Sunday, November 28, 2010


William C. Whitbeck will be autographing copies of his book on
Wednesday, Dec.1 at 7 p.m. at the Michigan Historical Center, 702 W. Kalamazoo, Lansing.

Illustrator Deb Pilutti will be signing copies on
dSat. Dec 4 at 11 a.m. at Schulers Books and Music, Eastwood Towne Center, Lansing.

Michigan history is at the forefront of a pair of recent releases; one’s a top-notch legal thriller while the other is great for children or libraries.

“To Account for Murder”, by Lansing author William C. Whitbeck (Permanent Press, $28) is a remarkable debut novel that’s set mostly in the capital city in the mid 1940’s.

It’s loosely based on the sensational, unsolved murder of Sen. Warren G. Hooper, who was slain before he could testify about political corruption.

It features Charles Cahill, the son of a bootlegger, who’s returned home from World War Two. In the first chapter, Cahill acknowledges that he shot State Senator Harry Maynard; he’s been having an affair with the senator’s wife. Ironically Cahill gets a job assisting on the grand jury investigation of the case.

Cahill is balancing carefully on a tightrope fearing exposure, dealing with war flashbacks, corruption and greed, Purple Gang thugs, payoffs, violence, double-crosses and much more.

The author is at his best when describing behind-the- scenes courtroom dealings and corruption; unexpected plot twists make this highly atmospheric novel even more enjoyable.

Whitbeck, who is the Chief Judge of the Michigan Court of appeals, deftly provides a well-researched, tantalizing, tale ideal for those who love legal thrillers or historical novels.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas in Michigan” (Sterling, $12.95) by Grand Rapids author Susan Collins Thoms is a nifty children’s book that’s illustrated by Ann Arbor’s Deb Pilutti.

Using the Twelve Days of Christmas as a guideline, Thoms alters the theme so that it relates exclusively to Michigan – instead of a partridge in a pear tree, it’s a robin in a white pine, etc.

The colorful, vivid illustrations by Pilutti accompany the informative text, which is written in the format of a daily letter home sent by an inquisitive visiting cousin.

This is a great visual introduction to Michigan history that factually covers a lot of ground, from the Upper Peninsula and the Great Lakes to Detroit and Mackinac Island.

Two additional illustrated pages showcase other highlights; a brief listing of eight famous Michiganders is also provided.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed Michigan books and crime novels regularly since 1987.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

thriller ripped from headlines

Strong-willed, smart women are the focus of attention in two recent adrenaline-charged international thrillers.
“Running Dark” by Jamie Freveletti (Morrow, $24.99) is the sequel to her best-selling book “Running from the Devil”, which was set mostly in Columbia and Washington D.C.

This time, brilliant biochemist Emma Caldridge is back – she’s in an ultramarathon race in South Africa when she becomes dazed and disoriented by a roadside bomb explosion.

A man reaches over and injects her with medication; suddenly she feels euphoric, finishing the race at an exceptional pace. She’s worried and contacts Edward Banner, head of Darkview, a specialist security company.

But Banner’s firm has other problems – it’s in the midst of a congressional investigation. Also, one of their agents, Cameron Sumner, who’s protecting a cruise ship, reports an attack on the vessel by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

The ship may be carrying a mysterious and possibly deadly cargo of drugs. Soon Caldridge is off to investigate, assisting Sumner, who recently had saved her life.

This is a captivating international thriller ripped from today’s headlines. Freveletti’s clever plotting, strong characterization and fast pacing makes it tough to put down.

“The Last Run” by Greg Rucka (Bantam, $26) showcases Tara Chace, Britain’s top covert agent, who appeared in “Private Wars” and “A Gentleman’s Game”.

Chace, a quick thinking, fast-acting, deadly spy, is tired of her role. She’s a single mother of a five-year old daughter and wants nothing more that a peaceful desk job.

Of course that wouldn’t make for much exciting reading, so Rucka throws her into one final mission, sending her off to Iran to save a previously botched mission.

Chace’s assignment is to get a highly placed defector out of the country; danger abounds as she gets into nasty situations and attempts to thwart potential roadblocks. Her boss faces considerable additional pressure from a variety of sources.

Double and triple crosses are normal in contemporary and classic spy fiction and this is no exception. Even experienced readers should enjoy the unexpected plot twists.

While the last hundred pages fly by like greased lightning, Rucka is initially over-focused on geographical description, going into much more detail than necessary.

Both books could easily be made into highly entertaining movies; there are certainly enough exciting, dominating action scenes.

Originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, November 21, 2010.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.


Thursday, November 18, 2010


Two award-winning authors offer a change of pace from their usual fare – they’ve joined the ranks of accomplished writers creating books designed for young adults. Both titles offer intriguing, interesting plots thathave virtually no violence and little romantic involvement.

“The Rivalry” by journalist, sports reporter and NPR commentator John Feinstein (Knopf, $16.99) is a mystery set at this year’s Army-Navy Football game.

It showcases teen newspaper reporters Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson, who’ve appeared in earlier Feinstein novels.

This time they’re reporting on the rivalry that takes place at a historic event, the latest match-up between the Army’s Black Knights and the Midshipmen of the Navy.

Security is tight at the game and secret service agents are worried about possible threats. President Obama is scheduled to make an appearance at the game.

Thomas and Anderson face additional challenges as journalists as they try to uncover a devious plot while facing tight deadlines.

Feinstein, who wrote “A Civil War: Army vs. Navy - A Year Behind Football’s Purest Rivalry” is ideally equipped to write this book because of his unique inside knowledge.

His fine effort relays a lot of useful information without trying to teach. Ethical dilemmas add realism to the plot, as does the appearance of real sports personalities.

The author has won an Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery for “Last Shot”; this book should certainly be a candidate for similar honors. This is great reading for younger sports fans, but teachers, librarians and adults might like it too.

Pulitzer prize-winning author Jane Smiley’s latest release is “A Good Horse” (Knopf, $16.99), the second book in her series featuring eighth-grader Abby Lovitt.

Set in California horse country in the 1960’s, it explores challenges facing her and her family at their horse ranch.

Lovitt enjoys taking care of the animals, especially handsome eight-month-old Jack and Black George, his stable mate.

Black George turns out to be a natural jumper; the Lovitt family faces problems when a letter arrives from a private investigator that indicates that the horse may be stolen property.

Elaine Clayton’s fine, detailed illustrations appear at the beginning of each chapter, offering additional clear visual images.

Smiley, who raises horses of her own, has beautifully captured the flavor of the times, with a memorable, enjoyable tale of a young girl who loves horses.

Originally published in the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, November 14, 2010.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop has reviewed books regularly for the Lansing State Journal since 1987.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Gone, Baby, Gone" is missing yet again

Two new crime novels feature strong characterization and careful plotting, with likable, dedicated investigators trying to solve puzzling cases.

Both books use East Coast locales and are the latest volumes in long-running series. Each offers a surprising, unexpected ending.

“Moonlight Mile” by best-selling writer Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, $26.99) marks the return of Boston private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro.

This is the sixth book in the series and is directly related to events that occurred in “Gone Baby, Gone.” Twelve years have passed since the private investigators found missing four-year-old Amanda McCready and returned her to her neglectful mother.

Amanda, now a brilliant but aloof teen-ager, has gone missing again; her worried aunt seeks help from the investigators. Kenzie and Gennaro are married, with a precocious young daughter of their own; they’ve never felt satisfied about the decisions they made years earlier.

Their search for truth leads to many unusual, dangerous situations; finding Amanda is only one part of a complicated case.

Well-developed and interesting characters abound, including identity thieves, meth dealers, twitchy Russian gang members, a disgraced doctor and many more.

Lehane is one of America’s best crime novelists; this book could easily become as memorable a film as two of his other spellbinding novels, “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island”. (“Red Herring” by Archer Mayor (Minotaur Books, $24.99)

"Red Herring" by Archer Mayor (Minotaur Books, $24.99) again showcases Joe Gunther, the hard-working head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation.

Gunther and his diligent crew are called in to try to solve a puzzling series of deaths, where a single drop of unexplained blood was found at the crime scenes.

Forensic investigation reveals that the blood came from three different unknown people, raising even more questions.

Digging deep into the background of the victims, Gunther and his staff unearth dark secrets, using old-fashioned police methods as well as cutting-edge DNA technology.

Gunther’s life becomes a bit more challenging as Gail Zigman, a former girlfriend, runs for Governor of Vermont in a heated campaign. This is a solid, satisfying police procedural with an intriguing cast of characters and a devious, nasty villain.

A realistic but shocking conclusion will cause more emotional problems for Gunther, who’s appeared in twenty earlier books in the series.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir mysteries regularly since 1987.


Monday, November 1, 2010

R.A. Evans will be signing copies of his novel on Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. at Schuler Books and Music, Meridian Mall, 1492 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos, Michigan.

It’s Halloween – and a great time to sit down with a scary new book, avoiding the shifting shadows and the grinning skulls lurking in the dark.

“Asylum Lake” by Grand Rapids author R. A. Evans (Chapbook Press, $15) has a striking cover design that should entice many new readers. It’s an intriguing psychological tale set in the small fictional town of Bedlam Falls in northern Michigan.

It introduces Brady Tanner, who’s been successful as a Chicago journalist, but is trying to escape the realities of the tragic death of his wife and their unborn child. The death of Tanner’s father causes Tanner’s return to the small old house where he spent many summers as a youth. It also brings back fond memories, as well as thoughts about the time he almost died.

The town has grown significantly since Tanner left; the huge state mental institution (which closed in 1958) still looms darkly on the shores of the lake. His former girlfriend April, has moved back to town to take care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s; her young daughter Abby is pivotal to the plot.

Evan’s paperback debut jumps back and forth between decades, including scenes of a violent mass murder by a teenager and other assorted deaths.

The pacing picks up in the last half as Tanner, with the help of police officers, diligently unearths a variety of horrific dark secrets of the mental institution.

In a realistic manner, not all of Tanner’s puzzling questions are answered, although many deadly past events are significantly clarified.

This is the first of a planned series of three books showcasing Tanner. The next volume has him learning more about the background and the fate of the asylum’s elusive last director, Dr. Wesley Clovis.

While Evans’ new release could use a bit stronger character development, it’s still a taut tale liable to raise significant goose bumps.

Evans, a former journalist, has worked in marketing and public relations for the past 15 years; he’s an adjunct faculty member at Grand Valley State University.