Tag Archives: Chicago

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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“Karolina’s Twins: A Novel,” by Ronald H. Balson

  • St. Martin’s Press. 320 pp. Hardcover $25.99.

An emotionally rich Holocaust thriller about long-kept secrets.

Karolina’s Twins is the third book in a trilogy (hopefully, to be a series) by Ronald H. Balson. Part legal thriller and part Holocaust narrative, the story echoes the pattern of Balson’s first novel, the highly successful Once We Were Brothers. As with the earlier book, the author risks the possible tedium of putting readers through long stretches of extremely detailed conversations in which one voice dominates. This time, it is the voice of Polish-born Lena Scheinman Woodward, a Holocaust survivor who has a complex story to tell, a promise to keep, and a secret. In her late 80s, Lena is in fine physical and mental condition; she speaks with elegance and precision.

Karolina'sTwins_FC

The setting for her storytelling is primarily the law office of Catherine Lockhart, a lawyer whom Lena insists should represent her. But as much as Lena reveals to Catherine, the lawyer feels that her client is holding something back. Meanwhile, Lena’s son, Arthur, is prepared to have her declared incompetent: He fears she will squander family resources on an old obsession, and he strives to take control of the assets.

To Arthur, Lena appears obsessed and delusional. But Lena’s preoccupations stem from a promise to return to Poland and find her best friend Karolina’s twin daughters. The infant girls, traveling to a concentration camp along with Karolina and another woman, were cast out of a railroad car in order to save their lives.

The unfolding narrative, which requires many meetings, is in part shaped by Catherine’s questions. Often, Catherine’s husband, private investigator Liam Taggart, is in the room. It will be Liam’s task to verify the facts of Lena’s story — including the reliability of her memory.

So there is the story Lena tells, mostly focused on her experiences during the Holocaust, the story of the legal proceedings, and the story of the relationship between Catherine and Liam, appearing in the trilogy together, for the third time (including the second book, Saving Sophie).

The Holocaust narrative is fascinating, horrifying, and yet on the whole, uplifting. We are witness to terrible suffering via the full range of Nazi cruelty and the defiant, generous actions of a handful of individuals. It lives in the authentic details of place, especially the Scheinman family’s small town, which is occupied by Nazi forces. Balson’s historical research goes far beyond the story he was told by the woman whose life served as his main source. Moreover, he employs that research smoothly and stunningly.

Balson

Balson

Once the legal proceedings are underway, Balson is writing a courtroom drama. Arthur’s lawyer is truly nasty: a fine match for his client. The unfriendly, self-important judge threatens Catherine with contempt of court if she does not reveal information that would sacrifice attorney-client privilege. The competency hearing requires more than the display of Lena’s obvious mental and physical health. How can she prove that she is neither fabricating nor imagining seemingly far-fetched events?

To read the full review, please click here: Karolina’s Twins: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

Mr. Balson will be speaking about this novel at the Collier County Jewish Book Festival on January 11 at Temple Shalom. Also on the program, which begins at 1:00pm, will be Alyson Richman, author of The Velvet Hours. Full JBF program soon available at jewishbookfestival.org.

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Doctored credentials do doctor in after decades of effective role play

The Wrong Road Home, by Ian A. O’Connor. Pegasus Publishing & Entertainment Group. 284 pages. Trade paperback $14.95. Kindle e-book $2.99.

The jacket copy describes this book as “A story of treachery and deceit inspired by true events.” Desmond Donahue, the unlicensed “doctor” who is the central character in this story that reads like a memoir, actually existed. Exposés about him were all over the media some decades back. The value of Mr. O’Connor’s novelistic treatment is in its psychological and moral probing of a man who, by living a lie, denies himself a full and truly free life. ianoconnor-300dpi-3125x4167(11)

Early on, readers learn that the time comes when Desmond’s deceit is exposed. Thus, the question for readers is not whether he will get caught and pay the consequences but how did it come to pass that he made decisions that led to infamy and self-loathing. What kind of friendships can a man have who cannot reveal his dark secret? What has he traded for the stature and degree of wealth that reversed the harsh poverty of his early years?

The portrait of those early years in a small Irish town is rich in detail and totally credible. We can see why Desmond is not anxious to stay in a place that is at once remote and lacking in opportunities. As a young man, he is fortunate enough to have a series of jobs with large construction companies. These jobs enable him to travel, and they open his horizons to possible futures. The idea of becoming a doctor becomes an obsession.

He comes to the U. S. following after opportunities in Chicago. Here, he has employments in restaurants and earns a GED (General Equivalency Diploma) which allows him to consider high education as the next step toward fulfilling his ambition. He take necessary science courses and assists with lab work in various medical fields.

O'Connor

O’Connor

Suddenly, receives an opportunity to enter a special medical program in the School of Medicine at University College, Cork. Desmond returns to Ireland ready to push towards his dreams only to discover that the official who authorized his admission had overstepped his authority. Desmond must go through many lower level hurdles and reapply again.

Dealing with this grave and unfair setback sets Desmond on the path of cutting corners and indulging in smaller and then larger deceptions. Though he gains the knowledge and skills that he needs to perform like a skilled, credentialed physician. He never becomes one. He makes a good friend, Roger, who temporarily solves Desmond’s problems by arranging for false documents that allow him to perpetuate his fraud. Indeed, Roger hires Desmond to co-staff a government-run group of medical centers.

But the risk of discovery is always there, and the rest of his life is based on a lie. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appear in the April 20, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 21 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – O’Connor

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“Saving Sophie,” by Ronald H. Balson

  • St. Martin’s Griffin. 448 pages. Trade paperback $15.99.

This fast-paced, globe-spanning thriller takes readers from Hawaii to Hebron.

This exciting, information-packed novel is almost bursting at the seams of its ambition. In it, author Ronald H. Balson orchestrates several intersecting storylines that cover a broad geographical, generational, and geopolitical span.

The two main narratives follow an $88 million embezzlement case in Chicago and a sophisticated terrorist plot masterminded out of Hebron. When the payoff from a colossal business deal engineered in part by accountant (and single father) Jack Sommers goes awry, the money not deposited in the authorized account, Jack is among those under suspicion.

So he takes on a false identity and hides out in Hawaii.

The complicated legal case triggered by the embezzlement requires the skills of key characters from Once We Were Brothers, Balson’s first novel. They are attorney Catherine Lockhart, once fired from the firm that now needs her, and private eye Liam Taggart. These two have a long-simmering romance that percolates throughout.

They are also tied to the terrorist plot headed by Jack’s Muslim father-in-law, Dr. Arif al-Zahani, from his home in Palestinian Hebron. The doctor is a leader of the Sons of Canaan, a sinister group preparing a devastating action designed to kill thousands.

Liam is recruited to work with a beautiful counterterrorism agent, Kayla Cummings, who is at first identified as attached to the U.S. Department of State. The mission is to rescue Jack’s daughter, Sophie — who has been kidnapped by her grandfather, al-Zahani — and to foil the looming attack. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click hereSaving Sophie | Washington Independent Review of Books

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