Tag Archives: Jacksonville

A highly original time-shifting thriller rendered in gorgeous prose

The Shimmer, by Carsten Stroud. Mira Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Here is a daring, magnetic, and brilliantly constructed novel that takes readers places they’ve never been. Well, you may have traveled to Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and New Orleans – but you will not have encountered the kind of time-travel orchestration of action that Mr. Stroud has managed to portray with such power and authoritative detail. “Authoritative” is the right word. These places and what happens in them – and then unhappens – are so compellingly imagined that you will believe what can’t be true.  

The narrative begins with a high-speed chase episode that is unforgettable – and it gains momentum from there.

In the present, Florida Highway Patrol’s Sergeant Jack Redding pursues a serial killer, a kind of time traveling femme fatale, who back in 1957 was sought by his grandfather, Clete Redding, of the Jacksonville police. The cycles of pursuit and escape follow this evil spirit known as Selena, Diana, and by several other names as well. Her lifetime is extended by time shifts that involve riding a time-bending force called The Shimmer. To catch her, one must follow her. Time markers in the Selena story go back to 1914.

Carsten Stroud photo credit Linda Mair

One aspect of the plot premise is the possibility that the damage Selena has done can be undone by adjustments in – or to – time. However, these adjustments – if made by entering through the wrong temporal portal – can have disastrous unintended consequences. Characters travel into the past to shape (reshape?) the future, but the outcomes of their efforts, even if in pursuit of justice, are unpredictable.

Mr. Stroud builds a fascinating logic of cause and effect that keeps readers hooked while it keeps them guessing. As the characters slide (or shimmer) from the world we share to the world adjusted by time travel, our belief in them is carried over to our belief in what they experience and hold true.

Can a tragedy that occurs on the Matanzas Inlet bridge along Florida’s route A1A be wiped away by a time shift back to before the bride was built? If so, what other time-bound occurrences will be altered? . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the July 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Shimmer

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A powerfully imagined novel explores the causes and consequences of an unjust murder conviction

Monument Road, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 256 pages. Hardcover $28.99.

When we first meet Franky Dast, he is just out of prison. Falsely convicted of a double murder eight years ago, Franky, in is mid-twenties is entering a world he has not yet begun to figure out. Largely due to his own efforts, his has been given his freedom. He was betrayed by Higby, a demonic arresting officer who put him on death row, by his ill-equipped public defender, and by a system that had no interest in raising questions about the past. Bitter over the lost years and the taint on his name, Franky gains employment with the Justice Now Initiative, a small organization that aids people facing the same problem of having been unjustly imprisoned.  

A haunted man, Franky is not an ideal employee, but his supervisors nurture him as best they can.

In order to more fully establish his innocence, Franky feels the need to discover who was really guilty of murdering those two brothers, young teenagers, with whom Franky had an innocent encounter that doomed him.

Just as he had done much of the investigative work that set him free, Franky is back at it again, trying to to follow up on the death of those boys and to others whose lives and deaths seem to have linked circumstances and details.

With no bars hemming him in, often confused, and determined to be in charge of his own life, Franky is taking chances that might get him in trouble.

Michael Wiley

This gorgeously crafted, shudderingly dark novel blends the genres of psychological thriller and murder mystery. Many will find the author’s probing of Franky’s tormented psyche to have primary appeal. However, the young man is also an adept reasoner and a bulldog at getting close to people who may have secrets that he needs to draw out.

The version of Jacksonville that Mr. Wiley takes us through is a stretch of the urban and suburban American South blighted by corruption and contamination of all kinds. Autopsies reveal unusually high mercury levels; a powerful judge holds sway over how and whether law –  as actualized in the sheriff’s department and the courtroom – is administered; and the low-end rooming house where Franky rents a room is a sordid, grimy place (although its owner/manager seems to be a competent and caring person). . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 29, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 30 Naples, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Monument Road

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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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Travel the meanest streets in this bold, gut-wrenching mystery

Blue Avenue, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 224 pages. Hardcover $28.95.

How noir is it? Very. Black on black. Mayhem and murder prevail. Mr. Wiley’s Jacksonville is a place where one encounters an amazingly high percentage of individuals who mete out or receive abuse, suffering, and death.  BlueAvenueCover

Yet, for all the gore and the gruesome rationalizations for evil deeds, the novel is highly magnetic. Gorgeously written with copious sensory detail, “Blue Avenue” attacks our complacency, makes us wish we could turn away from the novel’s norm of brutality, but has us trapped in our own voyeuristic thrill-seeking, tempting us to condone what deserves condemnation.

This is a very fine piece of imaginative writing about very bad people who, unfortunately, we are given the tools to understand. At some level, we are like them. Thus we accept them. Worse, we feel sorry for them.

William “BB” Byrd inherited from his father four gas stations that keep him economically afloat. His real business – actually more of an avocation – is vigilante justice.

BB and is wife Susan occupy separate bedrooms in the home they share with their teenage son, Thomas. Love has been distorted into a bitter accommodation to BB’s disturbing needs. His wife Susan withholds intimacy while BB withholds honesty, security, and fidelity.

BB dreams of Belinda Mabry, the beautiful black girlfriend of his teens. She was an extravagant risk-taker. Belinda, who moved from Jacksonville to Chicago with her parents and disappeared from BB’s life, never disappeared from his thoughts. Now, twenty-five years later, BB learns from Lieutenant Daniel Turner, police detective and former playground friend, that she is dead. (The series is named for Daniel Turner. I haven’t yet figured out why.)

MIchael Wiley

MIchael Wiley

Belinda was found trussed in a peculiar position, wrapped in cellophane, and tossed in a pile of trash. Daniel asks BB to identify the body. He does so, almost vomiting at the gruesome sight. He learns that Belinda is the third in a series of serial killings with the same M.O. The other two women had frequently been arrested for prostitution.

Early in the novel, we learn that BB is a man with a shady reputation, capable of almost anything. Because of the long-ago connection with the Belinda, he could be considered a suspect. When he phones Charles, a man he hadn’t spoken to in eight years, Charles – who shouldn’t know enough to ask – says: “This about Belinda Mabry?” But Charles is the kind of guy who knows about everything dark and ugly, including BB’s deeply troubled past that includes a homicide charge. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 11, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly,the December 17 Fort Myers edition, and the December 25 Bonita Springs and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Wiley

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“15 Seconds” by Andrew Gross

 As we meet Dr. Henry Steadman, a successful Boca Raton plastic surgeon and owner of several pain management clinics, he is trying to find the Jacksonville hotel where he will be the featured speaker at a medical conference. Sheriff’s deputies stop him for a minor infraction, then bully and threaten him as if he were a major criminal and security risk. Soon he hears gunfire and sees a dead police officer. Worse, people are shooting at him. Fleeing to save his life, Steadman is totally disoriented. He can’t believe this is happening. Or why. 

Suddenly, he is a wanted man. A policeman is dead, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has already, it seems, tried and convicted Steadman. The police ignore his explanations and ignore evidence pointing to his innocence.

Meet Amanda Hofer. Sometime before Steadman’s ordeal begins, she has the worst day of her life. Late for work and strung out on pills, she loses control of her car and ends the lives of a young mother and child. Belligerent when coherent, she is locked up and before long finds herself sentenced to 20 years. Her father Vance, a former policeman turned chronic loser, sees Amanda as a victim. Her life, like his own, is a case history in how the haves exploit and undermine the have-nots. And he’s going to hold someone accountable.

Vance Hofer has made Steadman, whose clinics prescribe the kind of drugs Amanda is addicted to, the target of his vengeance. He vows to make Steadman suffer as he has suffered. Steadman must lose a daughter as he has lost a daughter. Hofer kidnaps and tortures Steadman’s daughter, who is nearly the same age as Amanda, and controls the doctor’s behavior through this leverage. He won’t let Steadman turn himself in. If Hofer hears that the police are involved in the case or have any knowledge of Steadman’s daughter’s disappearance, she will be tortured to death.

Andrew Gross

Henry Steadman is a desperate man. He struggles to find a way to rescue his daughter, and he is nearing a complete breakdown. Enter Carrie Holmes, a valiant woman dealing with her own life-altering tragedies. She has returned from a leave of absence from her Community Relations job with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office following the death of her husband and a life-threatening injury to her son. Unlike her colleagues, she hears the logic in Steadman’s explanation and questions, and she feels the desperation in his voice. Holmes begins to believe Steadman was set up in the police shooting — that the whole scene near the Jacksonville hotel was staged.

But how? By whom? Why? …

There is much more to this review. To read the review in its entirety, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: Washington Independent Review of Books » 15 Seconds

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