Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Reviews by Carl Brookins

The Bone Chamber
by Robin Burcell
ISBN 9781590583753
HC from Poisoned Pen Press
2009, 378 pages

Feisty independent-minded FBI forensic artist Sydney Fitzpatrick is off again. This time she bouncing between Washington, DC, San Francisco and various Italian locations. All the while she and her cohorts dodge international hit men. Burcell is a good writer and her varied law enforcement background gives her writing a level of authority lacking in some crime fiction.

The novel is a wide-ranging tale of intrigue, sanctioned and unsanctioned black ops, the CIA the FBI, and several other sometimes questionable agencies. Here are active old and new world mafia figures, the Knights Templar, and several world overnments. The story dredges up long standing rumors, beliefs based on very sketchy and tenuous evidence, ancient legends and involves some vast and secretive organizations such as the Vatican, Freemasonry and maybe some left-over bits of the Tri-Lateral Commission.

Conspiracies within governments, especially those involving questionable banking institutions and practices are fruitful and always interesting. That is especially the case when the venal actions of important institutions from the distant past are held up to the unblinking gaze of modern research. This novel has 'em all. And that's part of the attraction of the book. Burcell has linked in an essentially fanciful way, an incredible chain of real events that reach back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and possible implications in the modern era. The novel proves that murder, corruption and cynical manipulation with the goal of great power and wealth are not the province of our times.

If the novel has flaws it is the multiplicity of threads that wind through
the book, sometimes creating a Gordian's Knot of complexities. Nevertheless, "Bone Chamber" never completely loses its foundation in the real world of plausible outcomes. A tense and intriguing ride from start to finish.

Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!


Fly By Wire
by Ward Larsen
ISBN: 978-1-933515-86-1
Hard Cover, 301 pgs.,
Published by Oceanview Press, 2010

An unusual and fresh plot device blends world finance, international espionage, religious zealotry and cutting edge aviation technology in a fine and mostly fast-paced thriller. It is clear that the author knows intimately the setting of his story, aviation accident investigation.

A new design, a flying wing cargo plane, has crashed in France and a former Air Force pilot, now working as an accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board is sent to the crash site as liaison. His name is Jammer Davis and he's something of a hot-shot loose cannon. Think the macho pilots in the movie "Top Gun," and you get the idea. Davis's life is complicated by the presence of his teen-aged daughter-and her dating difficulties-Davis is a widower. It's a nice touch, and while Davis is in France struggling to figure out a series of odd circumstances around the place crash, his daughter occasionally calls him on his cell, disturbing and altering the rhythm of the plot. The story line is also interrupted from time to time by the machinations of the evil cabal behind the plot which serves to ramp up the tension. The author is careful to dole out intriguing information in tantalizing dollops which maintains reader interest.

That's a good thing, because there are several sections of fairly technical information which are necessary to explain the plot, but occasionally are too long for my taste. The major flaw in the novel is the somewhat old fashioned macho attitude expressed by the narrative in several places. There is at times a sense we are living once again in a simpler time when there was a perception that men and especially women had their defined roles with lines to be crossed at considerable personal risk. It was a time when enemies of the nation were always summarily dealt with. Moral ambiguities and our system of legal niceties were almost as much obstacles to getting the right thing done, as protection of the rights of everyone.

With these caveats, I found "Fly By Wire" to be a rousing patriotic story that moves along at a decent pace to an eminently satisfying conclusion. I particularly like the domestic surprise at the end.

Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!


Friday, October 22, 2010

A few thoughts on cat baths

I don't know who first put this together for the Internet, but I had to laugh when my sister sent it to me in an email. I hope you enjoy it, too!

A few thoughts on cat baths by
The Cat

'But you said you loved me!'

'You will pay! As God is my witness, you will pay!'

'Holy crap, you call this water warm???'

'I don't think I like you anymore.'

'You Lied!!!!!!'

'E.T. phone home......quick!'

'No, I'm not your Good Little Kitty anymore.'

'Traction... .I'm losing traction!'

'I want my Mommmmmmyyyyyyyyyyy !'

'Oh, no!!!!'

Even if you're not a 'cat person', these pictures are priceless!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Books from Poisoned Press

Once again I welcome reviewer Carl Brookins to Cicero's Children. Today Carl is reviewing two books published by Poisoned Pen Press.

Her Deadly Mischief
by Beverle Graves Myers
Poisoned Pen Press, 2009
ISBN 978-1-59058-233-6
286 pages

Here we are transported to the gaiety, the intrigue and the complicated machinations of the ruling classes of that Adriatic gem, Venice. By now, mid eighteenth century, Venice is in decline, and no longer the regional superpower with absolute dominion over the Adriatic. Still, her cultural climate is a world-wide force to be reckoned with. That includes her innovative grand opera.

Behind the crimson curtain of the Teatro San Marcos, difficult economic times are at work. In the lofty boxes of the well-born and the wealthy, murderous intrigue is also at work. When one of the city's celebrated courtesans, Zulietta Giardino, is murdered by a knife in her lovely chest, fingers of accusation are immediately pointed at one of Venice's leading and most desirable young scions, Alessio Pino, heir of one of the most important Murano glassmaking families. The murder occurs during an opening aria by one of the city's cultural stars, a well-known singer, the castrato, Tito Amato. Thus, Amato becomes a crucial witness to the murder and therefore a target as the plot twists along the winding and sometimes narrow canals of the city.

Drawing effectively on her meticulous and extensive research, the author brings to life not only the glittering upper crust revels of the city, and its artistic culture, but readers will come to understand the life and times of ordinary citizens of the period. The novel is well-paced, the characters are enthralling and the twisting mystery well resolved. Myers continuing series about the life of the prominent singer is a very pleasurable experience whether one is or is not an opera fan.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

The Eye of the Virgin
by Frederick Ramsey
Pub. Poisoned Pen Press
June, 2010, Hard Cover.
254 pages.
ISBN: 9781590587607

Sheriff Ike Schwartz is in it again. Some odd break-ins have occurred in the area around the town of Picketsville, Virginia. What were thieves looking for in the studio of an iconographer? Why is an unknown individual discovered dead of gunshot, but in a chair in the Picketsville clinic? Are these incidents related? And who is the mysterious woman Abe Schwartz has been squiring about?

Sparkling dialogue and a whee of a climactic scene distinguish this crime novel. It's the xxx in Ramsey's continuing saga of the home-town adventures of ex-CIA spook Isaack Schwartz. He's retired from the international scene to become the elected sheriff of the aforesaid Pickettsville, Virginia. He's bright, sharp, aware of the ways of international espionage so when he sees it, he recognizes it. As the elected sheriff he has to deal with a loose collection of varied and interesting characters. Some of them make life quite interesting; the president of the local college, Ruth XXX for instance. Others, inept contract spooks and burglars, for example, are dangerous. Schwartz and his deputies manage to keep the peace and solve crimes in interesting if not always legal ways.

They are aided, in their tasks, as are readers who find their way to this lovely novel, by carefully thought out if sometimes complicated plots, good pace, and crackling spot-on dialogue. Threaded through the cleverness and the funny bits are thoughtful musings on the state of world affairs today in which enemies become friends and friends enemies.

An excellent enjoyable novel.

Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Advice from Curtis and Leroy on Elections

Advice from Curtis and Leroy:

Limit all US politicians to two terms..
One in office.
One in prison.

Illinois already does this.

And I ought to know. I'm from Illinois.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Favre Loses Both a Game and His Halo

So I'm watching Monday Night Football tonight on ESPN and wishing John Madden and Al Michaels were doing the commentating instead of Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden. Mike Tirico is good at play-by-play; he knows the game and he's fair. And I can live with Jon Gruden. He's not Madden for sure, but he's not bad either. But Jaworski drives me nuts with his gushing commentary and his know-it-all attitude.

Tonight was the worst. If Jaworski could have climbed out of the booth, gotten down on his knees, and kissed Brett Favre's feet, he would have done it. I mean, the man practically crowned Favre "King of the Universe".

Don't get me wrong. Favre was once the best quarterback in the game. And yes, he broke the record for touchdown passes and yards passed tonight.

But he also broke the record for most fumbles ever in the NFL.

Yes, folks. The "King" isn't perfect. Not only did he fumble the ball twice tonight, but he also threw an interception that sealed the win for the Jets. Mr. "Maybe-I'll-retire-maybe-I'll-play" Favre lost the game -- again.

Meanwhile, Jets winning quarterback Mark Sanchez rated hardly a word of praise from the talking heads of ESPN, even though his passing percentage was better than Favre's, he never fumbled the ball or threw an interception, and he moved his team downfield for one touchdown and five field goals. Nick Folk was treated equally badly by Jaworski and company, even though he kicked those five -- count 'em, folks: five! -- field goals.

So what gives here? How is it that loser Favre gets more attention than winner Sanchez? And why should I care if Jaworski gushes like a broken water fountain over his idol, Brett Favre?

Maybe it's because I love the game of football when it's played well, and I hate the bait-and-switch tactics of a quarterback who left the game at the right time, when he was still respected as one of the best in the business, but couldn't stay retired. Favre's ego got in the way of his common sense, and now his team is paying the price.

Favre's playing injured on the field. Off the field, he's just playing.

On the field, he's getting sacked. Off the field, he's trying to get sacked.

And now his off-field shenanigans have caught up with him. It seems the All-American Boy is just another dirty old man who can't keep his jeans zipped up. (Don't look now, kids, but you've lost another role model.)

And maybe that's why Jaworski's drooling hero worship bit didn't go over well with me tonight. Favre is nobody's hero. What he does best is throw a ball, and for that he's paid very, very handsomely. What he does worst is live up to his marriage vows, and for that he very well might pay handsomely.

First it was Tiger Woods. Now it's Brett Favre. Again, it's that old celebrity ego thing that says 'I'm so above everyone else, I can get away with anything'.

Sorry, Brett, but it's over. Try as he may, even Ron Jaworski can't rub the tarnish off you.

At least, not for this football fan.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Reviews by Carl Brookins

by Kathleen Hills
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2008
hard cover,316 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59058-476-7

The author of this novel has a strong background in rural America,particularly in the Upper Midwest. It shows in many of the nuances that affect the progress of this story. The novel is replete with icons of small towns, some of which are isolated from the mainstream.

The book is set in the tiny Upper Peninsula Michigan town of St. Adele where once again we ride along with one of the most reluctant and phlegmatic lawmen we are likely ever to encounter. His name is John McIntyre and he is the town constable. He didn't want the job in the first place and he can think of a hundred things he'd rather be doing and places he'd rather be than the sun-blasted hay field of former conscientious objector, Ruben Hofer.

Hofer has been murdered, that's plain to see. His head was blasted open by a rifle shot while he sat on his tractor raking hay. It is almost immediately clear that the man's family is one likely source of murderous intent. Hofer was not a nice man. He drove his two teen-aged sons in cruel and oppressive ways; and his eleven-year-old daughter, Claire, has already been pushed to warped and dangerous attitudes about life. His wife is morbidly over-weight and only the youngster, Joey, constantly playing with his make-believe farm in the yard outside the kitchen of the school-house-turned-family-home, seems almost normal.

Author Hills continues to invest her stories with an array of intriguing characters, although I got a little tired of the sheriff's on-again-off-again almost incompetent investigation. Moreover, the two teen-agers do not become distinct characters in this book until very late, which I found to be a weakness.

Nevertheless, the story is informed by very real human emotions and conflicts and the author's handling of the religious, political and historical elements of the book tell us she has done careful research. The book is, as is true of all her books, well-written.

Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

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Vermilion Drift
by William Kent Krueger
ISBN: 9781439153840
Hard Cover from Atria,
2010, 305 pages

Authors of crime fiction, like authors working in any other genre, often use their talents to work through personal issues, sometimes intensely private issues. Although it is not entirely clear, the writer may be working through some family issues with this novel. Does that matter?

Perhaps. That depends on the result. In this case, the author, possessed of well-honed, significant writing talent, has produced a novel of finely wrought proportions, multi-layered with considerable depth. By that I mean that the characters demonstrate multiple levels of engagement, and the story itself works on more than one level. Almost every character who appears in the book is involved in the story in more than one way. Some of their levels are casual or socially related, such as what may be routinely expected of law officers in Tamarack County, the Northern Minnesota location of this novel. Other characters, Henry Meloux, for example and other Native Americans; Sam Wintermoon, appears, and of course, Cork's mother and his father, Liam, all have, at different times, visceral involvement in the story.

The problem, if there is one, is that this story is much more a novel of family and community relationships than it is a novel of suspense, or crime, horrific and awful though the crimes were. Death is always the ultimate judge, from whom there is no appeal.

So, in my view, the problem is one of balance, or perhaps of categorization. The involvement of Cork O'Connor, now a private investigator, alone in Aurora, is mostly one of self-examination. The novel is one of Cork's journey of discovery. What was the meaning of his occasional nightmares? What were the issues that consumed and separated the O'Connor family in those last fateful months of Liam O'Connor's life?

The novel begins with Cork once again at odds with his Ojibwe heritage. His mother, remember, was a member of the tribe. He's hired by the owners of the Vermilion One and Ladyslipper mines to deal with threats against the mine. But then he's also tasked to try to locate a missing woman, sister of the mine owner. Lauren Cavanaugh has gone missing. Finding the missing woman opens a window on old unsolved crimes from a previous generation, from a time when Cork's father was the sheriff of Tamarack County.

Sorting through old albums, records and memories, fresh and repressed, takes up the body of the novel. As with all of this author's previous novels, the explanation is logical, satisfying and meaningful. Krueger, as always, is skillful in evoking the landscape, not just its physical self, but its atmosphere, its mystical presence and its influences on the people who reside there.

In the end, this thoughtful exploration of law, truth and justice and their profound influences on all of us is a highly successful emotionally moving effort.

Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

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