Tag Archives: Atlanta

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 


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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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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The Atlanta Child Murders reimagined in brilliant crime novel

Innocent Blood, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 264 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Mr. Lister’s seventh John Jordan Mystery takes an unusual step. Instead of moving readers forward on the path of John’s life, it takes them back to his very first case. In fact, this tale takes readers back in time twice. First, to 1980 when the Jordan family went on a vacation to Atlanta. John, twelve at the time, was fated to encounter the man who was later convicted of two murders, though not the murders or abduction of the many black boys who were thought to be his victims.  perf5.500x8.500.indd

However, though John had seen and interacted with Wayne Williams, he didn’t make the connection until many months later when the print and television news was filled with the story of his arrest. The man he met was hawking opportunities for gullible youngsters to become professional entertainers.  Of course, this was not at all the goal of the menacing Mr. Williams.

The Atlanta Child Murders continued to occupy Atlanta police, and they continued to occupy space in young John’s imagination.

Six years later, soon after graduation from high school, John Jordan returns to Atlanta. Having been torn between pursuing a career in law enforcement or one in the ministry, he had opted to enroll in a new ministerial program. This decision was a difficult one, severing John’s relationship with his police chief father who thought John was making a foolish mistake.

While working for the college and its parent church, John manages to attach himself to policemen who had worked on the Atlanta Child Murders, including the man in charge of the investigation. John’s obsessive interest and his obvious analytical skills lead them to allow him a role in the continuing investigation, which has been reignited by similar crimes. This is exactly what John has hoped for. There are just too many unclosed cases with similar details, and yet it seems unlikely that Wayne Williams could have been responsible for all of them.

Michael Lister

Michael Lister

The community John has entered includes Safe Haven, a daycare and aftercare center run by Ida Williams (no relation to Wayne) located near the church. Ida’s young son, LaMarcus, was murdered but never put on the list headed Atlanta Child Murders though his death occurred during that time period. Like John at that time, LaMarcus was twelve years old.

John now meets the beautiful Jordan Williams, Ida’s daughter, who becomes the new love of his life, but she is stuck in a bad marriage. Regularly beaten by her husband, a local policeman, she has her eyes on John, and she appreciates his tentative attentions.

After establishing the key players, Michael Lister focuses on John’s exhausting attempt to balance his college studies, his work commitments that are in lieu of tuition, and his unswerving pursuit of the unsolved murders. Still only a kid himself, John impresses people with his maturity, compassion, and insight. He seems to know what questions need to be pursued. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the  May 6, 2015 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 7 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Innocent Blood

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Headlines, deadlines, and death

Deadly News, by Don Farmer with Chris Curle. Publisher Page/Headline Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $24.95. Trade paperback $19.95.

Suppose the second Atlanta Olympics is about to begin and the news frenzy is ratcheting up while lavish parties feed the buzz. Atlanta’s business and political leaders are all eager to make a killing. Instead, a killing makes the news and threatens to upset their plans, as law enforcement agencies and news crews make the death of a movie star their primary focus.

Waning film star Cav Campbell didn’t just die, he plummeted from the 46th floor of a condo skyscraper and was impaled on the tower mast of TV news truck on hand to cover the celebratory pre-Olympic partying. Campbell, the boy-toy of Global News Service’s chief owner Brenda (“Bren”) Forrest, was a coke-head with a healthy tab and tan. Readers know early-on that he was tossed to his death by Eurasian beauty Lia Lee as part of a plot to weaken Bren’s hold on GNS so that British television and illegal drug entrepreneur Ian Phelps can take over her company.  Cover_DeadlyNews

Suspense rises from the question of whether or not the diabolical Phelps will succeed.

However, the investigation process is far from the major center of interest, especially since it does not take hold until the final fifty pages of the novel. Lia Lee is murdered before she can be found out (let alone arrested) – or is that Tia Lee, Lia’s twin?  Hmmmm, perplexing.

Much more engaging and much more authoritatively presented is the world of television news. Whether detailing the workings of the CNN-like Global News Service or the local Atlanta Channel  3 and its NewsBlitz3 so-called Satellite News Center, Mr. Farmer and Ms. Curle have it nailed. The bits and pieces of reporting, jockeying for position on camera or at the site of the action, and the control room banter are handled with an authenticity colored by sharp, satiric overtones.

Curle and Farmer

Curle and Farmer

The authors provide us with pomposity, other forms of vanity, eagerness, aggressiveness, industry, silliness, and even some downright professionalism. The race for getting the news out first, maybe even getting it right, regularly comes alive in the novel’s most entertaining passages. The parody of news-speak gets repetitious after a while, but it never gets dull. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 21, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 22 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Don Farmer

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“Weapon of Choice,” by Patricia Gussin

Weapon of Choice

Oceanview Publishing, $25.95, 328 pages.

In Tampa, chief of surgery and research professor Laura Nelson finds her hospital’s intensive care unit ravaged by a virulent rogue bacterium. Among those threatened are her teenage daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. Aided by her Atlanta-based friend Dr. Stacey Jones of the Center for Disease Control, Laura helps put quarantine measures into effect and seeks an effective countermeasure. 

Patricia Gussin

Readers soon discover that the killer bio-agent has been purposely planted by a mad scientist who wants revenge on his former NIH colleague, a man who had attained great prestige and wealth developing formulas on which the men had collaborated.

As is common research practice, the virulent bacteria strain was developed not for biotech warfare, but rather as a first step toward designing its antidote. . . .

To read the full review, my last for the citybookreview.com team, click here: Weapon of Choice | City Book Review

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