Phillip Margolin’s VIOLENT CRIMES Reviewed

Violent Crimes Book Five in the Amanda Jaffes series Phillip Margolin Harper Collins Feb. 9th, 2016 Violent Crimes by Phillip Margolin brings back the “take no prisoner” defense attorney Amanda Jaffe. In this fifth book of the series she has two clients suspected of the same murder, one accused while the other confesses. Beyond that readers get an interesting glimpse into the court process given Margolin’s ability to use his experiences of being a former top-notch defense attorney. The plot begins when Amanda is asked to defend Tom Beatty, a former Special Forces Warrior, who has PTSD, and is accused of using excessive force in a bar fight. Although the charges were dismissed Tom’s troubles are only beginning after he is suspected of murdering his co-worker and dealing drugs. Shortly after getting him out on bail another lawyer, Dale Materson, is found dead, also beaten to death. While investigating the case Amanda finds that Materson’s business practices are suspect. The case gets more complicated when his son, Brandon, a radical activist determined to martyr himself for his cause, claims he killed his father. Amanda now has to defend two clients, trying to prove both innocent. The contrast between defendants makes for an interesting read. Tom is someone everyone will root for, while Brandon is as dislikeable as they come. Margolin explores how sometimes a person’s background can influence how he is regarded. Because Tom was a former Warrior and now has PTSD he is seen as dangerous, but Margolin does a wonderful job of showing him as loyal, bright, and caring. On the other hand, Brandon is seen as an obsessed eco-warrior who resents his father for representing the interests of oil and coal companies. Being Dale’s son it becomes evident that the apple does not fall far from the tree considering Brandon is an egomaniac and thoroughly unpleasant. Hopefully no one will ever be put into Tom’s position because Margolin points out in the book “Defending a murder case is expensive… two hundred and fifty thousand to start.” The plot explains how a death penalty case is unlike any other criminal case including a regular murder trial. In death cases the same jury decides not only the person’s guilt, but also a day or two later if they should receive the death sentence. Violent Crimes allows the readers to understand what defense lawyers are up against. Even seasoned pros like Amanda Jaffe must make hard ethical and moral decisions. Violent Crimes is a captivating legal thriller.   Elise...

Space Case by Stuart Gibbs Reviewed

SPACE CASE Stuart Gibbs 2015 Simon & Schuster SPACE CASE by Stuart Gibbs is a clever “whodunit” set in the year 2041, where NASA has rebooted and has made a permanent human colony on the moon, cleverly dubbed “Moon Base Alpha”. The story revolves around a 12 year old Hawaiian boy named Dashiell Gibson, a lunarnaut. Dashiell was sent with his family up to “Moon Base Alpha” because both his parents are brilliant scientists who were thought to do some good on MBA. They were told it would be full of all the comforts of home. The friendly description was far from the truth. Firstly, there were no murderers back home. Secondly, there was not evil plumbing or claustrophobic rest areas. The man murdered on MBA was Dr. Holtz, an expert on low-gravity human physiology. The doctor was murdered early in the morning by being locked into an airlock with no source of oxygen or protection. Though, before Holtz died, Dashiell was in the bathroom and heard Holtz was having a conversation with someone but there was no response. When the news broke, the base captain, Nina, said it was a suicide, but Dashiell thought differently and was punished. Despite that, Dashiell persisted and tried to get video footage by asking a newcomer, Kira, to hack the security system. They found that Holtz had left a message in sign language which leads to the discovery of the murderer. During the period after the discovery of the message, both Dashiell’s and Kira’s lives were in danger, from giant robotic claws to crazy rich pricks. What makes the story more interesting than it already is, is that the characters have literally nowhere to go. You are permanently trapped with a murderer. Even in Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap”, the people could have departed from the house and into the snow, but here; the land outside is a wasteland with no air or food and even if you brought some, you would die in a day, and you know what they say, “no one can hear you scream in space”. The end is also extremely satisfying with one huge twist that explains everything clearly. This being my first review for Crimespree, this was a very good book to start my time writing for the magazine. Review by Conor...

CITY OF ROSE By Rob Hart Reviewed

CITY OF ROSE Book Two in the Ash McKenna Series Rob Hart Polis Books February 2016 It’s unfair to compare someone’s follow-up book based solely on the preceding work. Each instalment should be judged on its own merits, but in the case of Rob Hart’s sophomore effort, CITY OF ROSE, all I could think about was, “How is this going to work?” The answer of course is, “Very well.” In NEW YORKED, Hart introduced us to Ash McKenna, a self-styled “blunt instrument” who operates as an unlicensed private investigator who does favors for friends in need. Ash sets out on a violent mission of vengeance when his one true love is found murdered. The reader is witness to Ash’s tour of violence as he chases down every clue, every hint of what happened when Chell was killed. Now here’s the thing: on this rampage of vengeance, the city of New York becomes the story’s star. Ash’s New York is a living, breathing thing. And next to Chell, the city is the only other thing Ash holds dear in his heart. And then, when it’s over? When the killer is found and the blood is drying? Ash looks inside himself and doesn’t like what he sees. So he does the only thing he can do. Ash leaves the city he loves in order to save his soul. So how can you tell a Batman story without Gotham? What is Ash McKenna without New York? When CITY OF ROSE opens, Ash is no longer an unofficial PI; he’s now an unofficial bouncer. At a strip club in Portland. A vegan strip club. Because, Portland. On a path of spiritual recovery, Ash has cleaned himself up. No more smoking, drinking Jameson, or doing recreational drugs. And no more violence. He’s trying real hard. It also means he’s getting his butt handed to him regularly, because he isn’t much use in a fight any more, but he’s more than happy to take a punch so no one else has to. Add these bruises to Ash’s complete and total fish-out-of-water New-Yorker-in-Portland vibe, and the first half of the story is surprisingly wry. Ash’s narration is endearing and wonderfully charming. Crystal is one of the dancers at Naturals, the club where Ash works. When her daughter disappears, she suspects it’s the girl’s father who has made off with her. Crystal is convinced the police would have zero sympathy for her, since she’s a mother who happens to be a stripper and a recovering addict. Feeling like she’s out of options, she turns to Ash for help tracking down her daughter, Rose. Teaming up with Crystal, we now see things from the perspective of Crystal being on her home turf, and Ash being the outsider. Batman is no longer in Gotham. He’s in Metropolis now. And he has no idea where the hell anything is. And the transit system sucks. And the pizza is garbage. And the guy at the liquor store gives him crap for buying macro brewery beer. The humor here was refreshing. Ash has his demons, and he absolutely fits in the classic tight-lipped tough guy mold, but having him paired with Crystal is genius. This way, Hart gives us a logical device to get Ash talking. Crystal keeps asking Ash about himself so she can keep her mind occupied and not slide into panic.  Ash and Crystal stumble around Portland, pretty much clutching at threads. Eventually finding the thread that to the conspiracy that leads to the missing Rose, Ash is forced to fight against his true nature. Hart presents the hard questions, the questions that most people don’t want to find the answers to: who are we really? And can a person really grow and become someone new? Like Ash’s adventures in Portland, Rob Hart gives us something new as well. CITY OF ROSE shows wonderful growth and change from his...

Bizarro Prez and Constantine Reviewed

BIZARRO DC Comics Written by Heath Corson and drawn by Gustavo Duarte this story of Superman’s misshapen clone is awesome fun. Over the years we’ve seen a lot of variations of Bizarro but for my money he’s at his best when he is written humorous, we have that in spades here. Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are talking about Bizarro atop the Daily Planet when Jimmy mentions that Lois things Bizarro is Superman’s twin brother. While he almost spits out his coffee he tells Jimmy that his plan to take Bizarro to Canada is a great idea and maybe he can put out a book of pictures taken on the road trip. Which of course leads to where the fun starts, ROAD TRIP! On their adventures they encounter loads of folks, including a run with Jonah Hex’s descendant Chastity Hex. During the ride they have adventures in a ghost town, Las Vegas and a used car lot in Smallville that includes a King Tut styled villain. For me the best part is the banter between Jimmy and Bizarro, it feels natural and it’s a ball watching them become friends. I’ve always believed that comics, no matter what else they do, should be fun. This is just that, pure fun. PREZ Volume 1 CORNDOG IN CHIEF DC Comics Hey gang, Uncle Jon has been reading comics for a long time. In fact Uncle Jon bought copies of the original PREZ back in the 70s. Of course at the time I read it with the eyes of a kid and found it fun with some cool ideas. Rereading the originals now as an adult I smile as there are some hippie like ideas that while good ideas they are impractical. Hey, there’s a reason the age to be President is 35. The premise is pretty simple, the age to be president is lowered and a teenager become President and looks at things with younger and at times idealistic eyes. The version of PREZ we have now works with a similar set up though changed for the changing times. Voting is done on Twitter and Beth Ross is elected because of a viral video that has her dubbed “The Corndog Girl”. What really resonates here is the interference of corporations and selfish people which really is not that much different than when the original series ran. Beth is a great character, compassionate and thoughtful and she reads. Once in office she breaks from the norm and thinks outside the box. The fact that we’ll never really be able to see politics run like this, though they should, doesn’t take away from the fun of seeing it. There is scheming going on to make her position powerless and she finds work arounds. The political situations are very current, especially the portrayal of military nd corporations. This is a fun book, a smart book and a great book. Mark Russell has doen a wonderful job here and I would love to chat with him about politics and the world. I also Love love love the art by Ben Caldwell, fresh looking, comic booky and yet unique. And a shout out to colorist Jeremy Lawson, he did a great job giving this a bright and fun look. You NEED this book.     CONSTANTINE Vol 1 GOING DOWN DC Comics I’ve been following the adventures of John Constantine since he first showed up in Swamp Thing. I am a huge fan. I’ve loved almost all of it. Towards the end of the Vertigo run it felt a little lost and I didn’t care for the art. Now on it’s second relaunch since reentering the DC Universe mainstream I am seeing glimpses of what I loved about the character going back to the early days. We’re getting some background retold and I expect that. The angle on this first arc to do that is a throwback...

THE EX by Alafair Burke Reviewed

THE EX Alafair Burke Harper Collins Jan 26th, 2016 The ex, a novel by Alafair Burke is a legal thriller. This murder mystery delves into what would happen if circumstances bring together an estranged couple where one becomes dependent upon the other. Burke, a former prosecutor, details well the legal and trial background within the complexity of relationships. The plot has one of New York City’s best criminal defense lawyers, Olivia Randall, representing her ex- fiancé, Jack Harris. He has been arrested for a triple homicide that includes a victim connected to his wife’s murder three years earlier. Burke takes the reader on a journey with Randall as she goes from vehemently believing his innocence to questioning if he is indeed guilty. Part of the reason she agrees to represent Jack is to absolve herself of the guilt, feeling somewhat responsible for his state of mind. Her past regrets are based on the way she chose to end the relationship twenty years ago when she broke his heart in an unimaginable way. These characters are flawed and each has a dark side. Jack is seen as one of those people who act like a puppy dog in a relationship, always willing to acquiesce. In some ways he was very suffocating. Starting out as friends the relationship evolved because Jack was so dependent on Olivia. The book also explores “Catfishing,” where Internet predators scam their way into romantic relationships with unsuspecting victims that seek love online. By creating fake profiles on social networking sites, these predators trick people into thinking that they are someone else entirely. Anyone who has ever heard of the Brad Paisley song “Online” will understand that the fabricated life stories and photographs allow people to be “so much cooler online,” creating an unrealistic world that they wish were their own. Readers may remember how this happened to Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o. With the backdrop of a murder case that can be considered a mass killing the ex explores the guilt and betrayal of people in relationships, past and present. Beyond that readers will also be exposed to the criminal justice system. These are reasons enough to enjoy this legal mystery. Elise...

CASUALTIES by Elizabeth Marro Reviewed

Casualties Elizabeth Marro Berkley Press Feb. 2nd, 2016 Casualties by Elizabeth Marro is a very powerful and heart wrenching novel. With war at the core of the theme it is a reminder how those serving and their families have sacrificed. There are also other themes of abandonment, prioritizing, loss, and recovery. Although this is her first book the well-developed story and characters make it appear that Marro is a seasoned author. Considering herself, just a “civilian,” she noted, “I am one of 99% of Americans relying on 1% of my fellow citizens to defend this country. I felt my biggest responsibility is to portray Robbie, a Marine who commits suicide, accurately. I did a lot of research and was humbled by the stories of veterans and families who struggled and continue to struggle with the aftermath of our most recent wars. It mattered a great deal for me to try to understand all the emotional aspects.” Shortly after the book begins the main character, Ruth Nolan, experiences a terrible loss, a parent’s worse nightmare, having a child die. But the loss is even more impactful because her son commits suicide while she is handling an emergency at work. Trying to escape the guilt Ruth packs up his ashes and decides to leave her past demons behind. She is helped with facing up to her past choices by a former soldier, Casey MacInerney, whom she meets under dubious circumstances. They agree to go on a cross-country journey together, both figuratively and literally. Their emotional survival depends on trusting each other, helping each other soul search as they attempt to make amends. Marro noted, “I knew that Ruth needed someone to help her find her way, and it couldn’t be anyone from her past world. Casey arrived unexpectedly. They both examine what would happen if they altered just one of their decisions. If you go on that road and damage has been done, how do you pick up, get back on your feet, and keep on going. They both struggle to take responsibility for their actions. I wanted this story to be driven by the characters. If I know whom these people are I can figure out where the plot needs to go so it does not appear artificial. This is definitely a character driven plot.” In many ways Casey and Ruth are kindred spirits. Both are lonely, feel isolated, are affected by war, and must learn how to deal with grief. They let down those close to them and realize what their priorities should have been after the fact. The question of when does work come before family and how should both be balanced are themes throughout the book. Although Casualties is not a happily-ever-after story, it is very thought provoking. It examines such important societal issues as when to prioritize family over career, war veterans having suicidal thoughts, PTSD, and how to manage and overcome guilt to move on with one’s life. As the story progresses readers will sympathize and root with these realistic characters.   Elise...