Friday, August 27, 2010


The Protest Singer: Pete Seeger
By Alec Wilkinson
Pub by Vintage Books, 2010,
ISBN: 978-0-307-39098-1
Trade Paper, 152 pages, including
credits, acknowledgments and testimony.
Photo from Wikimedia.

The mystery is that Pete Seeger survives and endures. In his lifetime which spans much of the turmoil of the Twentieth Century, he has been beset by some of the most vicious and evil forces we have experienced in this country and in the world. Yet, here he is, still pluckin’ and singin’ and taking on injustice and good causes, like cleaning up the Hudson River.

I suppose I’m biased. I grew up in a time when folk singing in America was in the ascendency and I have a lot of old records and memories of these folks, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, several others, and had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Seeger through the good offices of my friend, another fine folk singer, Gene Bluestein. So it was great to read about all those folks, many of whom it’s easy to think of as friends, whether personal or only through their music, through the sensibilities of Seeger and Wilkinson.

It is wonderful, although disturbing, to read this elegantly written, honest look at a man, his friends and companions, his family, his trials and his triumphs, who sang his way into the hearts and memories of a lot of people. Seeger’s influence, not just in the music world; after all, the Weavers recording of “Goodnight Irene” in 1950 sold over a million copies, is and will be enduring.

This slender book, written in the kind of engaging style that is somehow the essence of Seeger’s approach to a principled life, is a moving tribute to him and to everything that’s right in these United States. Readers may disagree with his points of view, but you cannot disagree with the way Mr. Seeger fashioned his protest. Wilkinson has set down, in a most engaging manner,for readers everywhere, the values and the reality of a true American.

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The Fourth Sacrifice

by Peter May

Thomas Dunne Books

Hardcover, 405 pages,ISBN: 0312364644

Review by Carl Brookins

Scotsman Peter May is a fine writer and a good journalist. He has experience, a good memory and he knows how to do research. For several months he was afforded unprecedented access to Chinese law enforcement behind the curtains. His books ring with authenticity. Sometimes all this expertise and research gets in the way of a really good story. If readers are fascinated by Chinese history the excavation of the terracotta warriors at X'ian, the capital of the Middle Kingdom, and interested in the rise and fall of the Red Guards during the cultural revolution, here's a novel that opens wide a window on those parts of Chinese history. For the rest of us, there's a little too much detail.

While the mystery is carefully rooted in those subjects, the principal plot concerns the main characters in May's first novel in this series. American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell is a smart, irascible expert, widely recognized in her field. After a disastrous affair with a Bejing detective who had abruptly disappeared from her life, Margaret is determined to return to the U.S. although she has little to look forward to. Then an American citizen of Chinese descent who worked at the American Embassy in Bejing is murdered-decapitated. It is intriguing to the authorities because this killing is similar to three other recent deaths of native Chinese.

Higher authority assigns top detective Li Yan, Margaret's former lover, to the case. Then the Embassy insists that Margaret be present at the autopsy of the dead American. Once again Margaret and Le Yan are forced together in a conflicted and tempestuous joint effort to find a killer or killers.The author's high level skills in characterization and his excellent descriptions of exotic and unusual locations are on display. The novel is replete with insider looks at legal procedures and locations most will never experience. The novel is a wonderful excursion into police procedures and the passions of two individuals from very different cultures who find themselves almost inextricably linked. An excellent novel.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Monday, August 9, 2010


The Anteater of Death
By Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen Press,
December, 2008,
Hard cover,230 pages, $24.95,
ISBN: 9781590585603

This is the beginning of a new series for this veteran author. Just look again at the title. Somewhere in the back of my head there's a Shakespeare quote. Ms. Webb is an accomplished writer with several excellent novels to her credit. This one is a distinct departure for her, and it seems she is almost unable to restrain herself. There are a great many asides and some tongue-in-cheek humor that sometimes distracts the reader from a rather thin plot, although the setting is intriguing and Webb uses it well.

Theodora Bentley, the central character in this drama, is a zoo-keeper in a private enterprise somewhere in Southern California in an old seaside town interestingly named Gunn Landing. This zoo is the private plaything of some very wealthy families who have deep roots in the community. The situation is made more complex because some of those family roots are deeply entangled in their own history. Thus there is a darkness to this novel which offers some opportunities for the author to move in directions which would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

One of Teddy Bentley's responsibilities is the giant ant eater of the title, in the wild, a fearsome creature indeed, equipped with razor claws designed to rip logs open in search of ants. The book opens in the mind of this anteater, improbably named Lucy, in a highly unusual approach which has the potential to cause a number of readers to immediately close the book. I suggest that such readers persevere. Pregnant Lucy is disturbed when a male human enters her enclosure and she goes to investigate. Her investigation leads to an accusation that the animal has killed the man, a director of the zoo.

This accusation against Lucy rouses anger and frustration among the zookeepers especially Teddy. Gradually Teddy becomes snarled in the murder investigation, complicated by her own roots in the community and her past relationships with the Sheriff and several others. Eventually the smoothly written and complicated plot gets sorted out and Teddy receives lots of help from a substantial range of off-beat and even strange characters, not all of whom are caged in the zoo.

Funny, ironic and sometimes irreverent, the book will give readers an inside look at zoo keeping, animal protectionism and the often distorted lives of wealthy idlers.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Final Approach

By Rachel Brady

Poisoned Pen Press

250 pg, October, 2009

ISBN: 9781590586556

A fine debut novel with an unusual plot line. Emily Locke is recovering from the loss of her husband and infant daughter. It is clear from the get-go there is something askew in that whole incident. Now four years later, the detective who was disgraced and dismissed from the local police department as fall-out from that calamity, is back in Emily's life. He wants her help on a case he's working on. A leap of faith is required of readers here. Is she the only person in the country the detective can count on to infiltrate a questionable sky-diving club located over a thousand miles away?

And why is Emily so available? After all she has a full-time job and is still pretty fragile from the loss of her daughter and husband. Still, the detective, not her favorite person, presses the right buttons and off she goes to Texas.

What follows is a tension-filled emotional novel of exquisite detail about sky-diving in all the right places, introduction of necessary and useful characters and enough action to satisfy the most ardent thriller aficionado. Emily is strong and distressed at all the right places, there are no real down sections of the novel.

This is a fast read and although some of the danger Emily faces doesn't reach my punch level, Emily is an interesting woman and the sky-diving is an unusual platform on which to build a crime novel. One of the more interesting aspects of Final Approach is that readers will, from the beginning, feel as though they have been brought into an ongoing story. There is occasionally a feeling of the need to catch up with background as a way to evaluate current happenings. It's a style that adds to the tension and pace.

A satisfying novel with a fine twist at the end.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!