Friday, November 25, 2016

An Intriguing Behind the Scenes Look at Television News

Television news is a cut-throat business. Author Christina Kovac has been a TV reporter and producer in real life, and her first novel (The Cutaway, Atria Books, March 2017) is about the TV news business in the nation’s capital. DC is different than the rest of the world. It’s a world unto itself.
Although Virginia Knightly’s work world is complicated enough, her personal life is about to become complicated, too. It begins with a missing persons news release. Her former boyfriend, head of Metro PD’s Criminal Investigation Division, is the man in charge of the investigation. Virginia needs to cultivate Michael as a source, but she has good reason not to trust him. Before the novel ends, Virginia learns she can’t trust anyone, not even her long-time co-workers. Also complicating Virginia’s personal life is the pending death of her estranged father who walked out of her life and left Virginia with an ailing mother who died and foster parents who cared little for her. Virginia learned the hard way to do everything herself, becoming the producer of the nightly news for Washington’s leading independent television station.

Pending personnel changes at the station complicate matters as Virginia doggedly pursues the story of a woman not unlike herself who was brutally murdered and dumped into the Potomac.

This is a great story that has romance, intrigue, and great dialog. It is also a walking tour of the nation’s capital and a peek behind the scenes of politics, justice, and the news business.

Highly recommended.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Perfect Model for Crime Writers

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia (Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books, January 2017) should be subtitled “The Curse of MacBeth.”
Wabash County Sheriff Del Goodman investigates the tragic murder of Hattie Hoffman in rural southern Minnesota. Hattie, the daughter of Del’s closest friend, wanted to be an actress and had starred in a high school production of MacBeth the night she was murdered. When Hattie’s mutilated body is discovered the day after the play opens at the high school, the town of Pine Valley—a small farming community where everyone knows everyone else—is mortified. Everyone is suspect and anyone could be the murderer. Who killed Hattie Hoffman and why? The whole town wants to know and so does the reader.
Told in flashbacks from multiple points of view, the answer unfolds over the course of Hattie’s senior year at Pine Valley High. Literature geeks will love the literary references to Jane Austen novels and Thomas Pynchon and Tim O’Brien from Hattie’s Advanced AP Senior English class, taught by Peter Lund. As we watch the forbidden relationship between Lund and Hattie develop, we begin to piece together possible scenarios for murder.
Mejia fleshes out her characters well, making each come alive. We become silent voyeurs peeking into the windows of tortured souls not so different from our own. Hattie and Del and Peter become us, and we become them.
This story is a cautionary tale of what might happen when, after acting parts to please others for most of one’s life, one decides to be true to one’s own self. Telling the truth can be liberating, yes; but it can also prove deadly. The truth isn’t always the best policy, nor does it always set you free.
This story is also an expertly-crafted whodunit, a mystery that grips the reader and won’t let go. Every crime writer should study this novel to see how a whodunit should be done.
Brilliantly plotted, perfectly executed, this novel rates 5 1/2 stars.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Dragon Devours

In Barry Eisler’s eye-opening novel Livia Lone (Thomas & Mercer, October 26, 2016), there are 3 kinds of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Livia Lone is a sheepdog. She protects the sheep from being devoured by hungry wolves.
But this sheepdog has a dragon hidden inside of her. When the sleeping dragon wakes, the dog displays its fangs.
Livia has been a victim, and now she has become a predator herself, preying on those who prey on helpless women and children. Labee, Livia’s real name, was sold into sexual slavery by her parents in Thailand, and then Labee and her sister Nason were shipped to the US by unscrupulous human traffickers. Labee and Nason are separated aboard ship, and Labee (Livia) swears to someday find Nason and rescue her.
Livia studies hard and grows up to be a black-belt martial artist and a Seattle police officer investigating sexual crimes. Most of the time, she helps people. But, sometimes, she helps victims, and herself, by killing men who take advantage of the weaker sex.
All the while, Livia Lone continues to search for her abducted sister.
This is a well-crafted psychological thriller filled with violence, sexual content, and lots of really bad people with only a few good ones to make a difference. Ripped from the reality of today’s headlines, Livia Lone is a masterful expose of the underground world decent people deny exists.
Eisler alternates chapters between then and now, relating Livia’s backstory while holding the reader in suspense over what will happen next. Set in the hill country of Thailand, Bangkok, Seattle, and Llewellyn, Idaho, this gritty tale is an emotional roller coaster as well as an exciting thrill ride.
Highly recommended for adults who can handle terror, betrayal, and exploitation of children graphically portrayed.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder: The Psychological Insights of Paige Dearth's Born Mobster

Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder: The Psychological Insights of a Born Mobster
It took me almost a hundred pages to get used to Paige Dearth’s unique spellings of the South Philly dialect. I’m from Chicago where we speak a different variation on the South Philly cross between Irish and Italian. Dearth is obviously an auditory writer. I’m a visual reader. When words aren’t spelled the way I expect, I’m distracted from getting into the story. But Dearth’s great characterizations of Tony and Vincent kept me reading anyway.

Everyone has been bullied at one time or another in his or her life. We can all identify with Tony. Even Vincent and Carmen, Tony’s “fadder”, have been bullied. Tony Bruno, like so many of Paige Dearth’s characters in this novel and her previous novels, is trapped by his heredity and his environment. He feels helpless in a hopeless situation not of his own making. It is only when he says “enough” and begins to fight back, to take control of his life, that Tony has any chance of surviving.

Educational psychologists will tell you that humans tend to imitate behavior that is modeled: we—-both as impressionable children and as adults—-learn from the way we see others behave. Role models have great influence on us. We are products of our environments.

Characters constantly ask each other, “Are you okay? Is everything okay?” Ain’t nothin’ okay in Tony Bruno’s world. It’s a shithole. Shit happens. Period. End of sentence.

Bad things happen to good people all the time in this novel, and bad people get their share of shit dumped on them, too. Born Mobster is a gritty tale filled with graphic violence and four-letter profanity and explicit sexual situations. If it were made into a movie, it would rate a definite “R”. It’s not a story you want kids to read, though older teens might easily identify with Tony, Vincent, and Salvatore.

I give Born Mobster five stars for characterization and storyline. The quality of writing, especially dialog, is consistently four stars. Paige Death is still learning her craft. But she is a writer to watch, and this novel proves it.