Tag Archives: crime story

The Unexplained

A Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere by Mikita Brottman (Henry Holt and Co., $28.00, 288 pages)

an unexplained death

Author Mikita Brottman lives at the Belvedere Hotel, a Baltimore landmark with a long history of strange occurrences, suicides, and mysterious deaths.  Brottman here professes her fascination with the occult, tarot cards, and suicide so the examination of the apparent 2006 suicide of Rey Rivera – a once-fellow resident of the Belvedere, would seem to be a perfect topic for her writing.

Brottman’s account of events, An Uexplained Death, provides numerous details surrounding Rivera’s death as well as a tremendous amount of conjecture on her part.  What it fails to do is to provide clarity or new information beyond what was already known or presumed. (The authorities found the death to be a suicide.)  Brottman goes on – in what seems like a stretch – to explore cultural attitudes about suicide from around the world, and she provides her personal views on various matters whether related or not.

Rey Rivera was a tall and attractive aspiring film maker who moved to Baltimore from Los Angeles with his new wife, Allison.  He joined with Porter Stansberry of Agora, publishing newsletters offering financial advice.  His death happened to come at the time when he had borrowed money to produce his own film, was getting ready to quit Agora – which was engulfed in an SEC investigation – and was about to move back to L.A.

Did Rivera jump from the roof of the Belvedere, falling through a skylight at the top of a space which once housed the hotel’s swimming pool, or was he running from someone intending to do him harm?  Brottman investigates various alternatives to suicide possibilities, but none of them seem either likely or probable.  She wonders aloud whether Rivera was depressed about the Agora investigation or whether he became entangled in a homosexual affair.  It’s all so much smoke and mirrors because each such alternate explanation is discarded shortly after being raised.  And Brottman’s conclusion of this strange, quasi-fictional investigation of a real-life death provides nothing of substance.

The story is slightly compelling during the few periods in which Brottman sticks to the subject matter at hand.  But she spends far too much time writing about herself, her life, and her obsessions.  Oh, but for an editor!

The typical reader is unlikely to find Brottman’s affinity for rats very endearing.  The same is true concerning her fascination with strangely committed murders, and the time she spends imagining herself in another person’s shoes (such as Allison Reyes’s).  All in all, this is a book of rambling distractions, which is as generally uninteresting as it is undisciplined.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Notes:

The Beaux Arts style Belvedere Hotel was opened as Baltimore’s first luxury hotel in 1903 and was converted to residential condos in 1991.

I read the book and wondered why the writer spent an obsessive amount of time attempting to solve a crime which the local authorities had already solved, resolved and literally closed the book on.  – Joseph Arellano

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Don’t Look Down

Never Look Down 2

Never Look Down: A Cal Claxton Mystery by Warren C. Easley (Poisoned Pen Press, $15.95, 312 pages)

Fans of Portland, Oregon will be delighted with author Warren Easley’s series set in and around the city. Never Look Down is the third in the series (Dead Float, Matters of Doubt) featuring Cal Claxton. Claxton is an attorney who balances his boutique winery clients in the country with his pro bono work in Old Town Portland for folks of all ages and persuasions that are down and out.

Easley has a smooth, natural writing style that works well in both the chapters narrated in the first person by Claxton and the third person narrative chapters – from the perspective of a teenage orphan whose street smarts are both instinctual and learned. The counterpoint to Claxton’s adult measured approach to life is Kelly Spence, whose father died in a mountain climbing accident leaving her to fend for herself along with her dad’s girlfriend Veronica.

The urgency created by a murder witnessed by Kelly brings the two together. Claxton’s best buddy, Hernando Mendoza, was collateral damage from the murder in that the woman he was going to marry was the victim. Kelly is a tagger whose work is anonymous and yet noted by the establishment in downtown Portland. Her anonymity is in jeopardy as she bounces around the city running from the murderers.

Never Look Down back cover

Anything beyond these storyline basics will give away too much of a well-crafted plot. To Easley’s credit, the story has an even balance of both Claxton’s and Kelly’s perspectives on life and living.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

Not Dead Enough

Not Dead Enough, the fourth book in the Cal Claxton Oregon Mystery series will be released by Poisoned Pen Press on June 7, 2016.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

These Eyes

Eyes Wide Open: A Novel by Andrew Gross (Harper Fiction, $9.99, 437 pages)

“A horrible family tragedy that may not be what it seems…”

Location, location,  location…  They say that these are the three most important factors in real estate, and on occasion location, location, location matters in fiction, also.   Take this novel, Eyes Wide Open, by Andrew Gross (author of Reckless).   You will probably enjoy this thriller of a crime story if you’ve visited at least two of the three California locations in which the action takes place: Morro Bay (misspelled as Morrow Bay on the back cover), San Luis Obispo and Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, near the California-Oregon border.   Since I’ve visited all three – the first for play; the latter two for work – it was easy to visualize the scenes in this novel.

In the tale (based on something that happened in real life to the author’s family), our protagonist Jay Erlich – a New York State-based physician – learns that his nephew has apparently committed suicide by jumping off the famed 600-foot high volcanic rock in Morro Bay.   At the request of his troubled older brother Charlie, Erlich flies out to the calm, coastal community to see if what the police have reported is correct.   Early on it’s clear that someone is covering something up, as there are problems with the official story.

Charlie Erlich was once a chart-topping musician, but then he fell in with a wild group of drug users in Marin County.   And this is where the story telling goes a bit sideways.   It’s immediately obvious to the reader that Charlie was once a member of the Charles Manson Family, but here Manson is fictionalized as the “leering and wild-eyed” person known as Russell Houvanian.   [Houvanian, of course, is first imprisoned at San Quentin before being moved to Pelican Bay – just like Charles Manson.]   The author devotes page after page to recreating the events surrounding the Manson Family, but for some strange reason moves them from Ventura and Los Angeles counties to Marin and Santa Barbara counties.

I have no idea why Gross spent so much time and energy in transforming Manson into a fictional character.   But instead of adding to the story, it significantly detracts from it.   It’s as if I were to write a novel about the first Irish-American Catholic president elected in the 1960s, a character that I decide to name John McNeal.   McNeal, in my story, has a brother named Richard who happens to be the U.S. Attorney General, and another brother, Ned, who is a United States senator from Massachusetts.   It wouldn’t take long for the reader to ask the questions, “Why not just set this period novel among the Kennedys?   Why fictionalize actual events and real people?”

While the author’s credibility takes a hit with his strangely and loosely disguised historical events, the story itself is engaging.   Lives are at risk and it’s up to Doctor Erlich to become an instant, skilled criminal investigator in order to figure out which authority figures are telling the truth and which are lying to protect their own reputations.   As with the novels of David Baldacci, Joseph Finder and Michael Connelly, events speed up rapidly as the conclusion approaches, and it all ends in an almost breathless fashion.

Once you’ve finished Eyes Wide Open, you may want to check on the availability of a room at The Inn at Morro Bay.   Just make sure to be very careful if you decide to climb the famed rock of Morro Bay!

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Should be read with the lights on and the door closed.   A rare and menacing psychological thriller…”   Nelson DeMille.  

Note:  Morro Bay is actually 576 feet high.   Although it’s illegal to climb it, as per Wikipedia, “every few years someone is caught trying to climb the rock.”

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Tale of Two Cities

Silent Scream by Karen Rose (Grand Central Publishing)

Justice in June by Barbara Levenson (Oceanview Publishing)

Justice in June and Silent Scream have more in common than alliterative titles.   Each is a mystery/thriller set in a major U.S. city with a female protagonist that is devoted to her profession but has difficulty committing to a permanent relationship.   The cities where the action takes place are Miami, Florida and Minneapolis, Minnesota, respectively.   Both women are well-respected members of their communities.

Mary Magruder Katz is a criminal defense attorney in Miami who briefly struggles with her revulsion at representing a man who is being characterized as a terrorist.   Her current boyfriend is Carlos Martin, a wealthy real estate developer with an excitable Latin-American temperament.  

Detective Olivia Sutherland, over in Minneapolis, is the only female member of the city’s elite homicide squad.   Olivia and her partner are assigned to a construction fire when the charred remains of a teenage girl are found among the ashes.   To complicate matters, Olivia must work with fireman David Hunter while investigating this and similar subsequent fires with murder victims.   David is not just any fireman; he’s a genuine hero who works tirelessly on behalf of battered women and he had a weekend encounter with Olivia that still troubles her after two and a half years.

Here is where the authors’ styles set these books apart.   Barbara Levinson, author of Justice in June, is a member of the judiciary in Miami.   This is her second novel.   The crisp, spare descriptions of the characters and location provide more information about the local weather and scenery than they reveal about the feelings that Mary and Carlos have for each other.   Mary’s lack of true trepidation following an attack and a break-in at her house are confusing.   Levinson’s writing seems to derive from the transcription of a journal or legal case notes.  

The story is engaging from a legal perspective.   It is a book that would make a good selection for a young person who is entertaining thoughts of pursuing a legal career.   However, there are moral challenges to the justice system in this tale that are guaranteed to disillusion the most starry-eyed future attorney or judge.   This reviewer was amazed that a story set in steamy Miami is so dry and passionless.

Karen Rose, the author of Silent Scream, has penned 10 prior novels.   Rose, like Levinson, is a resident of Miami; yet she has elected to write about Minneapolis, a city that to this reviewer seems short on passion with a surplus of lakes.   Rose’s history as a writer goes back to her childhood when she was an avid reader and began writing for her own enjoyment.  

Rose has a well-developed writing style that is lush and highly descriptive.   Her novels are labeled as “romantic suspense.”   I was a bit skeptical about just how romantic the story would be.   Bodice rippers are plentiful but a well-written story is another matter.   This is clearly a book for mature audiences; although, given the sex on TV shows and in movies that teens are now daily exposed to, it is relatively tame.   What’s unexpected is the meticulous character development.   Heroes and villains alike are given ample background, motivation and feelings.

Knowing there are 10 prior books by Karen Rose to read while waiting for her next effort makes the waiting all the better.   Sorry Judge Levinson, this reviewer needs more than just the facts, ma’am.

Take Away:   Silent Scream, in paperback, is the one to read this summer.   Recommended.      

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   Book copies were provided by the publishers.   

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized