Friday, September 30, 2011

Review of REUNION by Carl Brookins

by Carl Brookins
Trade paperback, 8/31/11
Echelon Press, 268 pages
ISBN 9781590806685

Jack Marston's past includes a stint in the Navy as a NCIS investigator. Now living a more sedate life as the director of student services at City College in Minneapolis, Jack has no idea his former occupation will prove useful when he accompanies the woman he loves to her twentieth-year high school reunion in the Minnesota farming community of Riverview. But he soon learns that psychologist Lori Jacobs' hometown in no way resembles the idyllic rural locale he imagined. Deeply held secrets dominate life in this pastoral setting of white-painted farmhouses and lush fields of wheat. Backbiting gossip, sly innuendo, and downright hostility mark the opening festivities of the class of '89's reunion. Unsettling as they may be for Jack, these activities pale in comparison to the gruesome murder of one of Lori's classmates outside Georgiana's 40-Mile Club.

Elroy Guteman's death puts a damper on, but doesn't stop, the weekend celebration. While Sheriff Arnason investigates the crime, the remaining members of Lori's class continue their scheduled activities in and around town. Then another former graduate winds up dead, and Arnason enlists Jack as a second pair of eyes and ears within the reunion group. What Jack observes is often confusing to him, but having grown up in Riverview, Lori is able to supply answers for most of his questions. Some of those answers exact a toll on Lori; resurrecting old memories requires her to face long denied demons from her early life.

Working as a team, the pair gradually pieces together a stunning puzzle that links underhanded deals and long forgotten deaths not only with people from Lori's past, but also with present residents of Riverview. But obtaining final justice isn't easy for Jack and Lori. Death and danger dog their every footstep as they pursue truth in a town dedicated to preserving easy lies.

Carl Brookins presents readers with a complicated but logically constructed story in REUNION. Jack and Lori are fabulous characters with strong personalities that mesh nicely even under stress. Other characters are equally believable and well described, as is the rural setting of Riverview. The author displays a keen awareness of life in small communities, where relationships between neighbors are generally close, and gossip and secrecy often distort the truth of a situation. This awareness is complimented by Brookins' understanding of rural economic conditions where farmers are held hostage to both the weather and the whims of the futures market. By introducing a third complication into this mix -- namely the mortgage-and-loan business -- Brookins successfully engages readers in not one, but two distinct mysteries within a single story. The plot moves along at a nice pace and is complimented by dialogue that is natural and flows smoothly. I greatly enjoyed this book. My only criticism of it concerns the number of characters with similar sounding names. With a cast as large as the one in REUNION, it was easy at times to confuse one minor character with another when their names sounded so alike.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Reviews by Carl Brookins

What would Monday be without some great book reviews by Carl Brookins? Without further ado...

Where Danger Hides
By Terry Odell
ISBN 978-1-43282-512-6
Five Star Mystery from Gale
May, 2011

The novel is a suspenseful thriller with a healthy dose of romance. Or maybe it’s a romantic thriller with a good deal of suspense that keeps this moving at a sometimes alarming pace. “Where Danger Hides” is both, and it’s also a fantasy in particular in the way and the speed with which the two principal characters are drawn together.

Miri Chambers is the caretaker and overseerer of a San Francisco shelter primarily for abused women. Galoway House also manages to shelter and care for a number of children and men, as well. There’s a lot more to Miri Chambers. She is adept at disguise, light-fingered, and as prickly as one can get. Two wrong words and she is liable to go off like a rocket. That propensity for shoot-from-the-hip judgments and attitude may also be the reason for her nearly unbelieveable hormonal response to the hunk she meets on a clandestine foray into the home office of a wealthy art patron.

Her reaction to “just” Dalton isn’t much different from his. He works for a private security firm that has a large well-funded and mostly covert group of operatives working well outside the usual legal limits. Dalton, one of Blackthorn’s elite black ops operatives, has an appreciated eye for female anatomy wherever he finds it, including hiding under the desk of the aforementioned wealthy San Francisco Art patron.

Dalton and Miri Chambers are all fire and sparks and hot sex throughout this rollicking novel. The author has created a pair of characters who could each carry the novel solo, but when you pair them, look out.

The action carries Dalton and Chambers from posh and elegant settings to gritty exceedingly dangerous operations. Readers are not likely to predict each succeeding move. One is required to suspend disbelief and recognize from the outset that explicit play, both sexual and with firearms, is integral to the story. Nevertheless, the plot is carefully and fully laid out, the dialogue is mostly logical, and the tension carries well through the entire book. Gritty, tender, frustrating by turns, I did feel that there were times when both characters exhibited too obtuse attitudes and were slower on the uptake than they should have been, given their life experiences.

Nevertheless, this is a fun read that makes several important points along the way.

Danger In Deer Ridge
by Terry Odell
e-book available at all the usual retailers.
released in 2011

All right, so there’s a big fat coincidence at the beginning of the novel. These things happen in real life so why not in crime fiction? The coincidence does not, however, make things easier at the beginning for Elizabeth Parker. Even late into the novel the woman has understandable trust issues. Paranoia is always nearby.

Elizabeth is running from an abusive marriage and has taken her son deep underground. The problem is, that isn’t all she took with her when she disappeared from the relationship and from her home city.

The characters in the novel are well-written and develop in reasonable and meaningful ways within the fabric of the story, and that includes most of the relatively minor ones. The setting, rural mountainous Colorado, is both beautiful and menacing at times. Two major threads, often in conflict, wind through the novel. In order to remain free and see her son develop a normal life, Elizabeth must try to set aside all-encompassing suspicion and mistrust. Beyond that, she has to develop some real relationships. No one can live in society without relating to others, even if it’s just arms-length situations. For Elizabeth, a healthy woman with normal drives, that is difficult. To return to anything approaching a normal life, she also needs to resolve the dangers still associated with her former husband.

Odell has a good handle on Parker character and the themes of the novel. I look for more worthwhile reading from her.

The Rock Hole
by Reavis Z. Wortham
ISBN: 978-1-59058-884-0
2011 release from Poisoned Pen Press. HC, 284 pages

A sensitive, suspenseful debut crime novel. Full of twists, wry and earthy humor, it epitomizes the grit, the patience and the perseverance, of middle America. Folks who grew up in Texas, where the novel is set, or anywhere in the belt that runs from the northwest angle of Minnesota to the Padre Islands and from the middle of Pennsylvania
to Cody, Wyoming, will recognize themselves in this novel. Their humor, their practicality, their keen natural observations, are all here to savor.

Welcome to 1964. In Center Springs, Texas, farmer and part-time constable Ned Parker is faced with a puzzling series of animal deaths. That they are brutal, atrocious, unnecessary killings only adds to the tension and suspense. Across the river, the black deputy, John Washington, is trying to find reasons for the same killings, while also dealing with the added difficulties of racism in the county. All these factors entwine to create a real and growing calamity for the small communities in the county surrounding Center Springs. As the killings continue, strange footprints are found near bedroom windows and citizens begin to carry weapons and look suspiciously at their neighbors.

Laced with forthright humor, the novel proceeds at a racing pace through event after event as suspicion grows and plot twist after twist keeps readers off-balance until the stunning climax is reached. Ned Parker is a real character who carries the story in an authentic and realistic manner.

The novel is not without its problems. Abrupt and annoying changes of points of view are occasionally confusing, but the writing, like the stories within the narrative, is solid. This is an eminently satisfying novel. I look forward to the next.

Carl Brookins
Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Carl's latest book is REUNION, a Jack Marston mystery, that I'll be reviewing here shortly. Jack works with adult students at City College while his lover, Lori Jacobs, is a psychologist and part-time employee of the same institution of higher learning. Returning to Riverview, Minnesota, for Lori's 20th year high school reunion gives Jack an opportunity to learn more about Lori and her life before they met. Unfortunately, it also puts him smack dab in the middle of a gruesome murder case involving one of Lori's former classmates. Stay tuned for the full review of this puzzling new mystery by accomplished writer Carl Brookins.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Responding to False Email Stories

Several days ago, a friend sent me this photo and the others shown here in an email. The text accompanying them read: "Wow! Your tax dollars at work! Can you guess what this is?? It is the new Cook County Correctional Center in Chicago, Illinois. This is where the Administration plans on putting the terrorists from Gitmo, and we have Americans living in cardboard boxes on the streets that have never killed anyone. Nothing makes sense anymore. How's that compare with "Sheriff Joe's" prison in Arizona???? PLEASE PASS THIS ON! MOST PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW THIS!!"

Well, there's a reason most people don't know this, and that's because it's not true. Oh, sure. If you live in Chicago, you'd recognize the pictures as false. For one thing, like a lot of states, Illinois is broke. It has no money to pay for new correction centers, nor does Cook County, the county in which Chicago lies, have any money. I know, because the Cook County Board is always pushing for new taxes to support itself.

To the right is a picture of a cell in the supposed "new" Cook County Correctional Center. To the left is a picture of a cell in the REAL Cook County Department of Corrections facility at 2700 South California in Chicago. Built in 1929 during the administration of Mayor Anton Cermak, the facility covers 96 acres, over eight city blocks, and looks its age.

Another picture of a REAL cell at the jail. Not quite as comfy looking as the one above, is it. And compare the below picture of the REAL cell catwalk in the jail with the second picture above, the supposed "new" cell catwalk. Again, no bright airy look to the scene as in the false pictures, just a no-nonsense walkway that restricts crowding by prisoners.

This is a view from the supposed "new" jail showing an inmate sitting on a porch looking out at the beautiful countryside. In reality, all prisoners can see from their windows in the REAL Cook County jail is blocks of old factories, railroad tracks, and parking lots. This next picture is what Cook County inmates see from the 'recreational' area of the facility -- no basketball courts or fancy running tracks as shown in the false pictures, most of which I've chosen not to include here.

The truth is, all those "false" pictures were of the Justice and Detention Center in Leoben, Austria. Designed by architect Josef Hohenstinn, the facility houses both court rooms and a penitentiary. More information on the center can be found at, the website that exposes urban legends and downright lies that float through space via the Internet.

The person who first put that email together obviously knew he was perpetuating a falsehood. But he was willing to lie because he had an anti-Administration agenda, and lies always help when you can't depend on the truth. Now, I don't agree with everything President Obama says or does. I didn't vote for him in the primary election because I believed Senator Clinton was more qualified than he. But I voted for him in the general election because I couldn't vote for a John McCain who, given the chance to select an intelligent, experienced, and truly capable woman as his running mate, chose instead to team up with a clearly inexperienced and unqualified Sarah Palin.

I'll be the first one to call out the President on a policy I believe isn't working. I have no problem with anyone else doing that too, as long as it's done in a civilized manner. Object if you will, but refrain from resorting to lies, crudeness, and bigotry to make your point. And the author of this particular email sought only to inflame passions against the Administration; i.e., President Obama.

I wrote back to my friend after receiving this email and told her to check I do that with any emails I receive that falsely portray other people or their actions. Sure, I could simply delete them and forget about it, but isn't that avoiding responsibility? If we truly want to live in a country where we can discourse on politics and agree to disagree in a civilized manner, we all have to respond to unwarranted lies circulated by unprincipled people.

Falsehoods don't make you a patriot. They only make you a liar.


Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11, 2001: My Story

Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy in New York. We'll all be remembering where we were and what we did that day, and we'll all be hoping it never happens again. Below is my story of that day. I wrote it that evening, trying in my own way to kill the demons in my head by putting my thoughts down on paper. It was later published in Futures Magazine.

September 11, 2001: My Story

6:30 am: My granddaughter wakes me with her crying. She is three months old, wet and hungry. I change and feed her, still in my nightshirt, aware that her parents are even now on their way to O'Hare Airport. A three-day vacation in Vegas, time alone for the two of them, time for me to cuddle this latest little member of the family.

8:00 am: I'm bathing Cinnamon Rose, the radio tuned to my favorite station. Sarah and Tim should be on the plane, waiting to taxi down the runway. A break in the talk on the radio -- a plane has hit the World Trade Center in New York. How sad, I think. A plane taking off from Kennedy, a tragedy of some kind. Then word that a second plane has hit the building. I gather Cinnamon in my arms and rush to the TV. No accident, I think. This is more. This is a terrorist attack. I call my husband at work at the SSA building downtown. How many thousands there? Too many, too many floors. Have to rush, says Fred. Security problems. Fred is a Facilities Inspector, works with the contractors, 'Don't cheat the government! Do it right!' and 'Damn those idiots in Baltimore! They want to build a plaza outside the front entrance. Perfect for car bombers.' I visualize a plane hitting the building. No, don't think that way. Not in Chicago. Not today.

8:30 am: My daughter Jenni calls. She works for United Airlines. Have you seen what's happening, she asks. Terrorists hijacked those planes. No one knows how many more. The west coast next? My thoughts turn to O'Hare. A huge airport, an international hub. No God, please. Not Sarah and Tim's plane. I rush to call America West Airlines. Our system is down, they say. Call back later for news. No God, no. Not their plane, too. I hug Cinnamon and call Jenni. Find out what's happening, I demand. I call my husband again. No answer. Too busy locking down.

8:45 am: Jenni calls back. Sarah and Tim are safe. Their plane was stopped on the runway and turned back. I cry in relief, and hug little Cinnamon. Your mom and dad are safe. What about Fred? Damn these terrorists! Do they care if we hurt?

9:00 am: I call my sister, back from the grave after a January MI and cardiac arrest. She shouldn't be alone with this stuff on TV. She gets too upset. I'll come by you, she says. Carrie will drive me. Fred's sister Fran calls. 'Is Fred OK? Terrorists!' I know, I say. He can't come home. They're locking down. I carry Cinnamon outside and put the flag in the standard by the front door. It hangs limply, then catches in the breeze and unfurls. I watch it pivot in the wind, my private act of defiance. I am an American. I am an American! I shout it in my head. You cannot hurt me! You cannot stop me! I am an American!

10 am: The Pentagon hit. My God! My cousin Dan works there! His wife works there! Call Kathy, Dan's sister. No news. Call my brother in California. Chuck's son lives in New York, ten blocks from the Trade Center. No word from Jeff. Will call when he hears. My daughter-in-law calls. Have you seen the TV? Are Sarah and Tim safe? They're at O'Hare, somewhere, I say. I haven't heard from them. My sister arrives. Be careful, Virginia! No! She falls on the stairs, rolls to the cement driveway. I'm OK, she says as I lift her to her feet. But her wrist is painful, beginning to swell. We ice it. She refuses to go to the hospital. I watch her carefully. She's on Coumadin, a blood thinner. She's hit her head.

11am: Sarah and Tim arrive. They hug their baby, then join Virginia and I in front of the TV. My son John calls from work. His cell phone dies before I can tell him Sarah and Tim are safe.

11:30 am: My son Matt arrives. Golfing with friends when he heard the news. Ex-Army man, Kuwait. He's glued to the TV. Bomb the bastards, he growls. Turn the desert to dust. He remembers the heat, the hatred, the fear. He remembers being young...before he learned to use a gun. My sister squirms, uncomfortable with such talk, uncomfortable with the ice on her wrist.

12 noon: Fred arrives. I hug him. He's safe. They've closed the building. 45 minutes in line to get on a train. 500 people at the station. One man goes down. A heart attack. Paramedics arrive. The train leaves.

1:00 pm: Kathy calls. Dan is OK. He couldn't find his wife, then learned she'd been sent to Crystal City for a meeting. Her office is in the wing that was hit. She's safe. Jenni calls. She's assigned to call the families of the plane that crashed outside of Pittsburgh. I hate this duty, she murmurs. Someone has to do it. My heart goes out to her. No news from California.

1:30 pm: My sister Martha calls, on break from her duties as an 8th grade teacher. What do I tell the children? she asks. They want to know why people hate us so. I have no answers, at least not for thirteen-year-olds. My daughter Mary Caroline calls. She's crying. She and her dorm friends are gathered in the university's Great Room in front of the TV. She's on a cell phone. The college lines are all tied up. Are Sarah and Tim OK? Yes, I tell her. They're safe. Her first real disaster, a bitter taste of war at the tender age of nineteen. She'll grow up quickly now. Nowhere is there safety. I love you, she says. Big words from a cool teenager suddenly a little kid again. I love you too, I say. I love you very much. Reassurance. We both need it.

1:45 pm: Fran calls. Her husband is home with a wild story. Jet fighters forced a helicopter down in the parking lot of Home Depot. "Get out of the skies!" they scream as they circle the mall. "Get out of the skies now!" We are safe. No in-the-sky minicam to witness an emptying city.

2:00 pm: Virginia agrees to go to the hospital. We talk in the car -- just a little, each with our own thoughts. I think of the medical personnel, the nightmares they'll have when this is done. The firemen. The policemen. The ER nurses -- my own people, my comrades in medicine -- I know what they feel. Adrenalin rush, then overwhelming fatigue. I pity them, then thank God I'm not in New York. My own ER is safe in a Chicago suburb. No skyscrapers for us.

3:30 pm: Virginia has a broken wrist. No bleed in the brain -- CT is clean. A half cast on the arm, a splint on her sprained ankle, home to her own place with pain killers for company. I start the long drive home.

5:00 pm: What are these fools doing driving into a mall? Why aren't they home in front of their TVs instead of shopping? Why are you cutting the grass? It's a day to mourn, not tend a lawn. Kids playing football. Go inside, dammit! I drive home angry, sad, scared. Thank God for a red light. I can wipe away my tears.

6:00 pm: Jenni is home. She lives next door, married the young man next door, moved into his home, her home now, the two of them building a future in a squared-off Georgian. We hug. I cry as she tells me of the phone calls she made. This is Jennifer J. of United Airlines. I regret to inform you.... A mother -- oh no, don't tell me it was her plane! Yes, say Jenni. A 9-year-old, off to see grandma, an only child. The mother screams. One of the big bosses walks into the office, walks over to a nearby desk. Jenni's co-worker looks up. Your daughter....a flight attendant...the woman lowers her head and weeps. Jenni's eyes are red, but she doesn't cry. It's all part of the job.

7:30 pm: Sarah and Tim gather up a sleeping Cinnamon. They pack their car with all the toys, the bottles and clothes, the diapers, the playpen. So much for three days with Grandma. We hug. I love you, I say. Thank God you're safe. Sarah smiles. She's used to an emotional mom.

8:30 pm. Fred can't stand the TV pictures any longer. He wanders outside, strokes the cat, checks the garden, takes out the garbage. Ordinary things. Safe things. Life in the neighborhood. A Chevy truck roars down the street. A a rock. Two American flags float in the breeze, high on standards attached to the truck's bed. I give the boys the thumbs-up sign and they wave back. Somebody feels like I do. It comforts me.

11:50 pm: The TV is off. Fred is asleep, the cat curled up in his armpit. I sit here pecking away at the keyboard, keeping the day alive, too pent up to sleep. Tomorrow I'll read the papers, listen to the pundits expound on what we should have done to prevent this attack. The skies are silent. No planes heading into O'Hare, no planes all day, none until later tomorrow, if then. The telephone rings. My brother in California. Jeff's safe. He's okay. He was down in the streets, helping the wounded. I hang up on Chuck, relieved, exhausted.

The last lost sheep is home.

Now I can go to sleep.