Tag Archives: Tampa

Debut novel explores how low a man can go and still right himself

Beachhead, by Jeffery Hess. Down and Out Books. 322 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

In the time-honored tradition of Florida Noir, this new title is more grit than polish. And, by the way, that’s a good thing. We meet the main character, Scotland Ross, trying to escape from hard times and avoid doing hard time. He is a man with moral awareness, but also with a conflict of honorable and dishonorable loyalties. A series of bad choices has made it difficult for him to turn his life around. Scotland’s parole officer is worried about him, and with good reason.  BeachheadCover

His older sister Dana, to whom he owes a lot going back to their childhood days, has married poorly and is in a big financial bind. Though he needs cash to build a new life for himself, she flaunts her desperation to the point that he gives her what he has and takes dangerous employment to enable her husband’s irresponsibility – or is it just hard luck?

Scotland, a superb physical specimen, finds himself working for the man who would be governor of Florida. Allan Kinsey is a ruthless, all-purpose criminal. Drugs and real estate coexist in his growing empire. How he will make the transition from gangster to governor is clear enough in his own mind: buying influence and subservience with the currency of money, promises, and threats. For some readers, the Kinsey character may seem unrealistic; others will be reminded of a certain presidential candidate who interprets an opinion not his own as a hurtful threat that must be put down.



Working for Kinsey is already a violation of Scotland’s parole, but Scotland rationalizes his choice while hoping to find his way out of Kinsey’s snare. When he disappears, attempting to start a new life in an idealized Daytona Beach, he is tracked down by a pair of Kinsey’s henchmen. In a gloriously violent scene, he makes his escape from being captive on a boat.

Mr. Hess is masterful at portraying the criminal types, their outlook on the world, and the peculiar ways in which they justify their actions. Kinsey’s main assistant, a man named Platinum, is an intelligent psychopath, and the twin bookends who almost murdered Scotland are just as crazy but not quite so bright. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 20, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 21 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Beachhead

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Politics push the plot in suspenseful seafaring adventure

The Assassin’s Honor, by Robert N. Macomber. Pineapple Press. 392 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

One of the great feelings that comes over me when I settle into a new Honor Series novel by Mr. Macomber is the sense that I’m in such capable and caring hands. It’s like having an insurance policy against disappointments. And there are none in the twelfth installment of this unique and durable series. The action is set in December of 1892. Commander Peter Wake, after 29 years in the navy that includes 10 years in the Office of Naval Intelligence with assignments worldwide, is finally in charge of his own ship – a new cruiser, “Bennington,” of the latest design. Assassin's_Maple cover

As one might expect, he is regularly in the company of his career-long aide, Boatswain Sean Rork, an estimable ruffian from Ireland. Theirs is a very special relationship, a deep friendship that goes far beyond the conventions of officer and subordinate.

If this new post sounds like settling down, it isn’t quite that. However, there is a romance brewing. If it develops as both parties hope, Wake could once again be a married man. The quick-start relationship with a beautiful Spanish woman of breeding and intelligence is a major attraction for the readers and for Peter Wake, especially since she takes a liberal stance toward Cuba’s future that allies her with her admirer. Finding the time to spend with her is as great a problem as meeting the challenges of his duties.

The action moves between Key West and Tampa, with interludes along the Caribbean coast of Mexico, in Jamaica, and – in part through flashbacks that sketch his first encounter with Maria Ana Maura y Abad – in Washington D.C.

The main action is generated by a scheme to distract and mislead Wake. Fooled by clues that have been planted to mislead him, Wake convinces his superior, Admiral Walker, to send him to and beyond Cozumel to thwart an attempt by someone aboard the German “Gneisenau” to assassinate a Mayan rebel. The Germans, wishing to establish a naval station to protect their Mexican and other interests, can’t risk a government overthrow or instability.


It turns out that Wake had succumbed to manipulated evidence designed to keep him occupied while an assassin was sent to Tampa (actually Yvor City) to do away with Wake’s good friend, the famed author and Cuban patriot José Martí. Wake’s old enemies from previous adventures, Germany and Spain, are working against him. The conflicts are both national and personal. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 23 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 24 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Assassin’s Honor

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Cement Shoes and Speakeasies


“Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement.” So opens Dennis Lehane’s masterpiece of noir crime, Live by Night, a novel that features all of the classic features of the genre, including bank robbery, mobsters, speakeasies, murder and jail time, and which continues in this dramatic style as Joe’s history and the path that led him to his meeting with Emma Gould and finally to this unhappy ending are revealed.

Live by Night

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane is a classic gangster novel set during the Prohibition era, in which the author enables a member of the Coughlin family he first introduced to readers in his earlier novel, The Given Day, to follow in his own footsteps by leaving Boston for Florida. Lehane traveled south to attend university, and has more recently been attached to Eckerd College as writer-in-residence, but his protagonist makes the move for less academic reasons.  LehaneCover

Joe Coughlin was a minor character in The Given Day, which focused on his older brother and their cruel, distant father, who is a major figure in the Boston police force. Joe comes into his own in this book. He has become an appealing character, partly as a result of the sympathy generated by his mistreatment at the hands of his father, who at one point encourages police officers to beat his son after he is taken into custody, but also because of his own philosophy. Joe sees himself as an outlaw, living outside of any established set of conventions, and it is when he is living up to this philosophy that he is at his best as a character.

From Outlaw to Crime Boss

The early parts of the book begin in Boston, where Joe comes into conflict not just with his police captain father, but also with a local gangster, Albert White, whose speakeasy Joe robs, and whose girlfriend, Emma, he steals after they meet during the stickup. He ends up in prison, where he finds a mentor in fellow inmate, Maso Pescatore, who grooms Joe to take control of his bootlegging operations in Florida.

Upon his release, Joe heads down to the eclectic Ybor City, where he sinks into an even darker lifestyle fighting with rival gangs for control of the trafficking routes through Tampa, and clawing his way to the top through his failure to respect the way things are done by the local gangs. Joe sees himself as unrestricted by the laws and conventions of either the police or the gangsters, and this enables him to team up with some Cuban suppliers and build an empire supplying alcohol to most of the Gulf Coast.

As we know from the very first line, this success will not last forever, and in fact, it helps to lead to his downfall. Joe feels that it has deprived him of his outlaw status, and worries that he is beginning to “live by day” and becoming one of the rule-makers, leading his rivals to start seeing him as turning soft as he undergoes the somewhat convenient mid-life redemption crisis, that leads back to that striking opening scene.

A Master of Crime


Live by Night is clearly the work of an author who has mastered the genre and who knows how to keep his readers’ attention, although it is Lehane’s precise prose that really sets his work apart and gained this book the Gold prize for fiction in the 2012 Florida Book Awards. Many of his phrases and chapter headings are just as striking as the opening sentence, and there are some stunningly evocative images, such as the description of lightning carving “jagged white veins in the skin of the world.” Although the main character seems rather undermotivated at times, this is perhaps symptomatic of the ennui of the era in which the story is set and the effects of a life surrounded by alcohol, addiction and crime. Lehane carefully reveals the complex structure of the criminal underworld, while also showing a sensitivity to the impact it has on individual characters, through the breakdown of families and disconnection with society that is so often indicative of alcohol abuse.

This world of Prohibition smuggling is one that Lehane adapts to easily as an author, perhaps because of his previous work as a television writer, dealing not just with this era, as part of the writing team for Boardwalk Empire, but also with other forms of addiction and drug crime, writing for The Wire and his new film project based on the Silk Road online black market. It is easy to see parallels between the characters and situations in Live by Night and modern crime stories revolving around drug trafficking.

Lehane’s previous experience as a screenwriter is also apparent in the cinematic quality of his writing, which fits very well with the crime genre, particularly in the dramatic action scenes that keep the pace moving and contain plenty of violence and plotting to satisfy aficionados of the crime genre. This visual style probably helped ensure that Live by Night was picked up by Warner Brothers for development as a film even before it had been released as a book, but readers may be more interested to know that Lehane plans to write a third book in the series, based around the Coughlin family.

Note: the final link provided in Clair Hooper’s review is an example of her desire to bring attention to causes she champions. Accepting it as part of her contribution to this website was a condition of its availability for publication.

Would you like to be a guest reviewer? Contact me at pkjason@comcast.net.


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“Weapon of Choice,” by Patricia Gussin

Weapon of Choice

Oceanview Publishing, $25.95, 328 pages.

In Tampa, chief of surgery and research professor Laura Nelson finds her hospital’s intensive care unit ravaged by a virulent rogue bacterium. Among those threatened are her teenage daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. Aided by her Atlanta-based friend Dr. Stacey Jones of the Center for Disease Control, Laura helps put quarantine measures into effect and seeks an effective countermeasure. 

Patricia Gussin

Readers soon discover that the killer bio-agent has been purposely planted by a mad scientist who wants revenge on his former NIH colleague, a man who had attained great prestige and wealth developing formulas on which the men had collaborated.

As is common research practice, the virulent bacteria strain was developed not for biotech warfare, but rather as a first step toward designing its antidote. . . .

To read the full review, my last for the citybookreview.com team, click here: Weapon of Choice | City Book Review

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Kris Radish’s Celebration of Women

“Hearts on a String,” by Kris Radish. Bantam Books. 336 pages. $15.00.

What happens if you mix together five women, strangers to one another, in a Tampa airport restroom as killer storms shut down air travel across the country? If you read Kris Radish’s latest novel, you will find out. You will also enjoy an interesting blend of personalities, the semi-claustrophobic heightening provided by the circumscribed setting, and Ms. Radish’s sassy, edgy brand of sentimentality.

An aging lounge singer, a high-strung businesswoman, a super-mom, an overly self-conscious young hairdresser, and a sleep-around babe get tossed together once they decide to wait out the storm (and the cancelled air transport) in a beachside resort hotel. How did they get together? Well, one of them dropped her cell phone in the toilet, where it got stuck, and the others decided to help her rescue it. The unexpected team effort (a success) and their mutual plight of needing somewhere to stay until they could resume their travel plans led them to share a suite at the hotel.

For several days, we watch their interaction. At least half of the time, they get on each others’ nerves. They are, after all, contrasting types with very different agendas. Given the procession of fierce storms and their need to stay near the airport, they strive to make the best of the situation. At first, each is a reluctant listener to her suite-mates’ surface concerns; then, slowly they come to reveal more and more to one another, finding a common thread that allows them to open up, to listen, and ultimately to bond.

  To read this review in its entirety, as it appeared in the June 16-22, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 8-14 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly,  click here: Florida Weekly – Kris Radish

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BOOK BEAT 69 – Dudley Clendinen

See this moving essay by Dudley Clendinen:


BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   May 29, 2008

by Philip K. Jason

Florida is not the fountain of youth; rather, it is the fountain of extended old age. It is home to many retirement communities, as well as facilities designed to meet the needs of those elders who can live independently and those who no longer can do so. Dudley Clendinen, who provides a close, compassionate look at one such enterprise, presents in microcosm a portrait of what he calls “the New Old Age in America.” His book, “A Place Called Canterbury,” is at once a biography of his mother, a family history, and a history of Tampa. It is also a probing examination of the meaning and texture of extended old age.  Beautifully written, it recounts the closing decade of a remarkable generation whose lives spanned most of the 20th century and, in diminishing numbers, a bit of the 21st

When it was time for Clendinen’s mother to give up the family home, to scale down her responsibilities and activities, and to enjoy the virtues of communal dining and a range of professional services, she joined many of her long-time friends in Canterbury Towers, a geriatric apartment building constructed in the 1970s. In her apartment, she reproduced the ambience of her home as best she could. She maintained her habits of personal grooming and social intercourse. And she involved herself in a larger community of people, many of them strangers, who had come from elsewhere to enjoy similar benefits. Each had all made a deal with the devil of reality, giving up some aspects of their complex identities to maintain and even enhance others.

Her son, Dudley, had assumed many of her decision-making powers. Over the many years of Mrs. Clendinen’s residence at Canterbury, Dudley visited frequently and sometimes for extended intervals. His visits added up to something just short of 400 days. Over that period, this reporter, editorial writer, and columnist exercised his curiosity and skills as well as his heart-felt familial responsibilities. He came to know the residents and staff members of the Canterbury community intimately, and he came to know what a lot of middle-aged children come to know about their parents; that is, how little the children actually know.  

 Clendinen explores the structured relationships between parents and children in his own family. Sharing insights with members of his own generation, he finds his observations reinforced: locked in roles, parents and children often have surface relationships, and, as the children become adults – eventually with their own retirement years in view – they miss opportunities to ask the important questions, to hold the potentially revealing, intimate conversations. And then, too soon, it is too late.

The author interviewed and re-interviewed his mother’s core group as well as many fascinating new acquaintances. He left between the covers of this book a memorial of their fight for dignity and of their quest for the redemption of all those extra, unexpected years.

We read of their love lives, past and present. We receive glimpses of their childhoods and their wartime experiences. We see them at play: dancing and putting on entertainments, as well as extending their sex lives. We are witness to the steady and often embarrassing breakdown of their bodies. We marvel at their resilience and at their mutual support for one another. We discover all the ways that they find reasons to be alive while choices, appetites, and mental faculties are taken away by time.

We also get to meet a handful of skilled and dedicated caretakers.

Yes, the book has streaks of melancholy and nostalgia – and even heartbreak as Mr. Clendinen’s mother, a stroke victim, is relocated from her apartment in the towers to the nursing wing. She gradually loses her mind, and even more gradually – perhaps too gradually – loses her life. 

Dudley Clendinen’s mix of exposition and story-telling is just right. His descriptions of place, his handling of dialogue (especially the capturing of southern dialect), and his personality portraits are masterful. One might not expect it, but humor is abundant through this book. Clendinen allows the natural humor hovering around solemn situations to manifest itself. This humor is never disparaging, but rather bracing and respectful.

“A Place Called Canterbury” is a glorious piece of wisdom literature without the preaching. It is clearly one of 2008’s nonfiction masterpieces, a marvelous evocation of a new frontier – the “New Old Age.” You might find a signed copy at the Naples Borders, where Clendinen had a book signing on May 18.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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