an advanced age. Carefully organized into four easily digested parts each containing two complementary chapters, Dr. Argonin’s book is nothing less than a manual for moving beyond the negative connotations of aging.  

“We must learn,” he writes, “how to age in a creative manner that is both the antidote to feeling old and the elixir of aging well.” It is a philosophy aimed not at recapturing youth, but rather exploiting the gifts of advanced age. Dr. Agronin is an accomplished writer whose experience and empathy generate positive vibes as well as practical planning advice.

One of Dr. Agronin’s key points concerns the accumulated wisdom of the elderly. He offers many examples, stories of patients and others, of how this wisdom has value not only for others, but as a resource for the person going through the aging process. He articulates five categories of behavior, vividly defined and exemplified, to explore the growth and use of an individual’s wisdom in old age. These are savant, sage, curator, creator, and seer. They are presented as five jewels in a crown.

Agronin

Though the categories overlap somewhat, they are useful concepts. They are not meant to pigeonhole people, but to find the ways in which aging is useful, to counter the customary “dread and denigration” of aging, and to build new habits of identity. Dr. Agronin calls these categories the five jewels in the crown of wisdom.

In a later chapter, Dr. Agronin defines a concept he calls “age points,” which are periods of adversity, struggle, or despondency along the aging journey. Age points threaten our ability to cope. The author guides readers through a series of stages to work through the trauma of an age point. First is recognizing the precipitating event, after which comes a sense of “suspension” – of not being able to respond to a crisis productively. Next comes a multi-faceted evaluation of how to “reconcile the gap between what we have and what we need.” Finally, comes the action of resolution and forward movement, usually attached to an altered perspective and sense of positivism. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 28, 2018 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the March 29  Palm Beach edition, and the April 5 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Agronin

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Experiment produces a new kind of technologically-augmented human

Cutting Edge, by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 332 pages. Hardcover $25.99. 

This futuristic thriller has everything going for it: a great premise, suspenseful plotting, vivid sensory detail, fine characters, and a highly engaging narrative style. The possible future it explores seems just over the horizon of today’s digital and medical technologies. Young, handsome Trey DeBolt works as Coast Guard rescue swimmer in Alaska. He survives a helicopter crash only to find out he has been declared dead. And he is not the man he used to be.

He is much, much more.

Once recovering consciousness, Trey finds himself in a remote cabin along the Maine cost under the supervision of a nurse. Slowly, as he recovers physically, he discovers that he has special abilities that will take him a while to understand and control. It will take him even longer to discover why he has them and what his reincarnation means.

In the meantime, the nurse is assassinated, and her cabin is blown up.

Trey has been part of a clandestine, perhaps illegal, government experiment that wasn’t even supposed to succeed. He has been rewired by a mad genius doctor and put under the direction of a renegade army general. He is now an important component in the wired and wireless world through which data flows. If the title hadn’t been taken some years back for a Michael Crichton novel and the movie based on it, he could be Terminal Man. Indeed, the two novels have more than a little in common regarding new technologies and the battle for control over them.

It’s enough that Trey is Data-man. He can tap into any source of digital information, finding what he needs to solve any problem. He sends out a question, and – sometimes with a bit of delay – he will receive answers. The receiving instrument for Trey’s digital processing is a tiny screen imbedded in his eye that allows him to scan images and text from almost any source. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 14, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 15 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly- Cutting Edge

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A high-energy romp from the prolific Randy Wayne White

Caribbean Rim, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 336 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

The champ is at it again. It’s number 25 in the Doc Ford series, and he is in high gear. This novel takes us to the Bahamas, especially Andros Island – which is larger than all the other inhabited Bahamian islands put together. For Doc, this trip is part getaway and part “help out a friend”: not always a good way to relax. Doc’s Sanibel hippy-dippy neighbor and part-time genius Tomlinson is not far away, helping Doc engage with Carl Fitzgerald, a friend of both men. Carl is addicted to the potentially enormous payoffs of finding sunken treasure.  

Carl is in trouble. His in trouble for breaking regulations of the Florida Division of Historical Resources. The agency’s director, Leonard Nickelby, is on his case. As it turns out, events fulfill Fitzgerald’s favorite maxim: “The first rule of treasure hunting is to trust no one.” Not even a government agent. As ever, Doc Ford will turn out to be the exception to the rule, even as he realizes he is being manipulated so that others might profit – if they survive.

Somehow, Leonard (alternately Leo and other derivatives) goes off the charts, and along with him is a young boy and a hard-used, admitted ugly, but astoundingly smart woman named Lydia. If there ever was a woman who invited abuse, Lydia is she – but Lydia is a survivor and a shrewd manipulator in her own right.

White – photo by Wendy Webb

What’s at stake? Rare Spanish coins, Fitzgerald’s logbook about uncharted wreck sites, and everyone’s life. There are plenty of beasts out there to contend with, but the human breed is the worst. This includes the once successful movie-maker, Efron Donner, who has captured Leonard and Lydia – the young boy, too. Donner is one of the author’s most despicable villains, though he has a lot of competition in this regard. Watching Lydia play him is a reader’s delight.

Oddly, Lydia has brought out the best in Leonard, who has some unexpectedly heroic moments, as well as the predictable foolish ones. Among other things, he is a “nerd reborn” in the sensory delights of the Caribbean. . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the March  7, 2018 Fort Myers  Florida Weekly, and the March 8 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions,  click here: Florida Weekly – Caribbean Rim

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Unbound – or just untethered?

Unbound, by Stuart Woods. Putnam. 318 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

What do you call a Stone Barrington Novel in which Barrington’s role is severely diminished? Some might call it edgy and inventive. I call it an unnecessary gamble – unless the author is toying with the idea of development a new series focused on the film industry.  

The central figure in Unbound is a former CIA operative once known as Teddy Fay, who has also established an identity for himself as Ted Shirley. Teddy has been long established as a Hollywood producer named Billy Barnett, his CIA days relevant only in terms of special skills he can bring to bear to suit special circumstances.

The special circumstance here is Teddy’s need revenge himself upon the husband of the looney woman who killed Teddy’s wife in a hit and run. It helps of the man is in general an SOB who ruins the lives of almost anyone he deals with. Such a man is Dax Baxter, a movie industry climber whose path would be likely to cross with Teddy’s anyway. In fact, Teddy – incognito movie business Jack of all trades Ted Shirley – easily attaches himself to a Dax Baxter project.

Stuart Woods

The scenes that follow the “Ted Shirley” escapade not only bring Teddy in proximity to his unwitting nemesis, but develop engaging insights about how movie deals – and actual movies – are made. Indeed, they reveal how careers are made in a cutthroat world in which loyalty is bought and sold.

The still-grieving Teddy travels to Santa Fe where he spends time with good friends Stone Barrington and Ed Eagle. Suddenly, “Unbound” feels like a Stone Barrington novel for a while: the gorgeous woman, the gorgeous residences, the lifestyles of the wealthy, and the networks of power. It doesn’t take Teddy long to rebound from his sadness and latch onto an attractive new lady friend named Sally Ryder. It hasn’t taken Stone Barrington long, following the death of his wife, to develop a new, hot relationship with the appropriately wealthy and exotic Anastasia Bounine.

Some guys are just lucky, I guess.

This thread of the novel, familiar Stuart Woods territory, allows us to imagine the pleasures of exclusivity. However, plot development lags as Barrington has little to do besides offer Teddy advice and favors. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the March 1, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Unbound

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Solving a crime in The Villages is no walk in the park

Vindication, by H. Terrell Griffin. Oceanview Publishing. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Mr. Griffin’s Matt Royal novels have formed a reliable, suspenseful, and neatly crafted mystery series since they began to appear over a decade ago.  

When Matt’s police detective girlfriend, J. D. Duncan, asks him to sign on as her Aunt Esther’s lawyer, Matt reluctantly adjusts his beach idler persona and sharpens his legal mindset. The case against Esther, who has been thrown in jail, is a strong one. Her fingerprints are on her gun and its bullets, and her gun expelled the bullet that killed the victim, a first-time bestselling author.

Aunt Esther’s motive is, according to the prosecution, grounded in her notion, perhaps delusional, that the manuscript of the best-selling novel was stolen from her. However, the evidence that Esther had the skills to write such a manuscript is lacking.

To help move the case forward. J. D. gets time off from her Longboat Key work in order to go undercover in Esther’s community – the senior mecca called The Villages in North Central Florida. She does much of the leg-work that the case needs while Matt develops a defense strategy.

Much of the enjoyment of this novel comes from Matt’s careful, dogged preparation, his professional rapport with the prosecuting attorney and the judge, and the discoveries that J. D. makes. Once the courtroom scenes begin, Mr. Griffin’s mastery of this material turns Vindication into a red hot legal thriller.

The fact that he is threatened to drop the case leads to background information about decades-old issues that might provide others with a motive to murder the novelist. How long can one carry a grudge about being unfairly treated in a Miss Georgia beauty contest? Cloaked identities slowly unravel, leading to a sure-handed dénouement.

The action keeps Matt moving back and forth between The Villages and Longboat Key. Followers of Mr. Griffin’s work will enjoy the comfortable, familiar rendering of the Longboat Key environment: the relaxed, supportive friendships; the good spirits and pleasant hangouts; and the seaside’s natural beauty.

Mr. Griffin’s treatment of The Villages lacks the usual sarcasm that taints other attempts at capturing this highly successful retirement community for seniors. His is a respectful understanding of what makes The Villages tick.

Always delightful is the loving, teasing relationship between Matt and J. D. Mr. Griffin makes it abundantly clear how perfectly these intelligent, capable individuals are for each other. They have found their soulmates, and they are just too smart and too caring to take their good luck for granted. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 22, 2018  Naples Florida Weekly, the March 21 Fort Myers edition, and the March 22 Charlotte County edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Vindication

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A thriller that spills over into the literary fiction genre

City of Endless Night, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Grand Central Publishing. 368 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Now that one member of this writing team, Lincoln Child, has established a winter residence in Sarasota, I have the pleasure of reviewing their new book in my “Florida Writers” column. Though each author has published notable fiction as a solo writer, their jointly written Pendergast Novel series has perhaps provided more best sellers. This one is certainly a dazzler. 

New York Police Department Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta has been assigned to the case, a search for a tech tycoon’s missing daughter. But then her body is discovered in an abandoned warehouse – headless! Now it’s a gruesome murder investigation. D’Agosta is please to discover that genius FBI Special Agent Pendergast is also assigned to the case.

There is a ton of pressure to solve this horrible crime. Fortunately, both D’Agosta and the legendary Pendergast handle pressure well, though their styles are quite different. Much of the pleasure in this addictive novel is how Preston and Child build such intriguing, distinctive major characters.

The pressure thermometer increases as more headless victims turn up. Why this horrifying signature? What possible motive? Is there one murderer or a bunch of copycats? Are such heinous crimes a symptom of a diseased city?

Preston & Child

The working out of the plot, and the series of beheadings, requires the efforts of many additional law enforcement professionals. The authors handle these subordinate figures well, providing just enough individuality for each so they don’t seem like merely walk-on parts.

The FBI and NYPD are not the only investigative forces at work. New York Post reporter Bryce Harrington is planning a long uptick in his career as the person who reveals the “decapitator.” He stirs things up with an emphasis on how the one percent (the phenomenally rich and privileged New Yorkers) exploit the ninety-nine percent. Maybe the motive – and the disease – is connected to this huge imbalance of power. Maybe someone is righting the scales by bringing down the powerful. Vengeance may be driving the series of crimes. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 15, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – City of Endless Night

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Renowned scientists offer keys to The Keys

Geology of the Florida Keys, by Eugene A. Shinn and Barbara H. Lidz. University Press of Florida. 160 pages. Hardcover  $34.95.

How did the Florida Keys come into existence? What forces continue to work upon this island chain and the countless neighboring coral reefs? What threatens these geological marvels? Such broad questions and many narrower ones are explored and tentatively answered in this handsome volume.  Although the study attempts to be “as nontechnical as possible,” it is nonetheless a major challenge even for the committed student who has at least a general background in geology.  

The authors do not attempt a full geological history of the processes leading to the present situation; however, most readers will be content with engaging only the last 130,000 years!

Before the hard science begins, readers are presented with a multifaceted overview of the Keys. This synopsis includes social history, scientific interest and research, demographic change, freshwater intrusions on the environment, and the short-lived period of oil exploration.

Then the authors plunge into the intricate and interactive processes, particularly how the shifts in sea elevation and movement affect the sedimentary activity. The formation and character of limestone is the key factor in understanding the geology of the Keys.

The chapter on data gathering and mapmaking is filled with interesting details about data collection and the technology of measuring structural characteristic by using explosives, bursts of air, and high voltage pulses. In this chapter readers will also find a detailed definition of “what is a reef?”

The following chapter examines “Major Geomorphic Topographies,” include the area known as White Bank. Throughout, the effects of rising sea levels over time is discussed and regularly underscored.

The next two chapters engage, respectively, the “Western Terminus of the Reef Tract” and, of great interest for future planning, “Coral Health, or Lack Thereof.” In the latter, the authors examine the various factors affecting climate change and the likely outcomes to the keys and reefs of such change.

A final chapter reproduces a geological/biological field trip, setting a model for hands-on experience that productively interfaces with studying professional scientific literature. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the February 8, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Geology of the Florida Keys

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