Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Homicide: A Life On The Killing Streets by David Simon

Homicide is a year-in-the-life and the day-in, day-out chronicle of the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide Unit.  Twice every three days a citizen is shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death.  The city's homicide unit is a small brotherhood of hard men who fight for whatever justice is possible in urban America.  It records the mundane and the abominable.  It documents the daily grind of real detectives and gives us a peek into a very bleak but real world of violence in America.  

The book is later fictionalized into a police procedural television series entitled Homicide:  Life On The Street (1993-1999), also written and produced by the author.  All reviews sum Homicide:  A Life On The Killing Streets (1991) as a true crime classic, a masterpiece and a hard-nosed classic.  It is among the most powerful non-fiction crime books I have read in my lifetime.  Do read it if you are into real-life crimes because this is the bona fide manuscript of the real-life world of homicide detectives.  My paperback copy is a 2009 reprint.

About the author:  David Simon's Homicide won an Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime in 1992 and became the basis for the NBC award-winning drama.  Simon's second book, The Corner:  A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (1997), co-authored with Edward Burns, was made into an HBO mini-series.  Simon is currently the executive producer and screenwriter for HBO's Peabody Award-winning series The Wire.  In 2010, Simon was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship (the Genius Grant).  He lives in Baltimore.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Waiter Rant: Behind The Scenes Of Eating Out by Steve Dublanica

Blurb:  Why is a waiter's lifestyle as addictive as crack cocaine?

Is it the drama - will the next diner by charming or psychotic?

Is it the craft - knowing how to handle tricky customers?

Is it the behind-the-scenes chaos - the crazy chefs and constant crises?

Whatever it is, it has kept the Waiter serving tables in the New York area for the best part of a decade, and he has survived enough restaurant hell to know a thing or two.  His stories of bad behaviour show that people can be at their worst in restaurants.  And that obnoxiousness seldom goes unpunished by restaurant staff.

Want to avoid getting the table next to the toilets on Valentine's Day?  Take some tips from the Waiter: how to make reservations, why you shouldn't pretend to be a friend of the owner, and why you should never snap your fingers.  His hilarious stories reveal the mayhem unleashed by the simple business of putting on a good meal.

My take:  If you do eat out as frequently as I do, you will want to read this book which tells the story from the other side of the fence so to speak.  After reading this blunt but fun book, you will either do two things:  1)  never ignore that waiter who is serving you, he has eyes and ears and lots of opinion!  or 2)  never eat out ever again!  I'm glad I always treat the waiters/waitresses serving me like my family so I've nothing to fear.

About the author:  waiterrant.net is an award-winning blog - 'Best Writing In A Weblog' in the 2007 Bloggie Award - started by the Waiter (Steve Dublanica) in 2004.  In 2008, he had to waive his anonymity when Waiter Rant was published as a book.  It spent five weeks on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.  Before becoming a waiter, he had trained in a seminary and had been a mental health care worker.  He lives in the New York metropolitan area with his joint-custody dog, Buster.  His second book, Keep The Change:  A Clueless Tipper's Quest To Become The Guru Of Gratuity was published in 2010.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Michelle Obama, A Biography by Liza Mundy

(from the blurb)  Michelle has said that there's a rule in their marriage:  She gets to tease, and Barack does not.  She is the one who gets to rag him publicly about not putting away the butter, and he is the one who does not get to rag her publicly about...anything.  

Michelle Obama is funny and sharp-tongued, warm and blunt, empathetic and demanding.  Who is the woman Barack Obama calls 'the boss'?

In Michelle Obama (2008), journalist Liza Mundy paints a revealing and intimate portrait, taking us inside the marriage of the most dynamic couple in politics today.  Michelle's story carries with it all the extraordinary achievements and lingering pain of America in the post-civil rights era.  She grew up on the south side of Chicago, the daughter of a city worker and a housewife in a neighbourhood rocked by white flight.  She was admitted to Princeton amid an angry debate about affirmative action and went on to Harvard Law School, where she was more comfortable doing pro-bono work for the poor than gunning for awards with the rest of her peers.  She became a corporate lawyer, then left to train community leaders.

This carefully reported biography draws upon interviews with more than one hundred people, including one with Michelle herself, and captures the complexity of this remarkable woman and the life she has lived.

About Liza Mundy:  She is a staff writer at The Washington Post, where for more than ten years she has covered politics, popular culture and women's issues.  She is a regular contributor to the online magazine Slate and participates in their women's blog, XX Factor.  She has also written for Lingua Franca, Redbook, Mother Jones, Washington City Paper and Washington Monthly.  She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband and their two children.  For more information, visit www.lizamundy.com  She talks about her book, Michelle Obamahere.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Sentenced To Death by Lorna Barrett

(from the blurb)  As the owner of Stoneham, New Hampshire's, mystery bookstore Haven't Got a Clue, Tricia Miles can figure out whodunit in the latest bestseller way before she gets to the last page.  But these days, Tricia is using her sleuthing skills for much more than the books on her shelves.

It's Founders' Day in Stoneham, and the whole village has turned out to celebrate in the square, including Tricia's friend and festivities organizer Deborah Black.  As everyone watches Deborah give the opening speech, a small aircraft crashes into the village gazebo, killing both Deborah and the pilot.

While the Sheriff's Department is convinced that it was an accident, Tricia has a feeling that there's more to the story.  And when she reads between the lines of the case, what she finds is worse than the most sinister whodunit.

Sentenced To Death (2011) is the fifth book in the Booktown Mystery series and includes cooked recipes.  The Booktown Mystery series is one of my favourite cosy mysteries and it gets better and more delightful as each book comes along.  There isn't long to go before the sixth book - Murder On The Half Shelf - is out!  Do visit the author's website on www.LornaBarrett.com for more information and to sign up for her periodic newsletter.

Rating:  3/5

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Summertime Death by Mons Kallentoft

After the brutally inhumane cold in Midwinter Sacrifice (2011), you would expect the summer in Linkoping to be welcomed with open arms, but no, in the middle of July, the temperature reaches a record-breaking 45 degrees.  Fire crews are battling the widespread forest fires to no avail.  The city has come to a standstill because of the sweltering and paralysing heat.  Anyone with any sense would either be staying indoors or have already escaped the city.  The police station is sluggish.  Most of the staff are taking their summer breaks.  Detective Malin Fors is killing time waiting for her well-earned break in a month's time.  

Then a telephone call changes the equilibrium.  A naked teenage girl has been found bleeding in the local park.  She cannot remember what had happened to her.  Strangely, she smells of bleach and the wounds on her body seem to have been rinsed and cleaned up very carefully.  Then, another call comes in to the station about a fourteen-year-old girl who has gone missing.  Her parents have been away.  She is supposedly staying with her boyfriend and his family and she hasn't been answering her telephone calls.  Later on, she is found.  Dead.  Her body has also been scrubbed clean and there are afflicted wounds on her body.  Is there a link between the dead girl and the naked girl from the local park?  The summertime death is Malin Fors' second case.

I very much enjoyed the gripping plot of Summertime Death and felt that it was just as exciting as the debut, well, right up until the final few chapters where the climax became an anticlimax.  Why?  Because the denouement was all about some madness which I couldn't quite grasp and did not altogether gel with the realistic and pragmatic storyline of the beginning.  Apart from that tiny blip, it was yet another page-turning and interesting read.

Summertime Death (2012) is the second book in the Detective Inspector Malin Fors series translated from the Swedish into the English by Neil Smith.  The next book, Autumn Sonata, will be available from 25 October 2012.

About the author:  Mons Kallentoft grew up in the provincial town of Linkoping, Sweden, where the Malin Fors series is set.  The series is a massive European bestseller and has been translated into over twenty languages.  Before becoming a novelist, Mons worked in journalism;  he is also a renowned food critic.  He spends every summer in San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain for its food culture, sophisticated cuisine and endless discussions about gastronomy.  His debut novel, Pesetas (paperback, 2011), was awarded the Catapult Prize, the Swedish equivalent of the COSTA First Novel Award.  Mons has been married to Karolina for over twenty years, and they live in Stockholm with their daughter and son.

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:  4/5

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Small Sacrifices: A True Story of Passion and Murder by Ann Rules

This crime is probably not so unknown now as it took place almost thirty years ago in Springfield, Oregon.  It is a crime of infanticide.  After a three-day deliberation, the jury found the accused guilty of two counts of attempted murder, two counts of first degree assault, and lastly, murder.

The accused was sentenced to life plus fifty years in prison, with a twenty-five-year mandatory minimum.  (She) is now incarcerated at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California.  (Her) first parole hearing on 9 December 2008 was denied.  (She) was again denied parole a second time on 10 December 2010.  Her third and next parole hearing will be in 2020 when she will be sixty-five years old.  The judge made it clear during the trial that he did not wish Diane Downs to ever be released from prison.

It began quite normally.  On 19 May 1983, a slender young mother of three stood next to her new car at the entrance to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield making a racket with the car horn.  Two nurses rushed out to see what was going on and saw a pale but in-control woman.  The woman simply said, "Somebody just shot my kids!"

Thereon in begins a chronology of events that will make you wonder what led a young mother to commit such a dreadful act on her three young children.  The youngest was only three years old.  In most cases like this, the root cause of the crime is innoxious - motivated by love for a former boyfriend - but once a line has been overstepped, all hell breaks loose.

This book is divided into four sections - the crime;  the intensive police investigation;  the court trial;  and the aftermath.  Ann Rule can be added to my list of authors who have a knack of writing powerful, meticulously researched and objective accounts of true life crimes.  Small Sacrifices was first published in 1987 but my paperback edition is a 2011 reprint.

About the author:  Ann Rule is American's foremost true crime writer since 1969.  Raised in a family of law enforcement, she grew up wanting to be in law enforcement herself.  At university, she majored in creative writing and minored in criminology, penology and psychology.  She also took a two-year Associate Degree course in criminology after completing her BA in Creative Writing.  Her most notable work is about the serial killer Ted Bundy entitled The Stranger Beside Me (1980).  Rule has also written under the pseudonym Andy Stack in the early 1980s and has published more than thirty books and more than a thousand articles on criminal cases.  She is currently working on her sixteenth Crime Files book series.  Her website is currently under construction but you can still visit it at annrules.com

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer by Brian Masters

This true story defies credulity.  It is beyond our human intelligence to comprehend the 'lust' that propels a seemingly sane man to take a shower while there were two dead bodies in the bathtub or to lay with corpses and hug them!  Oh, he was (supposedly) sane all right, according to the expert testimonies of psychiatrists.  He was also polite, diffident, deferential, obliging and unassuming.

Who was he?  Why did he kill repeatedly?  What was his childhood like and who did he become?  How did he think?  Was he insane or psychotic or both or not at all or was he merely a monster?  I guess the appropriate question to ask is what he was rather than who he was - what was he and why did he commit all those atrocious crimes?

Clearly, the most impossible thing to grasp of these senseless killings is that Jeffrey Dahmer murdered for no particular reason, no particular motive that anyone, including Dahmer himself, could pinpoint.  It was not about greed or jealousy or revenge.  Nor was it about money or drugs.  His victims were all men unknown to him.  They were arbitrarily picked off the streets or from drinking establishments.

Jeffrey Dahmer himself said, "...it would be nice if someone could give me an answer on a silver platter as to why I did all this and what caused it, because I can't come up with an answer."  If Dahmer himself could not understand it, then, simply put, how could we?  Perhaps it is fair to conclude that his urges to kill are way beyond our reasonings and understanding - the kind of understanding which appeals to earthly sense and logic.

Here is a timeline from Masters' book:

In the early hours of 23 July 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer - in a flat, monotone voice - told Detective Patrick Kennedy that he had killed seventeen boys and men - ages range from fourteen to thirty-six - in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, over a period of four years (1987-1991).  He had decapitated them, dismembered them, defleshed them and also disposed of them.  He had started as long ago as 1978 in Ohio, when his first victim had been smashed to pieces with a sledgehammer and scattered in the woods.

On 25 July 1991, Dahmer was charged with four counts of first-degree intentional homicide and held on bail for $1 million.

On 6 August 1991, he faced eight more murder counts and bail was raised to $5 million.

On 22 August 1991, the three last murder charges were brought against him, making a total of fifteen.

(Altogether, he was charged with fifteen counts of first-degree intentional homicide.)

On 30 January 1992, his trial began.  Dahmer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Two weeks later, the court found Dahmer sane and sentenced him to fifteen life terms, a total of 957 years in prison, which is the maximum penalty available in Wisconsin.

On May 1992, he was extradited to Ohio where he pled guilty for the murder of his first victim in 1978.

On 28 November 1994, as he was serving time at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, he was severely beaten with a broomstick handle by a fellow inmate and two days later, succumbed to his head injuries and wounds.

In The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer (1993), Masters' enlightening research and accurate accounts are a skilful attempt to help readers understand this frightening depersonalisation of a man whose constraints failed him and whose psyche collapsed to the point of no return.  It is a truly awful true story and not one for the faint-hearted.

About the author:  Brian Masters began his career with five critical studies in French literature and proceeded to write the first full history of all the dukedoms in Britain.  His subjects for biography have ranged from John Aspinall to E F Benson, from Marie Corelli to Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire.  He has also rescued twentieth-century society hostesses from footnotes into a book of their own, and traced the origins of the ruling family of Udaipur in India.  His penetrating study of mass murderer Dennis Nilsen, Killing for Company, won the Gold Dagger Award for non-fiction in 1985, after which he found himself invited to lecture on murderers as well as dukes, gorillas, and hostesses.  He has also worked as a translator.

For those interested in court trials, here is the link to the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer.

Woman With Birthmark by Hakan Nesser

From the paperback:  A young woman shivers in the December cold as her mother's body is laid to rest in a cemetery.

A middle-aged man is killed at his home, shot twice in the chest and twice below the belt.  He had recently received a series of bizarre phone calls in which an old song is played down the line, evoking an eerie sense of both familiarity and unease.  Before the police can find the culprit, a second man is killed in the same way.

Four names on a list.  The only thing they have in common is that someone calls them in the night and plays the same piece of music, music from the past which has now caught up with them, in the form of a woman with a birthmark.

Chief Inspector Van Veeteren and his team must dig far back into each man's past - but with few clues at each crime scene, can they find the killer before anyone else dies?  And as Van Veeteren muses on the complexity of the emerging puzzle, it falls to someone else to provide the first key insight.

About the author:  Hakan Nesser was awarded the 1993 Swedish Crime Writers' Academy Prize for new authors for his novel The Wide-Meshed Net;  he received the best novel award in 1994 for Borkmann's Point and in 1996 for Woman with a Birthmark (2009).  In 1999 he was awarded the Crime Writers of Scandinavia's Glass Key Award for the best crime novel of the year for Carambole (Swedish, 1999).  Nesser was born in Sweden and has been a resident of London since 2008.  More information on www.nesser.se

Woman With Birthmark (2009) is the fourth book in the Chief Inspector Van Veeteren mystery series set in Sweden and is translated to the English by Laurie Thompson.  Laurie Thompson is a British academic and translator noted for his translations of Swedish literature into the English.  He is the former editor of the Swedish Book Review and a former lecturer.

Rating:  5/5

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

The author said, "My books deal with life and death, and good and evil.  Most Scandinavian crime novels are deeply rooted in a grey kind of realism, almost naturalism.  I wanted to change that and bring some magic to the genre...it was also a way for me to put my own stamp on this kind of book as there are so many out there;  I wanted my story to be different in an interesting and artistically relevant way.  My books are deeply rooted in a dramatic tradition which has its roots in Greek drama.  The dead voices in my stories are like the chorus in Greek drama, moving the story along and commenting on it.  My style of writing is...literary and poetical."

Midwinter Sacrifice (2011) aka Midwinter Blood is the first book in a Scandinavian police detective series featuring a female heroine and her team.  Malin Fors is talented, troubled, with a sixth sense for the truth.  Early one morning in the coldest winter in Swedish memory, police detective and single mother Malin Fors is called away from the warm flat she shares with her teenage daughter, Tove.  The naked body of an obese man has been found hanging from an oak tree on the most fertile plain outside the town of Linkoping.  Initial investigations indicate that it could be an ancient heathen practice of the Great Midwinter Sacrifice where human offerings are made to the gods in exchange for happiness or as penance.  From the outset, Malin is confronted with a host of unanswered question:  Who is the dead man?  How did he end up in a tree?  And where did the strange wounds on his body come from?

This is a promising book to kick-start a new four-part Scandinavian crime series by an author who has a distinct voice and a unique way of writing and of putting his story across to his readers.  There is a good number of major and minor characters which lends the story its intensity, pace and drama and unusually or, not as unusual as we think, the hung murder victim is given a prominent role throughout the story with his very analytical and revealing albeit sorrowful narrative.

Inasmuch as it is a police procedural, there are also elements of moral psychology and philosophy in the characters' thoughts and actions - especially Malin Fors and the murder victim's - where their innermost thoughts are played out, thought by thought, both on mundane things - for example, in Malin's case, when she reluctantly goes to her father's apartment to water his precious plants - and in their pursuit of a dangerous killer where the weather is as much a hindrance to them as the red herrings they are thrown up against in their investigation.

The strength of the story is in its realistic dialogue and the challenging social issues faced by the old, the young as well as the rejects or pariahs in today's downtrodden societies.  In short, this is a very well-written part-police and part-psychological debut set in Linkoping, a city in southern middle Sweden, a complex yet thought-provoking piece of fiction which contains some home truths.  Mons Kallentoft is one of the most discerning new authors to emerge in 2012 and I shall look forward to Malin's next case called Summertime Death (10 May 2012), which is now available in paperback and as an eBook, as well as to the third book, Autumn Sonata, which will become available from 25 October 2012 onwards.

Without fail, the translator has done a superb job in bringing out the little nuances in his excellent translation and I have come to regard Neil Smith as a master translator of Swedish novels.  He has a deep understanding of the language.

About the author:  Mons Kallentoft grew up in the provincial town of Linkoping, Sweden, where the Malin Fors series is set.  The series is a massive European bestseller and has been translated into over twenty languages.  Before becoming a novelist, Mons worked in journalism;  he is also a renowned food critic.  He spends every summer in San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain for its food culture, sophisticated cuisine and endless discussions about gastronomy.  His debut novel, Pesetas (paperback, 2011), was awarded the Catapult Prize, the Swedish equivalent of the COSTA First Novel Award.  Mons has been married to Karolina for over 20 years, and they live in Stockholm with their daughter and son.

Midwinter Sacrifice is translated from the Swedish into the English by Neil Smith.  Neil Smith studied Scandinavian Studies at University College London, and lived in Stockholm for several years.  He now lives in Norfolk.

Here is Mons Kallentoft with his introduction to Midvinterblod:

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Chained Library, Hereford Cathedral, England

According to the Hereford Cathedral website, the Chained Library is a unique and fascinating treasure in Britain's rich heritage of library history.  Long before the modern library as we know it was formed, there were already books at Hereford Cathedral dating back as far as 1611.  At present, the library contains 1500 books.

Chaining books was the most widespread and effective security system in European libraries from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century and to date, Hereford Cathedral's seventeenth-century Chained Library is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact.  The system allows a book to be taken from the shelf and read at the desk but not to be removed from the bookcase to prevent them being stolen.

The library, besides being a research centre, is also a tourist attraction.  For booklovers and history aficionados, the world-famous Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral is open all year round and is worth a visit.  After the Hereford Cathedral's Chained Library, the Chained Library at Wimborne Minster in Dorset is the second largest chained libraries in England.

For crime enthusiasts, Murder in Advent (1985) is a mystery fiction by British crime writer David Williams (1926-2003) that features a chained library.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Exposed by Liza Marklund

Chronologically, Exposed (2002) is the first in the series about crime reporter Annika Bengtzon.  When it was first published in Sweden in 1999, a branch of the Confederation of Professional Employees, the Swedish National Union of Local Government Officers, named Liza Marklund 'Author of the Year'.

In the UK, Exposed aka Studio Sex aka Studio 69 is lined up as the fourth book in the series.  Although the Annika Bengtzon novels form part of a series set in Stockholm, they can be read in no particular order.  This is the story from the paperback:

Neophyte reporter Annika Bengtzon has secured a summer placement at Sweden's biggest tabloid newspaper.  She's desperate for this to be her big break, although manning the tip-off phoneline isn't quite what she had in mind until a caller tells her that the naked body of a young woman has been found in a nearby cemetery.

As she pieces together details of the young woman's life, Annika stumbles across video footage that places the main suspect hundreds of miles from the crime scene, right at the time of the murder.

Are the police looking for the wrong man?  There is suddenly far more at stake here than Annika's career, and her questions lead her deep into the investigation of a rape and murder case, which seems to reach into the halls of power in Sweden.

Visit Liza Marklund's website for more information and updates.

Exposed is translated from the Swedish into the English by Neil Smith.  Neil Smith studied Scandinavian Studies at University College London, and lived in Stockholm for several years.  He now lives in Norfolk.

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Borkmann's Point by Hakan Nesser

Borkmann's rule was hardly a rule;  in fact, it was more of a comment, a landmark for tricky cases . . .  In every investigation, he maintained, there comes a point beyond which we don't really need any more information.  When we reach that point, we already know enough to solve the case by means of nothing more than some decent thinking.

Two men are brutally murdered with an axe in the quiet coastal town of Kaalbringen and Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, bored on holiday nearby, is summoned to assist the local authorities.  The local police chief, just days away from retirement, is determined to wrap things up before he goes.

But there is no clear link between the victims.  Then one of Van Veeteren's colleagues, a brilliant young female detective, goes missing - perhaps she has reached Borkmann's Point before anyone else.

Borkmann's Point (2006), full of fascinating, quirky characters and vivid settings, introduces the chess-playing Inspector Van Veeteren and marks the UK debut of Hakan Nesser, a chilling new voice in crime fiction.  Borkmann's Point is translated from the Swedish to the English by Laurie Thompson.

About the author:  Hakan Nesser was awarded the 1993 Swedish Crime Writers' Academy Prize for new authors for his novel The Wide-Meshed Net;  he received the best novel award in 1994 for Borkmann's Point and in 1996 for Woman with a Birthmark (2009).  In 1999 he was awarded the Crime Writers of Scandinavia's Glass Key Award for the best crime novel of the year for Carambole (Swedish, 1999).  Nesser was born in Sweden and has been a resident of London since 2008.  More information on www.nesser.se

About the translator:  Laurie Thompson is a British academic and translator noted for his translations of Swedish literature into the English.  He is the former editor of the Swedish Book Review and a former lecturer.

The Inspector Van Veeteren series is available on DVD format.  Here is an introduction:

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Death And The Olive Grove by Marco Vichi

"Italian writers are justifiably growing in popularity here:  Marco Vichi deserves to be among them . . . The character, Bordelli, is stubborn, womanless, cynical and impatient, but strangely appealing." - Marcel Berlins, The Times.

Death And The Olive Grove (2012) is the second book in the Inspector Bordelli Novel series set in post-war Florence in the mid-1960s.  I highly recommend this nostalgic and sometimes amusing book filled with smatterings of war stories which, to my delight, includes a hearty Italian pork chop recipe apparently from the author's father  - you wouldn't want to miss it!  Death in Sardinia, the third in the series, will become available in the English language in July 2012.  This series is translated from the Italian into the English by Stephen Sartarelli.

From the paperback:  April 1964.  A grey, damp sky hangs over Florence, depressing weather that seems suited to nothing but bad news.  And bad news is coming to the police station.

First, Inspector Bordelli's friend Casimiro, who insists he's just found the body of a man in an olive grove above Fiesole.  Bordelli races to the scene, but finds no sign of a corpse.

Only a couple of days later, a little girl is discovered strangled, a horrible bite mark on her belly.  Then another girl is found murdered, with the same macabre signature.

And Casimiro has disappeared without a trace.

About the author:  Marco Vichi was born in Florence in 1957.  The author of twelve novels and two collections of short stories, he has also edited crime anthologies, written screenplays, music lyrics and for radio, written for Italian newspapers and magazines, and collaborated on and directed various projects for humanitarian causes.  There are five novels and two short stories featuring Inspector Bordelli.  The fourth novel, Death in Florence (available in the UK in 2013) won the Scerbanenco, Rieti, Camaiore and Azzeccagarbugli prices in Italy.  Marco Vichi lives in the Chianti region of Tuscany.  You can find out more at www.marcovichi.it

About the translator:  Stephen Sartarelli is an award-winning translator.  He is also the author of three books of poetry.  He lives in France.

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 4 June 2012

Long Way Home by Laura Caldwell

"There's a saying that you're innocent until proven guilty, but that's bullshit.  That's a myth."  - Francis Wolfe, former public defender, Cook County, Chicago.

It is unimaginably and awfully frightening when a person becomes a victim of his own innocence, frightening enough when one is guilty, but even more so when he is totally innocent, when he does not know what has brought him to that situation, when he is wrongfully convicted simply because he happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, when he is treated like a criminal or when he is coerced into a false confession.  When life deals that person a low blow, sometimes it is hard for him to get out of it because the criminal justice system is tough and dysfunctional and more often than not, the system is a one-way street.  One such harrowing story actually happened to a nice young man called Jovan Mosley in Chicago in 1999.

Jovan Mosley, at the time nineteen years of age, a good kid from one of Chicago's very bad neighbourhoods, was coerced into confessing to a crime he didn't commit and made to sign a false confession.  Charged with murder and armed robbery, both eligible for the death penalty, he spent five years and eight months in a prison for violent criminals without a trial.

Jovan grew up on the rough streets of Chicago's Southeast Side.  With one brother dead of HIV complications, another in jail for arson and murder, and most kids his age in gangs, Jovan struggled to be different.  He excelled in school, dreamed of being a lawyer, and had been accepted to Ohio State.

Then on August 6, 1999, Jovan witnessed a fight that would result in the terrible death of fifty-one-year-old Howard Thomas Jr.

Six months later, he was arrested, cruelly questioned, and forced into a confession.  His parents, both unemployed, could ill afford his bond set at $1.5 million by a judge.

Sent to a holding jail for violent criminals, he tried ceaselessly to get a trial so he could argue his case.  He studied what casework he could, rigorously questioning his public defenders but, time after time, his case was shoved aside.

Amiable, bright, and peaceable, he struggled to stay alive in prison.

At this point, one might question the presumption of guilt as widely practised by law enforcement.  The arrest process that Jovan underwent was degrading and agonizing to say the least.  Police have been known to throw an arrestee to the ground or against a car.  Other police brutalities like duress, coercion, intoxication, diminished capacity, mental impairment and threats are all common stories.

However, as Rob Warden, the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School said, "Police detectives are always under immense pressure to solve crimes, often atrocious ones.  Arguably, they have one of the hardest jobs in the world.  They're underpaid, undermanned, and they get little or no assistance from the street.  So they decide who they think is responsible.  It's the whole tunnel vision phenomena (cop intuition)."

More often than not, cops themselves are always in danger as much as the next person walking down the street.  Their jobs are hazardous and dangerous and so before we readily point our finger at them, police brutality is probably warranted.  As the author wrote, "And yet, what are the police to do?  Find out what makes each individual comfortable and take the necessary steps to put that person at ease?  Cases would rarely get solved with such a scenario."

About five years on in early February 2005, Jovan had begun to lose hope when, by chance, he met Catharine O'Daniel, a successful and well-respected criminal defense lawyer.  Although nearly all cases with a signed confession result in a conviction, she was so moved by him, and so convinced of his innocence, that Cathy accepted Jovan as her first pro bono client.  Cathy asked Laura Caldwell to join her and together they battled for Jovan's exoneration.

Long Way Home (2010) is Laura's firsthand account of a true story of a breakdown of the justice system which sent a nice kid to a maximum-security jail - Division 11 or SuperMax as the inmates called it - for nearly six years without a trial.  It is also a story of how human kindness and friendship gave Jovan a fighting chance to give him back his life.  Stories like Jovan Mosley's should be told and read by all in the hope that it will make a positive change to all those involved in the justice system or to those who fight and clamour for justice.  It is a thought-provoking, moving, sad, happy, inspirational and remarkable true story all in one.  We should be glad that there is a good ending for Jovan as well as his family and at the same time continue to pray and hope for those who find themselves in a dire situation as Jovan had and did.  Jovan has since earned his bachelor's degree from Loyola University School of Law and gotten married to his wife, Andrea.  All the best of luck to him.

About the author:  Laura Caldwell, a former civil litigator, is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she is also an award-winning law professor who started the Life After Innocence Project.  The project assists wrongfully convicted individuals or others affected by the criminal justice system to help them re-enter society and reclaim their lives.  The author of ten novels, published in thirteen languages in more than twenty countries, Long Way Home is Caldwell's first work of nonfiction.  She lives in Chicago.

Here are the two key people from the book:

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Way I See it: Rants, Revelations and Rules For Life by Lord Alan Sugar

Everyone knows that Lord Sugar has strong opinions and is not afraid to share them - no matter how controversial they may be.

In The Way I See It (2011), he shares his penchant views on subjects as varied as over-priced poncy restaurants, why he prefers internet shopping, how the government could best spend our money, the health and safety police, the youth of today and their parents, the political correctness nonsense, what motivates him and what he admires in others, or the future of technology advertising and a host of other topics that do get us mad one way or the other and which we all invariably ended up ranting and raving about just like Lord Sugar, throwing our hands up in the air and saying "Has the world gone utterly mad?"

Crammed full of brilliant stories, amusing rants and sound advice, this is my kind of book to read - no-nonsense, honest, very funny, hardly offensive, filled with plain common sense and wisdom - from my favourite straight-talking businessman, never mind the nation's.  Lord Sugar certainly does not pussyfoot around.

I sincerely hope there is a second book in the offing.  I love and highly recommend this book.

Lord Sugar is the owner of Amshold Group Ltd and the popular star of the award-winning BBC series The Apprentice, and the more recent Junior Apprentice.  He has two honorary Doctor of Science degrees, one awarded by the City of London University of 1988, and the other from Brunel University in 2005.  He was knighted in 2000.  In 2008 he was appointed to the Government Business Council by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and in 2009 he led the government's Apprenticeship advertising campaign and roadshow seminars.  In the same year, the former PM appointed him Enterprise Champion to advise the government on small business and enterprise, and he was also awarded a life peerage, becoming Baron Sugar of Clapton in the London Borough of Hackney.  He is on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Lord Sugar's first Twitter book-signing on his latest book which drew a few laugh-out-louds from me: