Category Archives: Florida Authors

Blood, bullets,brutality abound in latest from Jeffery Hess

Tushhog, by Jefferey Hess. Down & Out Books. 330 pages. Trade paperback $17.95.

Set in 1981 in Fort Myers, Florida and nearby Lehigh Acres, Mr. Hess’s second Scotland Ross novel abounds in blood, bullets, and brutality. Rival crime cadres vie for power, alliances are reshaped, and conditions are such that not taking sides can be an act of courage. Scotland, still mourning the death of his young son, is preoccupied with trying to achieve a life on the right side of the law, but all around him forces are at work to push him over to the wrong side.  

Though he has a sense of right and wrong, Scotland has a history of poor choices. Also, he has difficulty in checking his instinctive reactions to situations that come his way.

Does he have a girlfriend? Well, course. What would a tall, trim, muscular dude be without a beautiful girlfriend? Gorgeous Kyla, his sexy drummer girl, has an independent streak that makes Scotland nervous. He wants to take care of her – to keep her safe. But she has other ideas. Kyla is a fine character, and one can hope that she has a future in the next installment. Like all of us, she keeps secrets. Finding the balance of intimacy and independence is difficult for each of them, and Mr. Hess paints their ups and downs with convincing precision.

Hess

For an action novel, this one has a lot of talk. Ordinarily, I would find dialogue this detailed and prolonged to be out of balance with the other elements of story-telling. However, Jefferey Hess has a flair for orchestrating the various voices (characters) he has created, individualizing them and giving their interplay rhythm and force. The voices project social class, ethnicity, education, and personal style. It’s mostly a southern smorgasbord, with a bit of New York and Cuba thrown in depending upon which part of the novel’s criminal spectrum is being represented. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 19, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly as well as the September 20 Charlotte County edition and the  September 13  Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Tushhog

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Florida, families, and fruit trees anchor a dazzling fiction set in the early 1960s

Goldens Are Here, by Andrew Furman. Green Writers Press. 364 pages. Trade paperback $21.95.

There are so many strands and points of interest in this fine, highly original novel that it’s hard to know where to begin. In the background is the Cuban Missile Crisis, the blooming (technically and economically) of Florida’s Space Coast, and the Civil Rights struggle. In the foreground is the Florida citrus industry in the early 1960s as represented by a body of small grove owners along or near the Indian River.  

In these communities, the white folks own the groves and the black folks perform much of the labor. Race relations are in an uneasy truce, a tangle of old habits and shaky dependencies. A great freeze threatens to destroy the groves, even if insects don’t.

The central character, Isaac Golden, has abandoned his career as a physician and set out on a grand adventure with his wife Melody and their two young children – Sarah and Eli. Moving away from the Philadelphia area, where their Jewish identity was readily reinforced, they have settled in a small town with only one other Jewish family and a considerable ride to Jewish institutions. The Goldens are clearly outsiders, and the way they are addressed by many of the townspeople carries a brand of politeness that barely veils a cultural tradition of anti-Semitism.

Professor Andrew Furman
Credit Benjamin Rusnak

Prof. Furman portrays how Isaac and Melody deal with their displacement and discomfort with skill and sensitivity.

The story of Isaac’s attempt to develop improved breeds of oranges becomes a continuing lesson in citrus science. Prof. Furman provides a large specialized vocabulary that is the basis for reader understanding of Isaac’s mission and of the industry he has entered. This material and the extensive exposition should fall flat, but somehow the author makes it sing. He does this by capturing Isaac’s poetic passion, especially his interest in avoiding chemical pesticides and employing means of protecting his groves using natural, nontoxic agents.

Well, he is spending more money than he is likely to make. Melody develops a roadside business selling from her vegetable garden, from the groves, and from the kitchen – her wonderful pies add much-needed income to the Goldens’ enterprise. . . .

To see the entire review, as it appears in the August 22, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 23 Naples, Bonita Spring, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Goldens Are Here

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When you hear voices, is someone there?

Flame Vine: His Voices, by Charles Porter. Privately published. 338 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

This, the second volume in Mr. Porter’s The Hearing Voices Series, is not like anything else I’ve come across in my many decades of avid book reading. Really! The author provides a truly original voice, a distinctive cast of characters, and an East-Central to Southern Florida landscape that sweeps upward from norther Palm Beach County, touching Wellington, Stuart, Belle Glade, and perhaps Mr. Porter’s home town of Loxahatchee. The narrative has the smell of the burning sugar cane fields up that way, and its characters engage with a lot of other substances that are turned to smoke or imbibed in some other way.

The novel portrays the cultural scene of this swath of Florida as being in many ways representative of the U.S.  during the second half of the 20th century. It opens in 1950 and takes us into the life of Aubrey Shallcross, his friends, and his resident voices through the early 1980s—when things change for the worse as an age of materialism seems to override an age that fostered various types of spirituality.

Did I say “resident voices?” Well yes. Aubrey has been hearing voices since childhood, living with them, confiding in them, even learning from them. The primary voice, capable of positive influence, is Triple Suiter, affectionately called Trip. Other voices – or presences – are Amper Sand and a darker presence called Slim Hand. Traditional psychiatric medicine would call Aubrey’s condition schizophrenia, but Charles Porter is wary of this label to the point of suggesting that no treatment need be recommended. Aubrey is a fully functioning individual whose unconventional, unwilled, capacities extend rather than limit his sense of the world and his humanity.

Porter

He is a member of a community that not only tolerates him but finds him to be a steadying anchor. The gang that meets at the Blue Goose for nourishment and alcoholic refreshments – and every kind of narcotic – is a group given to excess. While some, like murdering vigilante Sonny, who stuffs his dead victims in refrigerators, are truly over the top, they are nonetheless reasonably loyal to one another. . . .

To read the entire review, as published in the August 8, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 9 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach additions, click here: Florida Weekly – Flame Vine

 

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James Swain’s new thriller takes him in a new direction

The King Tides, by James Swain. Thomas & Mercer. 303 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

If you are looking for a new James Swain novel, a tantalizing tale of magic, gambling, and casino chicanery, don’t look here. Mr. Swain has launched a new character, and I hope he’s launching a new series. Jon Lancaster is something of a throwback to the hardboiled detective school; but the label has tears in it. He doesn’t completely fit. He’s tough, but he has a heart. A former Navy SEAL and a former policeman, Lancaster has a formidable package of skills and experience. As a private detective, freed from the restraints of federal or local governments, he has maintained connections that serve him well.

Slovenly and seemingly out of shape, Lancaster doesn’t make much of a first impression. But that’s how he likes it. To his adversaries, and even to his clients, he is a man of surprises.

Attractive teenager Nicki Pearl’s life has been turned upside down. She is constantly being stalked by perverts. Except for one rebellious misdeed, she can’t figure out why. If we can believer her innocence, we must wonder how she finds herself in this situation.

Swain

Dr. Nolan Pearl, Nicki’s father, has a difficult time thinking that Lancaster is the right man for the job. His wife is even more reluctant to trust rough-hewn Lancaster. But they succumb to his self-confidence and credentialed experience. They are in a panic, especially since two creeps had attempted to abduct Nicki at a nearby mall. When Lancaster sees a video of the mall scene, he can tell the men are professionals.

I may be giving too much away by saying that Nicki is being mistaken for someone else, someone in porn videos designed and circulated to attract and trap degenerates. The actress is Beth Daniels, an FBI agent who turned to crime fighting after surviving abduction in her college years. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the July 25, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The King Tides

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A highly original time-shifting thriller rendered in gorgeous prose

The Shimmer, by Carsten Stroud. Mira Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Here is a daring, magnetic, and brilliantly constructed novel that takes readers places they’ve never been. Well, you may have traveled to Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and New Orleans – but you will not have encountered the kind of time-travel orchestration of action that Mr. Stroud has managed to portray with such power and authoritative detail. “Authoritative” is the right word. These places and what happens in them – and then unhappens – are so compellingly imagined that you will believe what can’t be true.  

The narrative begins with a high-speed chase episode that is unforgettable – and it gains momentum from there.

In the present, Florida Highway Patrol’s Sergeant Jack Redding pursues a serial killer, a kind of time traveling femme fatale, who back in 1957 was sought by his grandfather, Clete Redding, of the Jacksonville police. The cycles of pursuit and escape follow this evil spirit known as Selena, Diana, and by several other names as well. Her lifetime is extended by time shifts that involve riding a time-bending force called The Shimmer. To catch her, one must follow her. Time markers in the Selena story go back to 1914.

Carsten Stroud photo credit Linda Mair

One aspect of the plot premise is the possibility that the damage Selena has done can be undone by adjustments in – or to – time. However, these adjustments – if made by entering through the wrong temporal portal – can have disastrous unintended consequences. Characters travel into the past to shape (reshape?) the future, but the outcomes of their efforts, even if in pursuit of justice, are unpredictable.

Mr. Stroud builds a fascinating logic of cause and effect that keeps readers hooked while it keeps them guessing. As the characters slide (or shimmer) from the world we share to the world adjusted by time travel, our belief in them is carried over to our belief in what they experience and hold true.

Can a tragedy that occurs on the Matanzas Inlet bridge along Florida’s route A1A be wiped away by a time shift back to before the bride was built? If so, what other time-bound occurrences will be altered? . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the July 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Shimmer

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The surprisingly influential Jewish community at the southernmost corner of the United States

The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969), by Arlo Haskell. Sand Paper Press. 208 pages. Deluxe Trade Paperback $24.00.

In seven well-shaped chapters, Haskell packs an enjoyable and frequently astonishing history of Key West’s Jewish community. Hearing of the topic, some people will assume that this is a slender thread to spin into a book. However, they would be wrong. Haskell’s research has turned up a considerable amount of information that brings to life 144 years of Jewish involvement in this most idiosyncratic town.

Young Men’s Hebrew Association

The chapters bite off chronological slices of history, each focusing on the economic and cultural aspects of Jewish life. Thus, the journey begins with a discussion of sailors and merchants in an era of military events,stressing the importance of Key West as a port town, a multilingual place that had an international flair. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Jewish community was tiny, hardly a real community. Early Jewish settlers included Mordecai White and Samuel Cline, who were tailors and clothes merchants. The naval presence brought them customers.

During a twenty-year span that followed the initial attraction of Jews to Key West, opportunities in a growth industry took hold and swelled the population, including the Cuban and the Jewish population. Samuel Seidenberg “was the first manufacturer to capitalize on the fact that a cigar as good as the Cuban ones could be made in Key West at significantly lower cost.” He constructed a huge factory. His Jewish rivals included M. Myerson, Max Marx, the Pohalski brothers, and Julius Ellinger. Haskell’s narrative of the Key West tobacco boom shows how it promoted the town’s economy, attracting investment with its hundreds of employees. The Pohalski brothers built a company corner of town with homes for their workers. Their section of Key West gave rise to dry good and grocery stores, as well as a drug store and a saloon. These leaders were primarily secular Jews.

Arlo Haskell photo Nick Doll

As he traces the growth of the Jewish presence in Key West, Haskell keeps us in touch with larger issues of the time, including the Civil War and the Ten Years’ War fought to liberate Cuba from the Spanish Empire. He points out parallels in the age-old Jewish and nineteen century Cuban struggles for autonomy and independence. Haskell points out the need for Key West’s Jews to form alliances with exiled Cubans who, under the leadership of José Martí, had made Key West their command center.

The latter decades of the nineteenth century mark the beginning of a true Jewish community. New Jewish settlers in Key West often continued their European enterprises as peddlers and shopkeepers. Though Key West was ravaged by a fire in 1886, the rebuilding of the town brought new opportunities. Abram Wolkowsky and other Eastern European Jews shared religious customs, the experience of exile, and the Yiddish language. Slowly, Jewish institutions begin to take hold. Congregation B’nai Zion, still functioning, gives 1887 as its date of origin.

The Jewish Alliance’s Key West chapter emerged in 1891. Its primary concern was to establish a Jewish cemetery, and it did so. As the century wound down, “Jews had become an important and highly visible component of Key West business life.” One of the community leaders, Louis Fine, was not only a successful business man, but also served as lay leader for religious matters until Key West had its first rabbi.

Fine’s grocery store had a lower level used “to store weapons for the [Cuban] rebel army.” Haskell devotes a chapter to exploring the phenomenon of “Jewish Revolutionaries” in the 1890s.

The first two decades of the twentieth century witness a strong, thriving Key West Jewish community. The Jewish congregation held services and other activities on the second floor of the Fine family’s hardware store. When Fine was not available, itinerant Rabbi Herman Horowitz handled the community’s religious needs. All kinds of Jewish businesses were set up along and near Duval Street.

Marks, Rosenthal & Wall Family

Jewish shoe merchants

On top of the Honest Profit House, a clothing store run by the Wolkowsky family, sat the office of the U. S Immigration Inspector, and through that office many hundreds of Jews took their first steps toward citizenship.

Key West rode the wave of nationwide improvements in communication and other technologies. The growing Jewish population was serviced by efforts of the Jewish Alliance to find jobs for Jewish immigrants. This initiative included relocating immigrants from overcrowded New York to various other places around the country, Key West included. By 1905, the Jewish community reported having 158 members. Its members joined efforts to reunite Jewish families that had been separated. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 4, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 5 Naples and  Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Key West’s Jews 1  and Florida Weekly – Key West’s Jews 2

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Musical genius helped others reach success while fighting his inner demons

Phil Gernhard, Record Man, by Bill DeYoung. University Press of Florida. 208 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

The University Press of Florida has published an unofficial series of books about the state’s role in American’s popular music. These include “Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band,” “Music Everywhere: The Rock and Roll Roots of a Southern Town” (about the Gainesville scene), and “Elvis Ignited: The Rise of an Icon in Florida” (all reviewed in these pages). Mr. DeYoung’s effort is essentially a biography of a relatively unknown giant in the popular music world. Following along the trail Phil Gernhard’s life, the author paints a vivid picture of the U. S. music industry in the second half of the twentieth century.  

Trained neither as a musician nor a businessman, Gernhard picked up what he needed to know through hustle and hard work. He began early, and by the time he was nineteen he had produced a million-copy recording: “Stay,” a monstrous hit performed by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. It was 1960, and Gernhard had already recorded a few other songs by his group.

Gernhard’s career was hardly a straight or unbroken line. He had many ups and downs. Still, he managed to produce an amazing amount of recorded music, and a high percentage of those releases become hits, bringing money into the pockets of the musicians, songwriters, studio technicians, and owners of record labels. He succeeded through changing times and changing tastes.

DeYoung

Mr. DeYoung makes it only too clear that Gernhard was an accomplished and somewhat greedy dealmaker, negotiating contracts that gave him many slices of the pie. Sometimes songwriter credit for doctoring a needy lyric, sometimes a percentage for enhancing production quality, and sometimes simply by writing himself into the contract for being able to put all the pieces together. He was labeled as a producer, and he produced.

He worked to get studio time, rehearsal time, radio play, engagements for live performances, and whatever else might make a record a success. When the industry changed from one in which singles lost out to albums in the economics of the industry, Gernhard learned how to adapt and how to help others adapt.

Originally based in his home state of Florida, Gernhard also rose the ladder of influence in such music capitals as Los Angeles and Nashville.

Now it’s time to name names: Dion DiMucci’s career was resurrected by Gernhard with the improbably successful ballad “Abraham, Martin and John.” He produced hits for Lobo, Jim Stafford, the Bellamy Brothers, Rodney Atkins, and Tim McGraw. It wasn’t just hustling. Gernhard was credited with having “magic ears.” He could tell that a song (or a singer) had a lucrative future. He knew how to match a song and a singer for maximum effect. . . .

 

To read the full review, as it appears in the June 27, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Record Man  

See also: Skyway

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Portraits of shakers and makers whose efforts shaped today’s Florida

Florida Made, by George S. LeMieux and Laura E. Mize. The History Press. 284 pages. Trade paperback $21.99.

Made elegant being printed on glossy paper, which makes the illustrations stand out, this is a must-have book for Floridians who love their state and want to brag about it. It will also bring pleasure to readers who love history and enjoy seeing how the present attributes of an area grow out of the creative genius and hard work of far-sighted individuals. Written in an attractive, engaging prose style, it will make a fine addition to any Florida library. It’s also a good choice for gift-giving.  

The essays touch some common themes, but they are essentially independent. Readers can choose their own pace regarding whether to read a chapter at a time or move along through four or five before taking a break.

Many of the names will be familiar and thus expected. Yet even when reviewing the profiles of Walt Disney and Margery Stoneman Douglass, most readers will encounter information they didn’t have before. Florida Made is a user-friendly way of absorbing Florida history and learning how especially talented and dedicated individuals make game-changing contributions.

Mize and LeMieux

Some of the individuals are important because they launched something that gave the state an important new dimension. Ted Arison’s contributions to building the cruise ship industry allowed Florida’s ports to blossom and to make Florida not only a destination but also a gateway to countless other destinations. Now, it’s hard to think about Florida without thinking about the opportunities for pleasurable travel abroad.

Wayne Huizenga succeeded in many businesses (Waste Management, for example), before becoming involved with sports franchises, boosting Florida’s number of professional sporting teams and sporting events and helping brand Florida as a major sports capital. . . .

To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the June 13, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 14 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Florida Made

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Almost down for the count, Kirk McGarvey rebounds to outdo the bad guys

Flash Points, by David Hagberg. Forge. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This electrifying thriller continues the battle between his continuing hero, Kirk McGarvey, and the shrewd, highly skilled freelance assassin introduced in Tower Down (reviewed in these pages). Let’s call that man, who has several identities, Kamal. He has roots in Saudi Arabia, but easily blends into Western environments. For sale to the highest bidder, he has his own agenda.  

At the top of Kamal’s list is the murder of “Mac,” his nemesis. Not only must he cleanse the world of this CIA operative and former director, Kamal needs to see Mac suffer, and maybe Mac’s girlfriend as well. Mac had foiled Kamal’s plan to bring down a second Manhattan skyscraper in “Tower Down.”

However, what’s making Kamal a very wealthy man is his agreement to put Mac out of the way for other reasons. Groups with opposing attitudes toward the new U. S. president want Mac out of the way because he is the person most likely to detect and foil their plans.

The group wishing to discredit the new president is bankrolling a series of terrorist catastrophes meant to undermine the stature of the inexperienced, ill equipped president. He will, so goes the scheme, inevitably blunder in ways that will make his replacement inevitable. This group’s leaders have put Kamal on their payroll.

The cadre that supports the new president wishes to use similar schemes to opposite ends. They will be manipulating events to make him look good; not only will the outcome assure solidifying his base, but also expanding it.

Hagberg

The novel opens with an explosion meant to destroy Mac’s car and him with it. Planned by Kamal, misplacement of the explosive material by a hireling lessens the impact. Nonetheless, Mac loses a leg. The CIA leadership thinks it best for him to recuperate in secret and for the word to get out that he has been killed.

While Mac gets used to his peg leg and recovers from other wounds, he participates in the planning that will draw out the crafty Kamal.

Mr. Hagberg alternates the center of consciousness so that readers switch back and forth between following Kamal’s thoughts, emotions, and actions and following Mac’s. The tradecraft and courage of each is well displayed, as is their sharp contrast in values. Suspense builds higher and higher as the inevitable confrontation draws closer and closer. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 23, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 24 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Flash Points

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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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