Tag Archives: human trafficking

A first-rate crafting of a tale about a series of heinous crimes

No Good Deed, by James Swain. Thomas & Mercer. 336 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

The second installment of the Jon Lancaster & Beth Daniels Series, following “The King Tides,” is a blessing for crime thriller fans. It continues to build the shaky relationship between the highly engaging and original lead characters while exploring a heinous series of crimes in human trafficking. What’s happening is terrible, but the crafting of the tale is first rate.

What begins as a missing person case turns into a horror story involving the disappearance of twelve young women within the state of Florida. Who is preying on them? Why? How can this serial abduction nightmare be terminated? 

Jon, retired from police work, has long been associated with Team Adam, part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The missing person he is tracking is young Skye Tanner, whose grandmother was murdered by the felons during her attempt to protect her. When he discovers that Skye’s abduction is part of a pattern, Jon puts himself on the case.

Of course, for a crime spree like this one, not only local authorities but also the FBI will be involved. Thus, Agent Beth Daniels will re-enter Jon’s life. Sparks will fly, a consequence of their mutual attraction and their contrasting understanding of the value of rules. Beth is a by-the-book person, Jon can justify breaking rules – and does.

The emotional dimension of the novel is deepened by the fact that Jon’s long estranged and often imprisoned brother, Logan, turns out to be working for the organization doing the human trafficking.

Swain

The mood of No Good Deed is lightened by such touches as Jon’s employment of teenage students, Beth’s niece and some of her classmates, to do computer search work that helps answer some questions about the perpetrators and their location. . . .

To  enjoy the full review, as it appears in the September 11, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 12 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice editions, click here:  No Good Deed

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Top dog handler and intrepid FBI profiler work to thwart a human trafficking scheme

Lost Creed, by Alex Kava, Prairie Wind Publishing. 346 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

This latest edition (Book 4) in the Ryder Creed series builds splendidly upon the development of Ryder and his meticulously described K9 business, a fifty-acre training operation in the Florida Panhandle. Readers have witnessed a series of plot lines having to do with the breadth of search, rescue, and other tasks that trainers paired with appropriately trained dogs can do. Ryder once again works with FBI agent Maggie O’Dell (the title character in Ms. Kava’s earlier series), this time to bring down a human trafficking operation in Nebraska. 

Maggie is heading up the operation, bringing together local law enforcement professionals from various jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, back in Florida, Ryder’s assistant and trainee, Jason, is developing his skills and aiming at solo responsibility with his dog, Scout. A session under Ryder’s tutelage is interrupted by the shock of a confrontation with a black bear.

Before this trouble is put to rest, Ryder’s business partner, Hannah calls to tell him that there is some possible news about Ryder’s vanished sister, Brodie. Maggie’s case up in Nebraska has injected some tenuous hope into Ryder’s life – hope that might overwhelm him.

Alex Kava

Maggie, noted for her profiling skills, has been playing games with a madman, Elijah Dunn, who has, or has had, some place in a horrifying trafficking scheme. They’ve been making deals with one another, each trying to get the upper hand. Elijah wants to earn his freedom or lesser benefits by revealing information that Maggie needs.

He claims to know where the bodies of the victims are buried and where those innocents still alive might be enslaved.

Another story thread takes us into the world of an abused young woman – abused from childhood and still confined and tortured. She seems a victim of the human trafficking ring. Ms. Kava paints Charlotte’s predicament, both physical and psychological, with great insight and skill. The cruelty of her exploiters is unfathomable, unless we consider them unhinged.

The investigation underscores the fact that big money is at stake in this criminal enterprise. It seems people will do anything to keep the money flowing, which includes murdering the witnesses. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 9, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 10 Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Lost Creed

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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

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The king of Jacksonville noir fashions a blazing darkness

Second Skin, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 225 pages. Hardcover $29.95.

When Sheneel Greene, a lovely nineteen year old near-Albino college student, is found dead on property connected with the Phelps Paper Company, the police inquiry seems lackadaisical. Her English teacher, Lillian Turner, was first concerned when Sheneel was only considered missing. She and her husband Johnny Bellefleur, a spiritually and psychological wounded war veteran, feel obligated to pursue the mystery – first of Sheneel’s disappearance and then of her demise. Second_Skin_Cover

Johnny, who for too long served on a Navy hospital ship processing deceased soldiers’ bodies and body parts for burial, runs a missing persons detective agency. Alone, he staffs a shabby office made available through the influence of his police detective brother-in-law, Daniel Turner. Yes, this is the character whose name labels this distinctive mystery series.

The attempt by Lillian and Johnny to investigate together serves as a vehicle for healing their troubled relationship, but it turns into a monstrous adventure the stress and violence of which promise to destroy them. Johnny, whose nightmares are full of death even without this current undertaking, will have plenty of reasons to seek the skills of his VA counsellors. He and Lillian are pursuing deadly secrets. Sheneel had enough knowledge of Phelps doings to be dangerous. So did her brother Alex, who also becomes a victim.

Now Johnny and Lillian are dangerous as well, and as the Phelps kingpin and his son make too clear, they are bringing danger upon themselves by getting near the answers to those secrets, if not hard evidence.

Secrets like how did a Gullah community that once lived on land now controlled by the paper company disappear? What has compromised the health of so many who live nearby? Why do people who are exploited retain a bond of loyalty to those who exploit them? How can a major local employer in today’s United States actually own law enforcement?

Wiley

Wiley

Will Daniel Turner get serious about investigating these deaths, or is he a bought cop?

Johnny’s dog brings a major clue: Percy drops Sheneel’s hand and arm, her pale skin bearing the “tattoo of a snake circling to bite its own tale,” beside his master. This image, found elsewhere in the story, is laden with symbolic overtones. Not a self-amputation, the tattooed limb was cleanly cut from her body and left to be found as a warning. It’s clear now that her death was no suicide. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 28, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 29 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Second Skin

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New series honors the human-canine partnership in crime investigation

Breaking Creed, by Alex Kava. Putnam.  320 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Stranded, Ms. Kava’s recent Maggie O’Dell novel, introduced a fascinating character named Ryder Creed. Ryder is an ex-Marine who has built a successful business near Pensacola as a canine search-and-rescue dog trainer. His dogs can locate cadavers, captive or injured victims, drugs, explosives, and so forth. With Breaking Creed, Alex Kava launches a new series featuring Ryder, though Maggie is very much in the picture. BREAKINGCREEDjacket

As the novel opens we meet fourteen year old Amanda and her handler, Leandro. Amanda stays alive by swallowing dozens of condoms stuffed with cocaine. She is both protected and controlled by Leandro and a woman called Zapata. Readers get a quick glimpse of the horrid life led by kidnapped or runaway girls exploited as slaves in a drug distribution network.

The scene shifts abruptly one in which Creed is transported by Coast Guard helicopter to a cutter. Along the way, we learn how he has developed a business with multi-million dollar annual billings and an undesired high profile. Creed’s exploits, followed in the popular media, have made him a new kind of pop culture star. His undercurrent motivation is the hope that he will find his sister who disappeared some fifteen years earlier.

We also learn about his partnership with Hanna and the facility they have built to secure, care for, and train their dogs.

Creed is traveling with Grace, the smallish Jack Russell terrier that is his favorite and most versatile dog. Creed’s job is to explore, with Grace, a large fishing boat, “Blue Mist,” thought to be working for a new Colombian drug cartel called Choque Azul (Blue Shock).  Grace sniffs out human cargo – children hidden beneath the floorboards.

Alex Kava

Alex Kava

The next plot strand brings us to the edge of the Potomac River, where FBI agent Maggie O’Dell has been sent to investigate a corpse found there. She arrives to find the DC medical examiner, Stan Wenhofff, hard at work. The body, which had been in the water at least a week, carries a strange tattoo, an odd rash, and ligature marks. The man had been tortured and perhaps killed while being held in place to be attacked by fire ants.

Then Ms. Kava introduces an assassin self-named the Ice Man, a killer adept at arcane tortures and killings. We imagine a link between him and the fire ant victim. The man’s identity is easily revealed; his driver’s license had been found shoved into his throat. Trevor Bagley.

Soon enough, the story involving Amanda and the story involving Bagley link up. Thus Creed’s case and O’Dell’s will also link up. The Choque Azul cartel has left its message, the tortured Trevor Bagley, as a warning to others who might get out of line. The human trafficking and the drug trafficking are connected enterprises. Before long, Creed’s name appears on the cartel’s hit list. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the January 28, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 29 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Breaking Creed

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Cold War backstory energizes debut of relentless sleuth

The Second Letter, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 330 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

This is hefty, solid, tough guy mystery writing. A character named Jake Travis is screaming for comparison with Hemingway’s world-weary Jake Barnes, Paul Levine’s Jake Lassiter, and of course, John D. McDonald’s iconoclastic protagonist Travis McGee. Mr. Lane’s invention holds up well while carrying its own distinctiveness. Too smart and too mouthy for his own good, Jake Travis lives in a moral twilight that threatens to plunge him into total darkness.  Second_Letter_Cover

Mr. Lane blends a noir outlook with posh settings.

Jake, a retired Special Forces operative, performs contract work for his former boss. His partner on such missions is a man named Garrett. They are tasked with working out the terms of a possibly compromising letter being turned over to the U. S. Government. The man who has the letter, Raydel Escobar, would like to exchange it for his IRS debt of seven million dollars.

Escobar lives an elegant life from the proceeds of his (largely stolen) carpet and rug business and the three gentleman’s clubs (better known as “skin clubs”) he runs in Tampa. He has a gorgeous wife, a gorgeous home, and a position in the food chain of illegal enterprises that puts him under associates far more powerful and ruthlessly lethal than he is.

Mr. Lane has structured the novel to rock back and forth between Jake’s perspective and Escobar’s, a device that is highly serviceable in raising suspense and deepening reader interest.

Lane

Lane

The letter goes back to 1961 and is thought to be connected to the Bay of Pigs fiasco. It had been in the possession of Dorothy Harrison, who lived on Long Key off St. Petersburg, Florida. Her late husband’s friend and colleague, Ted Sullivan, delivered it to her several months after Jim Harrison’s death in a CIA plane crash. Dorothy chose not to read it and asked her Cuban gardener, Angelo, to hide it. After her own death decades later, her home became a museum. Now Escobar has somehow come across the letter and the government wants it. Why is it so valuable?

Well, let’s just say it’s from Allen Dulles (CIA director) to Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. And it’s not the only letter in the envelope.

As Jake, Garrett, and Jake’s neighbor Morgan scout out Escobar’s estate and plan to make their move, readers get to enjoy Mr. Lane’s masterful handling of the Southwest Florida setting. They also get to feed their gluttony for descriptions of weaponry, elite boats, and special covert operations. Well, covert up to a point. In these various areas of thriller interest, Randy Wayne White now has a rival. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 9, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 10 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Naples, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Lane.

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“The Shadow Girls,” by Henning Mankell

The Shadow Girls,  by Henning Mankell. Translated by Ebba Segerberg. The New Press. 336 pages. $26.95.

Henning Mankell’s The Shadow Girls is a moving, perplexing, and nightmarishly humorous novel.  First published in Sweden in 2001, it is now available to English readers. The protagonist, Jesper Humlin, is a well-regarded Swedish poet whose life has become routine. His girlfriend strongly articulates her need for marriage and children, a desire he does not share.  His unappreciative mother, who always belittles his achievements and views, provides another source of tension in his life.  To subdue such discomforts, Humlin has numbed his sensitivity, and with it his spirit.   

Moreover, he is having trouble making decisions, or even facing the fact that decisions need to be made. Humlin is at the mercy of those prepared to make decisions for him. These include his publisher, who urges him to take up crime fiction. In fact, he tells Humlin that he has no choice. Humlin, outraged, refuses. Likewise, his stockbroker, blandly reviewing the collapse of the poet’s portfolio, offers him no satisfactory advice except not to worry. Some day his stocks will rebound.

The poet is drawn in a new direction by his unexpected engagement with three young women, struggling immigrants with different backgrounds but the shared situation of living on society’s margins. Tea-Bag fled from a sorry existence in Nigeria to a refugee camp in Spain and then fled again to Sweden. Tanya, from Russia, was deceived by tales of improving her desperate situation and fell into a nightmare life as a prisoner in the human trafficking underworld.  Having escaped, she, too, is now an illegal living by her wits in Sweden. Leyla immigrated with her family from Iran. However, she remains oppressed by her father’s cruel manner of controlling her life.

All three live in “a depressingly generic city suburb” of Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. Many of the novel’s darker scenes are set there, and in particular at a boxing club run by Humlin’s old friend, Törnblum, who insists that Humlin teach these young women how to write about their lives. The poet is unsure about this undertaking and affronted, as with his publisher and broker, by how his friend is forcing the direction of Humlin’s life.  But he goes forward anyway, because he is drawn to their desperation and senses that finding out about their lives may help him reclaim his own. 

Should he help them escape from the shadow world they live in? Do they want his help? Can he draw their stories out of them? Will anyone care if he succeeds? After beginning a series of informal workshops, Humlin faces new frustrations: the girls’ distrust, their faulty command of Swedish, and their continuing need for the protection of the shadows. Fear and distrust rule their lives. Slowly, usually in two or three bursts of nervous speech, their stories emerge. Intermittently, Humlin toys with the idea of using their stories as his raw material and writing a book about them, in place of the crime novel his publisher expects. . . .

There is much more to the full review. See it here: Washington Independent Review of Books » The Shadow Girls

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A fateful mission, a powerful vision

“Night Vision,” by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 368 pages. $25.95.

In the 18th installment of Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford mystery series, the artistic stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. The rich amalgam of sensibilities that the author has fused together raises his new novel several notches above the genre expectations that Mr. White has always satisfied with cunning and passion. His portrait of a Guatemalan girl on the edge of adolescence, a true believer on a fateful mission, is startling and emotionally stirring. It is also spiritually uplifting. “Night Vision” goes way beyond tough guy action (Ford is the only cerebral marine biologist action figure you’re ever likely to meet), yet there is plenty of that, too. 

In a squalid Southwest Florida mobile home park called Red Citrus, a young girl named Tula witnesses the park manager dumping a corpse into a polluted lake.  The man, Harris Squires, is a steroid junky body-builder and all-around creep, and his girlfriend Frankie is even worse. Together, they run a steroid brew factory and are involved with several other criminal enterprises including prostitution, snuff flicks, and human trafficking. Squires knows that Tula has seen him, and he needs to silence her.

Tula has traveled on her own from Guatemala hoping to find her mother and other relatives. She is convinced that their decision to fracture family life for the illusion of financial betterment has been misguided. She wants to bring them home, restore them to themselves. A wise, disciplined, worshipful young person, Tula believes that she receives advice and direction for Joan of Arc, her patron saint.  Tula’s magnetic personal power affects those around her; she immediately becomes a spiritual guide to other Red Citrus residents, especially those who share her Mayan ancestry. Many feel that Tula herself is a saint.

Tula is befriended by Doc Ford’s close buddy Tomlinson, and both of them become involved in an effort to rescue her once Squires has stolen her away. The main plot describes this rescue effort, the menacing criminal underworld with which Squires is associated, the Hispanic immigrant communities in Southwest Florida (especially Immokalee), and a new romantic interest for Ford . 

Randy Wayne White by Wendy Webb

Doc Ford has to apply all his skills as a well-trained undercover agent and assassin to put down the bad guys and rescue Tula. Just how he does it – the technical details, the adrenalin firepower, and the ferocious imagery – is what keeps readers glued to Mr. White’s words.

In each of Doc Ford’s recent adventures, Randy Wayne White has portrayed a man who is increasingly thoughtful and increasingly self-aware. Also, Ford sensibilities are continually being broadened and deepened. These aspects of characterization complement the high-energy, literally explosive action that never misfires.

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 16, 2011 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 17 issue of Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Randy Wayne White 2

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Kinley Roby’s Other Naples

When retired English professor Kinley Roby and his wife, gothic romance author Mary Linn Roby, were living at the St. Pierre in Pelican Bay, few knew that Mr. Roby was storing up local landscapes and local color for a series of mystery novels. Thirteen years in Naples, beginning in 1994, gave him a lot of images to transform imaginatively. He began working on what became his first novel in 2001, publishing “Death in a Hammock” two years later.  Kinley R by Nick Shirghio

Since then, Mr. Roby’s Harry Brock Mysteries have gained a loyal readership and critical acclaim.

“Death’s Other Kingdom,” the fifth and latest in the series, should please Harry Brock followers and win Mr. Roby new fans. It tells a fascinating story of human trafficking as well as subsidiary stories of abiding friendships and chaotic family dynamics. The characters are superbly drawn, and Mr. Roby’s version of the Naples area is not one we are used to associating with this opulent town.

To read the full article as it appears in the September 24-30, 2009 issue of Naples Florida Weekly, click here:  Florida Weekly – Kinley Roby

See also: https://philjason.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/something-about-mary-linn-roby/

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