Tag Archives: serial killer

A haunting serial killer novel with spirited pacing and surprising twists

The Bricklayer of Albany Park, by Terry John Malik. Blank Slate Press. 342 pages. Trade paperback $16.99.

A psychological thriller with a strong dose procedural detail, Mr. Malik’s debut novel is the surprisingly solid achievement of a man who had never before attempted fiction writing. Its success is largely dependent on an impressive amount of well-integrated research, a masterful understanding of Chicago, and an equally keen grasp of extreme mental illness. The author provides plenty of surprises for his readers, as well as a torrent of suspense. 

Most of the novel is presented through two alternating perspectives. One narrative voice is that of Detective Francis (Frank) Vincenti, a once-aimless young man who has become a stellar investigator for the Chicago Police Department. In this way he was unlike his childhood friend, Tony Protettore, who was constantly preoccupied with thoughts of joining the police thoughts.

Readers learn of Frank’s odd friendship with and training by ex-cop Thomas Aquinas Foster, his CPD partnership with Sean Kelly, and his disastrous marriage to Beth – an aspiring lawyer.

Malik

The other narrator is simply known, through much of the novel, as Anthony. A serial killer who hunts down, punishes, and eradicates child molesters, Anthony is a meticulous planner (though sometimes his plans go wrong). Mr. Malik provides the gory details of Anthony’s crimes and stresses the killer’s interest in being celebrated for his work in cleansing Chicago of those who exploit children. Anthony stages his murders and the places where the mutilated corpses will be discovered. He thrives on publicity, and he bates the police officers, who efforts to protect children are insufficient. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 9, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 10 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bricklayer

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Serial killer pursued by a most worthy, though inexperienced, FBI adversary

Before Evil, by Alex Kava. Prairie Wind Publishing. 336 pages. Hardcover $27.00, Trade paperback $15.99.

It’s not every day in the book business that you run into a prequel for a highly regarded thriller series. However, here it is displacing A Perfect Evil as the first installment of the long-lived Maggie O’Dell Series in that it is constructed to bring readers a slightly younger and less experienced version of the series protagonist.  Maggie is already recognized as a particularly talented young FBI agent, proficient as a profiler and as a forensic wiz.

Kava

She has done much of her work fielding inquiries from other agents via computer. Now, though her somewhat reluctant supervisor provides her first field assignment – a real live crime sign. Problem is the victims are no so very live. Serial killer Albert Stucky is as crazy as he is skilled. He haunts backwoods Virginia (though he has killed elsewhere) and is brazen enough to enjoy being identified – though as a master of disguise his apparent identities are just part of a game. He is a grand manipulator. He leaves messages for the law enforcement officers who are trying to track him down and end the carnage.

He finds Maggie to be an irresistible adversary.

Chapters focused on Maggie and her co-workers are alternated with chapters that takes readers into Stucky’s brilliant but damaged mind. He’s a killer who simply loves his work. A man who has made millions of dollars, Stuckey needs bigger thrills than money can provide. He has developed a slew of well-planned hiding places, and no description of him will hold up as he readily discards and replaces signs of age, physical stature, social class, and anything else identifying that one might think of.

Stuckey is a careful and usually meticulous planner. He loves it when a plan comes together, but he also enjoys surviving risky adventures. He’s a show-off. There is nothing, however, like the thrill of the kill. His major weapon is a crossbow. He is truly a hunter – mostly of women. He often imprisons his victims before ultimately destroying them. He fancies himself a surgeon, and he leaves evidence of his skill. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 27, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Before Evil.

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Nut case serial killer keeps trying to make it to the prom

The Prom Dress Killer, by George A. Bernstein. GnD Publishing LLC. 322 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

This stunning, hyper-suspenseful mystery thriller, the third title in Mr. Bernstein’s Detective Al Warner Suspense series, offers a psychotic serial killer and an intrepid Miami police detective. For much of the novel, there is no name pinned on the killer because he has not yet been identified. However, what he’s up to is become clearer and clearer. He is leaving behind corpses of stunning young women, in their late teens or early twenties, each of whom has beautiful red or auburn hair. He leaves then gently posed, wearing attractive prom dresses.  

These bodies are turning up in the Miami area, but it soon becomes clear that the killer has been at this work before he ever came to Miami. He has been hunting down the elusive girl of his dream, whom he calls Camille, to complete the prom date of eight years back that had been aborted. He has a careful and clever method of operation that has so far left no clues. Why does he keep doing this? Because, as he sees it, the redheads he has tortured and killed had turned out to be imposters – even though he sought them out. They were never putting on an act, but his madness construes their behavior that way. Disappointed each time at their resistance to is desires, he gets rid of each and moves on.

This pattern has to end, and it takes his capture of his next Camille, fledgling real estate agent Rochelle (“Shelly”) Weitz to turn things in a new direction.

Bernstein

The police team assigned to this case, headed by Al Warner, is frustrated by the lack of clues. Even after networking with other departments and with the FBI, even after search databases for identifying patterns, they don’t have a clue. Several young women have died because Warner and his associates have just not found the clues that could direct their pursuit of this monster.

The reader’s interest is focused alternately on Mr. X, Al, and Shelly. When the police learn of Shelly’s disappearance, of her broken real estate appointments, they decide to work on the suspicion that she might be the killer’s next victim. Finding her soon enough may put an end to this plague of murders.

Mr. Bernstein does a fine job of describing Al’s dedication and frustration. He portrays Al in part by exploring his relationship with Dr. Eva Guttenberg, a psychiatrist who is the love of his life. Al’s leadership characteristics are demonstrated in his scenes with his police associations, and his caring nature is revealed by his work with the Dade Boot Camp for Teens, a last ditch rescue effort to save troubled adolescents. Al is a rounded character indeed, but not too good to be true. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 19, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Prom Dress Killer

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Serial killer mystery features a wise guy PI and a deranged yet crafty villain

Shadow of the Black Womb, By Lawrence J. De Maria. St. Austin’s Press.  204 pages. E-book $2.99.

This is Alton Rhode Mysteries #8, one of three exciting series penned by Mr. De Maria. The title, drawn from the Delmore Schwartz poem “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me,” sets a minor key note of literary erudition that plays quietly through the novel. It reminds us of how the bodily self undermines the aspirations of our more noble and –  intangible – sense of identity. Alton observes the distance between who he is and who he might be. This awareness flitters through his perceptions. He senses an inescapable twinship between two sides of one person.  

Dark doubles and duality play out in other ways in the course of the novel, one that involves a serial killer addicted to his pleasure of murdering young children. The depraved addict has a score to settle. It is Halloween, and the masked killer has a pistol hidden in his plastic pumpkin. Cormac Levine is his target.

The mystery plot –- who is this murderous madman and what are his motives –- is interrupted so that we can drop in on Alton Rhode, the main narrator. We meet his tomcat, his dog, and his gorgeous, brainy girlfriend Alice Watts –  a philosophy professor at Barnard. The two enjoy New York’s cultural offerings. Their evening is interrupted by a call from Alton’s police force buddies, using a crime family figure as an intermediary because this enforcer would know how to get in touch with Alton quickly. Already we know that Alton is well connected on both sides of the law.

De Maria

A private investigator can handle some issues more readily than the police department or the district attorney’s office can. Alton rushes over to the Richmond Memorial Hospital (Staten Island) where Cormac Levine (“Mac”) is in a coma. We discover that Mac and Alton are old friends. Alton reveals that “I was a rookie cop when he cornered a child molester.” We might wonder if the child molester, now a child killer, is settling the score with someone who sent him to jail. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 24,2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shadow of the Black Womb

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Imperiled newspaper industry sets the stage for desperation and doom

Unpunished, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

This is the second title in Ms. Black’s Gardiner and Renner Thriller series, following That Darkness. It is a fascinating tale of serial killings linked by their setting: a large (but shrinking) Cleveland newspaper. Like all of Ms. Black’s novels, it is loaded with engaging forensic analysis. When the copy editor of the “Cleveland Herald” is found hanging above the print area assembly line, investigator Maggie Gardener quickly concludes that what looks at first like a suicide is certainly a murder. unpunished

It is the first of four, linked for the most part by crime scene and method. Strangulation precedes the pretense of a hanging. The victims are connected to the newspaper, and the newspaper is in trouble with or without them. Is someone trying to destroy the newspaper, or destroy those responsible for its likely demise? Is the perpetrator a stranger or an insider? The murders suggest that the killer has easy access and familiarity with work routines.

Unpunished offers three centers of interest. Primary is Maggie’s pursuit of forensic evidence leading to a suspect. Next is the detailed presentation of the newspaper industry’s seemingly irreversible decline, caused by a complex, toxic mixture of cultural and technological change. And finally, we have Jack Renner – a vigilante killer who is also an officer on the Cleveland police force.

Maggie knows Jack’s hidden history, and the reader knows that Jack has assassinated a teenage psychopathic killer who knew how to beat the system. What the system can’t handle, Jack Renner will take on. Maggie has an odd respect for Jack’s sense of justice, and he has a hold on Maggie that keeps her silent about his doings.

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

Seems as if the newspaper is up for sale. Only a large influx of money can save it – or at least postpone the inevitable. Those who are in the know are frantically working to secure some benefit from the coming changes. One is doing disguised insider trading, buying stock shares like crazy, assuming the takeover will foster a spike – a profit that will ensure his survival after the inevitable crash.

Another is falsifying circulation numbers to keep the purchase price of the newspaper up and to make sure a deal goes through.

Soon, however, the new owners will insist on shrinking the staff. Which jobs are at stake? Where can one go when the whole industry is collapsing? . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the January 25, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Unpunished

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Enemies within attempt to provoke U. S. war abroad

Nowhere on Earth, by Vincent J. Sachar. Divont Pubishers. 334 pages. Trade paperback $12.25.

What if high-ranking elected government officials as well as major security agency personnel were engaged in a plot to undermine official U. S. policy? What if they had a plan to force the U. S. into a war in the Middle East? What would be the chances of such a plot being successful? What would it take to detect and thwart it? Who would it take to lead the charge? noecoverjavier

The answer to the last question is that it would take a man with many names, one of which is Kent Taylor. Taylor, a former Navy SEAL LCDR, is a man with unusual skills and a dark background. The damage he has seen and done has made him a lot of enemies. His simple cover story is that he died many years before this threat was set in motion. He is leading a secluded life with his wife on the island of St. John, one of the U. S. Virgin Islands. For his own survival and that of other family members, he has become imprisoned in paradise.

Now that all comes to an end. He finds himself teaming up with three FBI retirees to fight the rogue group that sees its interests requiring that the U. S. be manipulated into a foreign war. The skills of Taylor, former FBI Special Agent Bill Gladding, and former agents Jonas and Sally Blair combine to lead the battle. Others play roles in assisting them, just as many other characters play rolls as part of the rogue effort. Some readers may find just too many characters to sort out.

Mr. Sachar builds his plot out of seemingly disconnected pieces, jumping from location to location, crisis to crisis, character to character, outlining the major plot by defining the dots that have to be followed and linked. You know, follow the dots.

A major dot is a large upstate New York company named Bergam Industries. Its legitimate businesses have cloaked illegal doings like money laundering, and something is going on that involves the secret presence of African visitors. Smuggling perhaps?

Sachar

Sachar

One employee suffers a mysterious accidental death. Another, suspicious and fearful, brings computer jump drive to his lawyer’s office. This lawyer just happens to be the aforementioned Jonas Blair. The man mysteriously disappears. After Blair is threatened by thugs who arrive to retrieve the stolen property, he brings Taylor and the others into the effort to stop the network of rogue officials and operatives.

A scene in the Congo, yet another dot on the plot map, reveals an African man in hiding, He is in the service of U. S. interests. But which ones? The legitimate ones or the pretenders?

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 28, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 29 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Nowhere on Earth

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Penetrating thriller treats deep-cover spycraft and apocalyptic danger

End Game, by David Hagberg. Forge. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This latest Kirk McGarvey novel is a major tour de force for its prolific and widely-praised author. Sarasota author David Halberg seems to dare himself with the riskiest premise, leaving readers to wonder if he can manage those self-made challenges of plotting, suspense, and characters at the edge of plausible definition. What kind of serial killer leaves his mark by eating through the faces and throats of his victims? Is this a mania or a message? endgamecover_hagbergf16

It’s easy for the top strata of CIA insiders to understand the common denominators that define the victim pool. They are all a certain kind of CIA outside insider; that is, they are (or were) NOCs, agents who work under Non-Official Cover. These are operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without official ties to the government. Some, including several in this novel, are somehow repatriated into normal roles within the CIA.

Seven such agents have something else in common: they were all part of or knew about an operation in Kirkuk, the major Iraqi petroleum center. Something was buried above city just before the Second Gulf War, and its discovery and implementation threaten to set off World War Final.

Who’re you gonna call? In a Kirk McGarvey novel you’re going to call Kirk, a former CIA director who is often brought in on special cases. Once you call Kirk, you’re going to hear from his occasional squeeze, Pete Boylan, a brave and beautiful agent who will inevitable get in Kirk’s way – emotionally, that is.

Hagberg

Hagberg

Though this thriller has international sweep, taking readers to Greece, France, Israel, and other locations, many scenes are set at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia just outside of Washington, D. C. In these scenes, the authoritative detail is compelling (whether it is truly accurate or not is another matter). Mr. Hagberg puts us right on the spot, whether he is presenting extended vistas of the campus, main buildings or outbuildings, or the interiors of offices and meeting rooms. Security and other technical features are highlighted, and the reality of the CIA characters is enhanced by the way they related to their environment.

In the courtyard at CIA headquarters stands Kryptos, a piece of statuary designed to reveal important secrets of if it can be decoded. Its four engraved copper panels, once deciphered, predict the means and purpose of the serial killings. Re-writing history is part of the agenda. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 12, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – End Game

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“Brighton: A Novel,” by Michael Harvey

Ecco. 368 pp.  Hardback $27.99.

This taut thriller tackles the perils of going home again.

A superb crime thriller with all the hallmarks of high-end literary fiction, Michael Harvey’s Brightonemploys — and brilliantly handles — the two-timeline structure. What happened in 1975, and seemed to have been buried there, bubbles up to the surface 27 years later in frightening and grotesque ways. The exposure of secrets, even the threat of exposure, can change lives — mostly for the worse. What happens in Brighton may not stay in Brighton. And yet it doesn’t leave, either.

Michael Harvey

Michael Harvey

The Boston neighborhood of Brighton that Harvey paints is rich in physical detail and cultural character. It might as well be called Blighton for the moral blight that reflects and nourishes the socio-economic blight. The economy of drugs, gambling, extortion, and other criminal occupations is pretty much above-ground — and yet there are secrets.

It’s a place where survival of the fittest is not merely a theory. Brighton is its testing ground.

The novel focuses on the man who got away: Kevin Pearce. Kevin was a high-school hero. Baseball star, outstanding student, pretty much liked by all, he was the pride of Brighton when he suddenly disappeared at the age of 15. The violence he got into with his best friend and mentor, Bobby Scales, would have doomed his great promise. Aided by Bobby, he vanishes and slowly builds a reputable life. Bobby stays behind to sacrifice his future, shielding Kevin’s name.

BrightonhccFINAL

Bobby’s advice to his friend is never to return.

Brighton’s newspaper readers could have followed Kevin’s success as an investigative reporter who, as the 2002 timeline reveals, has just won a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, the story has connections to Brighton. Loose ends and suspicions bring Kevin back to visit his old neighborhood, where his presence is met with mixed reactions. . . .

To read the entire review, click here: Brighton: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

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Immigrant life, assimilation, and conversion issues flavor unique murder mystery

Forgiving Mariela Camacho, by A. J. Sidransky. Berwick Court Publishing Company. 316 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

Review by Philip K. Jason

This book has a highly original focus that was first developed in Sidransky’s earlier Forgiving Maximo Rothman. Sidransky is able to intertwine the experiences of various cultural communities: the Dominican Republic, the Dominican section of Washington Heights (upper Manhattan), the neighboring population of Jews, and Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union. It highlights the improbable story of Sosúa, a story of desperate Jewish refugees who were given sanctuary in the Dominican Republic beginning in 1938. And, for good measure, there are excursions to Germany and Israel.  FMCfrontcover-HiRes

The author handles these largely unfamiliar relationships by building his plot around a case handled by two New York City police detectives, Anatoly Kurchenko and Pete Gonzalvez, who are not only partners on the force but also best friends. Their names will immediately signal their ethnic backgrounds.

Anatoly (“Tolya”) was an orphan who somehow made his way to the U. S. His Russian background is presented much more sketchily than Pete’s life in the Dominican Republic (it is detailed in Forgiving Maximo Rothman as is the wartime history of Sosúa). Tolya remembers well his maternal grandfather, whom he had visited in the Ukraine as a boy. That grandfather was the last in the family to be given a Hebrew name.

Tolya identifies himself as Jewish, though the rabbi who is preparing Tolya’s wife Karin for conversion and the conversion of their two sons wishes that Tolya would take action to strengthen his Jewish credentials. Perhaps a rededication. Karin is a former detective who now, on the brink of bringing another child into the world, has found work as the planner of a tribute to Sosúa at a Jewish museum.

Pete has been married for many years to Glynnis, but his heart’s memory brings him over and over again to his thwarted passion for Mariela Camacho, a Dominican beauty whom he courted but who wouldn’t allow him to abandon his commitments.

The novel explodes when a corpse is discovered attached to a diabolical killing contraption – a suicide machine. Pete and Tolya are assigned to investigate; shockingly, the corpse turns out to be that of Mariela. Pete is sick with grief and guilt. Both men agree that there is much about this death that does not look like suicide, and they get their captain to label the case a homicide investigation.

Sidransky

Sidransky

As the novel progresses, the chapters detailing the partners’ investigation play out in counterpoint to chapters that develop the personality and background of a mad genius who turns out to be a serial killer, having used that death machine on numerous occasions. Sidransky skillfully builds an understanding of his mad momentum and his targeting, indirectly, of Tolya – who represents for him (ironically) the good fortune of the Jews who could get out of the USSR. This man, who has taken many names during his depraved life, and whose family had immigrated to Israel by forging Jewish identities, goes so far as to become a patron of Karin’s exhibit. Can you guess where this is going?

This novel, dark in so many ways, is relieved by the “odd couple” humor in the relationship between Pete and Tolya. Their banter is infectious, as is the interplay between their contrasting personal styles as detectives, immigrants, and husbands.

Indeed, the large cast of characters is well-imaged, and each of the many settings is handled with vividness and authority.

For many readers, the lessons in Judaism that Karin receives from Rabbi Rothman and transmits to her sons will be an inspiring highlight – a moving example of the conversion process at work.

Aside from all of its local color, insights regarding immigrant communities, police work, and ethnic/religious identity, Forgiving Mariela Camacho is a riveting thriller with distinctive dialogue and sure-fire pacing.

Sidransky’s reputation is growing fast. The National Jewish Book Awards selected his first novel, Forgiving Maximo Rothman, as a finalist in Outstanding Debut Fiction for 2013. Next Generation Indie Book Awards selected his next book, Stealing a Summer’s Afternoon, as a finalist for Best Second Novel for 2015. His third “Forgiving” novel is slated for 2017.

This review appears in the February 2016 issue of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Charlotte and Lee Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota/Manatee).

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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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