Tag Archives: Michael Lister

Dueling narratives interact to extend Michael Lister’s literary mastery of North Florida ethos

Blood Shot, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 346 pages. Trade paperback $17.99.

How many writers come up with a novel that is a sequel to two of their earlier novels? Perhaps only one – the super talented and tireless Michael Lister. Blood Shot is number 15 in the John Jordan Mysteries series. It is also a follow-up to Double Exposure, a Remington James Novel. Do you need to know this? Well, there is plenty to enjoy without such information. However, the author may be leaning a bit too heavily on his established fan base. For example, characters’ names are dropped that will mean nothing to a new Lister reader.  

Set in the northwest section of Florida and taking us deep into heavily forested areas of great natural beauty that Mr. Lister describes with profound passion and acute vision, this novel runs along to rails separated by three years. The chapters alternate. Those labeled “then” trace the movements of photographer Remington James. Those labeled “now” follow sheriff’s department investigator John Jordan’s search to bring James’s killer or killers to justice – one way or another. Jordan is committed to help his good friend Heather, James’s widow find closure. It’s a cold case that needs to be heated up. Earlier investigations seem to have lacked commitment – or worse.

We meet James making his way through the disorienting woods, looking for the opportunity to snap the perfect picture, and speculating about the source and cause of a distant scream. In subsequent “then” sections James is questioned about what his is doing on his own land and warned about staying too long as darkness falls. He does, in fact, get lost. When he finds one of his camera traps, he scrolls through the images on the memory card. Plenty of great shots of wildlife, and then “the random horror his camera has captured” – a murder. He becomes panicky, wondering of the killer is still out there. And he is going to find out.

Lister

In the “now” sections, Jordan’s effort to find James’s murderer connects with the attempt to discovery what lies behind the murder of the former sheriff of Gulf County and several of his men, each “executed one by one with their own guns.” Jordan’s relationship with his boss and other law enforcement associates is developed in a context that suggest that lawmen are participating in or ignoring certain crimes.  There is an enormous amount of money coming from a huge marijuana enterprise. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the December 13, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 14 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Blood Shot

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Loose ends of the Atlanta Child Murders are tied up in new novel

Blood Cries, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 266 pages. Hardcover $26.99. Trade paperback $16.99.

The tenth John Jordan Mystery has the added distinction of being volume two of “The Atlanta Years” subset. Thus it is the second installment treating John Jordan’s coming of age before he worked as a policeman, prison chaplain and reluctant private detective in panhandle Florida. Like its predecessor “Innocent Blood,” it explores in fictional mode the historical Atlanta Child Murders, for which the FBI’s records are available online. The arrest and conviction of Wayne Williams for two murders left a lot of loose ends regarding the fate of several boys murdered or missing during his reign of terror. perf5.500x8.500.indd

These loose ends connect to similar murders and/or abductions that Wayne Williams could not have done. They leave a depressed, alcoholic divinity school student, eighteen year old John Jordan, with an obsessional sense of duty to bring those children and their families justice and healing.

Following Jordan around involves readers in the life of a grieving community, with caring people striving to support one another emotionally and spiritually. Jordan has developed an uneasy relationship with the local police, most of whom find him likely to get in their way or show them up. Mr. Lister keeps readers aware of the fact that police resources are always strained and setting priorities is not something that always takes a community’s needs into account.

Lister

Lister

Jordan realizes that finding out what the missing boys in the recent streak of disappearance have in common is at the heart of the case. He discovers that almost all of the six that he is searching for live in the same corner of the city and share sadly similar family situations. He also tries to profile the abductor (possibly also a murderer) from what he has learned from his independent reading and by thinking things through carefully.

His pursuit of justice is compromised by several things. One of these is his problem with alcohol. Another is his unsettled sense of himself and his direction in life. Yet another is his lack of experience in the world. Developmentally, he feels in over his head even though he is quite intelligent and has sharp instincts.

He is driven by his worst fears about the fate of these boys, based on his knowledge of what had happened to others during the Atlanta Child Murders nightmare. He even visits Wayne Williams in prison to stare him down and pick his warped brain for clues. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 27 2016 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Blood Cries

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King of hearts a calling card for murder in latest “John Jordan” mystery

Blood Money, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 280 pages. Hardcover $26.99. Trade paperback $16.99.

The eighth entry in the “John Jordan Mystery” series shows this incredibly talented and prolific author at the top of his form. No one gives us Panhandle Florida like Mr. Lister, and no one handles the prison microcosm with the degree of physical, social, and moral authenticity that he is able to convey. In this story, local politics rears its more than ugly heads, serial suicides – or homicides in disguise – flare up in the Potterville Correction Institution, and a prostitute who had serviced a political event is found dead – then the corpse is mysteriously stolen.  BloodMoney3d

Chaplain-investigator Jordan, son of the police chief, is once again in the middle of several messes. The new warden wants to get rid of him, Jordan himself wonders if the ugliness of his job is overwhelming him, and his lover’s ex-husband is threatening Anna – the single most important and redeeming relationship in Jordan’s life.

That ugliness at the job includes that fact that a group of inmates have dubbed themselves the Suicide Kings. Take a look: is the king of hearts wielding a weapon toward himself? Or is he fending off or recovering from an attack? However you read the standard image of this card, its discovery as a signature to several deaths in the prison, slipped into each victim/practitioner’s pocket, is eerie and shudder-producing. In an environment where boredom is in itself deadly, incarcerated men need something to do with their dreams of power and their dreams of ending it all. Mostly, the members of the suicide club manage a series of failed attempts.

They have created a situation in which those inside the club or knowledgeable about it can commit a murder and stage it as a suicide. You’ll marvel at how Michael Lister plays out the hand he has dealt to himself in this morbid but magnetic plot line.

Part of the suicide club members’ pact is to buy insurance on each other’s lives; this adds fascinating dimensions to the investigation and a special overtone to the book’s title.

Michael Lister

Michael Lister

Indeed, the novel is a trove of facts about suicide in general and its epidemic growth in the prison community. Fortunately, author Lister does not break stride as he slides in this astounding information, which is central to the action and themes. We learn, for example, that failed suicides are sometimes failure of will, but often planned as ways of improving the inmate’s benefits: more time out of his cell, more counseling and medication, etc.

Because health care professionals at the prison are experimenting with hypnotherapy to deal with the inmate’s various problems, they fall under suspicion. Perhaps they hypnotizing susceptible men into self-murder – or just plain murder. But to what advantage? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 13, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 14 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Blood Money

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The Atlanta Child Murders reimagined in brilliant crime novel

Innocent Blood, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 264 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Mr. Lister’s seventh John Jordan Mystery takes an unusual step. Instead of moving readers forward on the path of John’s life, it takes them back to his very first case. In fact, this tale takes readers back in time twice. First, to 1980 when the Jordan family went on a vacation to Atlanta. John, twelve at the time, was fated to encounter the man who was later convicted of two murders, though not the murders or abduction of the many black boys who were thought to be his victims.  perf5.500x8.500.indd

However, though John had seen and interacted with Wayne Williams, he didn’t make the connection until many months later when the print and television news was filled with the story of his arrest. The man he met was hawking opportunities for gullible youngsters to become professional entertainers.  Of course, this was not at all the goal of the menacing Mr. Williams.

The Atlanta Child Murders continued to occupy Atlanta police, and they continued to occupy space in young John’s imagination.

Six years later, soon after graduation from high school, John Jordan returns to Atlanta. Having been torn between pursuing a career in law enforcement or one in the ministry, he had opted to enroll in a new ministerial program. This decision was a difficult one, severing John’s relationship with his police chief father who thought John was making a foolish mistake.

While working for the college and its parent church, John manages to attach himself to policemen who had worked on the Atlanta Child Murders, including the man in charge of the investigation. John’s obsessive interest and his obvious analytical skills lead them to allow him a role in the continuing investigation, which has been reignited by similar crimes. This is exactly what John has hoped for. There are just too many unclosed cases with similar details, and yet it seems unlikely that Wayne Williams could have been responsible for all of them.

Michael Lister

Michael Lister

The community John has entered includes Safe Haven, a daycare and aftercare center run by Ida Williams (no relation to Wayne) located near the church. Ida’s young son, LaMarcus, was murdered but never put on the list headed Atlanta Child Murders though his death occurred during that time period. Like John at that time, LaMarcus was twelve years old.

John now meets the beautiful Jordan Williams, Ida’s daughter, who becomes the new love of his life, but she is stuck in a bad marriage. Regularly beaten by her husband, a local policeman, she has her eyes on John, and she appreciates his tentative attentions.

After establishing the key players, Michael Lister focuses on John’s exhausting attempt to balance his college studies, his work commitments that are in lieu of tuition, and his unswerving pursuit of the unsolved murders. Still only a kid himself, John impresses people with his maturity, compassion, and insight. He seems to know what questions need to be pursued. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the  May 6, 2015 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 7 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Innocent Blood

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Florida noir trilogy wraps up with a big bang

The Big Hello, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 215 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Michael Lister is the bard of the Florida Panhandle. His crime novels, distributed through several ongoing series, set a very high standard for originality, style, and impact. The Big Hello, the third and final installment in the Soldier series, features an ex-cop private eye named Jimmy “Soldier” Riley who is at once as tough as they come and as filled with romantic longing as anyone should be. In this series, both homage to and fulfillment of the hard-boiled Florida noir tradition, the story line is drenched with death. BigHelloLow

However, the story line – easy to follow in some ways – is also something of a problem. In this chase to save the woman of his dreams, if in fact she is alive, Jimmy is tangled up in a chase after the super-perverse serial killer who abducted her. One thing is clear: Lauren Lewis in not in her grave!

One-armed Jimmy and his sidekick, a one-eyed Negro named Clip, are regularly arrested by members of the local constabulary (the action runs back and forth between Panama City and Tallahassee during the early 1940s), some of whom are competent, others less so, and others corrupt.

The number of characters juggled in a relatively short book, the nonstop mayhem, and the sketchy development of back story, can leave readers disoriented. I’m thinking this book is best enjoyed by those who have read the two previous volumes in the series, “The Big Goodbye” and “The Big Beyond.” Yet it is highly enjoyable, though a bit perplexing, in itself.

Perhaps the sense of chaos and disorientation is deliberate:

“What’s our next move?” Clip asked.

                We were standing back over near the ambulance again, waiting on Collins.

                “I have absolutely no idea.”

                He nodded and seemed to think about it. “And how is that different from any other time?”

                I managed a smile.

                He was right. That was the job. Stumbling around in the darkness, being lied to and misled by some while others attempted manipulation, intimidation, and bribery, all while not giving in, not giving up.

Okay, I can groove on this.

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The book has many spectacular scenes, including the gallery of macabre art by the serial killer, Flaxon De Grasse, who juxtaposes body parts in his surrealistic compositions (or decompositions). In portraying wartime Northern Florida, Mr. Lister projects – without excessive, show-off detail – the feel of the cars on the pre-Eisenhower roadways, the roadside saloons, motels and other accommodations, and the countless stops at payphones.

Jimmy and Clip comprise an odd couple, a black and white pair unusual in this time and place. Their respect for and loyalty to one another and their handling of situations in which Clip is disrespected or blocked from access are handled by the author with just the right touch. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 27, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 28 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Big Hello

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Michael Lister’s crime-fighting prison chaplain is complex and classic

“Rivers to Blood,” by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 280 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

This, the sixth “John Jordan Mystery,” finds the chaplain/detective sleuthing through a pile of criminality, much of it quite hideous. We immediately learn that an inmate at the Potter Correctional Institute, a state prison on the Florida panhandle, has escaped with just a few weeks left on his sentence. About to become a free man, why would he put that freedom at risk? John joins others in the manhunt, including members of the sheriff’s office headed by his father Jack. RiverstoBloodCover

During the hunt in the soggy woodlands, John thinks he hears an airplane engine and catches a glimpse of a plane perhaps head for a crash landing. Before long, John himself has a crash landing as someone smashes him on the back of his head. Getting back to his feet, he joins others at the prison transport van where a transport officer is found bloody and unconscious. The officer’s partner is found wearing an inmate uniform. So, where is the inmate?

Soon, the volunteer Potter County Search and Rescue Team is assisting the search. With the exception of one individual, the members of this group “shared the Southern good ol’ bad boy traits of tough-guy posturing, folksy anti-intellectualism, covert racism, and general xenophobia.” This is Lister country.

The next morning, PCI psychologist DeLisa Lopez tells John that there is a serial rapist attacking male victims both inside and outside the penitentiary and forcing them to sodomize themselves.

So what do a falling airplane and a runaway inmate have to do with this latest and most heinous heap of trouble? I don’t think I’m going to tell you.

Lister

Lister

What I am going to tell you is that in “Rivers to Blood” Michael Lister probes the nature of depravity like no one else. And while he is doing this nastily gorgeous work, he is weaving a few other story lines into the tapestry in gorily addictive prose.

One underplot has to do with John’s father’s campaign for re-election, a campaign that for the first time finds the proud man rattled by the possibility of losing. Sheriff Jack’s vulnerability complicates his portrait as well as that of the Jordan family relationships. Brother Jeff, who shows clear hostility toward John, is part of that mischievous search and rescue team. Their mother, strangely on the periphery of John’s world, needs an organ transplant.

Another complication neatly grafted onto the main story line is John’s despairing loneliness. This inner situation, which comes and goes in intensity, derives in large part from his stunted relationship with the woman he loves. Anna, intelligent and beautiful, is – like John – emotionally wounded. Both have a desperate need for intimacy and a fear of it. And Anna is married. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 7, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 8 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rivers to Blood

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Hurricane threatens missing twin in evocative noir thriller

“Separation Anxiety,” by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press.  320 pages. Hardcover $26.99, trade paperback $16.99.

Many writers of high repute have applauded Michael Lister’s giant talent and unique vision. And yet, he perseveres in relative obscurity, never embraced by a major publishing house that could help him reach the wide audience he deserves. His John Jordan Mystery series is a treasure of contemporary literature. His books outside of this landmark series are equally suspenseful, provocative, and unsettling.  Mr. Lister’s work always has a spiritual dimension, and in “Separation Anxiety” the spiritual realm becomes dominant. perf5.500x8.500.indd

The plot of “Separation Anxiety” is populated by twins: biological and spiritual. The central character, in this story that involves many major characters, is Taylor Sean. Taylor, thirty-two, is a prominent artist who lives with her teenage daughter Shelby in a Lithonia Lodge, an eery old house in the Florida Panhandle town of Tupelo. This region is Mr. Lister’s home territory, and he knows it inside out.

Taylor is a conjoined twin, her identical sister – Trevor – having died in separation surgery (they had been joined at the lower abdomen) so that Taylor might live. Not only does she carry the internal and external scars of this surgery, she has transformed the outer scars into living art.

Michael Lister

Michael Lister

Taylor, always tortured by survivor guilt, has regained a tenuous stability in the long, chaotic aftermath of that loss as well of the loss of Shelby’s twin sister, Savannah. Taylor’s emotional repair is largely due to the loving care of Marc, her novelist soulmate and thus a kind of psychic twin.

Now, as a hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Mexico aims right at Tupelo, young Shelby disappears – a remarkable recurrence of Savannah’s disappearance some eight years back. The search for Shelby races against the timetable of the approaching storm and, perhaps, the intentions of an abductor. It’s possible, however, that Shelby has simply left on her own or run away with her boyfriend, Julian. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 6, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 7 Naples edition, click here Florida Weekly – Lister 1 and here  Florida Weekly – Lister 2

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Michael Lister: a bright talent with a bloody tale

“The Body and the Blood,” by Michael Lister. Five Star. 330 pages. $25.95

Do you enjoy mysteries with religious themes and characters? Forget Father Dowling. Forget Rabbi Small. Catch up with Michael Lister’s unique “John Jordan Mystery” series. A former policeman now working as a prison chaplain in Florida’s panhandle, John Jordan wrestles with the conflict of justice and mercy on the one hand, and justice and vengeance on the other. Lister’s Jordan becomes a flawed everyman whose determination to become a better person and a spiritual counselor to others is constantly tested as he struggles to balance the demands of his chaplaincy with his work as a crime investigator. 

In “The Body and the Blood,” the latest book in this series, something that seems completely impossible has happened at the Potter Correctional Institution. An inmate named Justin Menge, just short of being paroled, is murdered inside of his locked cell. Most peculiarly, the large pool of blood spreading under the cell door is no longer in proximity to the now-bloodless corpse lying on the cot – a cot whose sheets are almost clean.  How can this have happened in a prison with multiple levels of security? And what does it mean that the danger to Menge had been suggested in two different ways? First, a sister who hasn’t seen him in years voices concern that Menge might be in danger. Second, a mysterious handout appears imitating an announcement for a prison worship service, but with wording that warns of such a crime.

While Jordan and the state prison system’s chief investigator, Tom Daniels, explore the locked door part of the mystery, they come up with a variety of suspects on the basis of motive – perhaps too many plausible suspects for a jury to find anyone guilty “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” Daniels has a vested interest in the case because Menge was about to testify against Juan Martinez, an escaped and recaptured convict who had raped Daniels’ wife. John Jordan has a complex relationship with vengeance-minded Daniels in that Jordan is working hard to rebuild his fractured marriage to Daniels’ daughter, Susan.

Suspicion falls on corrupt prison guards, on a female prison psychologist for whom records show improper time markers for entering and leaving Menge’s section of the prison, and on another prisoner, Chris Sobel – known to be Menge’s boyfriend. Since Sobel and Menge are very similar in appearance, it even seems possible that they might have switched identities at some point or been mistaken for one another, further confusing the permutations of motive.

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 6-12, 2010 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 7-13 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Michael Lister or here: Florida Weekly – Michael Lister pdf

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