Tag Archives: Cleveland

Puttin’ on the Ritz

Defensive Wounds: A Novel of Suspense by Lisa Black (William Morrow; $24.99; 352 pages)

“Trying to find a smear of the dark red on the burgundy-patterned carpet made needles and haystacks seem like a bar bet.”

In this fourth time around in Cleveland, Ohio, author Lisa Black presents a convoluted present day mystery that is solved with one part forensics and one part feelings.   Author Black does an excellent job of setting up the story line and expanding her cast of characters.   While forensic scientist Theresa Mac Clean and her cop cousin Frank are easily recognizable from the prior novel in this series, Trail of Blood, their emotions and personal opinions are considerably more pronounced.   Ms. Black uses a plotline that consists of a series of seemingly unconnected murders to thoroughly explore the meaning of family loyalty.   Throughout the tale, each of the main characters – Theresa, Frank, and Theresa’s daughter Rachel – must choose which side they are on.   For Rachel the choice revolves around her feelings for a young man with whom she works at Cleveland’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.   Theresa has to balance her relationship with Rachel and her daughter’s safety with the demands of her job in the medical examiner’s office.

Aggressive defense attorneys are not usually mourned at their passing by local law enforcement officers and forensics specialists.   These public servants often face seemingly excessive interrogation on the stand as expert witnesses during trial proceedings in criminal matters.   When glamorous defense attorney Marie Corrigan is found trussed up and dead in the Presidential Suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, not a single tear is shed or kind word uttered by the team summoned to the crime scene.   Ms. Corrigan’s reputation for winning acquittal verdicts for her questionable clients nearly matched her beauty and enviable figure.   “Ding dong the witch is dead,” was the vocal intoned by Leo DeCiccio in the trace evidence lab as the autopsy of Corrigan’s body began.

What better way to create a readily available pool of murder victims than to have them attend a seminar at said hotel that features the development of skills for achieving litigation success?   There is none better as far as this reviewer is concerned.   As each subsequent victim is discovered, the possibilities for a single murderer seem difficult to grasp, yet the methodology of killing is strikingly similar.   The past and present relationships of the murder victims and the investigators are not obvious.   Theresa and Frank must devote hours of sleuthing to fit the pieces together for the solution of the crimes.

Ms. Black’s wicked sense of humor provides several amusing sidebars for the reader.   Among the seminar lessons are the following:  “How to Make Not-Guilty Happen” and “Criminal Defense in a Down Economy.”   She gives her characters clever phrases and sets up the opportunities for them, such as,

“Two bodies piled up, and this woman knew both of them.   She may be able to connect the dots for us.   How much should we worry about people’s feelings?   Especially since they’re the same people who are going to say we didn’t solve these murders because we don’t like them?”

The take-away from this mystery novel is that we must all move on in life and it takes a bigger person to do so.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Defensive Wounds was released on September 27, 2010; it is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

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Gimme Shelter

Trail of Blood: A Novel of Suspense by Lisa Black (Harper Reprint Edition; $7.99; 432 pages)

Who knew that Cleveland, Ohio could be so interesting?   Lisa Black, a member of the National Academy of Forensic Sciences, proves that there’s more to Cleveland than the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.   Her third Theresa MacLean book is not only set in this Midwestern city, it features some really gory murders that are based in fact.   Black’s main character is a forensic scientist who happens to belong to a family with a history of crime fighting all the way back to her grandfather.

When present day murders bear a striking similarity to Cleveland’s most horrific killing spree during the 1930s and 40s, the city police and coroner’s offices are summoned to cut short the present day nightmare.   Theresa and her cop cousin Frank are at the center of the action.   Yes, Theresa takes more than her share of risks; however, she also uses her instincts to get out of peril.   There are plenty of false leads and hints to keep the reader guessing right up to the end of the book.

There are several other mystery/thriller series written by expert authors that feature main characters with similar talents.   The most notable of these is the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell.   Black unfolds Trail of Blood as a more personal story with less ostentatious criminology and more good-old-fashioned shoe leather detecting than does Cornwell.   In addition, the story is actually told in multiple time frames, current day and 75 years ago.

Black is excellent at keeping it real.   The mix of accurate historic details, a map up front in the beginning of the book and a detailed timeline of the original murders set this book apart from the rest of the pack.

Well recommended for fans of thriller novels that actually have more than just gore to offer.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Trail of Blood was released in a Mass Market  Paperback version on July 26, 2011.“Quite simply, one of the best storytellers around.”   Tess Gerritsen, author of the Rizzoli & Isles novels.   Lisa Black’s new novel, Defensive Wounds, will be released on September 27, 2011.

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Streets of Bakersfield

Hot, Shot, and Bothered: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery by Nora McFarland (Touchstone, $14.99, 304 pages)

Get ready for a new type of spunky girl mystery!   This second appearance of Lilly Hawkins, a TV news shooter for the local Bakersfield, California TV station, proves to be a summer stunner.   Lilly is a very honest person, sort of.   That’s to say she’s honest with herself about who she is now and who she was in the past.   She’s not so honest about her intentions when it comes to her boss at the station or the local police and sheriff.   A drowning death that she’s sent to video tape seems fishy to Lilly.   It is one of the two concurrent mysteries that sustain the reader’s interest.   Layered over the drowning is a breathtaking wildfire that may just consume the evidence at the location of the drowning.   Who set the fire and why was Jessica Egan murdered?

McFarland sets the scene with plenty of realistic action.   She has been behind the camera in Lilly’s shoes as a shooter for the news media.   To McFarland’s credit, the details are helpful and she has resisted the urge to bury the reader in techno speak.   One element that was lacking would have proven helpful for this reviewer.   A simple graphic/map showing the general vicinity where the action takes place could have provided a sense of the movement in the story.   Author Lisa Black’s thriller Trail of Blood that is set in Cleveland, Ohio contains one and it was an integral part of enjoying the book.

The characters in Hot, Shot, and Bothered are brought into the tale in a general locale, not exactly in Bakersfield, California, but nearby.   As they are matched up with each other, for example the grocer and the lady mayor, the stakes are raised.   McFarland is very adept at revealing her characters’ motivations at her own pace.   She makes Lilly work under super pressure to cover the growing fire and satisfy her nagging doubts about the drowning.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Hot, Shot, and Bothered was released on August 2, 2011.   “Funny, smart and honest.   Packed full of adrenaline and attitude.   Don’t miss it!”   Lisa Scottoline

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Midnight Rambler

Trail of Blood by Lisa Black (William Morrow; $24.99; 400 pages)

Who knew that Cleveland, Ohio could be so interesting?   Lisa Black, a member of the National Academy of Forensic Sciences, proves that there’s more to Cleveland than the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.   Her third Theresa MacLean book is not only set in this Midwestern city, it features some really gory murders that are based in fact.   Black’s main character is a forensic scientist who happens to belong to a family with a history of crime fighting all the way back to her grandfather.

When present day murders bear a striking similarity to Cleveland’s most horrific killing spree during the 1930s and 40s, the city police and coroner’s offices are summoned to cut short the present day nightmare.   Theresa and her cop cousin Frank are at the center of the action.   Yes, Theresa takes more than her share of risks; however, she also uses her instincts to get out of peril.   There are plenty of false leads and hints to keep the reader guessing right up to the end of the book.

There are several other mystery/thriller series written by expert authors that feature main characters with similar talents.   The most notable of these is the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell.   Black unfolds Trail of Blood as a more personal story with less ostentatious criminology and more good-old-fashioned shoe leather detecting than does Cornwell.   In addition, the story is actually told in two time frames, current day and 75 years ago.  

Black is excellent at keeping it real.   The mix of accurate historic details, a map up front in the beginning of the book and a detailed timeline of the original murders set this book apart from the rest of the pack.

Well recommended to fans of thriller novels that actually have more than gore to offer.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Out of My Mind

The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartok (Free Press; $25.00; 305 pages)

When she turned seventy-nine she wrote to tell me that although she was now legally blind she had decided to study medicine:  “I am thinking of going to nursing school…  That way, if I ever get sick or lose my sight completely, I’ll know what to do.”   I found a set of her teeth inside an old eyeglass case.

In The Memory Palace, Mira Bartok writes of a world that, sadly, too many of us will come to experience.   This is the world of the adult child whose parent is not only rapidly aging, but entering the throes of dementia or full-fledged insanity.   Whether caused by disease or mental illness, the results are the same – a parent terrified of having bad things happen to him or her brings those very results about through his or her own irrational behavior.   Bartok’s mother, Norma, was terrified of becoming homeless but became so after stabbing her own mother – who suffered from dementia – six times.

When her two daughters were young girls, Norma was diagnosed as having severe schizophrenia, and it cost her both a husband and a home.   Aside from the illness, Norma was a highly talented classical pianist who might have become a household name.   But it was not to be and Mira and her sister grew up in a hellish home with a mother who heard voices in her head, voices that caused her to lose touch with reality and normalcy.

As anyone who has lived through it knows, once a parent begins acting irrationally, their behavior will inevitably continue to deteriorate.   We no longer seem to have systems in place for properly dealing with the problems of the aged with mental issues.   They may be medicated or locked up for various periods of time (from hours to weeks or months), but they simply do not “get better.”

Bartok is to be commended for writing frankly about an adult daughter’s reaction to this, and it is mixed.   One third of her escaped by thinking back to the times when her mother was seemingly normal – a time before this parent’s rapid descent into madness.   One third of her lived in denial, literally trying to escape by hiding from her mother in Europe and elsewhere.   And the last third consisted of the daughter who sometimes had to take harsh actions against her mother – such as attempting to get a court to declare her incompetent – knowing deep down that the situation would only be resolved (made peaceful) with her mother’s death.

In this account it becomes clear to the reader that although Bartok lived a very difficult life due to her mother’s mental instability, she very much loved her mother and has wrestled with feelings of guilt (“I abandoned my mother to the streets.”).   As a young woman, Bartok was involved in an automobile accident that injured her brain and led to memory problems.   This provided her with a measure of insight into her mother’s faded connections with the world.

“…I go to the church and light a candle for my mother.   Not that I believe it will do any good; it’s just to remind myself that she is still lost in the world.”

By writing this blunt and painstakingly honest account of her mother’s troubled life, Bartok has performed an act of penance.   It is an act of humble penance in which she seeks to forgive her mother for literally losing herself.   It is an act of contrition in which she asks the world to forgive both herself and her mother for leading damaged lives.

This brilliantly written work reminds us that self-examination and self-forgiveness precede forgiving others for their real or imagined wrongs.   It’s a harsh world – a dark ocean – out there and we sometimes need assistance in navigating our way through it.   This memoir tells us that lighthouses exist.

Highly recommended.

“If memory is a palace, let me live there, forever with her, somewhere in the place between sleep and morning.”

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Memory Palace was released on January 11, 2011.

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Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

“I’m two people.   I’m me, Paul Newman.   And I’m Paul Newman the actor.   The first one is not for sale.”   Paul Newman is quoted as having said this to “the press” in Shawn Levy’s biography Paul Newman: A Life.   This is the point at which your typical review would use a phrase with a descriptive adjective phrase such as “Levy’s adoring biography” or “Levy’s cranky biography.”   I have a hard time coming up with anything other than “apparently well researched and factual biography.”

It’s hard to say because there seem to be more than just two Newmans here, there seem to be dozens.   Perhaps it is because the author never had the chance to interview the man.   What we get are dozens and dozens of Newman quotations in this 474 page project compiled without the blessings of Mr. Newman or his wife (Joanne Woodward).   The different quotes seem to have different tones, differing voices, as if Newman was sometimes factual and sometimes being the practical joker he was known to be.   One also has to wonder if some of the Newman “quotes” were the creations of publicity agents.

There’s a seriousness to Levy’s work which is very, very admirable.   You can almost picture him frowning while typing up the facts of Newman’s life, gleaned from official records and interviews with “friends and associates.”   What seems to be missing is the sense of joy about life and living that Paul Newman seemed to possess; in his own eyes, he was nothing if not a very, very lucky man.

Two key questions went unanswered for me in reading this biography:  Why exactly did Newman become an actor (we get some guesses here and some circumstances but not motivation) and what did Newman get out of acting (in a non-commercial sense) that was so satisfying?   Something else has been missed here, which often needs to be answered in telling a person’s story:  How smart, exactly, was the actor?   The answer would have helped to gauge who he was.   (Newman attended three colleges including Yale.)Paul Newman

As with most life stories these days, there’s a “fair and balanced” approach to detailing Newman’s strengths and positives (especially his philanthropic activities) and his weaknesses and faults.   Fine, but it seemed a bit too much by-the-numbers for me.

There is one small fact that comes through well in the telling which is that Newman felt that he never got to know or achieve the admiration of his quite successful merchant father.   Newman began to attain his professional success after his father’s death, something that appeared to haunt him.

Let me close by noting that I once came within two feet of Paul Newman.   He had just won a celebrity auto race at the Long Beach Grand Prix and – with the help of a couple of young assistants – was walking through the crowd of thousands of race fans…   He and his crew had massive magnums of wine and he was offering a plastic cup full of the libation to anyone and everyone he saw.   His smile was huge, his blue eyes were bright and I thought, “This man really loves people and loves life!”   Sadly, that is the Paul Newman I did not come across in this telling of his life’s story.

Note:   Steve McQueen – Portrait of an American Rebel by Marshall Terill (Plexus trade paperback, $19.95) is recommended as an example of a biography where you will get to know and understand both the actor and the man.

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