Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Prince of Paradise: The True Story of a Hotel Heir, His Seductive Wife and A Ruthless Murder by John Glatt

Paperback:  The Prince of Paradise (2013) examines a startling case of greed and violence set against the backdrop of one of America's most iconic hotels.  It is also about a multi-millionaire Florida businessman, tawdry secrets and a family murder mystery.

In its glittering heyday, the Fontainebleau was the gold standard in luxury hotel grace and sophistication.  With its sweeping Art Deco design, antique French décor and furniture, the landmark hotel put Miami Beach on the map in the 1950s and '60s.

Built by the legendary hotelier Ben Novack Sr, the Fontainebleau laid the groundwork for today's Las Vegas.  Indeed, casino mogul Steve Wynn often stayed there as a boy, learning valuable lessons for his future dream palaces.

For almost two decades Ben Novack Sr and his ex-model wife, Bernice, reigned over Miami Beach.  Always larger than life, they entertained presidents, heads of state and movie stars at their dazzling Miami palace.

World-class entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lewis played the La Ronde Room, and iconic movies like The Bellboy, Goldfinger, Scarface as well as an episode of The Sopranos were filmed there.

In January 1956, Ben Novack Jr was born and became the Prince of the Fontainebleau.  Known to one and all as "Benji," he grew up in his father's seventeenth-floor luxury penthouse with room service at his beck and call.  The little prince may have been spoiled and petted by the likes of Sinatra and the Rat Pack but he received scant attention from his parents.

Naturally nervous, Benji grew up with a revolving door of nannies and housekeepers and developed a chronic stammer which would plague him for life.

When Miami Beach fell out of fashion in the 1970s, Ben Novack Sr went bankrupt, eventually losing his beloved Fontainebleau in 1977.  A few years later, he died a broken man.

Ben Jr then launched a convention-planning business and made millions, having absorbed considerable knowledge from his father.

In 1991, he fell in love with an Ecuadorian stripper named Narcisa Veliz or Narcy, as everyone knew her, embarking on a roller-coaster marriage that would ultimately claim his life more than a quarter of a century later.

It was ironic that Ben Novack Jr should die in a hotel room where the police found him bound up in duct tape, beaten to death.  Seven years earlier in 2002, police found Benji in an eerily similar situation when his ex-stripper wife Narcy duct-taped him to a chair for twenty-four hours and robbed him.  Claiming it was a sex game, he never pressed charges and never followed through with a divorce.

Prosecutors believed Narcy let the killers into the room and watched them brutalize Novack.  They also suspected she was involved in the death of Novack's mother, who took a fatal fall months before.  Strangely, it was Narcy's own daughter, May Abad, who implicated her to the police.

In April 2012, the final chapter in the long, strange story of the Fontainebleau Hotel was written in a federal courtroom in White Plains, New York.  In a stunning nine-week trial, Narcy Novack and her brother Cristobal stood accused of orchestrating the brutal murders of Ben Novack Jr and his eighty-six-year-old mother, Bernice.

It played out like classic film noir as the two siblings absolutely denied any involvement in the murders, claiming they were innocent pawns who had been framed by Narcy's daughter.

In recounting the story for his book, John Glatt used personal interviews, police records and trial transcripts to report the events leading up to the murders of Ben and his mother.  Regarding the alleged 2002 home invasion robbery, the author reviewed police records and interviewed participants but no charges were ever brought, Narcy denied any wrongdoing and evidence of the incident was excluded from the murder trial.

Novack's case has also been televised on several programs including My Dirty Little Secret (ID), 48 Hours, Dateline NBC, Snapped, True Crime with Aphrodite Jones and Beautiful & Twisted (Lifetime).

Narcy Novack and Cristobal Veliz were sentenced to spend the rest of their natural lives in prison for orchestrating the vile killings of Ben and Bernice Novack.

About the author:  John Glatt is the author of twenty-two books and has more than thirty years of experience as an investigative journalist in England and America.  He has appeared on television and radio programs all over the world including Dateline NBC, Fox News, A Current Affair, BBC World News and A&E Biography.  Visit him at

Reading Great Literature

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

Hardback:  A bullet has taken ten years to find its mark.  Now Harry Bosch needs to find a killer before it's too late.

The Burning Room (2014) is the nineteenth book in the stupendous Detective Harry Bosch series set in Los Angeles.

In the Los Angeles Police Department's Open-Unsolved Unit, not many murder victims die a decade after the crime.

So when Orlando Merced finally succumbs to complications from being shot ten years earlier, Bosch catches a case in which the body is still fresh, but any other evidence is virtually nonexistent.

Partnered with Lucia Soto, a rookie detective who made her name in a violent liquor store shoot-out, Bosch begins to see political dimensions to the case - a case where, despite the seemingly impossible odds, failure to find the killer is simply not an option.

Not only does Soto soon reveal a burning obsession that could make her a loose cannon, the one piece of evidence they have on the Merced shooting also points in a shocking and unexpected direction that could unsettle the very people who want Bosch to close out the case.

It's looking like Orlando Merced may not be the investigation's only victim.

That includes Bosch himself.

About the author:  Michael Connelly, a former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, is the author of more than a dozen acclaimed Harry Bosch thrillers and several courtroom dramas featuring Mickey Haller (the Lincoln Lawyer series), as well as standalone bestsellers such as The Poet (1996).

Michael Connelly is a former President of the Mystery Writers of America.  His books have been translated into thirty-one languages and have won numerous awards and have sold more than fifty-eight million copies worldwide.

He is the executive producer of the forthcoming series Bosch, starring Titus Welliver.  All ten episodes of the series will begin streaming on 13 February 2015 on Amazon Prime Instant Video in the USA and the UK.

He spends his time in Florida and California.

Rating:  6/5

Friday, 23 January 2015

Cobra by Deon Meyer

Hardback:  Cobra (2014) is the latest and fourth book in the brilliant Benny Griessel thriller series - introducing some marvellous new characters - with Deon Meyer's trademark page-turning finesse.

Benny Griessel is first on the scene of a bloodbath at a luxury guesthouse on a beautiful Franschhoek wine farm.

Two of the professionally executed dead are bodyguards, but there is no sign of the man they were meant to be protecting:  Paul Morris, a British citizen with a brand new passport, new suitcase, new clothes and no history, has been kidnapped.

The only clue is an engraving on every shell case - the flaring head of a spitting cobra.

In Cape Town, skilled pickpocket Tyrone Kleinbooi is drawing on all his considerable talents to pay for his younger sister Nadia's university fees.

Security guards arrest him after he steals a purse from a beautiful foreigner's handbag - but as they question him a figure enters and kills the security guards with consummate ease, leaving behind the distinctive cobra shell casings.

In the chaos, Tyrone manages to escape with his loot but he leaves his mobile phone behind.

Meanwhile Benny and his Hawk unit partners make some uncomfortable discoveries:  Morris's passport is fake and the British consulate is suddenly not very eager to cooperate.

The cobra casings are the mark of a ruthless assassin and the missing man is an eminent Cambridge mathematician.

Why would a mathematics professor from Cambridge University, renting a holiday home outside Cape Town, require a false identity and three bodyguards?

Where is he, now that they are dead?

What knowledge does he hold that is so desirable and so dangerous?

Investigating the massacre, Benny Griessel and his team find themselves being drawn into an international conspiracy with shocking implications.

It seems it is not just the terrorists and criminals of Britain and South Africa who may fear the Professor's work, but the politicians too.

Then, Nadia Kleinbooi is abducted...

Cobra was translated from the Afrikaans to the English by K L Seegers.

About the author:  Deon Meyer lives near Cape Town in South Africa.  His big passions are motorcycling, music, reading, cooking and rugby.  In January 2008, he retired from his day job as a consultant on brand strategy for BMW Motorrad, and is now a full-time author.  Deon Meyer's books have attracted worldwide critical acclaim and a growing international fanbase.  Originally written in Afrikaans, they have now been translated into twenty-six languages.

Thirteen Hours (2010) was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger and won the Boeke Prize in South Africa - the first time in the prize's sixteen year history that a South African book has won.  His novels have also won literary prizes in France, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, and the film rights to seven of his novels have been optioned or sold.

Deon has also written two television series, and several screenplays for movies.  In 2013, he directed one of his original scripts for the feature film The Last Tango.

Visit the author's website and follow him on Twitter @MeyerDeon.

Rating:  5/5

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen

Hardback:  Die Again (2014) is the latest and eleventh heart-pounding thriller in the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles bestselling series, the inspiration behind TNT's hit show Rizzoli and Isles.

When Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are summoned to a crime scene, they find a killing worthy of the most ferocious beast - right down to the claw marks on the corpse.

Only the most sinister human hands could have left renowned big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott gruesomely displayed like the once-proud animals whose heads adorn his walls.

Did Gott unwittingly awaken a predator more dangerous than any he's ever hunted?

Maura fears that this isn't the killer's first slaughter, and that it won't be the last.

After linking the crime to a series of unsolved homicides in wilderness areas across the country, she wonders if the answers might actually be found in a remote corner of Africa.

Six years earlier, a group of tourists on safari fell prey to a killer in their midst.

Marooned deep in the bush of Botswana, with no means of communication and nothing but a rifle-toting guide for protection, the terrified tourists desperately hoped for rescue before their worst instincts - or the wild animals prowling in the shadows - could tear them apart.

The deadliest predator was already among them, and within a week, he walked away with the blood of all but one of them on his hands.

Now this killer has chosen Boston as his new hunting ground, and Rizzoli and Isles must find a way to lure him out of the shadows and into a cage.

Even if it means dangling the bait no hunter can resist: the one victim who got away.

About the author:  Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen is also a physician and she brings to her novels her first-hand knowledge of emergency and autopsy rooms.  Her thrillers starring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the hit TV series Rizzoli and Isles.  Tess's interests span far more than medicine and crime.  As an anthropology student at Stanford University, she catalogued centuries-old human remains and continues to travel the world, driven by her fascination with ancient cultures and bizarre natural phenomena.  She lives with her husband in Maine.  Visit her website for more information.

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Seduced By Madness: The True Story Of The Susan Polk Murder Case by Carol Pogash

Paperback:  She was fifteen when she visited the therapist;  still a teen when they first had sex.  She was twenty-five when she married him and forty-four when she killed him.

In October 2002, Susan Polk, the soft-spoken mother of three teenage boys, was arrested for stabbing her husband and former therapist, Dr Felix Polk, to death.

Three years later she was tried for first degree murder, choosing to act as her own attorney in a trial that rapidly devolved into one of the most outrageous media circuses in modern history.

The author, Carol Pogash, was there.

Here, Pogash provides a first-hand account of the wild, media-circus trial in which Susan defended herself and cross-examined two of her sons.  Illustrating how the prosecution and the court responded to Susan's volatile behavior, Pogash takes you inside the deliberation room and uncovers how jurors reached their surprising verdict.

To a crowded courtroom, Susan Polk presented her defense - a bizarre story of unethical therapies, abuse, repressed memories, and satanic rituals - and, in doing so, exposed her madness.

Seduced by Madness (2007) is the remarkably compelling, profoundly disturbing true story of the severe dysfunction of an affluent American family, as told by the leading journalist who worked the case.  With lyrical prose, Pogash skillfully traces the Polks' story - from their early yearnings for one another through their flawed marriage, which produced three highly intelligent but emotionally divided sons.

Weaving a complex narrative of a family who lived in multimillion dollar homes but lingered in the shadow of dysfunction, Pogash reassembles their life in the years and months before Felix's death, intimately describing what led this soft-spoken wife to murder.

It is a spellbinding recreation of a troubled life, a marriage, a murder, and a terrifying, inexorable descent into madness.

Currently, Susan Polk is incarcerated at the California Institution for Women (CIW), a dorm-like prison, in Corona (near Chino), CA.

She will be eligible for parole in 2017.

About the author:  Carol Pogash is an all-utility writer.  She has been a newspaper reporter and columnist, magazine writer and editor, TV reporter, internet editor and writer, radio essayist and author.  The program 60 Minutes hired her as a consultant.  She was the anchor interview on NBC Dateline and other TV news magazines.

Her stories are published in The New York Times on the front page and in National, Arts & Leisure, Business, Science, Style, Sports and the Op Ed sections.  She has covered AIDS, homelessness, a Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier and the country’s first cat cafe.  Pogash tweets (@cpogash) but has yet to figure out how to earn a living doing it.

The Journey That Matters

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Peace Pledge

Bitter Blood: A True Story of Southern Family Pride, Madness and Multiple Murder by Jerry Bledsoe

Paperback:  1984.

The first bodies found were those of a feisty millionaire widow and her beautiful daughter in their posh Louisville, Kentucky, home.

Months later, another wealthy widow and her prominent son and daughter-in-law were found savagely slain in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Mystified police first suspected a professional in the bizarre gangland-style killings that shattered the quiet tranquility of two well-to-do southern communities.

But soon a suspicion grew that turned their focus to family.

The Sharps.

The Newsoms.

The Lynches.

The only link between the three families was a beautiful and aristocratic young mother named Susie Sharp Newsom Lynch.

Could this former child "princess" and fraternity sweetheart have committed such barbarous crimes?

And what about her gun-loving first cousin and lover, Fritz Klenner, son of a nationally renowned doctor?

"Susie has done this," were the first words David spoke when he heard about the second murders.

And when he continued to insist that Susie had to be involved, his mother broke her stunned silence, "Don't say that.  You don't know that, she's family."

Susie was on the minds of others that night.

For, later when the Newsoms heard about the killings, they telephoned Susie, offering to have someone come over and stay with her.

Susie declined, breaking off the conversation by saying, "Well, my dog has run off.  I've got to go find him.  I'll talk to you later."

A strange reaction to the revelation that her parents and beloved grandmother had been murdered...

Later, Forsyth County Sheriff Preston Oldham said, "There are a multitude of things that could have prompted it.  An exact, hard-core motive will never be known.  It could have been revenge.  It could have been greed.  It could have been personal problems.  It could have been child custody...This whole's unreal how it was played out, almost like a dime-store novel with so many twists and turns..."

In this powerful and riveting tale of three families connected by marriage and murder, of obsessive love and bitter custody battles, Jerry Bledsoe, in Bitter Blood (1988) recounts the shocking events that ultimately took nine lives, building to a truly horrifying climax that will leave you stunned.

About the author:  Jerry Bledsoe is the author of the New York Times Number One bestseller Bitter Blood, as well as two other national bestsellers, Blood Games (1991) and Before He Wakes (1994), and many other books.  He has been contributing editor for Esquire, a reporter and columnist for the Greensboro, North Carolina, News & Record, The Charlotte Observer and the Louisville Times.  Three of his books were made into movies and mini-series for CBS, and a feature film of The Angel Doll was released for Christmas 2000.  His work also has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other publications.  He lives in Randolph County, North Carolina, with his wife, Linda.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A Twisted Faith: A Minister's Obsession and the Murder that Destroyed a Church (True Story) by Gregg Olsen

Paperback:  New York Times bestselling author Gregg Olsen investigates the sensational  story of a minister who seduced four of his female congregants and hatched a cold-blooded plot to murder his wife.  His sin was adultery.  His crime was murder.

On 26 December 1997, near the affluent community of Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle, a small brown vertical-sided house went up in flames.  In it was the shy, beloved minister's wife Dawn Hacheney.

When the fire was extinguished, investigators found only her charred remains.  Her husband Nick was visibly devastated by the loss.

What investigators failed to note, however, was that Dawn's lungs didn't contain smoke.  Was she dead before the fire began?

So begins this true crime story that's unlike any other.  It investigates Nick Hacheney, a youth pastor at Christ Community Church on Bainbridge Island.  He counseled young couples and convinced young women that having sex with him was part of God's plan but that wasn't the worst of Youth Pastor Nick Hacheney's unspeakable sins.  The tragic house fire that ultimately consumed his soft-spoken wife was no act of God.

What demons drove a highly respected minister to commit the most sinful of crimes?

How did five women including Hacheney's own mother-in-law fall prey to his seductions?

Combining firsthand confessions, erotically charged emails and one woman's chilling prophecies, Gregg Olsen paints a shocking portrait of a church, a community and a man of the cloth who turned out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.

He would be convicted for his wife's murder five years to the day after the crime on 26 December 2002, more than a year after his arrest.  He did not testify.  Throughout his incarceration, Nick has professed his innocence.  In 2007, he won a legal victory in the Washington Supreme Court when the panel of justices agreed that the arson charge was not substantiated by the facts, thereby striking down the "aggravated" aspect of his conviction, which had carried a mandatory no-parole sentence.

He was resentenced on 30 May 2008 and now will be eligible for parole as soon as 2025.

From one of the foremost names in true crime, Twisted Faith (2010) is a gripping and truly unforgettable story which started on that smoky Bremerton morning more than a decade ago and which seemed so final, so devastating in its outcome that none involved could know that they were in the middle of a story.  Not the beginning and far, far from the end.

About the author:  Throughout his career, Gregg Olsen has demonstrated an ability to create a detailed narrative that offers readers fascinating insights into the lives of people caught in extraordinary circumstances.  The award-winning author has written nine non-fiction books, nine novels, a novella, and contributed a short story to a collection edited by Lee Child as well as been a guest on scores of national and local television shows, including educational programs for the History Channel, the Learning Channel, and Discovery Channel.  He, a Seattle native, lives in Olalla, Washington, with his wife, twin daughters, three chickens, Milo (cocker spaniel) and Suri (dachshund).

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Pilgrimage by Gerry Straub

I cannot learn about God.
I can only unlearn the things
that are keeping me
from a full awareness of God.
To find Christ you must make a pilgrimage
to the center of your being,
to the place where the human and the divine meet.
The key to being a pilgrim
is to remain still interiorly as you journey…
otherwise you are just a wanderer.
To pray is to embark on a journey without end -
a journey deep into the heart of darkness, of paradox, of mystery.
The journey to God is slow.
Each day, we inch our way along a steep, winding road.
The pace of spiritual transformation
moves about as quickly as traffic in Los Angeles.
Spirituality is essentially a journey
in which we move from what we are
to what we will be;
it is a journey to weakness.
We truly learn to live when we begin
to explore our weaknesses.
Every experience of weakness
is an opportunity of growth and renewed life.
Weaknesses transformed by the reality of Christ
becomes life-giving virtues.