Tag Archives: child murders

“Suitcase Charlie” by John Guzlowski

Kasva Press. 328 Pages. Trade Paperback $14.99.

Review by Philip K. Jason

John Guzlowski beautifully conjures up the seamy side of the allegedly innocent 1950s with a thrilling serial murder mystery featuring two boozehound detectives. For Detective Hank  Purcell, memories of World War II, now ten years distant, invade with regularity. Both he and his Jewish partner, Marvin Bondarowicz, have been known to break the rules. Both men are survivors of the mean streets, appealing in their humorous repartee and in their willingness to seek justice, even if insubordination is part of their means to that end. 

Guzlowski

The case Hank and Marvin are on requires an answer to this question: Who cruelly dismembered a young boy and stuffed his body into a suitcase left on the sidewalk, no doubt meant to be discovered? What is the motive for such cruelty? Hank can’t help but remember the Nazi butchery he witnessed firsthand. Has it found its way to 1956 Chicago?

Soon after the detectives undertake their investigation, several parallel incidents occur; it’s unclear if this is a crime spree by one perpetrator, or if these are independent copycat murders. What will the effects of these horrendous crimes be in the neighborhoods where the suitcases turn up? Why these neighborhoods? Why are the soles of the victims’ feet sliced in an isosceles triangle pattern? To represent, when placed together, the Star of David?

Slowly but surely, the author builds credible references to anti-Semitism and its consequences. Leads appear that Hank would like to pursue, but Marvin, who now announces himself a defender of his people – in fact, makes it clear that their persecution had been his motive for becoming a cop – turns Hank away from pursuing the anti-Semitic possibility. After all, the victims in the suitcases are not Jews. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council site, click here: Suitcase Charlie

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Serial killer mystery features a wise guy PI and a deranged yet crafty villain

Shadow of the Black Womb, By Lawrence J. De Maria. St. Austin’s Press.  204 pages. E-book $2.99.

This is Alton Rhode Mysteries #8, one of three exciting series penned by Mr. De Maria. The title, drawn from the Delmore Schwartz poem “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me,” sets a minor key note of literary erudition that plays quietly through the novel. It reminds us of how the bodily self undermines the aspirations of our more noble and –  intangible – sense of identity. Alton observes the distance between who he is and who he might be. This awareness flitters through his perceptions. He senses an inescapable twinship between two sides of one person.  

Dark doubles and duality play out in other ways in the course of the novel, one that involves a serial killer addicted to his pleasure of murdering young children. The depraved addict has a score to settle. It is Halloween, and the masked killer has a pistol hidden in his plastic pumpkin. Cormac Levine is his target.

The mystery plot –- who is this murderous madman and what are his motives –- is interrupted so that we can drop in on Alton Rhode, the main narrator. We meet his tomcat, his dog, and his gorgeous, brainy girlfriend Alice Watts –  a philosophy professor at Barnard. The two enjoy New York’s cultural offerings. Their evening is interrupted by a call from Alton’s police force buddies, using a crime family figure as an intermediary because this enforcer would know how to get in touch with Alton quickly. Already we know that Alton is well connected on both sides of the law.

De Maria

A private investigator can handle some issues more readily than the police department or the district attorney’s office can. Alton rushes over to the Richmond Memorial Hospital (Staten Island) where Cormac Levine (“Mac”) is in a coma. We discover that Mac and Alton are old friends. Alton reveals that “I was a rookie cop when he cornered a child molester.” We might wonder if the child molester, now a child killer, is settling the score with someone who sent him to jail. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 24,2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shadow of the Black Womb

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

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.

Lister

Lister

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors