Tag Archives: murder

Introducing Randy Singer: Master of Legal Thrillers

My Randy Singer Reading Binge

Move over, John Grisham.  I was disappointed with the last of your books I started — The Rooster Bar — so disappointed I didn’t finish it. This week I’ve read four legal thrillers by Randy Singer,  three of which I’m reviewing here. Between them these books deal with jury selection and tampering, gun control laws, child and spousal abuse, legal insanity pleas, protecting news sources, and even deciding which is the true religion, if any.

Why is Randy Singer my new favorite author of legal thrillers?

  • Compelling and well-developed characters
  • Intriguing plots that make it hard to put his books down.
  • Discussion of complex moral issues
  • Unexpected but satisfying endings that rarely happen as I thought they might

Although there is some graphic violence, the language is clean and any sexal behavior is implied rather than explicit. If you love reading well-written thrillers with a legal theme but prefer not to read four-letter words and sex scenes that seem inserted in a book for their own sake, I think you will enjoy reading Randy Singer.

My Reviews of Randy Singer Legal Thrillers

The Justice Game

Justice, Inc.

The Justice Game was the first of the Randy Singer books I read.  It centers on a legal consulting firm called Justice, Inc., founded by Robert Sherwood, CEO, and Andrew Lassiter, the brains behind the firm’s success. Andrew invented the software the firm used to make its predictions.

Two other main characters, lawyers Jason Noble and Kelly Starling worked for Justice, Inc. They argued important cases in front of shadow juries , concluding them before the actual court cases ended. Justice, Inc. used the shadow jury trial results to make predictions for their clients. The clients used them make profitable (they hoped) investments. A wrong prediction could cost clients millions.

The Shooting

The book opens with a dramatic shooting  on  the Virginia Beach WSYR television newscast anchored by diva prime-time anchor Lisa Roberts. She survived.  Pregnant Rachel Crawford, who was presenting a special investigative report on Larry Jameson, a human trafficker, did not. When the SWAT team finally arrived, they killed Jamison, but not soon enough to save Rachel.

Jason had watched this unfold from across the continent in Malibu. He is finishing a case there using his famous hair analysis evidence to prove accused star Kendra Van Wyke had poisoned a backup singer. Sherwood is watching the shadow trial.  If Van Wyke is convicted, Sherwood could lose $75,000,000, so he decides this will be Jason’s last trial for Justice, Inc.

Sherwood Fires Jason and Andrew

Sherwood fires Jason for “being too good” — better than most attorneys in the real trials. That throws the company’s predictions off. Sherwood also fires Lassiter after the two argue about how his software might have also caused the shadow juries to be wrong.

Jason and Lassiter have a good relationship and used to analyze case results together after trials ended. After Sherwood fires them both, Lassiter wants to hire Jason to sue Sherwood. Lassiter is upset because he can’t take the software he designed with him and and he had to sign a non-compete agreement. But Sherwood had given both an excellent severance package and helped Jason start his private practice. He won’t make any move Andrew suggests without checking with Sherwood first.

Jason doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of the conflict between his two friends and tells Lassiter to get a business lawyer. Lassiter almost has a meltdown. He is very cold to Jason when he leaves.

Jason Defends Gun Manufacturer against Rachel’s Husband

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
Should gun owners be sued if a gun they make is used in a crime?

Meanwhile, Rachel Crawford’s husband Blake decides to sue Melissa Davids.  She owns  MD Firearms which manufactures the gun Jamison used in the WSYR shooting. On Sherwood’s recommendation Melissa hired Jason to defend her. She already had a lawyer, Case McAllister, but Sherwood convinced Davids to use McAllister for overall strategy while Jason tries the case in court.

Lassiter contacts Jason again to tell him that the prosecuting lawyer, Kelly Starling, had also been trained by Justice, Inc.  Blake had hired her because she had helped sex trafficking victims. Lassiter offers Jason his services in jury selection. Neither Jason not Kelly has been practicing law very long.

Blackmail

As Jason and Kelly prepare their cases, both, unbeknownst to each other, begin to receive blackmail messages from “Luthor.” He threatens to expose the darkest secret each has if they don’t follow his directions.

If either settles the case, he will expose them. He also tells them which jurors they must keep. These are both jurors Jason is sure will hurt his case, and Andrew wants to strike them. Luthor tells Jason to use a police chief as a witness, but he also gave Kelly documents that would discredit that witness.

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
LaRon…handed his keys to Jason> “Your daddy’s the cop,” he said. “They won’t bust you for DUI. You can take me home and crash at my house.” Randy Singer in The Justice Game

The reader has already learned that Kelly’s father is a Christian pastor, and that Kelly’s secret is that she had an abortion her dad doesn’t know about. Jason’s secret is that his detective father’s partner Cory covered up that Jason was driving drunk in an accident that killed his best friend.  LeRon had drunk more and asked Jason to drive his car. Should the secret come out, not only Jason, but also his father and Cory, could lose their jobs and/or face possible prosecution.  Both Kelly and Jason live with guilt.

Moral Issues

Author Randy Singer is a Christian pastor, yet he is low key in showing his bias. It comes through in conversations between Kelly and her father.

Jason grapples with his guilt and were it  not for the damage it could do to his father and Cory, he would ignore Luthor and take his chances with the exposure of his secret. He feels guilty about not giving  his client the jury she deserves in order to protect himself.

The other moral issue the author tackles is the issue of gun control. The trial brings out both sides in terms the reader can understand.

The suspense intensifies as the plots and subplots weave their way to a dramatic climax. I will not spoil that ending by saying anymore about it. I found l liked both Jason and Kelly. It was easy to sympathize with almost all the characters. If you love legal thrillers, this book should not disappoint you.


By Reason of Insanity

Annie’s Case

By Reason of Insanity tackles the issues of legal insanity, multiple personality disorder, protecting news sources, incest, child molestation, the death penalty, and more.  It begins with Quinn Newburg’s passionate defense of his sister Annie. She is on trial for killing her husband after she feared he was making moves to molest her daughter. Her own father had molested her for years. If she screamed for help he had beaten her mother and brother if they interfered.  Quinn appeals to the jury:

Who can begin  to understand what such abuse does to a young girl’s soul? to her mind? to her psyche? ….If she had shot her father in self-defense that night…who would have blamed her?

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
Courtesy of Pixabay

Expert witness Rosemary Mancini testified that the terrified young Annie had repressed her feelings.  She later married a man ten years her senior — the heir to his father’s Las Vegas empire. He seemed charming, but there was a dark side. When he began to touch Annie’s daughter Sierra’s private parts, something in Annie snapped and she remembered her past. Quinn explains in her defense:

The rage and fear consume you and overwhelm your inhibitions until you become the monster your father and husband created….To protect yourself and Sierra, you must act…you must make it stop….And you do. 

Annie shot her husband. Quinn claims she was insane when she pulled the trigger and begs the jury for justice.

Catherine O’Rourke’s Case

Held in Contempt

Catherine O’Rourke witnessed the trial as a reporter for the Tidewater Times. Although the jury convicted Annie, one juror confessed she really thought Annie was innocent but was pressured to agree with the verdict. The judge declared a mistrial. Rosemary began counseling Sierra, and the two had good repore.

Meanwhile it appears there is a serial killer/kidnapper on the loose. The police receive notes from “The Avenger of Blood” claiming responsibility for kidnapping babies and killing murderers and the defense lawyers who who had set them free. A source from the police department contacts Annie offering undisclosed information he wants the public to know if she promises to never reveal him. She agrees because she wants the story. A judge then holds her in contempt and sends her to jail because she won’t reveal her source.

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Catherine’s Visions

In jail Catherine has her first vision relating to the serial murders and kidnappings. These visions continue after she is released. The visions are scary and include a  hand writing in blood red letters on the wall.

She tells her source about the visions hoping they might help the police, but instead she’s arrested because she knows facts about the murders that aren’t public knowledge. To defend herself she hires Marc Boland, a top defense lawyer,  but he supports the death penalty. She hires Quinn as co-counsel for the penalty phase, since he does not believe in the death penalty.

Catherine learns the dangers of jail as she awaits trial. Her visions continue. Some feature executions in makeshift “electric chairs.” She’s not sure if she’s awake or asleep when she gets her visions. She begins to question her own perception of reality. To complicate things even more, it appears Quinn may be falling in love with her.

My Recommendation

The plots and subplots reveal the hearts of the main characters as well as their human weaknesses. I could not help but sympathize with the struggles of Annie, Catherine, Sierra, and Quinn. The ending caught me completely off-guard. I lost a night’s sleep over this book because I couldn’t put it down. Don’t start it until you have time to finish it. This is Randy Singer at his best.


The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney

One Man’s Quest to Find Out Which Religion Is True

As the Patient learned he had one year left to live, he rapidly worked through the stages of his grief. He accepted his brain cancer diagnosis and prognosis  over the course of a month. He got his affairs in order. A lifelong atheist, he felt remorse. He could not take the billion dollars of assets he’d worked for and intended to enjoy later with him. He knows if there really is a God, he isn’t ready to meet him.

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney (Or which religion is true?)
Which religion is true?

The Ultimate Reality Show

The Patient decided to use part of his money to produce “life’s greatest reality show.” The contestants chosen to participate would be powerful advocates for the world’s most popular religions. They would stay on a remote island and the producers would prevent them from contacting anyone off the island. The show would test their faith with various physical trials, as well as by cross examination in court. The Patient expected many new believers would follow the winner’s god, including himself. He believed the show would prove losing gods were powerless. He would donate millions to the winner’s designated charity or cause. What could go wrong?

Judge Oliver Finney Signs on to Represent the Christian Religion

One requirement for contestants was that each needed to have a terminal disease. Finney has metastatic lung cancer.  Producer McCormick, his interviewer for the show, reminds the 59-year-old Finney that the show will test his spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical limits. Is he really sure he’s ready for that? He says he believes he is, and he signs the contract. Little does he know then what he will face later.

Another requirement for contestants is that they have a shameful secret. The producers also required contestants to have a theological or legal background. Judge Finney not only had that, but he had also written a book anonymously about Jesus, The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ. In it he had inserted coded messages, since he also loved ciphers and codes. He hoped future readers of his book would be able to solve those puzzles.

Meanwhile, he often quizzed his clerk Nikki Moreno with questions that required her to decipher a bit of code. She wasn’t good at it. She knew just enough to help her later contact Wellington, a genius at deciphering code messages, at Finney’s direction. This enabled Finney to send secret messages via search queries on an internet site for lawyers that Nikki could access. Contestants were allowed to do internet searches, but not to send emails or post to social media.

The Contestants

The selection process had produced five contestants for Faith on Trial. The Rabbi who was representing Judaism dropped out because of pressure from the Anti-Defamation League and it was too late to replace him. Instead they allowed him five minutes time on the first show to explain to viewers why they should not watch the show. These contestants remained:

  • Judge Finney: Christianity
  • Victoria Kline: Science rather than religion
  • “Swami” Skyler Hadji: Hinduism
  • Kareem Hasaan: Islam
  • Dr. Hokoji Ando: Buddhism

The Threat

randy-singer-pin-catamaran

Contestants have no privacy except in the bathroom. There are cameras everywhere else.  Contestants wear microphones at all times except when sleeping or using the bathroom.

Finney and Kline have discovered they can leave their microphones on land if they sail together. They arrange for Finney to give Kline sailing lessons on the large Hobie Cat sailboat that was available for contestants’ use. That allows them talk privately.

Kline had overheard a conversation between the producers  as she had approached McCormack’s condo unexpectedly. She tells Finney the next day that it seemed the producers were planning to do something bad and then use their secrets to blackmail them into keeping quiet.

The Assassin

Finney also hears that he should not try to make the finals because one of the finalists will die.  The producers have let the rumors get out to test the contestants but they don’t know about The Assassin.

The reader does know about that other character on the island.  He calls himself The Assassin when communicating with those who hire him. He is part of the supporting staff for the show, but the producers don’t know his evil purpose. That purpose is to complete his last killing assignment during Faith on Trial . He plans to retire as a hitman when he completes this last job and gets paid. Readers don’t find out who he is until he acts.

Religion on Trial

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Those readers hoping to learn more about the major religions will find plenty to think about. Though the Rabbi chose to drop out, leaving the Jewish religion unrepresented during the trial, readers will learn much about the other religions. As a Christian, I believe Finney’s presentation of the Christian religion is fair and accurate. I also began to see what attracts people to Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

The cross-examinations of characters try to expose weaknesses in each contestant’s faith. The Chinese water torture scenes are designed to test each character’s faith under pressure . I didn’t enjoy reading that part.

I especially enjoyed the bonding that occurred as the characters interacted, each living his faith through daily life. In my opinion  the final scene — the one that backfired on the producers, was the most powerful illustration of faith in action. I won’t spoil it for you here.  I hope you will read the book and decide for yourself.


Randy Singer: Pastor and Lawyer

Randy Singer was second in his class when he graduated from William and Mary Law School in 1986.  He began to practice law in Norfolk Virginia. He was lead counsel in several cases similar to the ones he wrote about in the books I’ve reviewed above. One, Farley v. Guns Unlimited, was the first jury trial in Virginia to receive complete television coverage. After 13 years at the large Willcox and Savage law firm in Norfolk, he began his private practice. He specialized in counter-terrorism cases.

In 2007, the elders of the Trinity Church in the Virginia Beach area called Randy Singer to be a teaching elder, and he’s still preaching as of the time of this writing in 2018. Many of his novels are set at least partly in Virginia Beach and the surrounding area.

Singer’s background as both pastor and lawyer gives him a firm foundation of first-hand knowledge for the books he writes. His writing is consistent with his Christian worldview and he’s not afraid to tackle the hard issues of faith and life.

This dual legal-pastoral background has enabled Singer to write Fatal Convictions, a book I’ve read but not yet reviewed, realistically. It deals with a pastor who takes a case defending a Muslim imam accused of being behind an honor killing. During the course of the trial the pastor almost lost his church and his life.

More Reading Recommendations

Another book you should know about figures prominently in  The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney.   The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ contains the key to the codes Finney uses to communicate with his clerk while on the island as a contestant for Faith on Trial.

Fatal ConvictionsFatal Convictions

 

For your convenience, here are links to all the books referred to above. I’m sure if you try one, you’ll want to read some of the others. You may find it useful to have the last two in your possession at the same time. 

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The Justice GameThe Justice GameBy Reason of InsanityBy Reason of InsanityThe Cross Examination of Jesus ChristThe Cross Examination of Jesus ChristThe Cross Examination of Oliver FinneyThe Cross Examination of Oliver Finney

Legal Thrillers by Mark Gimenez: Does every life matter? Gimenez deals with this theme in many of his books. Though the plots move slowly at first, they soon speed up until you can’t put them down.

The Litigators by John Grisham : An Escape from Corporate Law – A Book Review – The Litigators is the story of Chicago lawyer David Zinc’s breakdown and escape from his high-pressure corporate law firm. He snaps one morning as he’s about to take the escalator up to his office. He can’t force himself to get on. Instead he sits on a bench and has a panic attack. Where will he go from here?

 

The Surrogate by Patricia Bell: The Unintended Consequences

Why Would One Become a Surrogate Mother?

Why does a person decide to become a surrogate mother? What makes a woman want to carry a child that belongs to someone else? To help a barren friend become a mother? Or as a way to earn money to start a new life?

Book Review of The Surrogate by Patricia Bell: A Tale of Unintended Consequences

When young Emily’s employer, Mrs. Stevenson, offers to pay her $100,000 to become her surrogate, Emily jumps at the chance. The cash would help her realize  her dream of starting her own cafe.

She didn’t really like working for the Stevensons. She knew Mrs. Stevenson was cruel and manipulative. Emily had seen her falsely accuse and fire good employees who had done nothing wrong.  She tried not to get on Judy Stevenson’s bad side, because she couldn’t afford to lose her job as housekeeper and cook for the rich couple. They even provided her with living quarters and she had nowhere else to go.

The Offer

Emily discusses the Stevensons’ offer for her to become Judy’s surrogate with her best friend and fellow employee Brandon. He doesn’t understand how one becomes a surrogate.  First she explains how the egg is implanted into her womb, adding that the doctor will explain more details after she signs a contract with Mr. Stevenson’s lawyer.

Brandon: …If you go through with this implant, they’ll hand you a hundred thousand dollars?….Just like that?

Emily: As soon as the baby is born, they’ll give me the money….They have a contract and everything….Don’t you see? I can leave here and find a place of my own. This is my only way out. A new start.

As Emily tries to convince herself it’s the right thing to do, it seems simple. She gets the implant, carries the baby to term, gives birth, and collects her $100,000. Brandon urges her to think it over for a couple of days before signing anything. He warns her that she could form a bond with  the baby and not want to give it up. She dismisses the idea. She knows she’s not old enough at nineteen to raise a baby.

Into this discussion walks Mrs. Stevenson herself, but they hadn’t noticed at first that she was listening.  She tells Brandon to get back to his gardening duties. As he’s leaving, this scene unfolds. Here’s how Emily tells it:

‘Oh, and Brandon, ‘ Mrs Stevenson pauses, awaiting his full attention. He turns and glares at her in complete defiance. A look I’ve never seen from him before. If you’ve ever heard the saying tension so thick you could cut it, then you understand my current situation. ‘I don’t pay you to give advice. If you would like to stay employed in this household, I suggest you mind your own business.’

‘But he was—‘ I start, but she silences me with a mere glance. She’s the type of woman who can smile at you and stare daggers into your soul at the same time. Something about her gives me the chills. 


 

Brandon Disappears

After Brandon leaves, Emily regrets ever telling him about the offer and her intention, thus provoking the confrontation. She is very fond of Brandon and is drawn to him. He has always been caring and gentle with her, unlike the many men her mother had brought home when she was growing up.

Her mother had kicked her out of the house the day she turned eighteen.  She had worked at a diner until Mrs. Sevenson employed her and gave her a place to live.

Emily recognizes she’s attracted to Brandon, but is afraid he just sees her as a friend. He has been sharing his Christian faith with her.

Now Mrs. Stevenson approaches her, asking if she’s having second thoughts. She also tells Emily that if she decides not to become the surrogate, they will no longer have a place for her to stay. It will go to the person who does become a surrogate.  Emily assures Mrs. Stevenson she will go through with the plan.

That night Brandon turns up in her living quarters unexpectedly and they continue the conversation. When Brandon leaves, the two are still at odds. Emily knows Brandon disapproves of her decision, but she hasn’t changed her mind.

Emily is anxious to talk to Brandon again, but try as she might she can’t find him anywhere on the grounds. At first she assumes he’s mad at her. She later discovers he’s been fired. She feels terrible. And she misses him.

Book Review of The Surrogate by Patricia Bell: A Tale of Unintended Consequences

Red Flags Emily Tried Not to Notice Before Signing the Surrogate Contract

  • Brandon’s questions
  • Mr. Stevenson’s admonition to think about it at least overnight and his seeming discomfort over the transaction.
  • The provision in the contract that the money will be paid when she delivers a healthy baby
  • The lawyer’s statement that the contract is unconventional and that such transactions are normally done through an agency
  • Mr. Stevenson’s haunted look while urging Emily to think carefully before signing
  • The behavior of the doctor leading Emily to believe Mrs. Stevenson has had other surrogates
  • The words of Nurse O’Neill while giving Emily her medications, and the words the nurse mutters that she thinks Emily can’t hear, as well as the stories she tells Emily about Mrs. Stevenson’s past.
  • Her own observations of Mrs. Stevenson’s character, manipulative behavior, and selfishness


My Review of The Surrogate

I couldn’t put this book down from the moment I started reading. The main characters were well-developed, though I thought the plot was unrealistic. However I was so interested in what might happen next I was willing to overlook that. I believe the author’s main intent was to show how what seems to be a simple decision can be incredibly complex and even dangerous.

Emily appears to be a new Christian. She is blinded by her desire to escape Mrs. Stevenson’s employment and start her restaurant with the money she will get when the baby is born.  She assumes everything will go as planned. It doesn’t.

After early testing, the doctor tells Mrs. Stevenson that there’s a chance the baby may be born with Down’s Syndrome, and Judy insists on an abortion. By this time Emily is bonding to the baby and she runs away with Brandon’s help to try to save the baby’s life. As it turns out she also needs to save her own. The reader is in suspense until  the end as Emily and Brandon try to escape from Judy’s thugs . The action doesn’t stop.

The story reflects the author’s pro-life position and Christian values. There are plenty of Christian characters besides Brandon whose lives impact Emily’s in a positive way.

The book is suitable for both young adults and their mothers who want to read clean fiction with lots of suspense and a touch of romance.  It delves into the ethical and emotional issues surrounding surrogate motherhood and abortion without being preachy.  I recommend it.


Here are some of the other Christian novels I have reviewed that you may enjoy:

How Sweet the Sound by Amy Sorrells:  The author uses this Christian novel to reveal  the destructive patterns that can lead families and individuals to despair, but she also show us the way to Abba’s love and healing.

Tabitha by Vikki Kestell — A historical novel in which a young lady’s bad decision caused pain from which only the grace of God could deliver her

Inescapable: The Road to Kingdom: Is it possible to escape one’s past by running away? Lizzie Engel, born Amish, tries.

Wish Come True: Portrait of a Dysfunctional Family

The Dysfunctional Family Dynamics

Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge: Murder in a Dysfunctional Family
Wish Come True
by Eileen Goudge deals with a dysfunctional family,
and specifically the relationship between three sisters and their mother. Their father had sexually abused the oldest sister Monica when she was a child.  Now she is a famous actress confined to a wheelchair.  Her mother Betty, a battered wife, had known about the abuse, but not stopped it.

Anna, the most responsible sister,  is trying to lose the extra pounds that have always made her feel ugly in comparison to her gorgeous sister. She cares for Monica during the day and their mother Betty at night.

Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge: Murder in a Dysfunctional Family
Image Courtesy of Pixabay.

Monica pays Anna very little but makes heavy demands on her time and energy. Anna puts up with it because it’s the only way she can afford help in caring for Betty, who has dementia and can’t be left alone. Anna would love to be free to live her own life again, but Anna hasn’t the heart to put her mother in a nursing home. 

Monica’s money enables Anna to hire Edna to help Betty during the day. Arcela is paid to help Monica during the night when Anna can’t be with her. The third sister, Liz, does very little to help Anna with Monica or her mother. She is a divorcee with a child.

Anna resents the way Monica dominates her life  and constantly puts her down.  Monica belittles her about her plump figure and unstylish clothes. As the book unfolds you soon understand as you watch Anna and Monica interact what a toxic situation Anna is in.

 

The Intervention

Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge: Murder in a Dysfunctional Family
Public Domain Courtesy of Pixabay

Monica is an alcoholic.  Anna can no longer face dealing with the drunken Monica. She finally persuades a reluctant Liz  to  join her for an intervention. She wants to insist Monica enter a live-in rehab program.

Liz resists but finally agrees. She and Anna participate in group therapy during family week as part of the treatment plan. In the therapy process Anna and Liz learn much more about each other and begin to build a better relationship.  Anna also falls in love with Marc, one of the therapists there. He reveals he has a wife he still loves who is in a mental institution.

Murder?

After Monica comes home from rehab, she seems to be abstaining for a while, but then starts drinking again. After a confrontation where Anna hands in her resignation, she returns home exhausted physically and mentally and goes to bed early.  It is  Arcela’s night off, so Monica is alone. The next morning  Monica is found dead in her swimming pool. Anna is arrested for her murder. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

Ironically, just as it appears Anna might finally find happiness, it seems she may have to spend the rest of her life in prison. You’ll have to read the book to see what happens next — to Anna, to Liz, to Mark,  to Betty and to all the characters in the subplots I didn’t introduce.

My Response to the Book and Recommendation

This book held my interest from beginning to end. I so wanted to see Anna stand up to Monica, who uses every bit of her acting talent to continue to manipulate Anna and keep her from having a satisfying life. Anyone who has ever lived with or had an alcoholic in the family can relate to Anna’s discouragement and frustration.  The romance with Marc,  Anna’s arrest, the search for the real killer, and watching the murder hearing made it hard for me to put the book down until the end.

I would  recommend this book to anyone who has suffered abuse from alcoholics or family members as a child or adult.  Friends and those trying to help such people will also find this book meaningful. Most people will find someone in this book that reminds them of someone they know.

Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge
After reading Wish Come True, I’d like to go back  and read the other books in the Carson Springs Series . Although Wish Come True can easily stand alone, I wish I’d read the two earlier books in the series first. I just stumbled upon this book, but you can start at the beginning. You can also save by buying all three books at once for your Kindle. I have a Kindle Paperwhite, which I reviewed in Should You Buy a Kindle Paperwhite? 

You May Also Enjoy
The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge

Book Review: A Mother’s Conviction

 

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, A Book Review

From Fig Tree to Hospital

Many of us can’t wait to get to heaven.  Most of us, though, don’t expect a return trip to earth to talk about what we saw there. Mrs. Elmer Shimfissle of Elmwood Springs, a small town in Missouri, has that opportunity. As this comedy/mystery novel unfolds, readers experience everything with Elner in Heaven while her neighbors think she is dead.

Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
In public domain courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/wasp-tree-nest-insects-animal-87900/

The whole Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven adventure started when the elderly widow Elner had just wanted pick a few figs to make some preserves “for that nice woman who had brought her a basket of tomatoes.” She had promised her niece Norma she would not climb the ladder to pick figs anymore. But she didn’t  want to  bother Norma’s husband Macky for just the few figs she needed. She didn’t know until she accidentally poked it  that there was a wasp nest in the fig tree.

Next thing she knew she found herself “with some boy wearing a green shower cap and a green smock, all excited, talking a mile a minute to five other people running around the room, also in green shower caps, green smocks, and little green paper booties on  their feet.”

I quoted these sentences to give you a feel for Elner’s way of describing things. We follow her thoughts on past hospital experiences, nurses no longer wearing white, whether she’d turned her oven off before climbing the tree, and whether her cat  Sonny had eaten his breakfast.  All the while she wondered what all those medical personnel were saying, since she didn’t have her hearing aids in.  She is afraid of facing Norma and losing her ladder privileges for life. As she is reflecting, she finally decides to take a nap.

Let’s flashback to Norma, who is nervous anyway. She learns from a neighbor that Elner has fallen from the tree again and almost faints. We watch the town react to the news and we get to know Elner’s friends and the rest of her family.

Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie FlaggLess than an hour after she started her nap, Elner wakes up in a dark room.  Aware of hospital sounds, but not seeing anyone, she begins to wonder if they have all forgotten about her. Maybe Norma doesn’t even know she’s there. She doesn’t hurt, but after an hour she wonders why no one has come to get her. She gets up and begins to walk toward the voices she hears. At the end of a hall of empty rooms, she sees an elevator and gets in.  It starts going up before she even pushes any buttons.

 

Elner is Declared Dead

Meanwhile, back at the hospital in St. Louis, the doctor in charge of Elner’s case declares Elner is dead. Norma collapses and they barely catch her before her head hits the floor. The neighbors back in Elmwood Springs had already gotten the news of Elner’s death though a nurse at the Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagghospital. They set to   work caring for Sonny and turn off everything at Elner’s house and secure it.

We see and hear all the gossip between the neighbors and  Elner’s family as they absorb the news.  At the mortuary, they  have already started the arrangements. Cathy at the Elmwood Springs Courier is considering what to write in Elner’s obituary.

Elner Discovers She’s in Heaven

Meanwhile, Elner comes to the end of her elevator ride, gets off, and has no idea where she is. As she looks up and down the clean white marble walls, someone who looks just like Ginger Rogers walks by carrying some black tap shoes and says ‘Hey!” to her before moving on.  Elner finally gets to a reception desk and discovers her long dead younger sister Ida sitting behind it.

She asks Ida what she’s doing there after they all thought she was dead. They’d even had a funeral and everything. Ida confirms it’s really her and tells Elner, “…if you recall, the last thing I said to Norma was ‘Norma, when I’m dead, for God’s sake, do not let Tot Whooten do my hair.’ I even gave her the number of my hairdresser to call, paid the woman  for my appointment in advance, and what did Norma do? The first thing she did when I died was to let Tot Whooten do my hair.”

They continue to discuss the circumstances surrounding the hair issue as Elner is convinced this is indeed her sister Ida. Finally Ida gets it across to Elner that she is also dead and this is Heaven.

Elner Returns to Life

I will not tell you anymore about Elner’s adventures in Heaven. You will see them yourself if you read the book. They ended quickly enough when Elner was sent back.  Norma, Macky, and Norma’s daughter Linda silently  say goodbye as they wait for the mortuary to pick up Elner’s body for cremation.  Elner startles them by saying “I know you’re mad at me, but I wouldn’t have fallen if those wasps hadn’t gone after me.”

Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
Photo ©B. Radisavljevic

That’s when all hell breaks loose at the hospital. The nurse screams and the doctors and staff run in from all directions with machines. They take Elner for an MRI. The same nurse who had told the neighbors back in Elmwood Springs about Elner’s death calls back to announce she didn’t die after all. The neighborhood grape-vine goes into reverse.  The neighbors call the funeral home, the newspaper, and anyone else involved in funeral arrangements.

The Hospital Calls in the Lawyers

Meanwhile, the hospital administrators lawyer up.
They expect to face a lawsuit for declaring Elner dead too soon. We learn a bit about what goes on behind the scenes in hospitals and see hospital politics in action. They pressure Norma immediately to sign a release in which she waives all rights to sue.

Just to be on the safe side, a sleazy lawyer, Winston Sprague, and his paralegal get to Elner alone for a deposition. Norma, the only one Elner has told about her experience in Heaven, is scared to death Elner will tell someone else and be considered crazy.  Elner had already promised Norma not to mention the trip to Heaven to anyone. When Winston asks Elner for the whole truth about the events of the day, she only mentions one out-of-body experience. She describes being above the hospital, looking down, and seeing a brown shoe with spikes beside the chimney. What the lawyers don’t know is that Norma does not intend to sue anyway.

Norma Is Still Not Sure There’s a Heaven

Norma, meanwhile tries to find some assurance there really is life after death. Macky doesn’t believe in an afterlife and tells Norma that people often have these near death experiences. The doctor confirms it. That ruins Norma’s hope that Elner really did go to Heaven and come back.

The Mystery and Changing Lives

Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
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The rest of the book shows us some of the best parts of small town life and how people look after each other even as they sometimes drive each other crazy with their idiosyncrasies. After Elner returns, we learn some of the secrets she’s been keeping for her friends. When Ruby, Elner’s next door neighbor, is cleaning Elner’s house, she decides to empty the laundry basket. She finds a loaded gun hidden at the bottom. She tells Macky, who tries to find out how it got there, but even when Elner returns home, she won’t tell. Only the reader hears the story.

As an indirect result of Elner’s experience, many people’s lives change for the better. People are portrayed realistically, and you probably know people much like them. Even Sprague becomes a better person. He is humbled when his curiosity takes him to the roof after getting keys to the locked doors. Then he searches everywhere and finally, almost hidden, stuck beside a chimney, he finds the shoe. He has to pry it away. Then he researches how it might have gotten there until it all makes sense. He realizes that what Elner told him was true.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven: My Opinion and Recommendation

I loved Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. The well-developed characters are the sort of people I wouldn’t mind having as neighbors. Their conversations and adventures kept me laughing, though  the gun incident was far from funny. It showed what Elner was made of. The plot was a bit unrealistic, but it was carefully crafted to reveal the facets of each character’s personality. Given the cast of characters, it was believable.

This book will probably appeal most to those over fifty or to those raised in the South. Some characters, though aware of changing cultural values, unashamedly admit to being politically incorrect. Their comments express the values they grew up with. Tot Whooten, the hairdresser will probably offend readers who aim to be politically correct.  Most people, though, will realize that Tot is simply who she is, expressing her own opinions. They realize that the author doesn’t necessarily share the opinions of her characters.  Most people will  find this a hilarious read. Why not pin the photo below to share this review with your friends. 

BOOK REVIEW OF CAN’T WAIT TO GET TO HEAVEN BY FANNIE FLAGG

I also enjoyed Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I’m looking forward to reading Fannie’s other books, some of which are listed below. I especially want to read Standing in the Rainbow. It has the same characters as Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. Had I known about it , I probably would have read it first.

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven: A Novel (Elmwood Springs)Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven: A Novel (Elmwood Springs)Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: A NovelFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: A NovelStanding in the Rainbow: A Novel (Elmwood Springs)Standing in the Rainbow: A Novel (Elmwood Springs)Mrs. Entwhistle: Once you're over the hill, you pick up speed.Mrs. Entwhistle: Once you’re over the hill, you pick up speed.

Book Review of Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber

Book Review of Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber
CCO: https://pixabay.com/en/computer-laptop-macbook-work-911165/

I thoroughly enjoyed  this romance mystery, Morning Comes Softly –the story of a lonely Louisiana librarian, Mary Warner, who took a risk to find love. While her library pages were putting newspapers away one day, they happened to see a personal ad for a wife placed by a Montana rancher, Travis Thompson, who was caring for his brother’s orphaned children after he and his wife had been killed in a drunk driving accident. The pages encourage Mary to apply, but she rebuffs them. She had given up on the idea of ever finding a husband and at first she rejected the idea. Then she began to realize she did want marriage and children and the thought of the orphaned children of the rancher’s brother and his wife touched her heart.

Travis loves his brother’s three children, but doesn’t know the first thing about parenting and he can’t cook. He realizes he can’t be a real father to the children while running the ranch, and he’s afraid the social workers who check on the children will put them in foster care if he doesn’t satisfy them that someone capable will be looking after them. He has been persuaded by his friends to place the ad, and as a last resort, he does.

Mary takes the risk of answering the ad, and a correspondence develops between Travis and Mary, in which even the children have input. After several letters have gone back and forth, there is finally a phone call, and Mary goes to the ranch to meet them and marry Travis.

Book Review of Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber
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The wedding is just the first step to turning five people  into a family. I can relate because my husband and I adopted two older children. We also cared for my oldest nephew for the year his parents could not be home with him. It’s never an easy adjustment to build a family from from people who have not all lived with each other before. Love comes softly. Mary learns to love Travis and the children. She is not so sure that all of them love her back. Step-parents have to earn love and trust from their step-children.

Mary’s relationship with Travis is also awkward because neither seems anxious at first to consummate the marriage. Travis really wanted a caretaker for his children more than he wanted a real wife. He is obsessed with finding the drunk driver who is responsible for the death of his brother and sister-in-law, and spends most of his free time doing his own investigation. That is also a major thread in this book. He has promised himself and his brother’s oldest son that he will find and bring that person to justice. Things come to a head when the sheriff closes the investigation.

I had a good idea who the killer was from the time the subplot reached its climax. The author dropped plenty of clues from which the reader can figure it out. The question is whether Travis can forgive. Until he can, it doesn’t appear the marriage will ever become healthy either.

I enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book. I admired Mary’s determination to take a risk and commit herself to making a very unusual marriage work. I genuinely liked her as a person. It was a bit harder to identify with Travis’s hatred for the person responsible for the accident that killed his brother, though I appreciated his willingness to commit himself to taking in his dead brother’s children. It’s hard not to love the children as each responds individually and age-appropriately to the loss of their parents and being thrust into a newly forming family. I even felt a bit sorry for the “villain” and his family, though I won’t spill the beans as to their identities. I don’t want to spoil your own detective work.

If you like romance with a touch of mystery and you enjoy watching families with a rough start overcome their relationship problems, I believe you won’t want to miss Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber.

Read my Reviews of two of the Rose Harbor romances pictured  below on Review This!


Short Reviews from Recent Reading

One of my challenges is that if I read a lot, I don’t always have time to stop and review a book I’ve finished,   and these books tend to pile up because reading is more relaxing than writing about what I just read.

pix-sweden-713021_640-houseI finally read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I wish I hadn’t. Although I enjoy mysteries, I don’t enjoy people being tortured and mutilated as recreation. If you like thrillers, this is likely to keep your spine tingling, especially near the conclusion .

Much of the book is set in Sweden.  The two main characters are Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who was convicted of libel, and a brilliant but unconventional helper, Lisbeth Salander, who is a genius at internet research, legal and illegal, and a master analyzer of the data she finds. Mikael has been hired by a wealthy Swede, Vanger, with a large and dysfunctional family to find out who in his family killed his missing niece years ago. Mikael is to live on the Vanger estate under the pretense of writing a biography of Vanger, with access to most of the family.

The only character I liked very much in this book was Lisbeth, who was a ward of the state whose appointed guardian was raping her as a condition for giving her access to some of her money. The only part of the book I sort of enjoyed  was when Lisbeth used her wits to fight back and get her revenge and get free of him.

I pretty much agree with this New York Times review of the book.  It shows me again that being on the Best Seller List does not mean a book is worth the time spent reading it. It seems to me that too many people are putting poison into their  brains. I will not read more by this author. But if you don’t mind rape and torture scenes as a mystery is solved, and seeing  some sexually abusive sadists in action, you might be able to stomach this better than I did. To each his own. I don’t recommend it.


I recently finished The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King. I checked it out from the library because I needed a book to take to a waiting room and my Kindle battery was dead. It’s another book I think was a waste of my time. The major problem was that the characters were not developed very well and I didn’t really care about any of them.

The plot was also unrealistic, at least to me. It was set in San Francisco, and the victim, William Gilbert, was an eccentric Sherlock Holmes fan whose living room was like a replica of Holme’s Victorian sitting room. The murder appears to be related to a manuscript Gilbert believed was an undiscovered Sherlock Holmes story by Doyle and he was trying to authenticate it when he was murdered. Suspects included his  friends in the Sherlockian Dinner Club that met once a month, some of whom knew about the manuscript and had even read it.

The manuscript described a murder that very much resembled Gilbert’s murder, right down  to the place the body was discovered. The reader is treated to a chance to read it along with Detective Kate Martinelli – a story within a story. Unfortunately, when I read this I wasn’t in the mood for long descriptive passages, intricate subplots, and having to work to keep all the characters straight. To top it off, I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan. There was just nothing in this book  to grab my attention and make me care. I finished it because I had started it, but I had to force myself. The book gets mixed reviews on Amazon.  I suppose we get out of a book what we bring to it. If you like all things Sherlock Holmes, this book may interest you more than it did me.

pix-the-white-house-269734_640I was more interested in  Elliott Roosevelt’s mystery novels. I just learned they were actually written and researched by William Harrington, who also wrote novels I’ve read listing Margaret Truman as the author.  I  just did a bit of research on both Ellliott Roosevelt and William Harrison and have concluded neither is someone I would enjoy knowing.

Harrison was a competent researcher, and from what I’ve read in memoirs of other figures mentioned in Murder in Georgetown, many incidents mentioned may well be true. They are certainly realistic, except for the part about Eleanor Roosevelt getting personally involved in solving murders.

Much of the book was set in the White House in 1935. Prohibition has ended, but it’s obvious the White House didn’t take it very seriously even when it was law. We meet Joseph Kennedy, who sees that the White House always gets the best booze when it’s important, and the author often brings him into the story .

A major part of the plot turns out to be bank corruption at the highest level. The real killer of Sargent Peavey, a member of the federal treasury board, tries to frame a young Jewess, Jessica Dee, who had been smuggled into the country from Poland.   Mrs. Roosevelt had recommended Senator Huey Long hire Jessica as a secretary.  Since he was  F.D.R.’s main political opponent, Eleanor was hoping Jessica could keep her informed about what was happening in Long’s office.

When Jessica was arrested for Peavey’s murder because her earring was found at the scene, and some other non-conclusive evidence, Mrs. Roosevelt works with the detectives to try to find the real killer.  She doesn’t believe for a moment Jessica is guilty,

The reader witnesses some of the political intrigue behind the scenes in the Roosevelt White House and is party to the local gossip. We learn that politicians and the people who are involved with them are as crooked as we suspected.

I learned outside this book that Elliott himself, the credited author and the son of Eleanor and F.D.R, was involved in his own share of scandal,  and that was not fiction. He ( and Harrington as well) probably shared the casual morals of his characters. It seemed most characters believed it didn’t matter what you did, as long as you were discreet enough so that no one who wasn’t supposed to know ever found out. Jessica could have been cleared much earlier had she been willing to reveal whom she had been with when two of the three murders with the same weapon had been committed.

This was not a thriller – just a picture of discrete police investigations, including some in the White House, and some visits to dives and dark alleys. The reader sees more questioning than dangerous pursuits of criminals. I prefer novels like this that let me see what the investigators see so I can draw my own conclusions and see if I was right.   In this case, I had it solved by the time the police did,  though I  didn’t have all the motivations until the last scenes.

This book is out of print and there are some cheap copies left on Amazon as I write this. If you enjoy murder mysteries with some political intrigue set in the White House, I think you might enjoy Murder in Georgetown.  Since I’m currently so busy, I was glad that I could read a couple of chapters at a time to relax without feeling I had to rush to the end. If you need a real page-turner, this is isn’t it, but it’s just right if you want to take reading breaks during the day and be able to go back to what you were doing without being frustrated.

Review of Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta: A Midnight Louie Mystery

I’m a great fan of cats, and I’ve also become hooked on cat mysteries. The Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas is my favorite series in this genre. The human characters are as fascinating as the main cat character, Midnight Louie, a large black tomcat, who by this book in the series has received a vasectomy so he can have his fun without making kittens. How this happened is explained in an earlier book. I have read all the books in this series up to and including this book, and wrote about the series itself in Why I Love the Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas.

I was looking forward to this book because the last one, Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme: A Midnight Louie Mystery (Midnight Louie Mysteries)
left me hanging. Max, the ex-fiance of Temple Barr, had disappeared. Everyone thought him dead back in Las Vegas, including Temple.  Meanwhile, Temple began to return the love of her friend Matt Devine, who lived in the condo above the one she and Max had shared. It appeared that Max was dead and gone forever, and finally, Matt and Temple became engaged. The reader of the previous book, however, knows that Max has narrowly escaped death and been whisked away to a clinic in Switzerland by his friend Garry, who was also thought to be dead earlier. Temple, in fact, though she had witnessed Garry’s death. The reader also knows that Kathleen O’Connor, who had tried to kill both Max and Matt, who was also supposed dead, may also still be alive. The previous book ended with Temple receiving an international phone call from none other than Max, who though alive, had lost his memory in the attack that almost killed him.

Review of Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta: A Midnight Louie Mystery

So this book opens with Temple anticipating picking up Max from the airport. Garry had told Max that Temple knows him and can help him know who he was. But now Garry really is dead and Max is totally alone, knowing very little about his past life. Matt was in Chicago interviewing for a new job when the phone call came. Temple cannot refuse to help, but neither she nor the reader can help wondering what will happen when Temple and Max meet again.

Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta: A Midnight Louie Mystery (Midnight Louie Mysteries) included the usual cast of characters readers have gotten to know, including Lieutenant Carmen Molina, her ex-husband Rafi Nadir, Detective Alch, her right-hand man, and Dirty Larry, an undercover narc officer. On the loose is still the deadly Barbie Doll serial killer, who may be a threat to Molina’s teen daughter, and Molina and company are working hard to stop him before he strikes again.

As Temple is getting ready to meet Max at the airport, she receives a call from one of her least favorite people, aspiring actress Savannah Ashleigh, owner of two cats Louie had once loved, and who was responsible for Louie’s vasectomy. She is definitely one of Louie’s least favorite people. Savannah wants to hire Temple, whose real work is public relations, as a private investigator to look into the death of her Aunt Violet’s hired hand who cared for her many cats. Violet is very sick, on what is presumed to be her deathbed, and is very concerned that her cats be taken care of after she dies. Pedro, the yard man who was found dead, was the one taking care of the cats. Savannah is convinced he has been murdered and wants Temple to find the killer.

As the book progresses, the three plots intertwine. As usual Midnight Louie offers his perspective throughout the book, and his supposed daughter, Midnight Louise, assists him in helping to solve the mystery at Violet’s house and save the cats who have been disappearing from it.

I confess to starting the book yesterday afternoon and finishing it this afternoon. I find the books in this series hard to put down, but I wanted to see how Temple, Max, and finally Matt would interact when they got together. For me, the human elements in the plot are the most interesting and I like to follow the characters and their lives throughout the book.

At the end, both Louie and the author, Carol Nelson Douglas, encourage readers who have pets to consider what will become of them if they outlive their owners. She encourages pet owners to make arrangements for their pets’ care after the death of their owners.

An Interview with Carole Nelson Douglas

I watched two video interviews with Carole Nelson Douglas. This one was the best, even though it didn’t say as much about the Midnight Louie series as I would have liked. Most of the conversation deals with the newer Delilah Street Paranormal Mysteries. I got a much different impression of the author in the interview than I did from the Midnight Louie books. Maybe that’s because I was so wrapped up in the stories.

Have you met Midnight Louie yet? If you love cat mysteries and you haven’t met him,  don’t deprive yourself any longer.

If you like more serious mysteries, you may want to read the Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal. Here’s my review of the books I read from this series.

I also enjoyed and reviewed Allison (A Kane Novel), another murder mystery,  by Steve Gannon.  All of these mysteries have been tasty additions of this bookworm’s buffet.

Review of The Silent Reporter (Hyder Ali #1) by Mobashar Qureshi

Don’t start reading The Silent Reporter unless you have time to finish it the same day. I couldn’t put it down. The characters were introduced scene by scene and at first the scenes seemed unrelated. But you saw the relationship by the time you knew who everyone was.  To make it easy, I will introduce them all at once here.

Cast of Main Characters

  • Hyder Ali, American-born Muslim of Pakistani descent, who works as temporary reporter at The Daily Times
  • Lester Glasgow, works at the technology desk at the The Daily Times, Hyder’s friend
  • Caroline Dunny, Hyder’s boss, AKA Dunny the Killer Bunny
  • Amanda Hansborough, an accountant at TriGate Management Group, whom we see die in an auto accident when her brakes fail
  • Peter Hansborough, Amanda’s husband
  • Tom Nolan, a police officer whose wife died in that same accident who had turned into a alcoholic since his wife’s death and been on leave from the police force
  • Police Captain ‘Rudy” Ross, who cares for Tom and wants to see him back on the force
  • Sergeant Doug Halton, Nolan’s supervisor on the Franklin Police Force, who would love to fire him if Ross would let him.
  • Detective Angelo Pascale, who despises Nolan and wants him fired
  • Detective Marina Lopez, who is sympathetic to Nolan, and has his back.
  • Jessica Freeland, daughter of Professor Eric Freeland, who was found hanging in his home, an apparent suicide.
  • Charles Marshall, CEO of TriGate Management, which had just been awarded a 1.2 billion dollar contract to build an extension for the city nuclear reactor plant. Nolan had seen the announcement on television when he was drinking at a bar.
  • Ian Marshall, son of Charles
  • Terry Scott, President of TriGate ManagementGroup
  • “Grant” the “fixer” of problems for the Marshalls and TriGate Management
  • Hyder’s widowed mother, whom he calls Ammi
  • Hyder’s brother Akbar, a doctor
  • John Kroft, Jr., Publisher of the The Daily Times


The author brings the characters together in such a way that they advance the plot bit by bit until you begin see  it  coming together. There are plenty of clues you can grab along the way to the plot’s resolution. Several themes run through the book. As you read, you will probably be rooting for some characters and hoping to see others get their comeuppance.  I was most drawn to Tom Nolan and  Capt. Ross. I wanted to boo or hiss every time Haldon, Grant or Marshall appeared after I had first met them.

Tom Nolan is an alcoholic detective. He had been headed for a very successful police career because before his wife’s death he had been an excellent detective. After her death he had fallen apart and turned to the bottle, hoping to drink himself to death. After almost a year’s absence, Ross had gone to his house to get him when he wouldn’t answer his phone calls. He had to break his window with a rock to make him finally open the door. He told Nolan to come back to work and clean himself up. Ross would not take no for an answer. Ross let Nolan know he considered him valuable enough to save, even when Nolan could see nothing good in himself.

Nolan’s first case back back at work was to investigate the death of Professor Eric Freeman, reported as a suicide. Freeman had been a mentor to Hyder when he was a student, and Hyder just couldn’t believe it was a suicide. Jessica Freeland couldn’t believe it either. Even Nolan saw a couple of signs that weren’t consistent with suicide, but he was still not completely himself, and when asked to make a decision, he called for the coroner, and handled it as a suicide.

Hyder and Jessica try to convince Nolan it was a murder, but he said he had no proof, so the two work together to try to figure it out themselves. Then Jessica notices she is being watched by someone in a black sedan. She tells Hyder.

We then see Ian Marshall in his mansion discussing Freeland’s death with Grant, who was responsible for it. They wonder aloud if anyone else knows too much. Grant says he’s keeping an eye on Jessica.

Most of the book deals with the investigation. When Nolan is pressured by Halton to close the case in three days or prove it wasn’t a suicide, he takes another serious look at the file. He sees the coroner’s report somehow is missing from the file so he talks to the coroner. Nolan is told someone had picked up the report to hand deliver, but the signature of the one who picked it up was undecipherable, and it had never arrived.

A talk with the coroner revealed that the death was not consistent with suicide. Nolan remembered he inconsistencies he had seen and he retrieved he evidence he had removed from the scene he had filed away.  He let Jessica and Hyder know he now agreed with them, and they began to work together to share information. You will have to read the book to see how they finally pieced the solution together.

The second theme is the author’s attempt to portray how an American Muslim family practices its religion in everyday life. This is shown in the scenes that take place in Hyder’s home, which becomes the meeting place for Nolan, Jessica, and Hyder to work on the case. Hyder found it strange that his mother, who wore traditional Muslim dress, prayed five times a day, and regularly read the Quran, could enjoy watching figure skaters in skimpy, tight costumes dance on the ice in front of crowds (on TV.) She had told him “It didn’t matter how someone lived, talked, ate, or even worshiped. What mattered was how they lived their lives.”

Another quote deals with Hyder’s perception of the Muslim view of suicide: “Contrary to what was reported on the news, suicide was also not permitted in Islam. Life was a gift from God and no one had the right to take it away except for God.”

Hyder had talked with Freeland (who was Jewish) “about Islamist suicide bombers and they both had agreed that no God, no matter from what religion, would accept the death of innocent people in his name.” This may be true, but it may also be true that Muslim views on who is innocent may differ both from those of other Muslims and from non-Muslims.

It is clear that the author wants readers to see Islam as a religion not much different than Judaism. “Freeland was Jewish and Hyder was Muslim, but they both shared a common trait: a love for God and an appreciation of his people.”

The third element in this novel is the rehabilitation of Tom Nolan. The beginning of the book  vividly shows us the despair and pain Tom suffers and his degradation as he continues to rely on  alcohol. We see it is only Ross’s belief in him that makes him drag himself back down to the police department.

We see many scenes that portray his grief. His wife, Simone, had been five months pregnant when she was killed. Her accident was caused in the aftermath of the accident that had killed Amanda. In one scene he is in their bedroom and almost kills himself, but couldn’t go through with it. He sees their wedding rings on top of the dresser.

Nolan kissed her ring and held it tight in his hand. The tighter he held it,the more he felt like he was holding her But this was not true. She was gone, leaving behind the object that was once a sign of their love.

He then replays in his head the last day of his wife’s life and his reaction of denial when he got the call that she was dead and he had to identify her. When he saw her body, he stopped wanting to live. Though he couldn’t make himself take his own life, he hoped either the alcohol or another person would kill him.

During the course of the year he was on leave, Tom occasionally drives by the Hansborough house and watches Peter with his children. He wonders how Peter can laugh again and live like a normal person when he can’t. He thinks it’s because Peter has his children. Tom has no one.  He can’t bear to go into the room of his house that was to be the nursery for his unborn child.

Nolan finally collects his “marbles’ as he decides he will give his all to solving the case of Freeland’s death, which he now believes is a murder. By the end of the book you see that Ross’s faith in him was justified. He demonstrates he is still a sharp detective, and a brave one. Of course it helps that he isn’t afraid to die and that he is convinced the same people who killed Freeland also are also responsible for his wife’s death, and he wants them brought to justice.


I thoroughly enjoyed The Silent Reporter (Hyder Ali #1)
 look forward to reading the sequel, The Rogue Reporter (Hyder Ali #2)
.

Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal

It seems the protagonist or a main character of almost every noveI I have read recently has either been molested or abused as a child or both.  I almost feel like an anomaly for having had a normal childhood with two parents who stayed married to each other, loved me, and protected me.  As I read these novels, I’m also very grateful I had this kind of childhood. Leilani (Lei) Texeira had been abused as a child. Her mother had preferred drugs  to mothering  after her husband Wayne had gotten her hooked and then been sent to prison for dealing drugs when Lei was five.    Charlie Kwon had moved in with  her mother and molested Lei for six months, often when she was bathing.  As Lei put it, ‘Charlie’d had a way of getting to her, twisting everything he did to her into something she’d wanted.’  When Charlie broke up with Lei’s mom, she overdosed, and Lei was sent to live with her Aunty Rosario in California when she was nine. It was the best thing that ever happened to her. But she continued to have flashbacks to the bathtub scenes throughout Blood Orchids.

When we meet Lei in the first book of the Lei Crime Series, Blood Orchids (Lei Crime Book 1)she is a rookie in the South Hilo Police Department in Hawaii. She is pulling a young woman’s body out of the water as her partner, Pono, is phoning in her grisly discovery.  After Lei pulls a second girl from the water it is evident they have been murdered, and Detective Michael Stevens, from Los Angeles, and his partner Jeremy Ito, are put in charge of the case.

Lei isn’t happy about that. Since she discovered the bodies, she wants to be involved in helping to find the murderer. Finally, Stevens allows her to help since the help he has requested from other departments has not been given. Lei and Stevens spend more time together as the case unfolds. As the book (and series) progresses, much of it deals with the growing attraction between Lei and Michael Stevens.

Meanwhile, Lei has discovered she has a stalker who puts threatening notes in her mailbox and on her porch. Even though she has a security system and a pet Rottweiler, Keiki, she is still afraid.  She wonders if her neighbor, Tom Watanabe is her stalker since she thinks he looks at her in a creepy way. The reader sees several possible suspects besides Tom. I’m not going to spoil the book for you by mentioning them, but I did suspect the right people. I like that the author gave me enough clues to figure out who the killer was.

We see the murder of Mary, another woman police officer and a friend and classmate of Lei before the killer lets readers know that Lei herself will be his next target. I have trouble with books like this because they use a technique that builds suspense to the point that I can’t handle it. The reader knows from almost the beginning that a serial killer is responsible for the deaths of the two girls Lei and Pono found drowned.

Throughout the book there are passages where the killer speaks (in italics), savoring his mementos from his victims and the photos of them he has so carefully posed. He also lets the reader know ahead of time that there will soon be another killing and in some cases, who it will be. I’m sure this technique appeals to some readers who enjoy the suspense and the anticipation of the next murder. I don’t. I prefer books where the body is found and the detectives go to work methodically to find the killer as we follow in their steps and think with them.  In this book, the reader knows more than the police. I empathize too much and can’t stand knowing a character I’ve gotten to know is going to be grabbed and probably killed and that I will have to watch it happen.

Were it not for that, I would have found the book a fast-moving and entertaining escape. I just don’t consider being scared over and over entertaining the way some people do. I did enjoy the interaction between Lei and Pono and watching the romance between Lei and Stevens develop.

Lei has frequent flashbacks to the abuse she faced as a child, and what happened back then affects her ability to trust Stevens and her ambivalence creates tension. Stevens considers Lei’s willingness to take initiative in her work a strong point. She is also impulsive, though, and takes unnecessary risks.

At one point when she thinks her stalker has just put a note on her porch when she’s already dressed for bed, she turns Keiki loose and pursues on foot — a really dumb thing to do. It doesn’t end happily, and it results in her being disciplined by her boss and being forced into counseling. The counseling turns out to be a good thing. It continues into the second book after Lei has begun to see its value

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I am about halfway through the second book in the series, Torch Ginger (Lei Crime Book 2).  I don’t think I will be able to finish it because the inner stress it produces in me is worse than even that in  Blood Orchids.  That same technique of letting the killer share his thoughts is used there, and Lei continues to take off on risky solo investigations on her own that could get her killed.  I just can’t bear to follow her this time. I’m sorry I’ll have to forego finding out what happens next in Lei’s relationship with Stevens and that I won’t find out if I’m right about the identity

I just can’t bear to follow her this time. I’m sorry I’ll have to forego finding out what happens next in Lei’s relationship with Stevens and that I won’t find out if I’m right about the identity of the mysterious Timekeeper. I would recommend this series to those who relish suspense and thrive on thrillers. The police detective work is thorough and chances are you will predict the killer if you pay attention to the clues the author lets you see.  Toby Neal knows how to create a mood that draws the reader into the book from the first page.

Despite my resistance to the suspense leading to witnessing violence, Blood Orchids (Lei Crime Book 1)
kept me turning the pages, and I couldn’t put it down even when I wanted to.  The author made me care about so much about the characters that I may sneak  to the end of Torch Ginger (Lei Crime Book 2)
just to see what happens. I suspect Lei will find herself in a very dangerous position it will take all her strength and survival instincts to get out of.  I don’t want to watch, which is why I’ll skip the dramatic build-up and climax and just see how it is all resolved. In spite of the past pain in her life, Lei is a very caring detective who wants justice for the victims of the vicious.  I think you will enjoy getting to know her.

Review of Allison (A Kane Novel) by Steve Gannon

Quote by Barb Radisavljevic

Few of the several books I read each week meet my expectations.  Allison (A Kane Novel) by Steve Gannon, exceeded them. I was engaged from the very first page.

We meet Alison (Ali) when she is almost twenty, a UCLA student planning to transfer to SC for her junior year in order to study journalism. We also learn she was raped when she was sixteen during a robbery in her home when her parents and older brothers were out, and she had kept the experience to herself for a year. Then she had finally told her parents and the police.  She had sworn her younger brother, Nate, who was there at home with her when it happened, to secrecy. The fact that she had kept the secret for a year had broken a bond of trust with her parents. She had finally mended that bond with her father, but not her mother. Her relationship with her mother was still edgy and fraught with conflict. That conflict is a constant undertone in the plot.

Allison’s mother, Catheryne (Kate) and older brother, Travis, are both talented musicians. Her father, Daniel Kane, is supervising  homicide detective for the West Los Angeles Division of the LAPD.  Her oldest brother, Tom, had been killed in a rock-climbing accident. Nate, the youngest in the family,  is fourteen, and very likable and expressive.  He is loyal, and though he can get very angry, he also is quick to forgive.

The book opens with Allison’s early morning  jog around the UCLA campus. She lived in a private dorm that had once been a sorority house, and very close to Hershey Hall, the dorm where I had lived for a semester in 1962.  I rather enjoyed following Ali around the campus past the places I had frequented myself.  I could identify with her choosing the botanical gardens as a place to retreat, since I often sought refuge there myself.

When she returned to the dorm,  she wrote a rough draft for a Daily Bruin article with a rapidly approaching deadline, and then she worked on her novel.  She wasn’t quite sure why she was writing the novel, since she never intended to show it to anyone.

About 9:45, as she was changing to rush to her 10:00 literature class,  she got a call from her best friend MacKenzie (Mac), just back from Dartmouth, who pressured her into going to Newport Beach with her for some relaxation.  She tried to say no because she didn’t want to ditch her class, but Mac wouldn’t accept it. In fact, Mac was already parked outside ready to scoop up Ali and take her away. So off they went. Mac made no secret of hoping to see a lifeguard she had a crush on, and she was also hoping to get Ali interested in someone at Newport Beach.  Ali had never told Mac about the rape, so Mac had no idea why Ali wasn’t interested in dating.

The time at the beach turned out much differently than either of the girls expected.  Mike Cortese, a videographer and reporter for Channel 2 TV News, happened to be on the beach. He was filming the gigantic waves, but was hoping to find  someone in the water as a visual reference for their size.  He had noticed Ali and Mac, who were both very attractive, when they arrived at the beach.

He had also seen two girls who had ignored life guard warnings head into the deep water. They were having trouble making it back to the beach. A third girl was also in danger, separated from the other two.  A lifeguard appeared just as Mike was about to jump in, and a second lifeguard was also coming. Mike knew he wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to help much, so he grabbed his camera again and started taping the rescue efforts.

Two of the lifeguards were busy trying to save the two visible girls when Mike spotted the third girl, far from shore, face down in the water. There was no way the lifeguards in the water would reach her in time. Then Mike saw Ali jump in. The author then switches to write in Ali’s voice and follows her thoughts as she almost drowns rescuing that third girl.

When she was just about at the end of her strength, help arrives  in the form of a yellow  lifeguard vessel. Ali and the rescued girl are finally both gotten aboard and taken to shore to the waiting crowd and medical personnel.  Mike had gotten all the action with his video camera, and Ali became the heroine of the day.  She did not want the publicity, and wouldn’t give Mike her name.  Before she could leave, the sheriff wanted to interview her.

By the time she returned, Mac had already told Mike who she was. She had also told Mike that Ali wanted to be a journalist, and Mike said he might be able to help her — maybe get her an intern position with Channel Two. All Ali really wanted right then was to go home and change and get to the BBQ at her parents’ beach home in Malibu.

Meanwhile, a teenage star in a popular TV series, Jordan French, is reported missing and is later found dead. Ali’s father is put on the case.

Mike keeps his promise to talk to people at his station about an internship for Ali, but her appearance in Mike’s televised report on the rescue has already made Ali well-known.   CBS was impressed by her “performance” and hires her as a paid assistant. Her interviewer (later boss) turns out to be a woman with whom Ali’s father had once had an affair. Although the affair is long over, Ali is not thrilled with telling her mother and father about this new position — especially since she dropped out of her classes to take the job so she puts off telling them. This further deteriorates the trust issue with her parents when they do find out, since she made these decisions without talking to them first.

As  the book developed, I couldn’t put it down. There is constant conflict between Ali and her parents over Ali’s becoming what her father considers one of the media “scumbags” who interfere with his work.   Ali  tries to prove to her mother that becoming a journalist is more important to her than her creative writing. Catheryne is convinced Ali’s true talent is in her creative writing, and Ali should put her effort there. Catheryne  doesn’t  think much of journalism, especially TV journalism. Both parents are upset that Ali has quit school.

Although Ali loves her older brother Travis, who is an extremely talented pianist and composer, she is also jealous of his talent and his relationship with their musically talented mother. Ali loves her parents, too, but always seems to be at odds with them.  Everything comes to a head when the family learns that Catheryne has leukemia.

Interwoven in the family drama is the growing relationship between Ali and Mike.  Ali is still afraid to trust men.  Just as it appears she is about to trust Mike, his “friend” Brent Preston, who actually got Ali her job at CBS, , betrays them both and destroys that trust.

The attempt to find Jordan’s murderer strains Ali’s relationship with her father even more. She is under constant pressure from Brent and her boss at CBS to reveal information on the case that she shouldn’t even know.  A couple of leaks in the news threaten Daniel Kane’s job, raising the stress level between father and daughter once more.

I will leave it to you to discover how it all comes together at the end as Catheryn tries hard to cling to her life.  Ali, who had the closest match, had donated her bone marrow to Catheryne  but it appears the transplant may be rejected. As the family gathers to support Catheryne during the transplant and its aftermath, everyone has to deal with powerful emotions as they realize she is very likely to die. Yet even then, Ali can’t avoid conflict with her mother. The reader is as tense as the family members and also wants Ali to make peace with her mother quickly, before it’s too late.

The book’s characters were people I would enjoy meeting, with one exception — Brent.  I have said the least about Brent because it’s really better to form your own conclusions after seeing him in action.  All the characters who play major roles are well-developed and will remind you of people you actually know. I’m sure you know someone like Brent — unfortunately.

The twists  in the plot will keep you turning the pages. The murder mystery is logically solved and I enjoyed knowing I’d identified the killer early on. The point is well made that even if your prime suspect  seems to be guilty, it takes systematic work to prove that guilt and gain a conviction. I appreciate an author who lets me think with the detectives instead of springing a surprise twist on me at the end. I’m looking forward to reading more from Steve Gannon. I hope there is a sequel to Allison (A Kane Novel)