Tag Archives: Florida Authors

Miami a major setting in spellbinding thriller with gruesome killings

Verses for the Dead, by Douglas Prescott and Lincoln Child. Grand Central Publishing. 352 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Billed as “A Pendergast Novel,” this latest entry in the thriller series about a legendary, iconoclastic FBI superstar is brimming with suspense, surprise, and imagination. Fabled rulebreaker A. X. L. Pendergast, always at odds with FBI standard procedure, must take an assignment that keeps him on the payroll by agreeing to accept a partner. What a restraining humiliation! However, this premise allows the authors to build a new, unique character, Special Agent Coldmoon, whose Native American heritage brings a special flavor to the table. 

The assignment has the men prowling around every kind of Miami neighborhood to find out facts and discover the psychopath behind a series of outrageously gruesome killings. The killer skillfully excises the hearts of his victims and places them against gravestones in Miami cemeteries.

He also leaves behind strange letters filled with literary allusions and quotations. The perpetrator has taken for himself the name Mr. Brokenhearts

Want more? Each of the grave holds the remains of a woman who, years ago, committed suicide.

The perpetrator seems to be conducting a ritual of his own crazed making that is in some ways a form of expiation.

Centers of interest include the interaction between Pendergast and this somewhat resentful FBI superiors, the FBI’s interaction with local police departments, the growing relationship between Pendergast and Coldmoon, and the dogged if often irregular investigatory process.

Preston and Child

The large cast of intriguing characters provides many who are in themselves centers of interest. These include a modestly successful journalist, Roger Smithback, who makes a big, if short-lived, splash through his coverage of the case. Dr. Charlotte Fauchet, of the medical examiner’s office, puts in the beyond-the-call-of-duty hours that change the direction of the inquiry.

Another fascinating character, once discovered and confronted by the FBI duo, is the killer – a fellow who for all of his murderous deeds qualifies as someone to pity for the miserable life that had been handed to him. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 10, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 11 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County,  and Venice editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Verses for the Dead

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Balancing the thrill of adventure with level-headed caution

Ten Elephants Ten Memories, by Ellen Gordon. Mascot Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $19.95.

This is one of those books that takes the reader – even the reviewer – by surprise. At first glance, it seems too quirky to gain an audience, what with its elephant toys and statuary, the saga of the iconoclastic great aunt, and the heroine’s adventures in Australia. However, it has a addictive charm and generates a highly pleasurable experience, despite the hardships of its protagonist.

Ellen Gordon

We meet small town Ohio girl Cate Kingston when she is quite young, spending highly pleasurable time in the company of her eccentric Aunt B, whose spacious and dazzling nearby home is named Chartres. Cate grows up, in part, on her great aunt’s fabulous stories, many of them ending with an experience that is memorialized by a gift Aunt B has received – a fabricated elephant that takes its place in a lifelong collection. There is a great deal of variety in the collection, as there is in the memories that Aunt B recalls.

Cate’s story gains momentum as she grows into young womanhood. Her senior year in high school and her college years are marvelously rendered, especially Cate’s problems making friends and her very close relationship with her father, a veterinarian who also has a small farm. Cate’s identity is connected to the father and daughter riding horses together whenever they have the time. It’s a powerful bonding experience for her that ends with a powerful loss. Cate is also close to her mother, but in a very different way.

Cate’s own story takes the shape of a regularly disappointed search for the perfect mate, the disappointments perhaps predicated by her idealization of her father. One fellow seems too much like a big brother; another is too possessive. Other relationships seem to lose their passion and sense of fulfillment. Cate questions herself about these seemingly doomed relationships, but perhaps they serve to make her the complex, accomplished, and productive woman she becomes over time.

The author sets Cate into memorable historical events, notably the impact of the Vietnam War on Cate’s generation of college students and the related crisis of the Kent State shootings.

Ms. Gordon’s novel moves into a higher gear once Cate determines to shake up her frustrating life path by moving to Australia. Having credentials as a physical education teacher, she participates in a program that challenges and rewards her. However, as much as she loves many features of her new physical and cultural environment, many of her familiar habits reassert themselves. As the saying goes, “the mind is its own place,” and a person can’t get away from what’s inside of her simply by relocating. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 28, 2019 Naples,  Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, and also in the April 3 Fort Myers and  the April 4 Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Ten Elephants Ten Memories

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A delightfully complex Mediterranean adventure rooted in the past.

The Malta Escape, by Chris Kuzneski. Self-published. 390 pages. Hardback $27.99, Trade paperback $14.99.

It’s hard to understand why Mr. Kuzneski, whose earlier titles rang the cash register of a major trade publisher (the Berkley imprint of Penguin), is now his own publisher. One thing is sure: he’s not alone. Many best-selling authors have in one way or another been separated from high-profile publishers while continuing to satisfy readers. The Malta Escape should make his old fans happy and attract new readers as well. 

This is book 9 in his Payne and Jones series, the continuing tale of too brilliant buddies from different backgrounds with contrasting skill sets and a unique relationship. Jonathan Payne, a successful high-tech entrepreneur, is shifting gears, he is retiring from Payne Industries, the company built by his grandfather that has made him (and will keep him) rich.

As Jon thinks about the future, he also thinks back to his days in an elite special operations military unit, MANIAC. His buddy David Jones, who was second in command, has worked for Jon, but in most essential ways they are equals. They kid a lot about how the Caucasian Payne and the Afro-American Jones compete with and complement one another, each one always trying to outdo the other.

Now they join up for the latest in a series of globe-hopping adventures. Having come to Malta for a vacation, they are soon engaged in a quest to uncover – if it really exists – an unmatchable hoard of antique treasure hidden somewhere in or under the island nation.

Chris Kuzneski

At the outset, the narrative takes us to Estonia where a Russian named Bobrinksy working on his somewhat shady business in various kinds of rarities while hoping for a new and better life in the magic capital city of Tallinn. He is preyed upon by Ivan Volkov, to whom he owes money. Eventually, Volkov’s hunger for controlling others and amassing wealth will lead to a rivalry with Payne and Jones. Though our heroes would wish to simply recover the Malta treasure trove and make it a public resource, diabolical Volkov wants to control it for his own purposes.

The search requires extensive historical research, extremely detailed and complicated. Our team needs allies, and they find them. Among the team members are Marissa, a beautiful young woman who is an expert on Maltese history, and her idiosyncratic mentor. Readers will enjoy, as well, the eccentric Finn named Jarkko who has a good nose for clues and a magnificent yacht that plays an important part in the story.

So, of course, readers will need to spend some time in Finland. The story also has scenes in Switzerland, France, and Russia. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 21, 2019 Naples Florida Weekly, as well that dates Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice  editions and March 27 Fort Myers edition, click  Florida Weekly – The Malta Escape

 

 

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Follow the beat of off-beat short stories that surprise

Melanie to the Rescue and Other Unlikely Tales, by Carol June Stover. Book-broker Publishers of Florida. 121 pages. Kindle ebook $4.99.

Carol June Stover shows a miniaturist’s fine touch in this collection of intriguing, gem-like stories. The world of each story is tightly circumscribed, and most are focused on a single character. The various settings are handled with economy: just enough detail to conjure a neighborhood and a prevailing atmosphere. Additional characters have walk-on parts, but they often signal change – or the hope for change – in the central character’s life.

In the title story, readers discover that the author of the popular Melanie Marche novels, Lorraine Woodruff, is not at all like the savvy, confident, and gorgeous fashion model she has invented. Indeed, Lorraine aspires to be like Melanie, but can’t quite figure how to have the kind of success that her creation enjoys. Finally, Lorraine decides to let Melanie, who is something of a tease, be her guide. She takes tentative steps toward creating a new, edgier Lorraine.

In another tale, Dr. Shepard, a highly acclaimed physician nearing retirement, is hoping that his wife will not insist on holding the big retirement party she has been planning. A follow-up appointment from his most recent, perhaps final, patient reminds the doctor of her near-catastrophe because of a failure with the resuscitator pump. He learns that the patient had an out-of-body or near-death experience. Shepard is silently dismissive of his patient’s story. What happens on his way to meet his wife at an expensive hotel restaurant will leave readers’ heads spinning.

Stover

Many of the stories explore relationships – or the lack thereof. Several lead characters suffer from loneliness; others from a sense of unworthiness. When companionship is sought, it may or may not be achieved. One narrating character has a lazy sister. The women’s mother is always making excuses for Wanda’s seeming reluctance to help out or to interact in any normal way. When the roots of Wanda’s self-isolation and selfishness are revealed, older sister Mary Ann is in for a big surprise. . ..

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 27, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 28 edition of the Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Melanie to the Rescue

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“True Crime” writer makes exposing miscarriages of justice his mission

Justice on Fire: The Kansas City Firefighters Case and the Railroading of the Marlborough Five,”by J. Patrick O’Connor. University Press of Kansas. 352 pages. Hardcover $34.95.

Long-time Naples resident Pat O’Connor presents “true crime” addicts with a treasure trove of juicy information in this case study of the judicial system operating at its worst. What’s criminal in this story is not those who have been convicted and sentenced. Rather, what’s criminal is the systemic failure itself and those whose indifference, ineptitude, or careerist blinders corrupted the process and the outcome. 

Thirty years ago, on a construction project near Kansas City Missouri’s once promising, but then and now impoverished Marlborough neighborhood, disaster struck. A guard on the construction site reported that a pick-up truck was on fire. Then came the news of fierce explosions and more fire. When the bodies were counted, six firefighters were found dead and the charge of arson was in the smoke-filled air.

Mr. O’Connor pays a great deal of attention to the Marlborough neighborhood and the five residents who were indicted and convicted of the crime. The bad reputation of the neighborhood, in the author’s view provides a prejudicial force from the beginning of the investigation, a force that never ceases to be part of the cause and effect links to the miscarriage of justice.

O'Connor

O’Connor

The author’s sketches of those soon known at the Marlborough Five reveal backgrounds that would also prejudice juries or judges. Arrest records, often for minor crimes, are not evidence – but they can affect attitudes toward the defendants. Somehow, this quintet of characters found trouble of various kinds, and sometimes arrests for other crimes (outside of the arson charge) were used as leverage by the prosecutors.

How does it happen that that “by the time the indictments came down . . . only Richard was not in prison on other chargers?”

That’s how the testimony of jailhouse snitches comes into play, an overused weapon in a rush to judgement that ironically took way too much time. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the the February 14, 2019 Naples, Bonita Springs, and  Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Justice on Fire

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Enchanting historical mystery features intrigues of the Byron-Shelley group

Claire’s Last Secret, by Marty Ambrose. Severn House. 192 pages. Hardcover $28.99.

Set primarily in Florence and Geneva, this highly atmospheric historical novel honors a period of European high culture with a portrait gallery of a tightly knit group. One is Mary Shelley, formerly Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who had recently eloped with the poet. She is the author of the forever popular novel “Frankenstein” and the stepsister of Claire Clairmont. At the time the novel opens, 1816, they are both attractive, precocious women in their later teens.  

The Shelley Circle is also the Byron Circle, and Claire is carrying Lord Byron’s child, though it takes a while for her to let him know. The group is summering together in Geneva. Claire is something of a hanger-on, as she is the most financially needy.

In Claire’s mind, Polidori, Byron’s personal physician and traveling companion, seems to be antagonistic to her desire to rekindle Byron’s passion for her. She would settle for the passion, since marriage is unlikely, as long as their love-child is somehow supported.

When not practitioners, the friends are devotees of the arts. Claire’s narrative, from the perspective of 1873, offers memories of the impressive architecture of homes and public spaces that the group, or a subset thereof, visited. The actual quarters they occupied were usually modest.

Ambrose

The greatest art that they shared amongst themselves was the art of conversation, with the upbeat Percy Shelley leading the way, and the frequently morose Byron contributing dramatic verbal gestures. His life is clouded by his self-created tarnished reputation.

There is a strong attraction, in all four of these friends, for rebellion against convention social behavior. Claire expresses the wish to follow her heart unencumbered by what others will think. She and Mary are aware of the stricter judgement that women receive for what may be considered immoral behavior.

One of Professor Ambrose’s gifts is capturing the individuality of these sometimes frivolous, sometimes insightful, and always enchanting voices. They speak a brand of English that seems authentic to the time, the personalities, and the social milieu. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the January 30, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 31 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Venice, and  Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Claire’s Last Secret

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Confronting past trauma and betrayal on the path to revelation

Dark Rhapsody: A Novel, by Helaine Mario. Oceanview Publishing. 368 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Ms. Mario’s new book is a sequel to The Lost Concerto, and now both titles are listed as parts of the Maggie O’Shea Mystery Series. The story concerns a series of secrets and misunderstandings, each with a dangerous obstacle on the path to revelation. It’s a story about trauma, harmful memories, betrayal, and ultimately the majesty of love. 

The author’s breathtakingly luxuriant prose captures the communicative emotional power of symphonic music. The plot winds through vividly rendered locales including Virginia, New York City, East Hampton, Tuscany, Rome, Vienna, Salzburg, and Provence.

Ms. Mario’s descriptions of the various settings are simply magnificent. She handles the interaction of character and scene with confidence and brilliance. She has a clear vision of the interplay between natural, man-made, and supernatural forces.

Mostly, she has a grand story, lavishly elaborated.

In the immediate aftermath of WWII, a young Austrian girl named Gisela finds a box among other containers holding gold and other Nazi-captured treasures. The box, which she hides, includes a rolled canvas marked as the property of Florence art dealer Felix Hoffman. From this opening scene, the story jumps into the present time.  We are brought to a cabin in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains and introduced to the renowned pianist, Maggie O’Shea; her companion, retired Colonel Michael Beckett; and Michael’s beloved Golden Retriever – “Shiloh.”

Helaine Mario

Michael has pledged to protect Maggie from her threatening oppressor, a revenge-seeking madman named Dane, who had attacked her and injured her fingers, attempting to thwart her return to the concert stage.

Maggie suffers from blackouts that leave her unable to remember key elements in her life and nightmares that hint at truths she has repressed. Michael’s strength and dedication help alleviate her suffering. Maggie works to recover her abilities in time for the scheduled performance of an extremely difficult rhapsody.

Several scenes set in Italy develop the grotesque Dane, a fugitive disguised by botched plastic surgery, who is striving to gain control of the black market for rare, including stolen, art.

Secrets, lies, and misunderstandings have left Maggie with two major mysteries. One is to discover the truth about how her mother died. The other is to understand the reason behind an action of her father, the great conductor Finn O’Shea, who one day walked off the concert stage, stared at or through Maggie, and completely disappeared from her life. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the December 26, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 27 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Dark Rhapsody.

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Lost love regrets lead to uncovering the cause of a mysterious death

The Ephemeral File, by Henry Hoffman. Melange Books. 197 pages. Trade paperback $12.95.

The third installment of the Adam Fraley Mystery Series is an easy-to-like group of tales with an easy-going style and an unusual hero. What’s unusual about Adam? He’s normal: he’s not a superhero, he’s not a tough guy, and he’s not obsessed about firearms, forensics, or procedural conventions. He’s just there to help people and go where the case takes him.  

When Adam’s office manager, Tamra Fugit (pronounced how?) asks him to meet with an elderly man who’s a friend of her aunt, Adam is somewhat hesitate. Taking a case as a favor to someone is not high on his priority list. But he succumbs to Tamra’s entreaty. She’s a person he owes a favor, and she’s extremely good looking.

Roland Westwood is hoping to locate a long-lost love. Adam finds Roland’s lengthy story interesting enough to take the case, even though Roland’s relationship with the girl – Staci Carew – was a tenuous one that began and ended more than fifty years ago during WWII. At that time, Staci was finishing high school and Roland had already begun college. They met at the movie house where Staci worked.

Hoffman

Set largely in Florida’s Pasco County along the Withlacoochie River, Adam’s investigation leads him to a bridge where Staci’s fraternal twin sister, Kati, lost her life. While Mr. Hoffman’s description of this rural area is exceptionally expressive, the interest in the location remains the actions that took place upon the bridge, which soon come into focus.

With Adam, readers learn that the twins had contrasting personalities and didn’t get along well. Kati, an aspiring gymnast, was highly motivated to excel and had the discipline to keep challenging herself and improving her skills. Staci was less motivated. Kati used the bridge structure as an exercise platform.  On one occasion, it seems, things went wrong and she plummeted to her death.

From information that Roland reveals, it seems possible that Staci, jealous of her sister’s acclaim, might have taken the practice session on the bridge as an opportunity to harm her sister, who outdid her in cheerleading competitions and who ended up being favored by Staci’s boyfriend.

Such complications of the available information bring lawyers (including Staci’s husband) and police officers into the story line. The accumulation of facts eventually leads to a highly unexpected resolution in a court of law. . . .

To see the full review, as it appears in the December 12, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Ephemeral File

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A Florida farm’s fall festival becomes a setting for murder

Trimmed to Death, by Nancy J. Cohen. Orange Grove Press. 288 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

This is #15 in “The Bad Hair Day Mysteries” that have won Ms. Cohen many fans – and many imitators – over the years. The author continues to maintain her status as the queen of the cozy mystery, a genre that she not only exemplifies in her own fiction but also defines and gives advice about in the expanded second edition of her guidebook “Writing the Cozy Mystery” (Orange Grove Press, 2018). There are four essentials: the sleuth must be both female and an amateur, and readers must encounter that sleuth fitting her crime-solving into a larger, multifaceted life within a well-defined community.  

Marla Vail, who runs a hair salon in the South Florida town of Palm Haven, is all excited about participating in a fall harvest festival sponsored by Kinsdale Farms, located at the western edge of Broward County. Local business bring attention to themselves by sponsoring competitions that attract entrants who sign up months in advance. The general public just loves the goings-on, the food, and the high spirits.

Marla has entered the baking competition, hoping that her coconut fudge pie will take the prize.

Cohen

Ms. Cohen introduces a very large cast of characters who are involved in the festival in some way. One, Francine Dodger, runs a magazine, another is a chef, and another is a food critic. The festival is a time for people to re-acquaint and to network. It’s also a time for fun.

Francine has set up a Find Franny contest for the festival, a kind of scavenger hunt that involves collecting cards, getting each stamped by answering a question correctly, and being the first to report to Franny with all of them stamped.

Only problem is that when Franny is found, she is dead: murdered!  

Marla’s husband – Detective Dalton Vail – will lead the murder investigation. Yes, you guessed it. Marla will be very busy doing her share of the investigation in her own way. For Dalton, it’s just another case – one of many that will occupy him every day and often for long hours.

For Marla, it’s a task (more like an addiction) squeezed in along with running her business, mothering Dalton’s 18-year-old daughter Brianna, running the household, networking all over own, dealing with her parents, etc., etc. Meanwhile, she is concerned about her clock running out before having a child by Dalton. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the November 29, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly and Bonita Springs editions, and the December 5 Fort Myers edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Trimmed to Death

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Havana/Key West conference encourages fruitful discussion but meets disaster

Death on the Menu, by Lucy Burdette. Crooked Lane Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $26.99

This is the 8th installment of Ms. Burdette’s Key West Food Critic mystery series, featuring the lovable Hayley Snow. This time out, it’s under the imprint of a new publisher. When a major three-day event is planned to find common ground between the cities of Havana and Key West, Hayley’s mother gets the catering contract. The venue is the Harry Truman Little White House. As the conference approaches, conflicting political agendas seem likely to undermine this good-will opportunity. They are also undermining the aspirations of the man who manages the Little White House facility.  

Hayley and Miss Gloria (Hayley’s 80+ year old landlady and friend) are pressed into service to help with the catering chores. Meanwhile, Hayley is being pushed by her employers at “Key Zest” magazine to meet several deadlines.

Members of a Cuban-American family get caught in the tangle of cross-purposes, and there is a scandal over the disappearance of a rare piece of Hemingway memorabilia that has been loaned to the event by the Cuban visitors. It has been stolen from its display case.

Who stole it? Why? How and why was Gabriel, a member of that Cuban-American family and assisting the event, murdered?

Well, of course, Hayley can’t help pushing herself into the investigation, even while warned about going too far by her boyfriend, police Detective Nathan Bransford.

Lucy Burdette / photo credit Carol Tedesco

As with previous titles in this series, Hayley’s investigations give Mr. Burdette the opportunity to provide colorful – and flavorful – tours all around Key West. The author brings this unique town fully to life, in both its physical and cultural dimensions. The inside look at the Truman Little White House is delightfully engaging, as is the portrait of the Hemingway home and all the adjacent neighborhoods. Hayley’s connection with the conference catering, as well as her need to generate three restaurant reviews for “Key Zest,” takes readers into a series of food establishments. The focus for the conference menu and for Hayley’s column are Cuban specialties, and these vivid scenes will make readers’ mouths water.

Suspense tightens when a relative of the murdered Gabriel is at first missing and then found seriously injured. It gets even tighter when Detective Bransford allows Hayley to play a dangerous role in the investigation as part of the detective’s plan to draw out the perpetrator. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 21, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 22 Naples, Bonita Springs, Key West, and Palm Beach editions, and the November 29 Charlotte County edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Death on the Menu

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