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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Enrique's Journey

I have read umpteen books over the last six months on the subject on migrants leaving their Central American or Mexican homes for a shot at the dream of living in Ther United States. The ones that come here are predominantly wonderful loving parents ready to work hard and send the money they make back to the families so they can survive a little better than most of the people left behind to the abject poverty in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala etc.

Their stories are always tragic full of loneliness, abuse and death. The people attacking them are robbers, gang members and renegade police officers, each countries el migra, ready to put a hold on the dream A hold is all that it is. These people are determined to run away from the poverty their lives have given them, willing to risk life and limb to reach loved ones who have gone ahead. I have to highlight Enrique's Journey as the one most exceptional tale that I have read on this subject. Reviews of other books on thsi subject can be found on early entries in this blog for you to make your own judgment.

While other authors too have travelled with migrants to trace their stories and steps none have done it as efficiently, none have laid bare the awful tragedy or shown the determination of the people she followed so graphically than journalist and authorr, Sonia Nazario. Having met seventeen year-old Enrique's she goes about back-tracking, following up on every detail of his story from visiting his home town, interviewing his relatives, riding El Tran de la Muerte and witnessing for herself the terror of bandits on the roof of the train carriages, of people falling or being knocked from their perches to fall on the rails to perish or to lose a limb. She stopped and interviewed the priests that helped the migrants with food and shelter, the ones that stood in harms way to help strangers. In short everywhere Enrique went so did she.

The story she wrote is adapted from the news story she earned a Pulitzer prize for and takes the reader along on the torturous decisions that humans make to leave their small children to give them a better life and how those same separated children so often turn to drugs and crime before making the decision to travel to America to find their family. We feel the agony of the attacks on the physical bodies - Enrique was thwarted seven times before finally reaching the promised land - and we gather into our souls the love expressed by the folk that help those worse off from themselves as they throw food and clothes to the trainriders. For the priests and health-workers that administer spiritual and physical food Nazario shows a side of humans that I have not seen described in other border crossing tomes. She brings indignation, faith, a feeling of hopelessness that one cannot do more and intense feeling to her writing. I shed a tear or two in the dramatic tale of Enrique's Journey.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Severance - a review

Captain Jake Roberts is given the task of commanding a group of misfits, a ‘rehabilitation platoon’ a modern day Dirty Dozen as it where, made up of “bitter, unruly, former drunks and drug addicts, troublemakers and other misfits” who—while not an a suicide mission—are put in a place where they are not expected to succeed during the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In an intelligent plot Sawyer, a decorated officer himself, lets us tag along with these ‘short-timers’ as they contemplate their return the United States within a week. Although they are coming home as heroes with medals, they all face the reality of being unemployed, “disposable heroes”, and with their troubled pasts many of them will be unable to find work.

This is where the severance is ready to kick in. The platoon accidentally discovered five million dollars in unmarked bills in the back of a corrupt contractor’s car and discreetly purloined it for themselves. Now all they have to do is to find a way to smuggle it stateside so they all have a new leash on a financial start to civilian life. Unfortunately someone other than those ‘in the know’ has also discovered their secret and is quietly trying to muscle in.

In his debut novel Sawyer has found a way to paint a feasible picture describing life in the desert and mountains of Afghanistan. We become embedded with the platoon on their last mission, learn about the characters who make up the group of bad boys that are striving to succeed in the face of impossible odds and ultimately find ourselves pulling for this bunch of rag-tag soldiers to make it home with the loot. What with ex-girlfriends threatening blackmail, top-brass that stay out of harm’s way and each member of the platoon under special scrutiny from the Criminal Investigation Division, it’s a wonder the soldiers can get their job done, but Sawyer’s realistic portrait makes this an all too believable story

Dead ball - A Review

Allsport is a not-for-profit sports organization run by millionaire, champion golf legend, Reid Clark to help challenged athletes find their greatness. The challenges these young people face where poverty, no education, former gang members, normally kids that would never have gotten noticed because they were not your normal, high-school or college athletes. Through the program at Allsport many of these athletes went on to either professional careers or Olympic success.

As the book opens Reid is giving a personal tour of the facilities to the President of the United States when a body is found in the flower beds on campus. Once the President is rushed to safety the body is discovered to be that of Reid’s best friend and CFO of Inner City Sports Foundation dba Allsport, Bob Thomas.

This is the second book in a series by Balkind regarding the fictional sports campus at Allsport, the first being “Sudden Death” and once again brings us into the realm of private detective and chief of security at Allsport, Jay Scott. Scott, with the reluctant help of the local police department, takes over the investigation and along with his team of investigators, funded by the multi-millions that the foundation has raised, go into the field to chase down every lose end from the accountants that the deceased Thomas fired just days ago, to his angry wife and the stalking ex-girl-friend from a recent affair, to the members of the mob and street gang members. It appears Thomas had been involved with causing distress in many people’s lives. As the alibis are met, one by one, we are led on a path that is closer to home. Could someone on the staff of the foundation, one of the trusted inner families of Allsport, have a score to settle with Thomas?

Balkind’s complex plot suddenly rushes to a climax as the bodies stack up along the way and Scott and his investigators eliminate the suspects one by one until the truth is illuminated…or is it?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

the Murder Room. true crime review

[2010 Hardcover] The Murder Room: Michael Capuzzo (Author)The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases [2010 Hardcover] Michael Capuzzo (Author) The Murder Room: [2010 Hardcover]
In what I took to be a series of vignettes, Capuzzo leads us on a journey into the mind of the sadistic, sexual, serial killer. His style led me to see this was a much better story than when I originally picked up the book. Not until I discovered a sheath of photographs halfway through the book did I realize this was in fact an actual true-crime book. The stories he had woven together where stranger than fiction and all of them chillingly real. 
From cold-case headlines, predominantly, at least initially in the Philadelphia, PA area we learn about a pro-bono, crime-fighting unit named the Vidocq Society. The group, formed by former FBI agent and private detective William Fleisher, psychic forensic artist Frank Bender and forensic psychologist Richard Walter lead us through the most bizarre, traumatic crimes ever committed, and one by one, with help from the other society members, finally put to rest scores of unsolved murders.
During brainstorming sessions where lunch was often, ‘chicken, steamed vegetables and a corpse with a small and unforgettable face’ these miracle workers brought closure to many a forgotten family who were glad to know these, ‘were men who had a green thumb in the garden of death.’ Without impeding on going, police investigations they refused any case until it was at least two-years-old. Many cases where two decades old. They discussed centuries old murders and had a melding of minds and enjoyed lively discussions with like-minded individuals.
These larger than life characters will open your eyes and your minds to the impossible, and transport you to a world you don’t want to believe exists outside of your comfortable living room.

Red April - a review

Red April (Vintage International)
Life is a constant struggle for prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar in Ayacucho. Having recently divorced, he has left Lima for a smaller town and becomes embroiled in political corruption and deceit at the highest levels. Struggling to find his place he is thwarted at every turn, made to accept the status quo and required to go along to keep in the graces of the local militia and police. The story reminded me of David Pearce’s Red Riding Quartet, not only in the aspects of his superiors looking the other way, but at the sheer brutality of the deeds he was asked to pretend were not happening for his own good.
As his own investigation into the murders escalates, he exposes additional cover-ups performed by the church and the local priest. When a suspected terrorist is allowed to escape from jail—only to be brutally butchered—and the priest Chacaltana confesses to is tortured and slaughtered in his own church during Holy Week, the prosecutor becomes the pursued, or is he? In his own mind, swamped in confusion, he talks to his recently departed mother and the young girl, Edith, he is trying to court.
As the story builds to a crescendo, we are treated to the written notes of a third party as a clue to who is behind the rumors, the troubles and the murders themselves. Will Chacaltana discover the truth before he becomes the next victim? In an inspiring tale of one man trying to make a difference in this private hell on earth, Roncagliolo presents us with a flawed protagonist that we can relate to and gives us hope for mankind in this political thriller. But do not be fooled by the shy, unassuming attitude of the prosecutor; he is out to get his man no matter the cost, even if it is his own demise.
A brilliant debut novel from one of Latin America’s newest and compelling authors.

The Geneva Deception - a review

James Twining’s intricate plot sends Tom Kirk, on his fourth assignment since reforming from being an art thief. From the casinos of Las Vegas to those in Monte Carlo where along the way he crosses paths with his former partner in skullduggery Archie Connolly they team up with Italian detective Allegra Damico. The chase is a hunt to find the missing Caravaggio masterpiece with attempts to solve several murders along the way.

Each murder has been staged to represent a Caravaggio scene and the implications of these deaths tie in not just two, warring Mafia families of Rome, but reaches to the very heart of the Catholic Church—through the Vatican bank.
Politics, religion and mobsters all jockey for that place of power and wealth, through police corruption, deceit, lies and betrayals. Kirk is driven on by the death of his lover—an FBI agent—and is intent on seeing justice done for her sake. While death waits at the end of the journey, will it be his or will he and his assembled team of experts bring an end to the tyranny the Delian League has perpetrated on the art world in Italy for generations.
This story, loosely based on facts garnered from the tales of the tomb raiders of Europe, will leave you gasping and struggling to reach your own conclusion, as the pieces dramatically fall into place one-by-one. I promise you the surprise is well worth the wait.

An Ordinary Decent Criminal - a review

They say behind every successful man is a woman. Monty is no different. His wife and baby son's lives are in his hands. Literally. When the three bad guys break in to his home he has to defend his family. Monty just wants to be left alone. Left alone by the police, the local Winnipeg mob, his boss who fires him prematurely, his neighbors and their nasty notes and the landlord who is trying to evict him before his lease is up. See, Monty used to be a really bad guy, but having done his time is trying to live a straight life, if everyone will just let him alone. With the help of an occasional employer, his attorney and his wife and child, Monty tries to solve the problems of his corner of the world. This witty, fast-past, edgy, action thriller will keep you cheering for the bad guy in this debut novel from Canadian author, Michael Van Rooy.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Meet Detecive Inspector Nate Duarte of the Tucson Police Department

For those of you that want to know what are you writng now well here is a brief overview.

Meet Nate Duarte, a Tucson sex crimes detective. In a five-book series spanning from 2006-2010 Duarte is tasked with solving four unspeakably evil crimes and then in the final novel, because of a specific knowledge that he has, which is the back-story in the four proceeding books, he helps a Federal Task force bring to justice a heinous Mexican drug lord, head of the Sonoran cartel, who is held responsible for much of the border crime between Arizona and Mexico. In a storyline ripped from day-to-day news headlines in Southern Arizona Duarte brings life in Tucson to the fore for the world to read about.

In book one, as we first meet detective inspector Duarte he and his partner, Hector Martinez, have been brought into an investigation to help solve the disappearance of five missing women. What started out as a missing persons crime has rapidly escalated into a sex crime once it is discovered that a fugitive sex-offender Charleston Ficus is involved. Ficus has set up a bogus health resort to entrap women, using money from a mail-order sex-toy distribution company that he and a former cell-mate have organized as a legitimate corporation.

Unbeknownst to Duarte the women have all been kidnapped and tortured and are being held in chains in a ramshackle horse-barn in the outskirts of Pima County in the small town of Three Points, where meth and incest are the predominate forces of nature. With time running out Duarte and the local southern Arizona SWAT team are called upon to attempt the rescue.

In book two a child molester has killed his step-daughter to stop her from accusing him. He uses his job as a janitor in the downtown Tucson police headquarters to cover up the crime. By collecting hair samples from commodes and showers he plants police officer DNA on the bodies of other teenage girls he kills to draw attention to a supposed corruption in the TPD.

Book three is a story of wealthy and bored housewives from Tucson who, for lack of excitement in their lives, form a club online where they arrange to perform naughty deeds in public and post photos on a web site to titillate each other. The deeds escalate as they attempt to out-do each other. Little do they realize that they have been infiltrated by a male; in fact he was the one that met them through an online chat room and instigated all their plans for his own sick interest. As the performances become more and more daring he can’t help but get involved, resulting in the rape and murder of one of the members.

The fourth crime is the story of an office burglar who targets small offices as they are closing, stealing cash, jewelry and wallets etc. from unsuspecting folk, caught unaware at the five-o’clock closing. They are all concentrating on leaving for home when the burglar strikes. His SOP is to make all the occupants of the office strip naked – the theory is that they will less inclined to go running out in the street nude to bring attention to themselves while he effects his escape – taping each other to office chairs while he ransacks the place. Eventually he starts having unlikely members of the staff perform sexual deeds on each other while he watches their embarrassment until it escalates into he having to get involved too.

The back-story influences the fifth and final book in the series. Duarte has a couple of secrets. The flawed protagonist has an affinity for prostitutes. Not for going with them but in protecting and aiding them. It turns out his mother was a prostitute. Initially she was secretary – and second cousin – to Jose Napoleon Duarte, who was running for president of El Salvador. When he was over thrown and sent into exile to Venezuela in 1970 his followers and staff had to flee the country to avoid prosecution, or worse. She fled up through Central America, making it to Arizona, where she was arrested by the US Border Patrol. By flirting with the Border Patrol officer she was able to coerce him into an affair which resulted in her pregnancy. Unfortunately the BP officer was shot to death two day after they met by the return of the coyote who guided her to the border, as he attempted to get paid for his actions.

All alone in a strange country, abandoned and scared, Consuela Duarte learns she is with child and has to protect it at all costs. Eventually the child, Nathaniel (Nate) is born in the border town of Nogales, born a US citizen. When Consuela is arrested not long after that and returned to Mexico with her child she spends the next eight years living life the best she can waiting for cousin Napo to be released from exile and his triumphant return to El Salvador and she can return to her home. She makes the best life she can for the child eventually becoming a dancer and a prostitute to make ends meet. One day a Mexican mid-level gangster comes to the club and sees her perform. He recognizes her as the illegal alien he helped transport over the border almost a decade ago. In a fit of rage he followers her to her private room and strangles her to death. The eight-year old Nate witnesses his mother’s murder and manages to escape.

Later that month Nate is plucked from the streets of Nogales Sonora, where he is running as an orphaned urchin - the little blonde Mexican, looking like Mowgli and the wolf-pack, by a young novice stationed at the Catholic Mission. When this nun-in-training discovers Nate has a US birth certificate, just about his only personal affect, she helps re-unite him with the American family that knew nothing of his existence, the Border Patrol officer’s parents. Wealthy land owners and owners of a timber mill in Minnesota they retire and embrace a new life in Tucson to raise Nate as their own son, giving him a family and an inheritance of untold wealth. When Nate graduates from Notre Dame, Jose Napoleon Duarte’s alma mater, with a law degree he surprises everyone by pursuing a career in the TPD, his full intent to bring his parent’s murderer to justice.

By this time the Mexican gangster has risen in the ranks to head of the Sonoran cartel. During his career as police officer Nate has studied and kept track of the coming and goings of this beast of a man, waiting for the right opportunity and is drafted into a Federal Tax force to help bring him to justice for corruption against the American people. Of course Nate has his own agenda.

As I fixed this plot in my head I was unsure how to bring out the back-story without overwhelming the first book and taking away from the sex-crime that needed to be solved. The back-story line is so strong, a story in its own right, and so important. It weaves through the books as the gel that keeps them together. Each book will be a stand-alone novel but by reading then in order will help their cohesiveness. It bothered me so badly that I could not write anything for a while until I found a way to string out the back-story without it overwhelming the first book. I decided to bring back the novice that rescued him off the street in Nogales, only this time as a nun in a convent in Tucson. A chance meeting, over an abused child, brings the two of them back together. A strong spiritual bond of friendship is forged between the two characters, allowing Duarte to turn to the sister and tell her, over the course of the four books, the things that have transpired over his life since they first met twenty-eight years previously, including the one secret Duarte as never told anyone - even his child-hood therapist - that he saw his mother murdered and can identify the killer.

I am well into about ten half-formed "first-shitty drafts" chapters but the thoughts keep flowing and I am working to get going as best I can in the limited time I have to write in my stress-filled life. If anyone knows an agent who can get me a deal for five-book series lets talk. I can invision that once Duarte captures his parent's murderer that he will go on to pass the bar, seeing as he has a law degree, and maybe he will have a new series about his life as a Tucson attorney!.. and then perhaps a judge! The ideas are endless.

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