Tag Archives: Miami

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, and the April 18 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Verses for the Dead

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Harper McDaniel a welcome new protagonist from a much-admired writer

When They Come for You, by James W. Hall. Thomas & Mercer 288 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

Add James W. Hall to the list of premier mystery/thriller authors who have jumped tracks from a classic series featuring a male protagonist to a new series featuring a female character. Having raved over Michael Connelly’s Renée Ballard and Randy Wayne White’s Hannah Smith, I am now gushing over Mr. Hall’s Harper McDaniel.  

We meet Harper on a pleasant February day in her Coconut Grove home. Her husband Ross, an investigative reporter, is shaving while holding their infant son Leo. Harper must snap a picture of them. That’s part of her nature as a professional photographer who is also the daughter of Deena Roberts, a photographer superstar and a suicide. A few blocks away, Spider Combs performs his electronic surveillance of the home, taking pictures and filming the movements of the gorgeous Harper. He knows a lot about this family, a family he has been contracted to destroy. Only Harper survives the fire.

When local police don’t seem to take the case seriously, Harper takes matters into her own hands.

James W. Hall

Whomever hired Combs and his associates wanted to stop Ross from finishing his expose about the chocolate industry. Harper, a martial arts expert, seeks justice and revenge. She needs to finish Ross’s work. With the help of her adopted financier brother, Nick; her retired mafioso grandfather, Sal; and – much later in the novel – family friend and movie star Ben Westfield, Harper prepares herself for the only task that will give her life meaning and purpose.

Mr. Hall’s skill in capturing Harper’s emotional turmoil, her ultimate resilience, and her courage adds great verisimilitude to a character who comes close to being a candidate for feminine (if not feminist) legend. The author’s superb rendering of Harper’s tradecraft fuels the legend with astonishing combat scenes. Yet we are always aware of Harper’s mortality, the preparation and capabilities of her foes, and her occasional doubts and fleeting fears. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the August 30, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 31 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click hereFlorida Weekly – When They Come for You

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Vietnam War protest violence leads to child abduction over 40 years later

Someone Must Die, by Sharon Potts. Thomas & Mercer. 380 pages. Trade paperback $15.95. Kindle Ebook $3.99.

A bone-chilling thriller with a strong sense of how history shapes people’s lives, this book also probes deeply into the workings of family dynamics. The main character, Aubrey Lynd is a PhD candidate in social psychology. We meet her at home in Rhode Island where she is dealing with the harsh ending of a six-year relationship. Her boyfriend, she has just discovered, has been a serial cheater. Potts-SomeoneMustDie,cover3-16-16

Her confidence shaken not only by his behavior but also by her blindness to it, Aubrey soon receives more bad news. Her six-year-old nephew Ethan has been abducted. This is not the kind of return home to Miami that Aubrey needs, but she must comfort her mother, Diana, who had taken her grandson to the carnival where the abduction took place. Diana had only recently been reunited with her son Kevin’s family, and this apparent show of irresponsibility only turns him against her and back into the embrace of his wife’s parents.

Diana is heartbroken. After the combined police and FBI investigation begins that we learn the motive for the abduction. Someone leaves a note for Diana saying that Ethan will be returned if she will kill Jonathan Woodward. Jonathan, who is being considered for a Supreme Court vacancy, is Diana’s significant other.

Sharon Potts

Sharon Potts

Diana is given a deadline by which she must provide proof of Jonathan’s death. If she contacts the authorities or misses the deadline, Ethan will die. In other words, she is put in a trap: someone must die – Ethan or Jonathan. The fact that a child had died under Diane’s care (she had been a practicing physician) only complicates her emotional situation. At first, she keeps the note a secret, but it doesn’t stay secret.

Aubrey plays an important role in the investigation, using her own training to influence the actions and perceptions of FBI Special Agent Smolleck and Detective Gonzalez of the Miami-Dade police. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the June 29, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 30 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Someone Must Die

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Levine’s legal hotshots team up for scintillating adventure

Bum Rap, by Paul Levine. Thomas & Mercer. 350 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

Paul Levine has done the inevitable, bringing together the lead players from his two popular series into a slick legal thriller. Steve Solomon, partner of Victoria Lord through four previous “Solomon vs. Lord” novels, is arrested for murder. Given the nature of the case, the partners feel that Jake Lassiter (whose series boasts ten previous titles) is the man for the job as chief counsel for Steve. The interplay among the three throws off plenty of sparks, as does their frantic striving to combat the prosecution’s case.  BumRapCover

What’s going on? Steve had been hired by a gorgeous B-Girl, illegal Russian immigrant Nadia Delova, to help her obtain money she is owed by her employer, mobster Nicolai Gorev, who has also locked away Nadia’s passport. During a meeting in Gorev’s office, weapons are drawn and Gorev ends up shot to death. Steve’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, and gun powder traces are found on him.

In a confused panic, Steve confessed to the murder. From various perspectives, the narrative rehearses the facts as alleged by Steve and Nadia (not quite identical) and the facts as used, abused, and refused in various iterations of Jake’s proposed trial strategy. Though Jake is a stickler for the truth, he is also bent on winning every case and doing all he can for a client.

Did Steve pull the trigger accidentally? Did he pull it at all, or did the weapon simply misfire? Do these details make any difference with regard to murder charges if Steve is viewed as Nadia’s accomplice in a robbery? Can Steve change his story during the trial with any credibility?

Slowly, deliberately, and with uncanny humor, Mr. Levine uses this case to expose many slippery aspects of the legal system, including laws regarding criminal charges and sentences that seem to contradict one another.



The reader is blessed with a device that the author uses to add contextualizing background to the case: the piecemeal presentation of Nadia’s testimony in an interview with Deborah Scolino, an assistant U. S. district attorney. Scolino is investigating the Russian mafia-like enterprise that has Gorev as its front man and Benny the Jeweler as the ultimate boss.

Nadia’s testimony reveals the operations of Club Anastasia, run by the Gorev brothers, and the Q & A underscores how Nadia’s future is governed by how many charges against her will be dropped or reduced in exchange for her testimony against others, including Steve.

Illegal immigration, scamming customers who expect sexual favors while running up enormous bar bills with beautiful women, money laundering, and smuggling diamonds all figure in the enterprises under investigation. However, for Jake the case is all about proving Steve innocent. He will somehow use Nadia if he has to – she certainly has a much stronger motive than Steve Solomon – but he’d rather find another way. . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the July 1, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 2 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bum Rap

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Miami Bookfair International

 Weekend Authors Sessions

Saturday, Nov. 22 – Sunday, Nov. 23

Weekend Authors Sessions
On Saturday and Sunday, the Festival of Authors continues when more than 600 authors present their works, including the Latin American and Spanish authors who participate in the IberoAmerican Authors Program, and the up-and-coming Florida writers.

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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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Miami Book Fair International 2012 Update

I just glanced at the growing list of participating authors (presenters and panelists), and it’s enormous. Here are those whose last names begin with “A”:

David Abrams, Fobbit (Grove)
Ibrahim Ahmad, Editor: Akashic Books — Writer’s Institute instructor
Magali Alabau,Volver (Betania)
Andrew Albanese, Meet the Reporters Panel
Gennifer Albin, Crewel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers)
Xavier Alcala, Verde oliva (Nawtilus)
Malin Alegria, Border Town #3: Falling Too Fast (Point)
Ramon Alejandro, Adua, la pedagoga (Aduana Vieja)
Martin Amis, Lionel Asbo: State of England (Alfred A. Knopf)
Roberto Ampuero, The Neruda Case (Riverhead Books)  / This author is absolutely great. see my: Washington Independent Review of Books » The Neruda Case

Roberto Ampuero, El último tango de Salvador Allende (Random House Mondadori)
Lori Andrews, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy (Free Press)
Fernando Aramburu,Años lentos (Tusquets)
Guillermo Arango, El año de la pera (Universal)
Jorge Luis Arcos, Kaleidoscopio. La poética de Lorenzo García Vega (Colibri)
Robert Arellano, Curse the Names (Akashic Books)
Homero Aridjis, Los perros del fin del mundo, Noticias de la tierra, Tiempo de angeles (Alfaguara, Random House, Fondo de Cultura Economica)
Jami Attenberg, The Middlesteins (Grand Central Publishing)
Ellis Avery, The Last Nude (Riverhead Books)
Karen Avrich, Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

For the rest of the alphabet, and other developing news, click here: http://miamibookfair.com/events/confirmed_authors.aspx

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A divided soul drives a heady, gruesome mystery tale

The Upside to Murder, by Marshall Frank. Aberdeen Bay. 266 pages. $16.95.

Dr. Orville Madison knows the justice system well enough to fear it. This generous and God-loving physician, a pillar of his Miami community, has determined that there is only one way to protect his daughter Cassie from reliving the experience that has devastated her. He must kill the culprits who gang-raped his teenage daughter before the police arrest them and bring the case to trial. 

Cassie had been seriously beaten and lost one eye. Her health and state of mind are delicate. Her father has decided that she cannot maintain her sanity as a witness in a trial. To save her from such an ordeal, he begins his own investigation with one end in mind. Before long, he does find and murder two of the criminals, and he hopes soon to close in on the third, whose name he knows.

The official case to find Cassie’s tormentors is headed up by Detective Sergeant Ray Blocker, a veteran homicide investigator who doesn’t look the part. His upscale wardrobe is one of the results of his hitting it big in a lottery. Another is his custom Cadillac Esplanade police cruiser. Then there’s the oceanfront condo. A widower whose wife died in a car crash, Blocker is estranged from his daughter and rarely gets to see his grandchild.

A top-notch and respected detective, Blocker slowly begins to suspect that Dr. Madison is the man who’s beating the police to the suspects – which means that there is probably a leak at police headquarters. Madison’s wife, Addie, suffering from her husband’s peculiar behavior, especially his mysterious absences, is fighting down her own suspicions.

Melbourne author Marshall Frank balances his storytelling on three poles: scenes focused on Madison, scenes focused on Blocker, and scenes focused on one or another second-tier character – most significantly the third suspect, prize fighter Marvin Patterson. Most often, Mr. Frank shuttles among three perspectives in a single chapter, heightening suspense and building his complex, multidimensional portrait of human nature within a nightmarish vision of Miami unlike that of most novels set in that city.

Marshall Frank

The Upside to Murder includes a stimulating mix of ethnicities, including a French-Canadian hooker. Like the real Miami, the novel is populated by Whites, Blacks, and Browns. While Mr. Frank makes it clear who among his characters is Caucasian, Afro-American, or Hispanic, his handling of racial and cultural identity is subordinated to representing the essential humanity of each individual. This humanity transcends but does not deny the factors of heritage and community. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the October 3, 2012 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the October 4 Bonita Springs and Space Coast editions, and the October 11 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Marshall Frank

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Presented and produced by The Center @ MDC Nov. 11 – 18, 2012


The 29th edition of the nation’s finest and largest literary gathering, Miami Book Fair International, presented by The Center for Literature and Theatre @ Miami Dade College (MDC), will take place November 11 – 18, 2012, at Miami Dade MDC’s Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., in downtown Miami. The always-popular Street Fair runs Friday through Sunday, November 16 – 18, with more than 200 exhibitors from around the country selling books in a festive atmosphere.

The Fair, MDC’s flagship cultural event, will treat book lovers to eight days of cultural and educational activities, including the beloved Evenings With… series, the IberoAmerican Authors program, myriad learning activities for children, and programs for food enthusiasts in partnership with the college’s Miami Culinary Institute.

Back again this year is the fall edition of The Miami Writers Institute, with workshops taught by novelist Margot Livesey, literary agent Kimberly Witherspoon, and award-winning author Teresa Dovalpage with a workshop in Spanish, among others.

This year, the Fair continues to expand its children’s programming, extending the Street Fair to add an additional day of author readings for students on field trips, and a fourth day of readings, storytelling and entertainment on the two children’s stages.

The Fair also continues special programming for educators with the day-long School of Comics and Graphic Novels — a series of workshops on how to use comics in the classroom–and adds workshops on how to teach creative writing to K-12 students.


The Fair continues to raise the bar of excellence by offering a fine roster of writers from the U.S. and abroad, and this year will be no exception. Confirmed authors include journalist Robert Caro, essayist and commentator Adam Gopnik, novelist Sandra Cisneros, novelist and essayist Joan Didion and novelist and journalist Tom Wolfe, to name a few.   

The IberoAmerican program will present an array of Spanish-speaking literary voices from around the world, including Homero Aridjis (Mexico), Mayra Santos Febres (Puerto Rico), Abilio Estévez (Cuba-Spain), Santiago Roncagliolo (Perú) and more.    

Miami Book Fair International 2012 promises to be another exceptional literary event!  For regular updates on the Miami Book Fair, please visit www.miamibookfair.com, call 305-237-3528 or email wbookfair@mdc.edu.


Miami Book Fair International is the largest and is regarded as the finest literary gathering in America. It is the premier event of The Center for literature and theatre at Miami Dade College. The Center promotes reading and writing throughout the year by consistently presenting quality literary activities open to all in South Florida. Literacy projects target children of all ages—from kindergarten to high school—as well as college students and adults. Established and emerging writers from South Florida and all over the U.S. read, lecture, and teach workshops. They work with K-12, MDC students, and diverse members of the community, helping to deepen their understanding of literature, and encouraging their work of writers at all stages of development. The Center envisions South Florida as a nexus of literary activity in the Americas and beyond, and will continue to champion its mission of promoting the advancement and appreciation of the literary arts in all forms.

Miami Book Fair International is made possible through the generous support of the State of Florida and the National Endowment for the Arts; the City of Miami; Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners; Miami-Dade County Public Schools; the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau; the Miami Downtown Development; and the Friends of the Fair; as well as many corporate partners.


Miami Dade College has a long and rich history of involvement in the cultural arts, providing South Florida with a vast array of artistic and literary offerings including The Miami Book Fair International, The Florida Center for the Literary Arts, The Miami International Film Festival, the MDC Live! performing arts series, The MDC Tower Theater Cinema Series, the Miami Leadership Roundtable speakers’ series, the National Historic Landmark Freedom Tower, numerous renowned campus art galleries and theaters, and the nationally recognized School of Entertainment and Design Technology. With an enrollment of more than 174,000 students, MDC is the largest institution of higher education in the country and is a national model for many of its programs. The college’s eight campuses and outreach centers offer more than 300 distinct degree programs including baccalaureate, Associate in Arts and Science degrees and numerous career training certificates leading to in-demand jobs. MDC has served nearly 2,000,000 students since it opened its doors in 1960.

 For regular updates on the Miami Book Fair, please visit www.miamibookfair.com, call 305-237-3528 or email wbookfair@mdc.edu.

Media-only contacts:
Juan Mendieta, 305-237-7611, jmendiet@mdc.edu, MDC communications director
Tere Estorino, 305-237-3949, testorin@mdc.edu, MDC media relations director
Sue Arrowsmith, 305-237-3710, sue.arrowsmith@mdc.edu, media specialist
Alejandro Rios, 305-237-7482, arios1@mdc.edu

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The odds favor the reader in Paul Levine’s latest

“Paydirt,” by Paul Levine. Createspace. 388 pages. $12.25. E-book $3.99.

This thriller seems to be best-selling author Paul Levine’s first foray into putting out a new title as an e-book original (along with a print on demand option). Like many other successful authors of trade titles, Mr. Levine has seen the future and it is now. His wildly and widely popular Jake Lassiter series is being repackaged in e-book format at the same time that he goes marching further into the digital age with this new stand-alone title. 

Though Mr. Levine no longer lives in Miami, he has long been associated with it. It is a major setting in much of his work, including this latest effort as the home of the Super Bowl. The outcome of this season-ending football game largely decides the fate of his principal characters, in particular Bobby Gallagher.

Bobby, the son-in-law of Dallas Mustangs owner Martin Kingsley, would seem to have it all. Married to beautiful, intelligent, caring Christine and father to a good-natured son who also happens to be a math genius, he would seem to be one lucky guy. The problem is that he has allowed himself to be corrupted by the sports industry he works for: an industry in which the pursuit of winning and wealth is out of control. As a lawyer for the Mustangs, Bobby’s job has been to successfully defend rapists and other lowlifes who happened to be key players on the team. Beginning with minor violations of responsible professional conduct, Bobby has slid down the slippery slope into a moral abyss. And it’s been eating away at him.

He needs to change his life.

As it turns out, moral leverage is no leverage at all – certainly not with his wife’s father, who is the epitome of criminal greed rooted in vanity and obsession. Since Christine is a daddy’s girl who has not allowed herself to perceive her father’s cruelty and corruption, Bobby can’t persuade her to join him in taking a stand. With no allies, Bobby’s scruples and his blundering attempts to right things cost him his job, his law license, his reputation, his marriage, and perhaps his parental rights.

Paul Levine

After leaving Dallas and moving to Miami, Bobby finds himself unemployable and crushingly depressed. An old friend gets him into the illegal bookie business, taking bets on sports competitions with a commission income. Bobby is rather inept at this endeavor, though his son’s mathematical wizardry is of some help. Bobby needs money, gets in debt to a mobster, and tries to find a bet he can win to pay off his life-threatening creditor and perhaps get even with his father-in-law.

In pursuing his redemption, Bobby absorbs plenty of brutal beatings, both physically and psychologically. 

His ultimate goal is to somehow put his family back together again and rebuild his reputation. This involves exposing Martin and forcing Christine to see the true character of Craig Stringer. Stringer, the Mustangs’ superstar quarterback, is a thoughtless womanizer who longs to be a Mustangs’ executive when his playing days are over. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the April 5, 2012 issue of Naples Florida Weekly, click here:  Florida Weekly – Paul Levine pdf

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