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Ivory Tower Cop by George Kirkham & Leonard Territo
Publisher: Carolina Academic Press ISBN: 978-1-59460-656-4
Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader
For those readers who enjoy tales based on true crime and who have wondered how a college professor teaching criminology would react to the violence that his courses was about, Ivory Tower Cop by talented authors George Kirkham and Leonard Territo is a must read. This book will answer many of your questions and provide a fun read.
Professor David Roth is challenged by his friend Detective Frank Bailey of the Miami PD to go through the police academy so he could get a first hand look at how violent crimes are investigated. At first David dismisses the idea, but others get behind it and he enrolls. His course is sped up so he can get through faster and actually have time left in his year off to be part of the police force.
His new boss Maria Sosa is anything but thrilled to have a professor assigned to her section, but as they work together things fall into place and admits he seems to understand the mind of their current serial killer. After his year of time off, David returns to the classroom with an enlarged perspective of what police work is all about.
I’m pleased to recommend this tale highly to any reader who enjoys suspense, mystery, and a study of both the criminal mind and police work. Well worth the time, a tale with well drawn characters who you will enjoy getting to know. A story told from a different vantage point with lots of action. Enjoy. I sure did.
Panic Attack by Jason Starr
Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN-10: 0312387067
Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader
No one will confuse the Bloom family of Jason Starr’s Panic Attack with the Cleavers. Husband Adam is a controlling, egotistical shrink who even thinks in psychobabble and analyzes everything everyone says or does, including himself. His wife, Dana, is a classic bored upper class housewife, having an affair with her health club trainer. Daughter Marissa is a spoiled, not too bright slacker living a home after graduating with an art history degree from Vassar. All three are self-centered and selfish and any other pejorative that begins with “self.” Their first, and often only, impulse is “how does this affect me?”
The story hits the ground running when Adam shoots a burglar in the middle of the night. Ten times. A second intruder gets away clean. Dana and Marissa are appalled; Dana whines at length how she never wanted to have the damn gun in the house in the first place. Why couldn’t you wait? The police were on the way.
Adam thinks he’s going to be a hero. Talks to the media assembled on his lawn. Imagines a book, possibly even a movie. Life is good until the New York media portray him as the next Bernie Goetz, a vigilante in his own home. Bloom’s an ass, but the papers spin and misquote his story beyond conscience. The effect on his practice is dire, and immediate. (Why Fox News didn’t make him a hero is not explored.)
Those are the least of the Blooms’ problems; the other burglar has sworn vengeance. The dead man was a friend from the group home they grew up in, and he’s going to get even with Adam by destroying the whole family. Johnny Long is even more delusional that Adam Bloom. His primary occupation is seducing women so he can rob them. He imagines books and movies produced to recount his exploits as a lover and thief. His plan to get even with Bloom is so complex it makes the Normandy invasion look like Eisenhower wrote it on the back of a cocktail napkin.
There’s no one to root for in Panic Attack. Worse, there’s no one to care much about. Adam is a first-class jerk; Dana a selfish shrew. Marissa is so dumb she can’t use her art degree to recognize Long isn’t the budding artist he claims to be even after Googling the fake name he gives her and seeing his “work,” which consists of blotches of paint he threw on a canvas because he heard Pollock worked that way, or finished pieces he bought at thrift stores. (Don’t painters sign their work anymore?)
Panic Attack evolves into a too-long slog to see who survives and how they manage it. Between Long’s over the top psychopathy and the Bloom’s stupidity and unlikability, the ultimate question becomes, “who cares?”
Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan
Publisher: Putnam Adult ISBN-10: 0399155635
Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader
David Loogan is a man of mystery. No one really knows where he came from, or what he does. He rents the home of a university professor away on sabbatical and walks the streets of Ann Arbor, keeping to himself. Writes a short story and drops it at the office of Gray Streets magazine without any identification. Does the same with an improved draft. And another. Finally he happens along while editor Tom Kristoll is there and they meet. Kristoll likes Loogan’s work, an editorial job is offered, and a sincere, if somewhat awkward, friendship springs up.
This friendship isn’t strong enough keep the otherwise circumspect Loogan from sleeping with Tom’s wife, Laura. It is sufficiently hardy for Loogan to respond without question when Tom calls one night to ask for a favor. Oh, and bring a shovel. Loogan trusts Tom enough to follow his plan, even though Tom’s story about interrupting a thief doesn’t hold up. Loogan eventually responds to his conscience and halts the affair, but the ethical question of sleeping with his best friend’s wife is rendered moot when Tom goes out a sixth story window. He could have jumped or fallen or been pushed; investigation shows an anomalous bump on the head that says he was knocked unconscious, then thrown out the window.
Harry Dolan sets up the pieces of Bad Things Happen well. Loogan is a cipher, so the reader is never quite sure how to interpret what he does or says. The police, brought in after Tom’s death, are effective in their medium-sized town way. They lack the resources of a Chicago or New York, but are no one’s fools. The circle of potential suspects and incriminating circumstances grows bit by bit until it reaches a delicious busyness. The first half of the book is tight, ratcheting up the tension and interest in small but undeniable increments.
That the second half doesn’t quite live up to the promise is more a question of overambitiousness on Dolan’s part than any lack of skill or talent. Not content to stop building when he reaches critical mass, character actions become less organic to their actor than they are authorial connivances to advance the plot. What begins as a story as tightly written and plotted as Law and Order at its best hires Agatha Christie as showrunner halfway through. The end result is mixed, as the writing stays tight throughout, but the plot becomes more convoluted with every chapter. Each resolution and revelation is topped by another and another until the whole resembles a late night TV ad: But wait! There’s more!
A lot of people will like that, and they should read this book sooner rather than later. Spinning surprises well into the denouement is a tried and true technique, and Dolan almost gets away with it, even to the eye of a skeptic. The first half of the book leads to expectations of a powerful yet understated climax; the second half delivers ever less plausible twists and turns.
Bad Things Happen is an earnest attempt to meld a traditional puzzle mystery with a more hard-boiled style. How well it works will depend on which type of story the reader prefers, but Dolan’s effort—and the reader’s time—is certainly not wasted. He’s an author well worth keeping an eye on.
Criminal Karma by Stephen M. Thomas
Publisher: Ballantine Books ISBN-10: 034549783X
Reviewed by Joseph Obermaier, New Mystery Reader
Burglars make irresistible heroes. From Raffles to Dortmunder to Bernie Rhodenbarr, we seem to have a soft spot for the charismatic, honorable thief whose best-laid plans inevitably come crashing down around him. We admire the rogue who has forsaken our mundane lives for one of danger and excitement, but is still somehow loyal, honest and principled in his own way. We know, even as he breaks the law, he will right the bigger wrong and with any luck, still get the goods or the girl. So it is with Criminal Karma, the follow-up to Steven M. Thomas’s first novel, Criminal Paradise.
Small-time thief Robert “Rob” Rivers and his dim, beefy partner Reggie England are back in action. The target this time is a stunning necklace of pink diamonds worth a quarter million dollars that graced the neck of a Southern Californian socialite, Evelyn Evermore. Though their first attempt to steal it goes spectacularly awry, our heroes discover another way in through the socialite’s dubious spiritual guru, Baba Raba, who has his eyes on the necklace as well. Something (else) shady is going on.
Rob works his way into the lives of Evelyn and Baba Raba against a wonderfully detailed backdrop of an often seamy southern California coast. Along the way, he enters a darkly comic world filled with the homeless and nearly homeless, missing children, wayward women, spiritual drifters, corrupt councilmen, angry mobsters and even a fortune teller. Many of these people are hurting, and Rob can’t let it go. Against his better judgment, and at the risk of distracting himself from his quest for the necklace, he gets deeply involved.
Criminal Karma is not a whodunit, but a “howdunit.” How can Rob make all these pieces fit together? How is he going to save his friends, both old and new, and himself? And how is he going get his hands on that necklace without getting caught?
Rob is grittier and rougher around the edges than the gentleman-thieves I mentioned earlier. And most readers will likely have already figured out the ‘mysteries’ involved before reaching the final chapters, but that’s not really why we read a caper-story like this. We want to admire the cunning and courage that goes into planning the heist. We want the suspense and uncertainty of the chase. We want the really bad guys to pay. And we want the charming thief to still be standing in the end. On that score, Criminal Karma delivers.