Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Ripper by Isabel Allende


Paperback:  For Amanda Martín and her friends, Ripper started off as just a game.

The Jackson women, Indiana and Amanda, have always had each other.  Though their bond is strong, mother and daughter are as different as night and day.  Indiana, a beautiful holistic healer, is a free-spirited bohemian.  Long divorced from Amanda's father, she is reluctant to settle down with either of the men who want her - Alan, the wealthy scion of one of San Francisco's elite families, and Ryan, an enigmatic, scarred former Navy SEAL.

While her mom looks for the good in people, Amanda is fascinated by the dark side of human nature - as is her father, the SFPD's deputy chief of homicide.  Brilliant and introverted, the MIT-bound high school senior Amanda is a natural-born sleuth addicted to crime novels and to Ripper, the online mystery game she plays with her beloved grandfather and friends around the world.

When security guard Ed Staton is found dead in the middle of a school gym, the murder presents a mystery that baffles the San Francisco police, not least Amanda's father, Deputy Chief Martín.  Amanda goes online, offering 'The Case of the Misplaced Baseball Bat' to her fellow sleuths as a challenge.  And so begins a most dangerous obsession.

The murders begin to mount up and the Ripper players, free from moral and legal restraints, may pursue any line of enquiry.  When Amanda's mother suddenly vanishes, the case becomes all too personal.  Could her disappearance be linked to the serial killer?  And will Amanda and her online accomplices solve the mystery before it is too late?

Ripper (2014) is "a literary banquet overflowing with morsels of Nancy Drew, mouthfuls of Agatha Cristie, a sprinkle of Barbara Cartland and dashes of James Patterson and Tom Clancy."  (Observer)

About the author:  Isabel Allende, born in Peru and raised in Chile, is a bestselling author based in California.  All her books are written in her native Spanish and have been translated into more than 35 languages and have sold more than 67 million copies.  Her works both entertain and educate readers by weaving intriguing stories with significant historical events.  Settings for her books include Chile throughout the 15th, 19th and 20th centuries, the California gold rush, the guerrilla movement of 1960s Venezuela, the Vietnam War, and the slave revolt in Haiti in the 18th century.

Allende, who has received dozens of international tributes and awards over the last 30 years, describes her fiction as “realistic literature,” rooted in her remarkable upbringing and the mystical people and events that fuelled her imagination.  Her writings are equally informed by her feminist convictions, her commitment to social justice, and the harsh political realities that shaped her destiny.

In addition to her work as a writer, Allende also devotes much of her time to human rights.  Following the death of her daughter in 1992, she established in Paula’s honour a charitable foundation dedicated to the protection and empowerment of women and children worldwide.  She says she lives with one foot in California and the other in Chile.

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Dark Spell: Surviving The Sentence (True Crime) by Mara Leveritt with Jason Baldwin


Paperback:  A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate.  This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice, that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence and that special precautions are taken to prevent and to rectify the conviction of innocent persons. - American Bar Association

Falsely accused, Jason Baldwin summoned courage facing death, hope entering prison and peace kicking Hacky Sack.

Devil's Knot (2014), the first book in the Justice Knot Trilogy, explored how prosecutors won convictions of the West Memphis Three for murder, virtually without evidence.

In Dark Spell (2014), part two of Mara Leveritt's Justice Knot Trilogy, Jason relates how he was abducted at sixteen from his family, disappeared into the nightmare of his prison and held there by the intransigence of the criminal legal system.  His insightful, upbeat persona brightens the harshness of what he endured.

Jason's story illuminates the many ways America's justice system can go wrong and fight - often with a vengeance - to sustain that wrong.  It celebrates the ordinary heroes who rose up, using art and new technology, to challenge trials they saw as mockeries of justice.  At heart, it shows how an innocent man trapped in prison managed to forge a life of honour by sticking to personal integrity, education and play.

"This case deserves such attention because, in its complexity, it represents so many of the individual problems that plague American courts.  A forthcoming book will conclude this Justice Knot Trilogy," wrote Mara Leveritt on her Author's Note's page.

About the authors:  Contributing editor to the Arkansas Times and past Arkansas Journalist of the Year, has reported for almost three decades on police, courts and prisons.  Mara has written three nonfiction books about crime and public corruption and she is working on a fourth - the third book in the Justice Knot trilogy about the West Memphis Three.

The Boys on the Tracks (1998) is about murder and prosecutorial corruption in Saline County.  Devil’s Knot (2002/2014) is about the deeply problematic trials of the teenagers who became known as the West Memphis Three.  Dark Spell (Bird Call Press) is about Jason Baldwin’s post-conviction ordeal. The first two of these were awarded Arkansas’s prestigious Booker Worthen Prize.

Mara is the 2014 recipient of the Porter Prize.  Established in 1984, the Porter Fund Literary Prize is a non-profit organization supporting Arkansas writers and poets.  The Porter Prize was founded in honour of Dr. Ben Kimpel.  In May 2014, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock awarded Mara an honorary PhD, hooding her as a “doctor of humane letters.”

In 2012, Mara was awarded a Laman Fellowship to continue work on Justice Knot, her trilogy about the West Memphis case and the questions it raises about the adequacy of judicial processes in the US.  That year, the Southeast Region of the American Board of Trial Advocates named her its Journalist of the Year, “in recognition of her years of unbiased reporting of the facts and legal arguments in many high-profile court proceedings and her persistent efforts to explain to the public the reasoning underlying sometimes controversial court decisions.”

Jason Baldwin's sentence to life in prison at the age of sixteen in 1994 for a crime he did not commit, ultimately spending eighteen years of his life in prison as a minor, has since been ruled unconstitutional.  Since he was released in 2011, he has travelled the country advocating for criminal justice reform and also earned his Associate of Arts degree.

"My life has been one filled mostly with heartache, pain, injustice and the worst people have to offer.  But it is also one of perseverance, hope, love and our capacity to rise above - I have seen, too, the best humanity has to offer.  The truth is, without the kindness of others, I would still be in prison today," said Jason.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three (True Crime) by Mara Leveritt


Paperback:  Were the West Memphis trials witch trials?

Had a jury sentenced someone to death based on nothing more than children's accusations, confessions made under pressure and prosecutors' arguments linking the defendants to Satan?

Were the 1994 trials in Arkansas like those in Salem three centuries ago?

There were the questions that gave rise to this book.  The West Memphis Three.  Accused, convicted...and set free.  Do you know their story?

For weeks in 1993, after the grisly murders of three eight-year-old boys, police in West Memphis, Arkansas, seemed stumped.  Then suddenly, detectives charged three teenagers - alleged members of a satanic cult - with the killings.  Jurors sentenced Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley to life in prison and Damien Echols, the accused ringleader, to death.  The guilty verdicts were popular in their home state - even upheld on appeal - and all three remained in prison until their unprecedented release in August 2011.

In Devil's Knot (2014), now a major feature film starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, award-winning investigative journalist Mara Leveritt presents the most comprehensive, insightful reporting ever done on this story and unravels the many tangled knots of this endlessly shocking case.  It is the first time all elements of the case have been assembled in one narrative.  More importantly, Devil's Knot is an indictment of a culture and legal system that failed to protect children as defendants or victims.  It is a highly recommended read.

About the author:  Contributing editor to the Arkansas Times and past Arkansas Journalist of the Year, has reported for almost three decades on police, courts and prisons.  Mara has written three nonfiction books about crime and public corruption and she is working on a fourth - the third book in the Justice Knot trilogy about the West Memphis Three.

The Boys on the Tracks (1998) is about murder and prosecutorial corruption in Saline County.  Devil’s Knot (2002/2014) is about the deeply problematic trials of the teenagers who became known as the West Memphis Three.  Dark Spell (Bird Call Press) is about Jason Baldwin’s post-conviction ordeal. The first two of these were awarded Arkansas’s prestigious Booker Worthen Prize.

Mara is the 2014 recipient of the Porter Prize.  Established in 1984, the Porter Fund Literary Prize is a non-profit organization supporting Arkansas writers and poets.  The Porter Prize was founded in honour of Dr. Ben Kimpel.  In May 2014, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock awarded Mara an honorary PhD, hooding her as a “doctor of humane letters.”

In 2012, Mara was awarded a Laman Fellowship to continue work on Justice Knot, her trilogy about the West Memphis case and the questions it raises about the adequacy of judicial processes in the US.  That year, the Southeast Region of the American Board of Trial Advocates named her its Journalist of the Year, “in recognition of her years of unbiased reporting of the facts and legal arguments in many high-profile court proceedings and her persistent efforts to explain to the public the reasoning underlying sometimes controversial court decisions.”

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger with Peter Petre


Hardback:  "It's not what you get out of life that counts.  Break your mirrors!  In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other.  You'll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighbourhood, your town, your state, your country and your fellow human beings than you'll ever get from your muscles, your figure, your automobile, your house or your credit rating.  You'll get more from being a peacemaker than a warrior." - Arnold Schwarzenegger, speech at Yale University, 1994.

Here is Arnold, with Total Recall (2012).

His story is unique and uniquely entertaining and he tells it brilliantly in these pages.

He was born in a year of famine, in a small Austrian town, the son of an austere police chief.  He dreamed of moving to America to become a bodybuilding champion and a movie star.

By the age of twenty-one, he was living in Los Angeles and had been crowned Mr Universe.

Within five years, he had learned English and become the greatest bodybuilder in the world.

Within ten years, he had earned his college degree and was a millionaire from his business enterprises in real estate, landscaping and bodybuilding.  He was also the winner of a Golden Globe Award for his debut as a dramatic actor in Stay Hungry.

Within twenty years, he was the world's biggest movie star, the husband of Maria Shriver, and an emerging Republican leader who was part of the Kennedy family.

Thirty-six years after coming to America, the man once known by fellow bodybuilders as the Austrian Oak was elected Governor of California, the seventh largest economy in the world.

He led the state through a budget crisis, natural disasters and political turmoil, working across party lines for a better environment, election reforms and bipartisan solutions.

With Maria Shriver, he raised four fantastic children.  In the wake of a scandal he brought upon himself, he tried to keep his family together.

Total Recall is the full story of Arnold's life, in his own voice.

About the author:  Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Thal, Austria, in 1947, and served as Governor of California from 2003 to 2011.  Before that, he had a long career, starring in such films as the Terminator series:  Stay Hungry, Twins, Predator and Junior.  His first book, Arnold:  The Education of a Bodybuilder, was a bestseller when published in 1977 and along with his Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding, has never been out of prince since.

Will Rogers (1879-1935), American Cowboy, Vaudeville Performer, Humourist, Newspaper Columnist, Social Commentator and Stage And Motion Picture Actor


George Washington Carver (1860s-1943), American Botanist and Inventor


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Death Sentence: The Inside Story of the John List Murders (True Crime) by Joe Sharkey


Paperback:  Death Sentence (1990) is more than a story of mass murder.  John List savagely murdered his mother, wife and three children but that was only the beginning of the most gruesomely gripping story in true-crime history.  He remained at large for eighteen years!  When he was finally caught, John List, also known as Robert P Clark, was booked on the federal charge of being a fugitive from prosecution for homicide.

John Emil List.  Mild-mannered accountant.  Devout churchgoer.  Military board games fanatic.  And the cold-blooded killer who calmly shot his mother, his wife (Helen), his daughter (16-year-old Pat) and his sons (15-year-old John Jr and 13-year-old Frederick) and vanished from their suburban New Jersey home on 9 November 1971.

This is not only the riveting revelation of the monstrous murders, it is also the first chronicle of what John List did in the eighteen years before he was unmasked.  You will learn the terrifying truth about him and his crimes - and the inside story of the trial that made headlines from coast to coast.

On 12 April 1990, after hearing seven days of testimony, a Union County jury found John List guilty of five counts of murder in the first degree.  Layer after layer of evidence piled up to persuade the jury that John had committed the murders with full knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, with premeditation, deliberation, wilfulness and malice - the definition of first-degree murder.

In disputing the defense contention that John was suffering from a clinical personality disorder, the psychiatrist for the prosecution asserted that John was suffering from nothing more than a situational depression of the sort that is usually referred to in lay terms as a midlife crisis.

If John had really, in some twisted sense, believed that he had legitimate religious reasons for killing his family, why had he not also then killed himself?  Why had he instead chosen to lead a new life free from the liabilities of that family and enjoyed that life of freedom for almost eighteen years?  Why was he still alive?

When Reverend Alfred Scheips, a key defense witness, was asked on cross-examination whether there was a greatest sin, a sin for which there could no forgiveness, the minister considered his reply for a few seconds before quoting C S Lewis:  "Pride is the greatest sin."

Since there was no capital punishment statute in effect in New Jersey in 1971, John was spared the death sentence he had summarily decreed for his wife, three children and mother.  On 1 May 1990, Superior Court Judge William L Wertheimer imposed the maximum sentence, five consecutive life terms, thus ensuring that John would never be eligible for parole.

"The name of John Emil List will be eternally synonymous with concepts of selfishness, horror and evil," the judge said with contempt as John stood at attention before him.  "John Emil List is without remorse and without honour.  After eighteen years, five months and twenty-two days, it is now time for the voices of Helen, Alma, Patricia, Frederick and John F List to rise from the grave."

He died from complications of pneumonia in prison in 2008 at age 82.

About the author:  Joe Sharkey is an American author and former columnist for the New York Times. His columns focused mostly on business travel, while his non-fiction books focus on criminality. Sharkey also co-authored a novel.  He has been the Assistant National Editor for the Wall Street Journal, the City Editor for the Albany Times-Union, and a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.  Sharkey's 1994 book Bedlam: Greed, Profiteering, and Fraud in a Mental Health System Gone Crazy is an investigation of the psychiatric industry.  Focusing on sensational cases in the United States, Sharkey exposed how powerful elements within the industry maneuvered to exploit new markets when health insurance providers began covering costs for in-hospital mental health treatment.

Another of Sharkey's books is Above Suspicion (1993), the story of FBI agent Mark Putnam, who murdered his mistress in an eastern Kentucky mining town.  In Above Suspicion, Sharkey implicitly condemns the FBI for encouraging the use of paid informants.  A movie adaptation of "Above Suspicion," starring Emilia Clarke and Jack Huston and directed by Phillip Noyce, is underway in Kentucky, for release in late 2017.  His book Deadly Greed (1991), which has been optioned for a feature film, explores the sensational 1989 Boston killing, in which Charles Stuart fatally shot his pregnant wife Carol and caused racial tensions by accusing a black man of the crime.

Sharkey has also co-authored a novel, Lady Gold (1998), with former New York Police Department detective Angela Amato.  The movie rights for the book were purchased by Paramount Pictures and was in development by Mel Gibson's production company, Icon.  The second and last book he co-wrote with Angela Amato is Jackpot (2000).  Formally residing in the New York area, he and his wife live in Tucson, Arizona.

The Tail Of A Mouse


Monday, 13 June 2016

Abbatoir Blues (DCI Banks Novel Series) by Peter Robinson


Hardback:  Banks is back in the twenty-second instalment - Abbatoir Blues (2014) - of the brilliant, much-loved and top-notch DCI Banks novel series set in Yorkshire, England, and the hunt is on.

When the two boys vanish under mysterious circumstances, the local community is filled with unease.  Then a bloodstain is discovered in a disused World War Two hangar and a caravan belonging to one of the youths is burned to the ground.  Things quickly become much more sinister.

Assigned to the case, DCI Banks and his team are baffled by the mystery laid out before them.  But then a motor accident during a freak hailstorm throws up a gruesome discovery and the investigation spins into a higher gear - in another direction.  As Banks and his team struggle desperately to find the missing boy who holds the key to the puzzle, they find themselves in a race against time where it is their turn to become the prey.

The twenty-third and latest DCI Banks novel, When The Music's Over, will be out on 14 July 2016 on hardback, audio and Kindle forms.

About the author:  Peter Robinson grew up in Yorkshire and now divides his time between Richmond and Canada.  Besides his DCI Banks series, he has also written two collections of short stories and three standalone novels, the most recent of which is Number One bestseller Before The Poison (2011).  The critically acclaimed crime novels have won numerous awards in Britain, the United States, Canada and Europe, and are published in translation all over the world.

Rating:  5/5

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Final Word (The Annika Bengtzon Series) by Liza Marklund


Paperback:  Annika Bengtzon has spent her career telling stories that need to be heard.

As a journalist, she's always been at the front line of criminal reporting, alongside the investigating officers.  And now a court case that she's been reporting on - the savage murder of a homeless man - has begun to attract a lot of attention.  With the stakes rising by the day, Annika is once again flung to the heart of a complex case.

But nagging at the back of her mind is her sister's mysterious absence.  After a series of anxious text messages, she's not heard another word.  In the midst of a tense public situation, Annika's own complicated past looks set to rear its head.

Some voices refuse to be silenced.

The Final Word (2016) is the eleventh and latest edge-of-your-seat instalment in the journalist Annika Bengtzon suspense series set in Sweden.  It is also available on Kindle.

About the author:  Liza Marklund is an author, publisher, journalist, columnist and goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.  Her crime novels featuring the relentless reporter Annika Bengtzon instantly became an international hit, and Marklund's books have sold over 15 million copies in 30 languages to date.  She has achieved the unique feat of being a number one bestseller in all five Nordic countries, as well as the USA, and she has been awarded numerous prizes, including the inaugural Petrona award for best Scandinavian crime novel of the year 2013 for Last Will, as well as a nomination for the Glass Key for best Scandinavian crime novel.

About the translator:  Neil Smith studied Scandinavian Studies at University College London, and lived in Stockholm for several years.  He now lives in Norfolk.

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 10 June 2016

Life's Conundrum #1006


Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), American Illustrator and Writer of Children's Books


We All Fall Down (A Michael Kelly PI Investigation Series) by Michael Harvey


Paperback:  A light bulb falls in a subway tunnel, releasing a deadly pathogen.  Within hours, a homeless man, a cop, and then dozens more start to die.  Hospitals become morgues.  'L' trains become rolling hearses.

Chicago is on the verge of chaos before the mayor finally acts, quarantining entire sections of the city.  Meanwhile, cop-turned-PI Michael Kelly hunts for the people responsible.  The search takes him into the tangled underworld of Chicago's West Side gangs and the even more terrifying world of black biology - an elite field operating covertly at the nation's top labs, where scientists play God and will do anything necessary to keep their secrets safe.

We All Fall Down (2011) is the fourth instalment in this utterly fast-paced Michael Kelly PI Investigation series by an emerging modern master.

About the author:  Michael Harvey is a writer, journalist investigative reporter and award-winning documentary producer.  He has received national and international awards for his work including multiple Emmy Awards, two Primetime Emmy nominations and an Academy Award nomination.  Harvey earned a law degree from Duke University, a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree in classical languages (magna cum laude with honours) from Holy Cross College.  He is the author of five crime novels and two stand-alone novels.  He was also selected by the Chicago Tribune as Chicagoan of the Year in Literature for 2011.  He is currently an adjunct professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and owns an Irish bar in Chicago, The Hidden Shamrock.  He lives in Chicago.

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Third Rail (PI Michael Kelly Series) by Michael Harvey


Paperback:  A woman is shot as she waits for her train to work.  An hour later, a second woman is gunned down as she rides an elevated train through the Loop.  And then a church is the target of a chemical weapons attack.  The city of Chicago is under siege.

Michael Kelly is tasked by Chicago's mayor and the FBI to hunt down the killers.  As he gets nearer the truth, his instincts lead him to a retired cop, a shady train company and an unnerving link to his own past.  Meanwhile, a weapon that could kill millions ticks away in the belly of the city.

Hard boiled private investigator Michael Kelly returns in the flawless and third follow-up, The Third Rail (2010), to the acclaimed The Chicago Way (2007) and The Fifth Floor (2008).

About the author:  Michael Harvey is a writer, journalist investigative reporter and award-winning documentary producer.  He has received national and international awards for his work including multiple Emmy Awards, two Primetime Emmy nominations and an Academy Award nomination.  Harvey earned a law degree from Duke University, a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree in classical languages (magna cum laude with honours) from Holy Cross College.  He is the author of five crime novels and two stand-alone novels.  He was also selected by the Chicago Tribune as Chicagoan of the Year in Literature for 2011.  He is currently an adjunct professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and owns an Irish bar in Chicago, The Hidden Shamrock.  He lives in Chicago.

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 6 June 2016

Highland Hermit: The Remarkable Life of James McRory Smith (Non-Fiction) by James Carron


Paperback:  James McRory Smith lived for over 30 years at Strathchailleach, one of the most remote cottages in the Britain Isles.  It was quite possibly the most remote dwelling on the British mainland and it is fair to say it was the last occupied primitive house in Scotland.

Standing in the shadow of the squat stone structure, it is hard to imagine a more isolated spot.  The building sits alone in a vast tract of empty, featureless terrain.  There is no access road, no running water, no electricity and no telephone.  Yet James McRory Smith survived here, battered by the elements and devoid of human company.  Why did he choose to live there, facing such hardship?

His story is a fascinating account of a man pitting his wits against the wilderness, enduring endless isolation and existing, for a large part, off the land.  James' lifestyle belonged to a bygone age, yet he lived it in the 20th century, turning his back on the luxuries and conveniences of the modern world.  The only luxuries in his life were whisky, cigarettes, magazines and books, most of which had been discarded by others.

This biography is an inspiring account of a modern day hermit.  It offers a rare insight into an alternative way of life, one that is far removed from the norm.  His life at Strathchailleach was a simple one, free of the stresses and strains most of us face on a day-to-day basis. He did not have to worry about finding the money to pay a mortgage, rent or utility bills.  A modest income enabled him to buy food, drink and cigarettes and the surrounding land endowed him with a steady supply of fish, game, firewood and peat.

At a time when people are becoming increasingly concerned about consumption and consumerism, and their impact on environment, James McRory Smith's story demonstrates the practicalities and challenges of the frugal, self-sufficient lifestyle many people dream of.  James' frugality could hold a lesson for us all.  Although it was never his intention to demonstrate an alternative path - he took little interest in what others thought of his lifestyle choices - his simple existence at Strathchailleach shows that human beings can exist, even in this modern age, with few material possessions.  His carbon footprint was negligible.  He made the most of what he did have, creating very little waste.  There was nothing in his life he did not need.  Everything he owned was essential to his survival.  He had no need for a gym membership - walking kept him healthy to the extent that he never once called on the services of a doctor during his time at Strathchailleach.  It is perhaps an extreme example of an environmentally friendly existence, but James was content with it, describing his life as 'perfect'.  How many of us can truly say that about our own lives?

Highland Hermit (2012) is not intended simply as a social history, it is also a true-life story of adventure and survival.

About the author:  James Carron is a freelance writer, working mainly for consumer magazines, newspapers and book publishers.  His interests include hillwalking and backpacking, Scottish history and conservation.  He is based in Dundee, Scotland.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Death On The Devil's Teeth: The Strange Murder That Shocked Suburban New Jersey (True Crime) by Jesse P Pollack and Mark Moran


Paperback:  As a writer for the magazine Weird NJ, I am always on the lookout for new, unusual stories to tell.  Back around 2002, the publication began receiving vague and anonymous letters about a grisly murder that had taken place some thirty years prior.  My curiosity was sparked and I decided to piece together as many of the facts of the cold case as I could find.  That task, as I soon would discover, would be a much more daunting challenge than I ever could have foreseen.

The all-but-forgotten unsolved case began in 1972, when the body of a teenage (sixteen-year-old) girl was discovered atop a cliff, high above an abandoned quarry in the township of Springfield, New Jersey.  The corpse was found thanks to a dog that had brought home to its master a badly decomposed human forearm.  The arm along with the corpse, would later be identified as having belonged to Jeannette DePalma, a local teenager who had been missing for six weeks.

The details that first drew me to the sad story of Jeannette were the lingering rumours around Union County alleging that the disappearance and subsequent murder had ritualistic overtones.  The remote hilltop location where the body was discovered was said to have been strewn with cult-related symbols - a wooden cross over the Jeannette's head that was made out of two sticks and some stones arranged around the top of her head in the shape of a semicircle almost like a halo - and the body of the young girl was rumoured to have been placed on a makeshift altar in the woods.  This discovery would become a matter of controversy and intense scrutiny over the next four decades.

There was also something strikingly different about the scene - something eerie.

The various versions of the Jeannette DePalma story that I heard blamed either a coven of witches or a local group of Satanists who had sacrificed her.  The strangest thing that I encountered in my investigation of the mystery was that after more than thirty years, most people who remembered the crime were still too frightened to speak about it. Everyone I questioned about the murder seemed to recall the same scant and gruesome details but nobody wanted to go on record or have his or her name published in my article - including members of the Springfield Police Department.

The general consensus of the people I interviewed in regard to Jeannette's murder seemed to agree on certain points:  that the killing was in some way cult related, that the Springfield Police Department had covered up certain facts of the case and that Jeannette's killers were most likely still at large.  They also shared the desire to see the killer or killers brought to justice so that Jeannette might finally rest in peace.

Aside from her life, the only thing taken from Jeannette DePalma on that lonely, desolate mountaintop in 1972 was a gold cross that she always wore around her neck.  The necklace was never found.  Back at her home, Jeannette's bedroom was decorated with all manner of religious symbols and posters.  One poster bore a picture of Jesus Christ and proclaimed, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."

Hopefully through this book, the truth will become a little more known, and Jeannette and all those who mourn her shall finally be set free. - Mark Moran, February 2015

About the authors:  Jesse P Pollack was born and raised in the Garden State and has served as a contributing writer for Weird NJ magazine since 2001.  Also an accomplished musician, Pollack's soundtrack work has been heard on Driving Jersey, an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary series.  He is married with two children.  Death on the Devil's Teeth is his first book.

Mark Moran graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City, where he studied fine art, illustration and photography.  In the early 1990s, Moran teamed up with Mark Sceurman to create Weird NJ magazine, the ultimate travel guide to the Garden State's local legends and best-kept secrets.  The magazine has since spawned several books and a History Channel television series.  Moran lives with his wife and their two daughters in suburban New Jersey.

Happiness #50616


Mehmet Murat Ildan, Contemporary Turkish Novelist and Playwright

Nicholson Baker, American Novelist and Essayist


Friday, 3 June 2016

It's All In Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness (Non-Fiction) by Suzanne O'Sullivan


Hardback:  While I was convinced the woman was afflicted not by a bodily disease, but rather that some emotional trouble grieved her, it happened at that very moment I was examining her, this was confirmed.  Someone coming from the theatre mentioned her had seen Pylades dancing.  Indeed, at that instant, her expression and colour of her face was greatly altered.  Attentive, my hand laid on the woman's wrist and I observed her pulse was irregular, suddenly, violently agitated, which points to a troubled mind. - Galen, c AD 150.

Most of us accept the way our heart flutters when we set eyes on the one we secretly admire, or the sweat on the brow as we start the presentation we do not want to give.  But few of us are fully aware of how dramatic our body's reactions to emotions can sometimes be.
Take Pauline, who first became ill when she was fifteen.  What seemed at first to be a urinary infection became joint pain, then food intolerances, then life-threatening appendicitis.  And then one day, after a routine operation, Pauline lost all the strength in her legs.  Shortly after that, her convulsions started.  But Pauline's tests are normal;  her symptoms seem to have no physical cause whatsoever.

Pauline may be an extreme case, but she is by no means alone.  As many as a third of people visiting their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained.  In most, an emotional root is suspected and yet, when it comes to a diagnosis, this is the very last thing we want to hear, and the last thing doctors want to say.

In Matthew's case, he was told that his leg paralysis could not be explained by any neurological disease.  Although the consultant neurologist had not gone as far as to call his paralysis psychosomatic, she was wondering about a psychological cause.

"How can you say that?  Just because the tests are normal, you assume I'm mad.  That's what doctors say when they don't know what's wrong," Matthew said.

"I do know what's wrong, Matthew.  I'm trying to tell you what's wrong," replied the neurologist.

"But it feels so real, it can't be nothing."

"It feels real because it is real."

In It's All In Your Head (2015), consultant neurologist Dr Suzanne O'Sullivan takes us on a journey through the very real world of psychosomatic illness.  Meeting her patients, she encourages us to look deep inside the human condition.  There we find the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves, and our age-old failure to credit the intimate and extraordinary connection between mind and body.

About the author:  Dr Suzanne O'Sullivan has been a consultant in neurology since 2004, first working at The Royal London Hospital and now as a consultant in clinical neurophysiology and neurology at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, and for a specialist unit based at the Epilepsy Society.  In that role, she has developed an expertise in working with patients with psychogenic disorders alongside her work with those suffering with physical diseases such as epilepsy.  This is her first book.

Happiness #036


Thursday, 2 June 2016

The Fifth Floor (PI Michael Kelly Series) by Michael Harvey


Hardback:  Michael Kelly, the tough-talking Irish cop turned private investigator first encountered in The Chicago Way, returns in an equally stylish, hard-boiled follow-up that cements Harvey's credentials as heir apparent to Leonard and Chandler.

Kelly is hired by an ex-flame to tail her abusive husband.  But what looks like a bread-and-butter domestic dispute turns out to be more than he bargained for.  The tail leads him to an old house on Chicago's North Side.  Here he finds a body and what appears to be the answer to one of Chicago's most enduring mysteries:  who started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and why.

As he explores further, he is drawn into a web of corruption and intrigue that reaches right to the top.  An unknown enemy is out to frame Kelly for murder and rewrite history in the process - including the past he didn't even know he had.

Soon Kelly will find himself in the last place he wants to be - City Hall's fifth floor, where the Mayor is feeling the heat and looking to silence any investigations.

About the author:  Michael Harvey is a writer, journalist investigative reporter and award-winning documentary producer.  He has received national and international awards for his work.  Harvey earned a law degree from Duke University, a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree in classical languages (magna cum laude with honours) from Holy Cross College.  He is the author of five crime novels and two stand-alone novels.  He was also selected by the Chicago Tribune as Chicagoan of the Year in Literature for 2011.  He is currently an adjunct professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and owns an Irish bar in Chicago, The Hidden Shamrock.  He lives in Chicago.

Rating:  5/5

The Living Messages


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith


Hardback:  Stefano stepped forward before the car drew away and tapped on Paul's window.  Paul wound it down.

"I don't like to give advice," said Stefano.  "Even if people expect me to do so because I am a priest."

Paul looked up at him, and smiled.  "Tell me," he said.

"Follow your heart," said Stefano.  "It's the best compass there is."

Food writer Paul Stuart is heading to the idyllic town of Montalcino in the Tuscan hills to escape a failed relationship and to finish an already late book.  But on arrival in Italy, things quickly take a turn for the worse when he discovers that his hire car is nowhere to be found and it looks like he will be stuck at the airport.  But help is at hand and he is offered an extraordinary alternative.

What happens thereafter is a mixture of adventure, romance and some very Italian goings-on.  As the story unfolds, we are immersed in the flavours of Italy:  its food and wine, its rich history and glorious landscape, and in la bella figura.  And then onto this beautiful canvas is introduced una macchina enorme.

Funny, elegant and moving - occasionally earth-moving - My Italian Bulldozer (2016) is a joy, a long love-letter to Italy.  A story of unexpected circumstance and lesson in making the best of what you have, the book is a warm holiday read guaranteed to put a smile on your face.  Best taken with a glass of Brunello di Montalcino (one of the country's finest wines) and, perhaps, cum grano salis (a pinch of salt).

About the author:  Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world's most prolific and most popular authors.  For many years, he was a professor of medical law, then, after the publication of his highly successful No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, which has sold over twenty-five million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty-six languages and become bestsellers throughout the world.

These include the 44 Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in the Scotsman, the Isabel Dalhousie novels, the von Igelfeld series and the Corduroy Mansions novels.  His novel, Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party, was winner of the 2015 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction.

Rating:  5/5