Archive for May, 2009

HotHouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire-Margot Berwin

May 23, 2009

HotHouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire

Margot Berwin

Knopf, Jun 16 2009, $24.00

ISBN: 9780307377845

Thirty two years old New York career woman Lila Nova used to enjoy her advertising job, but lately the divorcee is finding it tedious.  However, she perks up when she meets David Exley selling tropical plants at the local farmer’s market.  She already enjoyed plants, but until now never bought any; she purchases one of his offerings.

She notices at a Laundromat a rare fern in the window.  The owner Armand makes friends with Lila and gives her a trimming from the fern.  He promises her if the fern grows, he will show her his special nine plants. David sees the fern in her apartment and Lila tells him about Armand.  Soon afterward, Armand’s plants are stolen and David has vanished.  Using guilt and remorse as motivators Armand persuades Lila to accompany him to the Yucatan to obtain new magical plants.  There she meets Diego.

This is an intriguing thriller that takes an unexpected magical spin from a New York adventure into a Mexican semi-fantasy tale.  The story line is fun in spite of Lila being too loose as she leaps on one man after another and the plot never deciding which genre is on top.  Still HOTHOUSE FLOWER AND THE 9 PLANTS OF DESIRE is an engaging odd thriller with one wild twist that takes a bit of adjusting, but worth the effort for those who relish something radically different with their New Yorkers.

Harriet Klausner

The Last Trials of Clarence Darrow-Donald McRae

May 22, 2009

The Last Trials of Clarence Darrow

Donald McRae

Morrow, Jun 9 2009, $26.99

ISBN: 9780061161490


This is a “novelization” using facts to retell the three LAST TRIALS OF CLARENCE DARROW.  In 1911 Mr. Darrow defended the McNamara brothers for firebombing the Los Angeles Times building; the trial ended in a plea bargain for the union activists with their famous lawyer barred from practicing in California due to accusations he rigged the jury.  His reputation was shot as he fell off the pedestal of greatness and he barley could practice law. He considered suicide.


Over ten years later, the sexagenarian Darrow decides to go back into the courtroom handling three “trials of the century cases” that rehabilitated his reputation; besides the media frenzy Hollywood helped as all three trials were made into movies.  He defended the affluent brilliant Chicago teens Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb for the cold blooded murder of John Scopes to prove they could get away with a killing.  Mr. Darrow took on the Scopes Monkey Trial defending a teacher in Tennessee.  Finally he also defended black Dr. Ossian Sweet accused of murder when he fired on an all white mob attacking his home in Detroit.  Whether Darrow was an angel or the demon, Donald McRae paints a terrific portrait of the great trail lawyer obtaining redemption long after his career was supposedly dead.


Harriet Klausner

The Tehran Conviction-Tom Gabbay

May 22, 2009

The Tehran Conviction

Tom Gabbay

Morrow, Jun 9 2009, $24.95

ISBN: 9780061188459

In 1953 rookie CIA espionage agent Jack Teller is in Iran posing as an American oil executive.  There he makes friends with Iranian government official Yari Fatemi, who is optimistic about the future of his country under the recent free election of Mohammad Mossadegh as Prime Minister.  Mossadegh nationalizes the oil industry in an attempt to improve the overall economy, alienating the free marketers of the west.  However, not too long afterward he betrays his buddy and his Iranian family as part of the British-American covert Operation Ajax that overthrows the nation’s democratically elected Prime Minister and reinstates the figurehead Shah as the prime power.

Over the years Jack has felt remorse and guilt for what he did to his Iranian friend.  So in 1979 when the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini overthrows the Shah, he is shocked when Yari’s sister Zahra, whose eyes accuse him of murder, visits him in New York.  She tells him Yari is in prison awaiting state execution.  Needing a chance for redemption or die trying, Jack obsesses over returning to Iran to somewhat rectify the betrayal that haunts him twenty-six years after the fact.

The third Teller espionage thriller (see THE BERLIN CONSPIRACY and THE LISBON CROSSING) is a great spy tale that also provides a deep look at two of the three key latter half of the twentieth century events that has shaped current Iranian-American relations.  The story line is fast-paced and filled with action in both periods, but its Jack and Yari who bring human faces to both coup d’etat incidents.  This may be the best spy novel of the year as Tom Gabbay provides an exciting thriller that also provides the Iranian perspective of the axis of evil is “The Great Satan” (USA) and Britain.

Harriet Klausner

Valley of the Shadow-Tom Pawlik

May 22, 2009

Valley of the Shadow

Tom Pawlik

Tyndale, May 2009, $12.99

ISBN: 9781414326795

Connor Hayden died from a heart attack (see VANISH) and his spirit was sent to Interworld, a place that connects the mortal realm with the spiritual one.  Having been resuscitated, Connor checks on those people who died and were resurrected that same night.  He finds out about Devon, Mitch and a few others.  Some went to the other side.  Mitch is in a coma while Devon is in juvenile prison when a stranger, someone he brought back from the other side, helps him escapes and tries to “save him

Mitch is in Interworld with farmer Howard Bristol who is keeping him alive preventing him from moving on thanks to a deal he made with Death.  If he keeps him there too long, Mitch’s body will die in the mortal world and his spirit go to hell.  God has allowed Nathan, a spirit like him, to help him return to his body on the mortal plane.  Devon’s “helper” orders him to kill but his family and the Good Samaritan makes him hesitate.  Connor is led to the Bristol farm to learn the truth of farmer Howard Bristol.

The lesson in VALLEY OF THE SHADOW is that people take actions and must be held responsible and accountable for them even when influenced by malevolence like Howard, the personification of evil who intends to abuse God’s will to turn the flock from the lord.  This inspirational supernatural thriller never deeply preaches (though more so than its predecessor); as Tom Pawlik subtly uses his cast and story line to bring his message of spiritual choices and healing to the reader.  Filled with twists including a great finishing one, this is an emotional uplifting thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Guilty or Else-Jeff Sherratt

May 21, 2009

Guilty or Else

Jeff Sherratt

Echelon, Mar 2009, $13.99

ISBN: 9781590806142

In 1972 Downy, California, Judge Johnson gives the case to his former junior LAPD partner, thirty-four years old new lawyer Jimmy with the admonition “Get your client to plead guilty, or else!”.  His client Mexican gardener Ernesto Rodriguez refuses to plea bargain as he insists he is innocent in the violent murder of twenty-seven year old Gloria Graham, assistant to charismatic State Senator Berry Welch.  The case is a sure shot for the prosecution as the evidence starting with the bloody knife and blood in his truck overwhelms anything the defense has.  Jimmy pleads with Ernesto that he could get twenty five if he accepts a guilty plea or life if not.  Ernesto says his kids will know he is innocent and that will be his plea.

The case makes no sense to Jimmy as the cops caught Ernesto instantly, why would the judge and DA push a plea bargain conviction with the evidence they have and why are two goons following him.  Only Deputy DA Roberta Allen, who is running the prosecution case, seems honest as she wants justice to prevail, but she believes Ernesto killed the victim.  Jimmy’s defense gets off the ground because his friend investigator Sol Silverman helps him for a $1 fee starting with learning that Welch and Graham had a hot affair.  Jimmy wonders if Welch who refuses to speak to him is the reason for the lighting quick reaction by the State as he is a rising superstar.  Jimmy will learn the answers lies in the garbage of politicians owned by the Mob.

GUILTY OR ELSE is a terrific historical legal Noir starring a strong cast who bring to life how powerful the Mob is controlling much of Southern California.  Jimmy is a fabulous lead character who knows he is in over his head but remains a dedicated idealist (he personally thinks idiot) as does his courtroom opponent Roberta.  Even with the mob owning politicians and civil unrest still common though not like the sixties, Jeff Sheratt makes the case that there was still room for a Jimmy Stewart to fight windmills in a court of law although the impact is abated somewhat as his adversary is even more an ethical idealist than he is; a win at all costs prosecutor would have locked up Ernesto for life plus.

Harriet Klausner

No Mercy-John Gilstrap

May 21, 2009

No Mercy

John Gilstrap

Pinnacle, Jul 2009, $6.99

ISBN 9780786020874

Wealthy private investigator Jonathan Grave takes on cases he finds interesting and using the state of the art equipment that no one else knows exists.  He can afford to strive to meet his long term strategic vision of killing terrorists who he admires for their desire to die for their Cause.  He hides his identity as he does not want kudos when he rescues innocent victims of predators.

His current case is a bit more personal than usual.  He searches for missing investigative reporter Tibor Rothman, married to Grave’s ex-wife, Ellen.  At the same time Samson, Indiana Sheriff Gail Bonneville wants to bring in Grave for his role in a shootout during a hostage rescue mission of an Indiana college student that turned ugly.

Over the top of Hoosier Hill, NO MERCY is an enjoyable action-packed thriller starring stereotypical characters, villains and heroes, who turn the exciting tale into a fun Indy run.  The story line is ultra fast-paced yet also loaded with non stop violence as vengeance is the name of the game.  John Gilstrap provides an exhilarating accelerated thriller that lives up to its title as there is NO MERCY when it comes to revenging an alleged wrong.

Harriet Klausner

Drawing In The Dust-Zoe Klein

May 21, 2009

Drawing In The Dust

Zoe Klein

Pocket, Jul 7 2009, $25.00

ISBN: 9781416599128

For Twelve years American archeologist Page Brookstone has dug at the biblical site Megiddo, Israel, but is bone weary.  She knows she needs a change to rejuvenate her creative juices as the dig has become tedious to her in spite of Norris Anderson, who worked with her late legendary father.

The car of an Arab couple Naima and Ibrahim breaks down near the dig.  Page offers them tea inside her tent.  They soon invite Page to investigate the two spirits who haunt the ruins under their home in Anatot near Jerusalem.  Page’s peers suggest it is unsafe, but she assumes they mean an American in an Arab neighborhood.  She travels to the site where she and her team unearth an incredible biblical find.  She soon realizes incredible is an under exaggeration as Page believes they have found the burial site of the prophet Jeremiah and his beloved Anatiya.  Fascinatingly Anatiya has left her version of the times that matches up with the Book of Jeremiah.  Soon the find leads to a major brouhaha while Page is attracted to Orthodox Jew Mortichai Master, who opposes the dig.

Rabbi Klein’s terrific thriller works for three prime reasons.  First it is not another Brownian clone.  Second the insightful look at how tedious and methodical a biblical dig is brings authenticity to the plot.  Finally, Arabs like Naima and Ibrahim are intelligent highly educated people. Rabbi Klein shows respect and admiration of Israeli and Arab cultures.  Fast-paced with a strong support cast, readers will dig the superb DRAWING IN THE DUST as the Prophet Jeremiah comes alive through his writings and that of the woman he loved Anatiya.

Harriet Klausner

Fire and Ice-J.A. Jance

May 21, 2009

Fire and Ice

J.A. Jance

Morrow, Jul 21 2009, $25.99

ISBN: 9780061239229

Tamos Rivera was ordered by Miguel to kill the woman; pull out her teeth, pour gasoline on her, and light her up.  Afraid of what Miguel would do to his family if he failed to carry out this command, Tamos obeys except for failing to remove the teeth.  In the Spring as the snow melts in Washington state, her body is found.  She is the sixth victim killed in the same way.

State Attorney general’s Special Homicide Investigation Team, including J.B. Beaumont and his wife Melissa Majors Soames, investigate the case.  Using every method at their disposal, they find the latest victims was living in a trailer using the name Marina Aguirre, but realizes that was not her legal name.  The team visits the trailer park owner and learns the deceased left behind $50,000 in her refrigerator before vanishing.  The dental records affirm she was Marcella Andramade whose brother and son live in Cochise County, Arizona where Sheriff Joanna Brady works.   Her sibling is determined to uncover his sister’s killer, but Brody tries to stop him knowing his life would be forfeited too as well as devastating a federal operation in the works for months.

While the main plot centers on the six dead women, Brody has her hands full with her own caseload including the murder of a man ran over by several ATV’s and a nursing home scandal that increasingly looks criminal; she also deals with personal problems.  Brody has no time to spare for Beaumont’s case, but she does though that means even less sleep for the sleep deprived even when the feds tell her to back off.  Combining her superstars through an exciting story line, J.A. Jance proves she is one of the best police procedural authors writing today as she balances two states two cops, and the nasty serial killer who connects them.

Harriet Klausner

Storm Cycle-Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

May 20, 2009

Storm Cycle

Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

St. Martin’s, Jul 2009, $26.99

ISBN 9780312368036

In Houston computer guru Rachel Kirby is obsessed with her research into finding a cure for the nervous system disorder Krabbe’s disease.  Her efforts are personal as the horrifying degenerating and often fatal but rare disorder is devastating her sister, Allie.

To her shock, someone tries to assassinate Rachel; she was fortunate the sniper missed.  Soon afterward she receives an odd email from a total stranger.  John Tavak insists he is trapped inside an ancient Egyptian tomb with physician Peseshet, who was a physician to the great pharaohs.  He signs off saying he believes Peseshet has a cure for Krabbe’s disease.  Though Rachel assumes this is a cruel hoax, she is desperate so she and her sibling travel to where Tavak claims to be entombed while obtaining unexpected assistance from arrogant billionaire Hal Demanski.

When the story line focuses on the two siblings racing to and in Egypt while assassins give chase, STORM CYCLE is an exhilarating thriller.  When the plot takes a double romantic spin, it feels contrived and forced as if this is expected of at least the mother part of the Johansen writing team (sort of like Hitchcock cameo appearances).  Still the tale is action-packed from the moment someone tries to shoot Rachel and never slows down as she and Allie courageously seek the cure that Tavak swears is available.  The second Johansen mom-son collaboration (see SILENT THUNDER) is a fun adventure tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Morgue and Me-John C. Ford

May 20, 2009

The Morgue and Me

John C. Ford

Viking, Jun 25 2009, $17.99

ISBN: 9780670010967

In Petoskey, Michigan eighteen year old Christopher Newell may be his high school Valedictorian and won a regents Scholarship to Northwestern Michigan University, but he plans to become a spy though he has no idea how one applies for the job; only that it is cool and a woman magnet vocation.  Meanwhile he obtains a job for the summer at the morgue so he can receive on the job training in forensic pathology.

While most of his job is filing and clean up, he comes across some odd information involving the cover up by crooked politicians hiding a toxic disaster.  As he digs deeper, Christopher begins connecting further dots including a tie to a local felon.  However, now that he has enough information to bring down a conspiracy fostered by a criminal industrial political complex, he has no idea who to turn to with his information as he distrusts everyone except a classmate he wants to date.  Soon Christopher believes that someone is watching his every move; either that he figures or he has become paranoid.

THE MORGUE AND ME opens with the teen explaining how he just shot someone and now is seeing a shrink who accuses him of disassociation; not a good thing for a cop or an espionage agent.  The story line just takes off from there as Christopher explains what happened during the craziest but most wonderful summer of his life as the young hero begins to tie together the conspiracy that engulfs Petoskey.  Young adult fans will relish the class valedictorian turn hard boiled teen detective   Mindful of the teen noir movie Brick, fans will enjoy the most insane summer of Christopher’s young life

Harriet Klausner