Tag Archives: Fort Lauderdale

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.


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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Debut novel illuminates the boundaries of community, connectedness, and identity

The Other Side of Everything: A Novel, by Lauren Doyle Owens. Touchstone. 272 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

Lauren Doyle Owens, who lives in the Fort Lauderdale area and has set her first novel there, is someone to watch. She has written a stunning literary murder mystery that is at once a nailbiter and a brilliantly nuanced evocation of how communities work and don’t work. How proximity to others does not create a neighborhood, how aging in place can foster a misery of isolation as contemporaries pass away and new neighbors remain strangers. 

Ms. Owens builds her novel around three major characters whose situations and perspective rotate through the novel. Bernard White, about to turn eighty, has lived in the suburban community called Seven Springs for decades and witnessed its socio-economic changes. Since his wife’s death, he has become increasingly withdrawn. When he sees smoke rising from his neighbor’s house, he calls 911 and awaits the firemen, police, and paramedics. The fire seems to have covered a murder. But why Adel? Who really knows her, anyway?

Bernard feels helpless in the situation, somehow responsible for what happened. The tragedy wakes up the neighborhood, leading Bernard to begin a tentative re-engagement.

Lauren Doyle Owens / photo by Summer Weinstein

Amy Unger, a cancer survivor, spots the fire on her way home. Once a promising artist, she thought briefly of photographing or sketching the scene. But she is not yet ready. She is still cowed by her husband’s disdain for her avocation. The marriage has gone cold, and Pete’s business trips are far too frequent and extended.

Maddie Lowe, fifteen and suffering from her mother having abandoned the family, works in a restaurant near school and home. She attempts to take care of her brother, and she attempts friendship with a homeless man, Charlie, who comes into the restaurant regularly. Her need for respectful attention is met in part by a neighborhood college student whose advances flatter her. However, her sexual awakening has a raw edge to it. She is a child being pushed into adulthood way to fast and yet meeting her challenges with a surprising degree of effectiveness.

Murders of elderly women in the neighborhood continue. These are not random. The killer has an agenda. What’s his motive? Is he an outsider, or someone in their midst? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 17, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 18 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Owens.

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Determined PI unravels murder at an art class

ArtofMurder_revised(2)The Art of Murder, by Elaine Viets. Obsidian/NAL. 304 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

No one does Fort Lauderdale like Elaine Viets, alert to the vibes of neighborhoods and how social networks develop in places where most people are not natives and many are newcomers. How people define themselves by their dress, by their home decor, and by how they fit into the city.

The Art of Murder, the 15th title in her “Dead-End Jobs” mystery series, opens at the delightful Bonnet House Museum. Private investigator Helen Hawthorne is visiting Bonnet House with her seventy-six year old landlady and friend Margaret. Readers learn what the visitors learn about the history of Bonnet House while taking in its architecture, colors, Interior design, and stories about founders Frederic Clay Bartlett and his wife Evelyn.

Helen and Margaret come across an art class being held there. They meet the teacher and several students, including Annabel – a painter whose reputation is rapidly rising in the art community. After the class, Annabel falls ill in the parking lot, and before long she is dead. Her ex-husband, who has joined the class to make Annabel’s life miserable, doesn’t even offer help the frail, immobile woman. When one of the others in the group hires Helen to investigate, the client insists that Helen prove the ex-husband guilty.

Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets

He makes a good suspect, but there are other possibilities. There is also some chance she committed suicide. Nicotine poisoning is the cause of death. Nicotine “vaping” fluid ended up in Annabel’s tea.

So, plot line number one: who, if anyone, is guilty of murdering Annabel? It it’s murder, what was the motive and where is the evidence? Somewhere along the line, perhaps the author asked herself: “do I have a 300 page novel here?” Or, “do I need another center of interest?”

In any case, Ms. Viets came up with plot line number two, this one featuring Helen’s husband Phil as the principal investigator who receives some very special help from Helen playing the role of a high class call girl. Valuable gold coins are being stolen from collectors living on the top floors of upscale condos. Building security clearly needs an upgrade, and Phil is hired to find out what’s going on and put a stop to the thefts. Property values, you know!

As we might expect, Phil’s investigation brings readers into the world of building security, condominium life, and collectable coins. His plan is to set a trap for the Gold Ghost (or ghosts), and Ms. Viets builds the suspense around Phil’s plan as it is set into action. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 11, 2016 issues of the Naples and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions of Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – The Art of Murder

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Florida homeowners’ association meeting plants seeds for murder

Hanging by a Hair, by Nancy J. Cohen. Five Star Publishing. 288 pages. $25.95.

Fans of Ms. Cohen’s “Bad Hair Day” mystery series will be totally satisfied with this latest outing in which, aside from the main story line, readers enjoy the delightful maturation of Marla as she adjusts to her recent marriage to Detective Dalton Vail. Readers have waited to see these characters coupled and tested, and now the test is underway. What happens when Dalton brings his work home to curious, often headstrong Marla – who is used to acting on her own ideas about how a mystery should be investigated?  HangingByAHairFront

She has a very good track record, too.

The couple has recently set up housekeeping in a new Broward County community. It’s one of those typical South Florida communities cursed with a rule-bound president of the homeowners’ association and a bunch of nosey residents. Things don’t go well when the enforcer, association president Alan Krabber, breaks the rules and Dalton calls him out on his unacceptable sense of entitlement. Others on the board have mixed feelings about Alan’s behavior.

When the bullying president is found dead in what looks like a suicide hanging, Dalton suspects foul play. Removed from the case because of an obvious conflict of interest, he is smoldering as Marla gets to do her compulsive investigating – in spite of his warnings – while he is assigned to desk work for a while.

Who would have wanted Alan Krabber dead? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that skeletal remains of indigenous Native Americans were found in his back yard excavation that was awaiting the installation of an emergency generator. But what, exactly, is the connection?



A Native American spokesman is making all kinds of noises about protecting sacred places. If there are other such sites in Royal Oaks, further development might have to be stopped. A woman with a professorial stake in Native American history and culture, consulted to authenticate the remains, is found dead soon after. Who’s next? How do these two murders connect? What motives lie behind each killing?

All these questions become very much Marla’s business. Could Alan’s nephew be rushing the payoff of his inheritance? Could a woman whom Alan spurned have decided the ultimate payback? And what about all those boxes that come and go from Alan’s house? What had he been buying – or selling?

How does a woman continue to run her successful beauty salon, find a replacement for a treasured departing employee, build a strong relationship with her new husband’s teenage daughter who lives with them, placate her never-pleased mother, and get ready to host (1) a Passover Seder and (2) an Easter holiday meal?

. . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in April 16, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 17 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Naples editions, Click here: Florida Weekly – Hanging Hair


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An edgy tale of self-discovery and the drug trade

Joseph Rakowski, The Delivery Cut. Black Rose Writing. 244 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

I was sitting there, prophetically wearing my “Don’t Make Me Take Out My Red Pen” t-shirt, when suddenly I couldn’t resist. “The Delivery Cut,” filled with typos, mangled sentences, and misused words had me clicking that red pen. Could I review this novel? Through the first four chapters I was pretty sure that I would spare my readers whatever I had to say. Then the fifth chapter grabbed me, and was hooked for the rest of the ride. The need for editorial surgery never vanished, but the raw talent blasted through. There is a lot Mr. Rakowski still needs to learn about his craft, but he has a voice, a power, a vision, and something to say.  TheDeliveryCutCover

Give him a try, and you may find yourself on in the ground floor of a towering reputation.

As we meet the narrator, James, he is a 25 year old college graduate very uneasily back home living with his parents in SW Florida. He seems to have no direction except to leave home once again and escape his parents’ middle-class values, which he views with hostility. For James, busy with drinking and carousing, middle-class hypocrisy is everywhere and he hates its deadening weight. Just to get away, he has agreed to go to law school in Miami. He parents seem pleased, but James doubts that this is the life for him.

In fact, soon after entering law school, James perceives himself as having entered another realm of hypocrisy where power is abused and values are falsified. He stumbles his way into a situation that leads to a connection with an illegal narcotics operation. Iconoclast James, now renamed and symbolically reborn as Gabriel by the Frenchman who runs this operation, perversely finds a kind of purity in Claude’s enterprise. Passing tests contrived by the suave Claude and his muscular associate Hugo, “Gabriel” becomes part of the system: the delivery man. His efforts bring him “the delivery cut” from each transaction.


Supercharged with cocaine, Gabriel learns Claude’s system, which involves a clean and clear separation of responsibilities and authority. Soon, the delivery man is making so much money on his Miami and Fort Lauderdale routes that he hides most of it and gives much of it away in order to ease his access to the delivery stops. He is somewhat ashamed of the money – not because of its source, but because money is not his goal. What he has found is a sense of being intensely alive. The combination of risk, a kind of independence, and a well-defined GPS-programmed routine has elevated Gabriel’s self-esteem and charged his emotional batteries. . . .

To read the entire review as it appears in the July 31, 2013 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 1 Bonita Springs and Naples editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rakowski

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“Shear Murder” is a Sheer Delight

Shear Murder, by Nancy J. Cohen. Five Star. 246 pages. $25.95.

Nancy J. Cohen extends her “Bad Hair Day” mystery series with this latest entry in which Marla Shore, beauty parlor owner and expert hairdresser, once again has trouble find her. And once again, Marla cannot resist taking a lead role in solving the crime.

It all begins at a wedding. One of Marla’s best friends, Jill Barlow, is marrying Arnie, owner of Bagel Busters, a business located near Marla’s. Everyone at the wedding reception is in a celebratory mood until Jill’s sister Torrie is discovered under the cake table with a knife plunged into her chest. Need you ask who made the discovery? 

Fortunately, Marla’s fiancé – homicide detective Dalton Vail – is with her and keeps things under control until other policemen show up to begin the investigation. The shock of such an experience threatens to overload Marla, who has several other matters to juggle. These include the final arrangements for her own upcoming marriage, handling the bickering relatives, and expanding her business.  There is also a new house awaiting Marla and Dalton that requires a lot of frenzied attention. A great planner and manager, Marla tries to hold everything together while dealing with the irresistible lure of investigating the death of her friend’s sister.

Torrie, who is the fashion reporter for a local lifestyle magazine, has made some enemies. She is one of two women carrying on with the magazine’s photographer, Griff Beasley. Does Hally Leeds, the society columnist, want Torrie out of the way? Is Scott Miller, Torrie’s husband, fed up with her cheating? Is the photographer making a rather blunt choice between the two women? Was Hally jealous enough to murder Torrie? Well, no, because Hally turns up dead soon after. Was there something Griff wanted to hide that both women had discovered?

And what about Jill? The two sisters seem to have been bickering about how to handle a piece of commercial property that they inherited. Torrie’s death could resolve that disagreement in a hurry. Also, Torrie may have had some secret to hold over Jill’s head – something about Jill’s past.

Marla, in her straight-ahead manner, asks the questions that push the investigation along. She does such a good job that someone sets fire to her hair salon! Is she getting too close to the truth?

. . . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 8, 2012 Fort Myers edition of Florida Weekly and in the February 9 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Nancy J. Cohen pdf

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Newlywed PIs offer plenty of excitement and surprises

“Pumped for Murder,” by Elaine Viets. Obsidian. 304 pages. $23.95.

Elaine Viets is well-known for her two mystery series. One of these is the “Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper Series,” set in St. Louis. The other is “The Dead-End Job Series,” featuring protagonist Helen Hawthorne and set in South Florida’s Broward County. “Pumped for Murder,” the latest title in that series, continues Viets’s effective blend of suspense, local color, and humor that has gained her books bestseller status. 

After working through nine dead-end jobs in the previous novels in the series, Helen now sets up a private investigator business with her new husband, Phil, who is already a licensed PI. Taking an office in the Coronado Tropic Apartments, where they live, Helen and Phil set out to find some clients. Fortunately, friends who live in the same complex give them leads that pay off – after a while. One case, for which trainee Helen is the primary investigator, involves a jealous wife who thinks her buff husband is fooling around with someone at his fitness club. The other involves a man who owns a classy auto repair business. He believes that his long-dead brother, labeled as a suicide, was murdered. The mechanic wants the case reopened and his brother’s reputation cleared.

Coronado Investigations swings into action. Helen goes undercover, taking yet another dead-end job helping the receptionist at Fantastic Fitness in Fort Lauderdale so that she can spy on Bryan Minars and see if he’s cheating on his wife Shelby. Phil takes the lead in the other case, though Helen often joins him. They meet Gus, the grieving brother, to see if there is anything suspicious about the death of his late brother, Mark. The author intertwines her narration of the two cases, building suspense in each, all the while also developing the relationship between the newly-married investigative partners.

Elaine Viets

Helen’s case involves portraits of several over-the -top bodybuilders, one of who is found dead soon after Helen begins her new job. Two others, who trained the murdered competitor, are freaky from steroids, starvation, and other abuses as they chase after supposedly perfect musculature. When a police detective accuses a meek, miniscule fitness client named Evie of committing the crime, Helen takes on another case – that of clearing Evie and finding the real killer. For a long while, nothing turns up to validate Shelby Minar’s suspicions about her husband. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 13, 2011 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 14, 2011 Naples Florida Weekly, and the July 21, 2011 Palm Beach Gardens Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Elaine Viets. For pdf format, click: Viets pdf – 1 and Viets pdf – 2

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Nancy J. Cohen heads Naples Writers’ Conference

To see this article as it appears in the March-April 2011 issue of Fort Myers Magazine, click here: Ft.Myers magazine – Nancy J. Cohen

When Nancy J. Cohen retired from her first career as a clinical nurse specialist in order to write full-time, she continued keeping people in stitches. This witty writer, who had earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree from the University of California in San Francisco, knows that vicarious adventure and the release of laughter are effective cures for what ails us.

Cohen’s most recent title, Silver Serenade, is a smashing good combination of two genres: romance and science fiction. Two highly motivated, extremely able, and extremely attractive characters have goals that both intersect and interfere. Jace Vernon, a young leader from the domain of Kurash, has been charged with the murder of his parents. Jace needs to bring the intergalactic plunderer, Tyrone Bluth, to justice so that his name can be cleared and his ancestral estate restored.  Government security agent Silver Malloy, an Earthling, has been tasked with the assassination of Bluth, but her motives are highly personal as well as official. 

Cohen manages the novel so that the missions of the two dynamic figures bring them into conflict even as an all-consuming passion draws them together. Jace cannot clear his name and prove that his own cousin had plotted the murders and framed him if Bluth does not live to testify. Silver cannot allow anything to interfere with her monomania about ending Bluth’s life as soon as she can. Jace and Silver are suspicious of one another, but form an uneasy, fragile alliance – one that is complicated by the magnetic attraction each has for the other.

They are both suffering from overwhelming personal losses. As Ms. Cohen puts it, “They both carried around enough emotional baggage to fill a cargo hold.”

The author draws a fascinating world of intergalactic politics, futuristic technologies, and clashing moral priorities. She also paints a delicious cast of secondary characters – a population drawn from the variegated worlds that intersect in her plot.

Principal among these is Mixy, the Elusian, who is bonded to Jace as his valet. Elusians, who have essentially emotionless lives, are programmed to bond with species whose emotional dimension is powerful. This bonding is not physical, but psycho-spiritual. Their garments absorb and reflect emotional waves from those to whom the Elusians are bonded, signaling the emotions by changing colors. Elusians have a kind of telepathic awareness of emotion – and they can magnify and retransmit it.

This characteristic provides a paranormal dimension to the novel, a dimension that links Silver Serenade to Cohen’s earliest books, written under the pen name of Nancy Cane. It also provides, in this novel, a good deal of comic relief, as the guarded feelings that Jace and Silver have for one another are vividly revealed through the warmer colors radiating from Mixy’s garments, creating some embarrassment. Mixy, appearance-conscious and finicky, is a delightful, over-the-top comic character who is almost unbearably loyal.

The sex scenes between Jace and Silver are hot and heavy, but in themselves do not resolve the issues of trust, respect, and conflicting loyalties. Nancy J. Cohen teases the readers along to see if Jace and Silver can each achieve mission success without abandoning the growing need each has for the other, and if the need transcends physical attraction.

But wait, isn’t Nancy J. Cohen the author we know from her popular “Bad Hair Day” series? The series with the catchy titles like Died Blonde, Highlights to Heaven, and Permed to Death? The series whose protagonist, hairdresser Marla Shore, gets caught up in crime-solving in South Florida’s resort towns while building her relationship with detective Dalton Vail? Yes, she’s the one. Cohen packs mystery, humor, popular culture, and plenty of attitude into this delightful series, and several of these books have been listed as best sellers by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Her next “Bad Hair Day” mystery, Shear Murder, will appear early in 2012 from Five Star Publications.

Nancy J. Cohen knows her worlds well, both the complex, imagined worlds of outer space, which she draws with sure-handed detail, or the more familiar worlds of the beauty shop and the sunshine state. Just as important, she knows how to craft plots, develop characters, and – what it all adds up to – satisfy her readers.

Aspiring writers can learn a lot from this talented and successful writer, who is also well-known for giving her time to writers’ organizations and speaking at conferences. She has served as President of Florida Romance Writers, and as Secretary for the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. 

Nancy J. Cohen

On April 9 and 10, Nancy J. Cohen will be featured at the Naples Press Club’s 9th annual Writers’ Conference / Authors and Books Festival. On April 9, she will be giving a keynote address at the Celebrity Author Luncheon, to be held at Vergina Restaurant on Fifth Avenue South. Cohen will discuss the digital devices that promise to morph tomorrow’s reading—and publishing—experiences. She’ll also delight and entertain attendees with anecdotes from her writing life.

On the morning of April 10, Ms. Cohen will present “Writing Fiction for Fun and Profit” as part of the Writers’ Conference.

Other Conference presenters include fantasy author Sandy Lender (conference chair); forensic mystery novelist Lisa Black; marketing guru Randy Jones; financial news reporter and editor Lawrence J. DeMaria; Diane Gilbert Madsen, author of the “Literati Mysteries” series and fact-checking expert;  and Zachary Petit, managing editor of Writers’ Digest.

Conference sessions will separate into three tracks: “Business and Marketing,“ “Creative Writing,” and “Journalism.” However, conferees will be able to switch from one track to another. A selected number of conferees will be able to schedule pitch sessions with representatives of Barringer Publications and Night Wolf Publications.

Registration for both the Luncheon and the Conference can be achieved by clicking on the Naples Writers’ Conference tab on the website http://authorsandbooksfestival.org.

Authors and publishers who wish to exhibit during the book fair along Fifth Avenue South on April 9, should check out the information on the same website and register via the Authors and Books Festival tab. [Note: exhibitor registration is now closed.]

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