Friday, February 18, 2011

Love Is Murder and Book Reviews

January flew by as I, along with the other Board members, prepared for the Love Is Murder conference Feb. 4-6, 2011. The blizzard that hit Chicago and other parts of the Midwest on Tuesday, February 1st, didn't help; along with my husband and daughter, I spent most of Wednesday digging out the driveway and sidewalks before our neighbor's son arrived in the evening to plow out our street. Thanks goodness for Ibrio; he did a marvelous job that allowed me to escape our block on Thursday morning and head for the Intercontinental Chicago O'Hare hotel.

If you've ever been involved in the planning of a conference/convention, you'll understand why blogging is the last thing you think of in the weeks just before the con. Seems like there are so many last minute decisions to make and jobs to do in order to put on a really good con. And I think we did put on a good con. At least, that's what everyone who attended has been telling us.

But getting back to the subject of Cicero's Children, I'm still a bit behind on everything, including this blog. I know, though, that every mystery fan appreciates learning about new books, and therefore I'm dedicating this blog to two book reviews by Carl Brookins. I hope you enjoy both the reviews and the books.


Death Pans Out
by Ashna Graves
Hardcover, 288 pages,
from Poisoned Pen Press

Reporter Jeneva Leopold, faced with a life-altering decision, takes a leave of absence from her job to recover from surgery. Breast cancer has claimed part of her body and she wants time to recover in relative peace. Not just from the debilitating effects of the surgery itself, but she wants to be in a place where she can think about her life and her existence. This is a novel about an unusual woman with an unusual plan to rehabilitate herself.

There are great stories surrounding the searches for precious metals from California, South America and the Yukon, as well as the production of gold from less well-known regions, and this one takes its cue from those stories. Fact or fiction, we are never quite sure, but here is a story which may well become a part of that so interesting body of literature.

Jeneva’s family has long owned an idle gold mine in the mountains of Southern Oregon, a harsh, vastly rural region of high deserts, mountains, isolated communities, wild animals and, legends. One legend surrounds the mysterious disappearance of Jeneva’s uncle, Mathew. Mathew disappeared one night from the cabin at the mine almost twenty years before the story opens, and his mining partner has retreated into a silent years from which he may never emerge.

Jeneva takes a long leave of absence and moved to the cabin at the mine where she intends to spend several months of the summer physically and mentally recovering from her trauma. Almost immediately, a parade of compelling characters begins to invade her peaceful existence, from a weird self-styled “artifact hunter,” who insists that he always camps on Bureau of Forestry land and visits the area regularly, to a hearty sheriff who seems at times too good to be true, to a taciturn former model and beauty queen turned rancher, to assorted miners, a tall funeral director and other assorted characters. They all make for some fascinating scenes and while the action is never of a high order, the rising tension and sense of danger to Jeneva and her friends, is well-handled.

I enjoyed the story, learned some things about governmental land management and local attitudes toward government, and found the ending quite a surprise. If there are small problems with this debut novel, they stem from an experienced reporter acting entirely too trusting and naive to serve the story, and a couple of the rants are a little too long. That said, I look forward to another adventure with Jeneva Leopold.

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


Kind of Blue
by Miles Corwin
ISBN: 978-1-60809-007-5
from Oceanview Publishing
323 pages, November, 2010

A few years ago, this author wrote a couple of serious non-fiction books about the Los Angeles Police Department. He spent a lot of time with cops in that city and wrote books that became best-sellers, “The Killing Season” and “And Still We Rise.”

Now he’s back with a powerful persistent novel that draws from the same source material. “Kind of Blue,” is not your ordinary police procedural. It constantly reminds readers that the cops involved are no super beings, rising above the worst humanity can offer to save their city; nor are they all thugs, wife beaters and abusers. They are ordinary citizens, sometimes corrupt, sometimes honorable and brilliant, often prejudiced, but too often willing to make the supreme sacrifice for the citizens they serve. And, occasionally they violate the rights of criminals.

Author Corwin bends a keen and discerning eye on this stew of varying humanity to fashion a fascinating novel of human relations. Asher Levine, a dedicated, mostly honest cop, is one of LA’s best homicide detectives. But as the book opens, Levine is a former cop, having abruptly resigned after he was unable to protect a vital witness from being murdered. The death of Latisha Patton, never solved, devastates the detective and causes him to question his abilities, even though it is clear that apart from his dedication, he is a brilliant detective. So he resigns.

A year passes and a decorated officer has died, murdered in his home and the special homicide squad needs Levine’s help solving the case. More to the point, certain key executives in the LAPD hierarchy need the case solved or at least put to rest. Levine has had that year to discover his resignation hurts him more than it does the LAPD. With clearance from the top cops, Levine is fast tracked back to the force and handed the case.

The problem, of course, is that Levine won’t just concentrate on the current case and thus all sorts of actions that need to be buried along with the ghost of Latisha Patton. Traces of other earlier activity begin to resurface as Ash Levine winds his way through labyrinthine police and social structures of the street until he comes to the shocking final solution.

The title is apt, a riff on a 50 year old Miles Davis studio piece, the cover fits the mood and the attitude of the novel. All the elements fit nicely and it was a pleasure to read this excellent book.

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