Tag Archives: Missouri

The Rest of the Story

no one ever asked

No One Ever Asked: A Novel by Katie Ganshert (Waterbrook, $14.99, 368 pages)

Sometimes a promising novel is destroyed by the story telling structure selected by the author.  I found this to be the case with No One Ever Asked.  The fictional tale, about racism and socio-economic differences that affect two public school districts in Missouri, is a worthwhile one.  Ganshert well illustrates how racism impacts everyone – rich and poor, majority race or minority – whether it is overt, covert, deliberately hurtful, or inadvertent.  And this would have been a relevant read for these times if only she had written the tale in standard chronological form.  She did not.

No One starts with a dramatic event.  The event covered in the Prologue – something a novel almost never needs, takes place near the end of the events covered in this book.  Thus, the next 300 or more pages take the reader back in time to see what preceded the climactic event.  The reader’s patience might not have been tried if Ganshert had taken 10, 20 or even 30 pages to “set up” the non-linear story in this unexpected way.  Unfortunately, and regrettably, she used 300 or more pages to do so.  Not only this, she often refers to events that, in legal terms, “are not in evidence.”  For example, an incident that occurred in a boy’s high school locker room is referenced multiple times.  But the reader is never informed, until near the very end of the telling, as to what exactly was involved in this incident.

Hiding the ball from the reader in this fashion builds up fatigue and frustration.  I was ready to put the book down many times, for good.

There’s also the distressing fact that No One has so many characters – white and black, prosperous and poor, that you would need to keep a spread sheet in order to keep track of them.  And the author’s style is not only confusing and sometimes bewildering, but often choppy.

By the end of No One Ever Asked, I realized that Ganshert had written a decent story which might have been enjoyable had she simply kept it straight (chronological) and simple.  She did not.  I am hopeful that an editor will advise her to follow the common path of storytelling in her next effort.  Cleverness for its own sake is rarely a reward for the reader.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

No One Ever Asked was published on April 3, 2018.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Mean Business (north book)

Mean Business on Ganson Street: A Novel by S. Craig Zahler (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 304 pages)

An opening chapter filled with violence is standard fare for writers such as Lisa Unger, Deborah Crombie and Lee Child. Thereafter, the story settles into an exploration of the characters and their motivations that eventually link back to that initial shock. The reader is provided red herring possibilities for the solution to the mystery – who dunnit?

Author S. Craig Zahler has penned a “novel” that is, in fact, a snuff movie on paper. Sadly, the Warner Brothers studio has optioned the book and the author is working on the screen adaptation. His vision may spring to life. My hope is that it will be X rated. Anything less will mean that the gore and violence splattered on most of its pages has been insinuated and a younger audience will be admitted for viewing.

The contrasts set up between Detective Jules Bettinger, formerly of Arizona, and the sworn officers in Victory, Missouri are punctuated by crude epithets hurled every which way. Bettinger is exiled after being less than helpful when the former son-in-law of the mayor comes to the police station to secure assistance in locating his missing would-be bride.

Bettinger is alternatively a well-spoken man with an education, a loving husband and father and a guy out for revenge. Regardless of his role, he’s only marginally likeable. Zahler is sadly lacking in his female character development. Each of the women in his tale is one-dimensional. Even Bettinger’s wife fails to experience authentic feelings.

If trash talk and gory, sadistic and gratuitous violence are your preferred criterion for selecting a book, have at it. Everyone else should steer clear! To be clear, this book is not recommended; far from it.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Damage Control

Gone Missing: A Thriller by Linda Castillo (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 297 pages)

Gone Missing 2

“What kind of monster does that to a fifteen-year-old girl?” I whisper.

Shocking, that’s the best way to describe the opening chapters of this, the fourth book in an Amish Country series written by Linda Castillo. The narrator is Kate Burkholder, the chief of police of a town called Painters Mill. She also happens to be a former member of an Amish community. Burkholder is troubled and damaged by past problems, yet she seeks to assist others. Her town is located in the Ohio farmlands and the time of year when the mystery takes place is spring. Rumspringa is in full swing; although, this version is significantly tamer than the TV shows about Breaking Amish.

State Agent John Tomasetti with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation teams up with Chief Kate Burkholder when an Amish girl who is out walking along a country road goes missing while doing an errand for her family. A pool of blood and a satchel for carrying vegetables are all that they find by the side of the road. Although the scene is outside her jurisdiction, Burkholder is called in as a consultant because of her Amish roots.

Author Castillo enriches her tale with in depth descriptions and background information related to the Amish folks who farm in Ohio. The stark contrast between these people living their simple bucolic lifestyle and the festering evil that exists in their midst makes for a gruesome and engaging thriller. Castillo is adept at building tension that may compel some readers to stay up late to finish the book as did this reviewer.

Highly recommended.

Every Broken Trust: A Mystery by Linda Rodriguez (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 304 pages)

every broken trust

The chief of police in the next book is Skeet Bannion, a half-Cherokee woman, whose jurisdiction is the campus of Chouteau University which is located outside Kansas City, Missouri. There’s more to the job than just keeping a safe campus. Chief Bannion must participate in local politics and university affairs.

The story begins in a chatty bouncy manner as the chief expresses her dislike for hosting a welcoming party for the university’s new dean of the law school, as the growing guest list threatens to overwhelm her. It’s obvious that socializing with politicians and smarmy co-workers who have disillusioned her is bringing out the worst of her temper.

Once the stage is set and the character relationships are established, the story settles down. Of course the party includes drinking and at least one guest has one or two drinks too many. What follows is a post-party-murder after the drunk blurts out a scathing revelation that upsets the entire party. The body is found on university property which makes it Bannion’s task to catch the killer.

To complicate matters, Bannion is the guardian of a fifteen-year-old boy named Brian who is developing a friendship with the daughter of one of the smarmy politicos. Bannion is an evolving character and Rodriguez places her in situations that demand maturity and caring beyond the level Bannion has for her job.

Author Rodriguez is a Latina writer who brings a significant depth of understanding of the ways women and especially women of color are treated. The book is the second in her series featuring Skeet Bannion.

Well recommended.

Liars Anonymous: A Novel by Louise Ure (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 275 pages)

Liars Anonymous

He made sure there was no grime from the blast, then leaned back against the cab of my truck. “That’s the funny thing about the justice system. It makes no distinction between not guilty and innocent. I do.”

Shamus Award winner Louise Ure crafts an unusual mystery tale that is more suspense thriller than mystery. Her narrator, Jessica Damage, is a woman with a troubled past. Jessica works at a call center in Phoenix, Arizona for a service called “Hands On” that might as well be GM’s OnStar. An incoming call from a 2007 Cadillac Seville connects to her line. Jessica can’t help calling back after the call terminates abruptly even though the rules of her job make it technically illegal to eavesdrop when the call is reconnected.

Trouble finds Jessica daily as she searches for the answers to the questions sparked by the sounds she heard on the covert call. As Tucson is her hometown and two years earlier she was acquitted of a murder charge, her sleuthing actions take place all over the greater Tucson area.

Ms. Ure proves herself a true native by accurately telling the reader where Jessica is going and what she sees around town. This reviewer is quite familiar with Tucson and the descriptions were good enough to create a cinematic effect during the read. The characters’ deep feelings and crisp dialogue make Liars Annonymous a good read.

Well recommended.

“Louise Ure is an exciting new voice in the mystery field.” Laura Lippman

Review copies were received from the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Am… I Said

One Last Strike: 50 Years in Baseball, 10 and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season by Tony La Russa (William Morrow Paperbacks, $15.99, 432 pages)

Tony La Russa’s One Last Strike chronicles his final season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals — a season in which the team came back from a large deficit, overcoming injuries and other adversity, to make the playoffs as a wild card team and eventually win the World Series.

Cardinals fans will likely enjoy the book a great deal, and some baseball fans at large might find the book interesting, but other baseball fans, sports fans, or general readers may not be so keen on it.

La Russa’s writing is as icy as his personality, and although he does not come across as stoic as one might have expected, the writing does not require the reader to make any connection to the quest or comeback of the team or the swan song of one of baseball’s most successful managers, or the players who played for him.

One Last Strike (close up)

La Russa had a chance to perhaps sway some in the middle who are neither lovers nor haters of his career and methods, but he really doesn’t do anything to engage anybody who already didn’t either a) like the Cardinals, or b) like him prior to the unlikely championship season.

Putting aside some minor irritants such as the continuous referrals to Cris Carpenter and Dave Duncan as Carp and Dunc (I mean, if you are on a team and that’s what they go by, I guess that’s what you call them), the writing seems to truly mirror the way the author’s mind processes the world.

If La Russa is the genius who all but invented the game, then it would seem that this final goodbye might include a bit more of the baseball decisions and technicalities that were part of his final run. Since the book doesn’t go there, it would seem appropriate to focus on the relationships of players, managers, and families that comprised this winning club. La Russa’s attempt at this is to convince us that this is so — that he and Dunc are tight; Carp is a big game pitcher; he sticks up for his players; he cares about them, the local organization, and the game, etc. Less telling and more showing would go a long way to help the reader who didn’t already follow this team be drawn into the storyline and the characters who made it happen.

La Russa’s attempt to explain how he is the sole arbiter of which hitters deserve to get thrown in a baseball game and which ones don’t, only reinforces that he is the “Omniscient” manager — it does not convince anyone that he has the scoop on proper baseball protocol. His telling of why he chose to start certain pitchers leading up to an in the World Series is much more enlightening. His admission of a mistake in a big game is humanizing and honest. But on the whole, the book is just there. It doesn’t move anybody in any direction unless they just happen to want to enjoy and relive the unique and fine 2011 World Series.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

This book was purchased for the reviewer. Dave Moyer is an educator, a musician and the author of Life and Life Only, a novel about baseball and Bob Dylan.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Summer of ’68

Summer of ’68: The Season That Changed Baseball – and America – Forever by Tim Wendel (Da Capo, $25.00, 288 pages)

“…in 1968, we of the pitching profession came as close to perfect as we’ve ever come in modern times.”   Bob Gibson

There’s a reason the phrase “inside baseball” has come to be used.   And the phrase represents the problems with trying to determine who will want to read the rather awkwardly titled Summer of ’68: The Season that Changed Baseball – and America – Forever by Tim Wendel.   If you’re a baseball fanatic, you probably already know about every detail, every fact in this account of the 1968 World Series.   If you’re not, you won’t be able to relate to the names that pop up on every page – many of the details seem to pile on without context.

And then there’s the problem with the sub-title.   Yes, there were assassinations and riots that year that horribly marred the country’s history, but this reader felt that Wendel never adequately made the connection between the socio-political events and the sport covered here.   The story of Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals will spark an interest for some – but, again, if you’re not already a deep-in-the-weeds baseball fan, this retelling will not mean much.

Wendel also tries a bit too hard to make the case that Bob Gibson may have been the best pitcher ever – a case that won’t convince fans of Sandy Koufax and others.   Summer of ’68 is sometimes interesting, but more often it’s just passable reading.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Kansas City

Every Last Secret: A Mystery by Linda Rodriguez (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 289 pages)

Poet Linda Rodriguez, who is part Cherokee and lives in Kansas City, Missouri, brings more than a bit of herself to her first mystery novel.   In many ways, it seems as though she is living a fantasy life through the story.   The main character is Marquitta Bannion, a female cop in America’s heartland – K.C., Mo.   Skeet, as she’s known by her peers, has worked her way up the ranks of the Kansas City Police Department at the cost of her marriage to a fellow officer.   To make matters worse, her dad’s tarnished reputation as a cop has shaken her faith in him.   She’s half Cherokee which makes her internal struggle even more challenging as she integrates what matters most into her maturing persona.   The Native American values Skeet learned from family are sometimes at odds with her work life.   With so much tension and disappointment haunting her, Skeet decides to move on in life.

The action takes place at a nearby small town college where Skeet has taken a job as the chief of the campus police.   Her hope for a career move away from the turmoil of big city crime fighting is shattered when the student editor of the school newspaper is found murdered.   As is to be expected, the tale centers on solving the crime.   What is not expected is the knitting our heroine uses as a way of calming and soothing her frazzled nerves.   The author is an avid knitter and her knitting references are authentic.   It makes for a charming twist to the standard mystery genre.

The underlying themes of an intergenerational struggle and life shifts sets the stage for Skeet to arrive at realizations about her priorities.   The action moves smoothly and keeps the reader’s interest.   Clearly, Ms. Rodriguez has set up the beginning of an engaging series of novels with a great ending – and the potential for a direct sequel.   Stay tuned!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

“Murder on a college campus, plenty of bad people, and all kinds of puzzles to solve.   Linda Rodriguez has written a highly enjoyable procedural introducing a rough and tender heroine, Skeet Bannion.”   Kathleen George, author of The Odds and Hideout.

Every Last Secret was released on April 24, 2012, and is available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Bad Day for Sorry

This crime novel is a tale of vengeance sought by Stella Hardesty for her clients, women who have suffered abuse at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends.   The setting is present-day rural Missouri.   Stella’s clients are locals as well as women from neighboring states.   The story might take place nearly anywhere in the U.S. as domestic violence occurs in relationships when a bad attitude and a lack of respect for others combine with low impulse control.   Perpetrators and victims come in all sizes, races and backgrounds, regardless of economic circumstances.A Bad Day

Stella and Chrissy Shaw, a young woman who is the victim of physical abuse and the mother of an 18-month-old boy, form an unlikely team that sets out to take care of business when Chrissy’s child is kidnapped.   They begin their mission in a business relationship and grow it into a strong and respectful friendship.

Stella is fifty and she prides herself on being alert, observant and willing to wade into a dangerous situation.   She works out, practices martial arts and carries weapons of all types.   Knowing one’s own strengths and assets can be powerful.   In the midst of a tense situation, one of many in this book, Stella says to a perpetrator, “You know what your mistake was, you hesitated.   You thought you had me because you’re young.   But badass comes in all ages.”

Bad Day is not for the faint of heart.   But it is quite funny, offering the humor that comes with justifiable vindictiveness against those who have harmed us.   Sophie Littlefield likely had a great time putting together this well written, tongue-in-cheek, story.   The author’s photograph is of someone who appears to be far more innocent than the characters in her tale.   (Author Littlefield lives near San Francisco.)

A fun read.   Well recommended.

Review by Ruta Arellano

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized