Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lansing-born convicted killer shares his side

“Inside-Outside (to be continued) by Richard Herr is a fascinating memoir by a man convicted of a local murder, who served 12 years in Jackson State Prison.

Self-published by iUniverse as a $24.95 hardback or $14.95 paperback, the slim volume explores the amazing life experiences of Herr, who was born in Lansing in 1941.

Herr had a strict religious upbringing, but he was rebellious. He didn’t finish classes at Sexton High School, joining the Marines in 1959.

He toughened up, got a G.E.D. and served at assorted sites in Southeast Asia, including Thailand at the beginning of the Vietnam War.

Upon release in 1963, he worked for a local cab company and an advertising agency; he married the daughter of a Lansing organized crime figure. Herr worked behind the scenes, betting for winners at the Hazel Park Race Track and working as a collector for local gambling debts.

He went to work for a Lansing used car dealer, then switched jobs to a different dealership. He was arrested in 1965 for the murder of Betty Reynolds, a client’s wife, in Grand Ledge.

Herr feels that he was wrongfully accused, relating his series of bad experiences with assorted attorneys, including F. Lee Bailey. In 1967, he was sentenced to 25 to 40 years in prison by Judge Richard Robinson, who later gave the same sentence to John Sinclair for marijuana possession.

At Jackson State Prison, Herr learned quickly, eventually controlling the penitentiary’s drugs, gambling, protection and policies. He served as editor of the prison newspaper and booked music appearances at the facility by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and others.

He played on the prison football team with Ron LeFlore; Herr also offers his insights on what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa. He discloses how drugs were successfully smuggled into prison in boxes of books, even though the volumes were carefully scrutinized.

A highly talented artist in prison, Herr did portrait paintings of J. P. McCarthy and others, getting many accolades from prominent people.

Herr discusses how he was finally able to get paroled, addressing problems within the system. He offers numerous interesting sidebars on his life after prison, focusing on his success in starting a family, selling cars around the country and becoming a community leader.

An excellent, captivating storyteller, Herr adds much colorful detail as well as intriguing photos in a distinctive memoir that is “to be continued”.

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

This book review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on June 26, 2011.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

There are dead bodies galore and so much more in a pair of recent crime novels set on the East Coast. Each book features a flawed major character who discovers a body and valiantly tries to figure out what’s going on. If you like complicated plots or unpredictable endings, you’re in for a real treat.

“Long Gone” by Alafair Burke (Harper, $24.99) is an intriguing stand-alone crime novel by the popular author of the Ellie Hatcher and Samantha Kincaid mysteries.

The carefully crafted tale of death and deceit is due out Tuesday; it showcases 37-year old Alice Humphrey, who’s been unemployed for months. Alice is hired for a dream job, managing a trendy new art gallery in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

Her father was a famous film director with a wandering eye; Alice is trying to distance herself from his financial support.

She’s having a great time at the gallery until the morning after its controversial opening. She arrives early to discover the location stripped completely bare; the dead body of Drew Campbell, the eccentric man who hired her, is lying on the floor.

This nifty, multi-layered page-turner gets considerably more complex as the author slowly increases the tension level. Burke deftly adds an additional layer of mystery as a search for a missing teenager complicates matters.

There’s so many different plot twists, it may be best to keep a scorecard to follow all of the intricacies; the body count rises and there’s an abundance of possible suspects and conspirators.
“Purgatory Chasm” by Steve Ulfelder (St. Martin’s Press, $23.99) is a super-charged debut crime novel. It introduces Conway Sax, a former NASCAR auto mechanic now living in Massachusetts.

A recovering alcoholic, Conway feels honor-bound to help Tander Phigg, a fellow AA member who’s been essential to his sobriety. Tander’s trying to recover an old Mercedes that he left at a mechanic for repairs. After an unpleasant encounter, Conway goes to visit Tander and discovers his dead body.

Because he’s served time, Conway knows he’ll be considered a suspect; he wants to find the real killer and get the classic car back.

Conway, a likeable blue-collar anti-hero, faces more challenges upon the re-emergence of “Fast Freddie”, his long-estranged father. This violent, action-paced tale roars along at an exceptionally fast pace, complete with warning flags and a plot full of treacherous hairpin-turns.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987. This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on June 19, 2011.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Local author's series aimed at young readers

It’s tough to keep secrets, particularly if you’re a kid.

Onondaga author Kristina Garcia captures some of these challenges in a series of four colorful new paperback books recently published at $6.99 each by s 2 Moon Press.

These are the first entries of her “Country Secret’s Series” aimed at beginning readers in grades 1-3. Garcia, a member of Lansing’s Skaaldic Society Writers Group, is currently working on installment number 14.

Each chapter book focuses on a child who has unusual experiences while visiting the home of their grandparents in the country.

“Gracie’s Day with Daisy” offers insights into the life of 8 year old Gracie, whose parents won’t allow her to have a dog. The family makes a trip to the grandparents’ house, who have taken in a stray dog. Gracie names the Basset Hound “Dottie”, but real surprises take place when the dog escapes under a fence.

Reluctant reader Vicky is the star of “Vicky Reads With Izzy”. She returns with her parents to Dad’s boyhood home. In the basement of the house, Vicky makes an unusual discovery that is likely to change her life forever.

“Jimmy Swims With the Fishes” showcases young Jimmy, an adept swimmer, who goes on an intriguing adventure in a nearby pond. Although adults may have unexpected anticipations because of the captivating title, they are likely to enjoy the underwater antics.

“Kyle Plays With the Crickets” introduces a young boy who likes skateboarding; his mother wants him to practice playing his violin. Kyle takes part in an amazing concert that he’ll never forget - and secrets most grown-ups wouldn’t believe.

Garcia handles unusual situations and magical twists deftly, without long-winded descriptions that a child wouldn’t care about anyway.

Her carefully crafted chapter books are designed to fascinate young readers, making the world of reading more attractive while giving them an often-needed sense of accomplishment.

These chapter books are ideal for libraries or home-schoolers; they offer entertaining escapism and don’t have to be read in any particular order.

The author, who lives out in the country with her husband Jim and two dogs, is in the final stages of editing her first full length novel for children, “Clear Glass Optical.”

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987. This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on June 12, 2011.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Murder takes authorities all over the U.P.

Steve Hamilton will be signing books on Friday at 7:00 p.m.
at Schuler Books and Music, 1982 West Grand River, Meridian Mall, Okemos.

“Misery Bay,” by two-time Edgar Award winning author Steve Hamilton, (Minotaur, $24.99) marks the long-awaited return of Alex McKnight, a reluctant private investigator in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

It’s been almost five years since the last McKnight book, “A Stolen Season”; Hamilton, a 1983 graduate of University of Michigan, hasn’t lost his touch. Scheduled for release on Tuesday, this is another great book by one of America’s best crime novelists.

The eighth entry in his popular series opens with an intriguing meeting between McKnight and his nemesis in earlier books, Roy Maven, the Chief of Police at Sault Ste. Marie MI.

Maven has tracked McKnight down at his friendly local bar/ restaurant and asks him for help – the last thing that the former Detroit cop would ever expect.

Dan Razniewski (or Raz), Maven’s old partner when he was with the Michigan State Police, is struggling to understand why his college student son committed suicide a few months earlier.

His son’s body was discovered hanging by a rope on a tree in an icy cold area overlooking Lake Superior at Misery Bay. With no note, there’s little to go on; Raz, now a retired U.S. Marshall, hires McKnight to look into the death.

McKnight goes to Marquette to investigate, with mixed results; soon another murder complicates matters significantly. Maven joins McKnight in an unusual and unexpected partnership as the body count rises.

Leon Prudell, McKnight’s former partner, offers valuable assistance, even though he’s now working at a movie theater. When the FBI is called in, the plot becomes more complex; territorial disputes abound as egos clash.

There are many scenes involving travel on the narrow roads, through the small towns of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The bleak wintry atmosphere is described so well, you can almost feel the icy wind.

This excellent police procedural features strong characters and provides an exceptional roller coaster ride of plot twists.

While it helps to follow the entire McKnight series, beginning with his Edgar Award winning “A Cold Day in Paradise”, it’s not essential. Hamilton, whose latest novel ”The Lock Artist” won an Edgar Award earlier this year, is hard at work on another McKnight book.

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

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, June 5 2011.