Tag Archives: Michael Wiley

An unlikely hero makes the best of his shortcomings

Trouble in Mind, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 224 pages. Hardcover $28.99.

Mr. Wiley has returned to the Chicago setting to launch the Sam Kelson Mystery Series. His recent books have been set in Jacksonville, where he teaches at the University of North Florida. His Shamus Award-winning Joe Kozmarsky Series was also set in Chicago. The author’s new main character is an unlikely hero battling with handicaps that make his exploits particularly intriguing and sometimes comical. 

Sam’s last assignment on the Chicago Police Force involved a young and highly successful drug peddler nicknamed Bicho (Spanish for Bug). Attempting to lead an undercover narcotics team to make an arrest, Sam exchanged gunfire with Bicho and killed him. Cop and crook had fired at the same time, and the bullet that entered Sam’s brain changed his life.

When Sam is rushed to the hospital, his police buddy, Toselli, breaths enough oxygen into him to save his life.

Two years later, Sam is running a low-end private eye business. He admits to his clients that among his shortcomings is his inability to keep a secret. This is one outcome of the bullet that went into his left frontal lobe. He also is compelled to answer unasked questions and to laugh for no obvious reason. He has trouble navigating doorways. These and other results of his near-fatal wounding are on display throughout the story, provoking sympathy and smirks. His ability to function well enough and his desire to help people makes him a one-of-a-kind hero.

Wiley

When Trina Felbanks become Sam’s client, his situation quickly takes a turn for the worse. Trina asks him to find out if her brother, a pharmacist, had been dealing drugs. When Sam shows up at Christian Felbanks’ home, he at first doesn’t find any sign of it being a place where drugs are being hidden, manufactured, or sold. However, he does make a shocking discovery: someone has put a bullet hole in Mr. Felbanks’ head. Just as Sam makes this discovery, a SWAT team rushes in and arrests Sam for the murder. Clearly, he has been set up, and his client must have played a role in this charade. Arrested on suspicion of murder, he makes an even more startling discovery concerning his client’s identity.

Who is the murderer and why has Sam been chosen as the fall guy? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 25, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Venice editions, click here:  Trouble in Mind

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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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Satisfied vengeance casts a pitch-black glow

Black Hammock, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 192 pages. Hardcover $28.95.

With his newest and noirist thriller, Michael Wiley pretty much forsakes traditional detective story plotting and follows a protagonist on his personal vendetta. The protagonist, Oren, has gathered up a small group of his well-armed friends with the goal of murdering his mother Kay and her husband Walter. He wants it to be a slow, painful death. He is sure that the couple, who have a home on isolated Black Hammock Island in northeastern Florida near the Georgia border, had killed his father, Amon Jakobson, eighteen years ago, effectively abandoning Oren to an uncertain fate when he was only eight. BlackHammockCover

A local Sheriff’s Office detective, Daniel Turner (for whom Mr. Wiley’s mystery series takes its name), has had a continuing interest in the unsolved disappearance of Amon that is stirred up by the arrival of Oren and his vigilante crew. Because Turner is identified with Jacksonville in Wiley’s earlier Turner novels, Black Hammock is no doubt to be imagined as part of the Jacksonville/Duval County united government. How Oren executes his plan and how his actions affect others are the novel’s principle centers of interest. Bringing to life a rural, off the grid culture is another. Revealing the hard life of Amon is a third.

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Mr. Wiley handles his exposition by alternating two narrators. One is Oren, telling his own story (and his father’s) in his own way, at once humorous and threatening. The other is Lexi, the eighteen-year-old bookish daughter of Kay and Walter, who is looking for her chance to get away from the tawdry life at Black Hammock. Lexi’s concern about the future of her mentally disabled younger brother, Cristofer, has probably kept her from leaving the island.

In having Lexi tell her side of the story that begins with Oren’s arrival (he keeps his identity a secret through most of the story), Mr. Wiley allows her to stand in for the reader. Her questions and suspicions about what this strange, intelligent, erratic fellow is doing by invading her home directs the reader’s interest, sympathy, and judgement.

For each narrator, and for the other important characters, Mr. Wiley has developed a distinctive voice. In fact, the book’s impact in large part comes from its frequently over-the-top dialogue. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 8, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 9 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Black Hammock.

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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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