Monday, April 26, 2010


Death without Tenure
by Joanne Dobson
Pub. By Poisoned Pen Press,
2010, Hard Cover, 230 pgs.

Review by Carl Brookins

For me, a mildly awkward title, but the story is anything but. Author Joanne Dobson has written another fascinating insider tale about the machinations of the very private and often arcane world of higher academia. The novel, sixth in the series, is set in the rarified world of Enfield College, a private high priced and high minded institution of higher learning.

While college and collegial are from the same root, and college administrations and faculties try to project an aura of patience, calm and reasoned discourse, we all know, when we stop to think about it, it ain’t always so.

Karen Pelletier is six years into her faculty position in the English Department at Enfield.. She is beset by an incompetent department chair and a colleague who gives her the willies. It is tenure decision time. In the academic faculty world, one’s position is essentially temporary until the faculty, deans and ultimately the college administration, makes a proffer of tenure. Tenure usually means one has a life-time appointment, so it’s a pretty big deal. What’s more, if you aren’t awarded tenure, you have to leave the institution. Pelletier is in the midst of collecting and refining her tenure materials for timely presentation. There are two professors up for tenure and only one position available. Then her competition is murdered. With law enforcement looking intently her way, the intrepid professor has to deal with a raft of odd characters, out-of-the-norm students, political incorrectness and most of the other ills that occasionally beset college campuses.

Author Dobson is peerless in her depiction of the nuanced atmosphere and language of the college. Readers will be quickly drawn into campus life. Readers might want to have a modern dictionary at hand, but the quick pace and logical development ameliorates the dense language. There was, for my taste, a bit too much detail at times about a particular decor, or the details of dress where there was little need.

A fine novel, well-plotted, thoughtful, and filled with many amusing bits about the academic life.

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyers, Bloody Halls, Devils Island

Saturday, April 24, 2010


THE END GAME by Gerrie Ferris Finger
Minotaur Books
Publication Date April 27, 2010

In the first five pages we neet Dru, he protagonist, and Lake, her lover, sound asleep on a rare weekend together.A train horn wakes Dru -- "the seven A.M. from Birmingham was smack on time." Lake lives on the third floor of an old cotton warehouse. Trains shake the building and their horns are "loud and long like an off-key contralto." To Dru the horns are like a piece of familiar music and she knows the"signature sounds of seven air horn maestroes."

A couple of phone calls later Dru is out of the shower, Lake has strapped on his cop gear, and they're on their way to a fire where two people are dead and two young girls are missing.The girls are foster children and the youngest is hearing impaired.

We learn that Dru and Lake were partners at the Atlanta PD until he was promoted to the homicide unit and she quit to start Child Trace and search for missing kids.

It's a chaotic scene: emergency vehicles, cops, firemen, curious neighbors, reporters, two search dogs with their handler, helicopter clattering overhead, The fire captain declares the fire an arsonist's work, using a delayed starter. Dru and Lake work the neighborhood. Everybody knows a little something but nobody wants to talk. Before long there's an "eeny-meeny-miney-moe of suspects."

Is the kidnapper Conrad, the universally disliked head of Child Protective Services? Is Doonan, the property-rich architect next door, a child molester? How about Dwight, the ex-con who may or may not have been wrongly convicted of pedophilia? How about Miss Goddard, also known as Gossiping Goddard, who keeps secrets? And who is "Santa," the person the two missing girls were seen chatting with earlier?

This is a busy novel, with the scene shifting from neighbors' houses, to the cemetery, where local families went for picnics, to the rail yards. A second explosion takes place. A family dog turns up dead. More murders confuse the cops. Rumours surface about other missing children.

For me, the pleasure of reading this novel comes from its adherence to old-fashioned police work. Dru and Lake study crime scenes, ask questions and cross-check gossip. Dru does have a computer hacker working for her who feeds her information, but again, it's nothing fancy, just a case of following leads. At first they find it slow going. People are too caught up in their own affairs to notice what goes on in the world around them. Everyone remembers something, however trivial, but fear getting their neighbors in trouble.

Dru and Lake finally get a break from a mysterious informant. Dru meets him in the local cathedral. His information is detailed and credible, and the chase is on.

One brief exchange gave me a chuckle. Dru asks the mysterious informant how the various players communicate. He says: "How does everybody communicate? E-mail."

The search for the missing girls kicks into high gear, but to say more would be a spoiler.

Two of my favorite characters were the sniffer dogs: Buddy, a German shepherd who sniffs the air, and Jed,a black Lab who's a ground-tracker. The author works their special skills into a scene without resorting to an information dump.

This book won the 2009 Malice Domestic contest for best first traditional mystery. Publication date is April 27.

My thanks to the author and her publisher for an ARC.

Pat Browning
Yukon, OK
ABSINTHE OF MALICE (Krill Press 2008)
Now on Kindle $1.99

Monday, April 19, 2010


Occasionally, because there are books and authors that bear remembering, I will submit reviews of books that were released years ago. But I always edit them to remove dated references. This is one of them. - Carl Brookins, Reviewer

by Richard Barre
published by Berkley Prime Crime
a 1996 release
ISBN 0-425-16641-4

For you who have been waiting for the paperback of this fine novel, it is now available.

Bearing Secrets is a superb novel. One has a tendency to ladle on accolades and fulsome adjectives until the feeling that no book can be THAT good becomes a barrier to readers. Expectations can be raised too high. But this is a superb novel.

This complex, rhythmic, multi-textured novel reaches out to the reader and inexorably draws one tighter and tighter. It starts with hard-nosed PI Wil Hardesty and an anguished cry for help from a prickly, vulnerable, twenty-year-old hard-case named Holly Pfeiffer. Hardesty’s marriage is coming apart and he doesn’t know how to stop it. Mostly to distract himself from his personal troubles, he agrees to see Holly. But when he gets to her cabin near Lake Tahoe, he is repeatedly, rebuffed.

This woman is a product of her radical father’s teachings. He was a veteran of Viet Nam, and then returned to Berkley where he used his considerable intelligence and skill to harass the authorities and teach military tactics to a violent splinter group of dissidents. Naturally, his activities draw the attention of the establishment. When Holly’s father Max, dies in a fall from a high ledge in the mountains, Holly accuses the FBI of killing him. After all, the gospel according to Max had taught her that years earlier the FBI engineered her mother’s death via a car bomb. In spite of her attempts to rid herself of Hardesty, in Holly’s view just another establishment lackey, Hardesty begins a patient, earnest attempt to learn some truths.

For a time, the only secrets he bares make Max look guilty. But of what? And then....

Read Bearing Secrets and you will be appalled, exhilarated, horrified and energized. This way lies death, explicit and terrible; here lies corruption and there is exploitation. You are quickly caught up in wheels within wheels. Barre builds tension and suspense cleanly and handles both with dexterity and believability. Fully-formed characters strive against insidious power, fail under the weight of crushing secrets, and strive again. Yet author Barre does not dwell lovingly on the horror. This book is cleanly written, carefully plotted and very, very intense. It will require attention and careful reading, but Bearing Secrets will reward you in full measure.

Carl Brookins

Monday, April 12, 2010


I'm happy to welcome Mark Terry. Mark is a full-time freelance writer, editor and novelist. He is the author of numerous novels including the bestselling DANCING IN THE DARK, THE FALLEN, THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, THE SERPENT'S KISS and others. He lives in Michigan with his wife, two sons, dog named Frodo, and a bunch of guitars mostly named after Greek gods: Athena, Poseidon, Ares, and Larry. His favorite guitar's name is Layla.

Mark, your favorite guitar is rightly named after the best guitarist I've ever heard: Eric Clapton.

The Fallen has gotten raves from Booklist:
The Fallen maintains its intensity up to the very end, and Stillwater is both a sympathetic and believable hero. Readers of previous Stillwater novels will eagerly wait to see him in action again, and those new to the series will seek out his earlier adventures (including The Serpent’s Kiss, 2009).

Here's what Mark has to say about those tough guys he writes about.

I write a thriller series about Dr. Derek Stillwater, a troubleshooter for Homeland Security. His particular expertise is biological and chemical terrorism. A typical Stillwater novel involves some sort of terror attack that is going to be followed by a worse terror attack. Derek’s job is to prevent the worse terror attack from happening. If there’s a formula, that’s it, and if you think that makes it easy, you’re crazy.

In THE FALLEN, my latest (the third featuring Derek), he’s undercover at a resort in Colorado Springs where the G8 Summit is being held. He has intelligence that a terrorist group might take a run at the Summit, and yeah, they do. Things go to hell, and Derek, trapped inside a resort with the terrorists, starts his own guerilla war against the bad guys, using the crawlspaces, tunnels, air ducts, and elevator shafts to move around the facility. Think “’Die Hard’ at the G8 Summit.”

Just before I started writing this column, I was working on the fifth Derek Stillwater novel (the fourth is already written and scheduled for September 2011). It too is about terrorism and there’s already been at least one attack. But the action takes place in Moscow and Derek is there for several reasons, and one of them is to meet a son he has only recently become aware he had. And that’s the scene I wrote, the one where he meets the little boy.

But here’s the thing. The woman watching the boy doesn’t speak English; and Derek doesn’t speak Russian.

Derek’s an action hero, sure, although he’s prone to panic attacks and a nice variety of neuroses and superstitions. If you stick a gun to his head, he knows how to act. If you show him a bomb, he might freak a little, but he knows what to do. Bring him to a scene of a chemical weapons attack, once he’s done with his panic attack, give him a biohazard suit and send him on his way.

Have him try to give a stuffed toy to a two-year-old boy in front of the boy’s grandmother … we’ve got problems.

I just know I’m going to be tweaking this chapter for the next year. You just know when you’re writing a scene like this that you’re cranking open a window into the character’s soul in a way that’s very different from everything else you’ve done. This scene’s damned important and it’s got to work. It’s got to hurt.

And that’s the hardest part of being a novelist.
What do you think? What’s the hardest part for you?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


The End Game Gerrie Ferris Finger. Minotaur, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-61155-2

A hunt for two young sisters propels Finger's compelling if at times sobering debut, which won the 2009 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. When Jessie and Dottie Rose vanish after their foster parents, Ed and Wanda Barnes, die in a fire that destroys their home in Atlanta's Cabbagetown neighborhood, Portia Devon, a juvenile judge, turns for help to Moriah Dru, a former cop who runs Child Trace Inc. Dru and her detective boyfriend, Lt. Richard Lake, who's officially assigned to the case, conclude that Wanda and a neighbor friend of hers, Millicent Goddard, may have known the predator who took the Rose sisters—and other girls in the area over the years. Millicent's murder and a tip that a child prostitution ring is involved raise the stakes. A well-researched plot and snappy dialogue—plus some fine rail-yard K-9 detecting by Buddy, a German shepherd, and Jed, a Labrador retriever—keep the action moving. (May)