May 17, 2010

Guest Post/ Book Tour: Jeffrey A. Cohen, The Killing of Mindi Quintana: A Novel

Guest post by Jeffrey A. Cohen, author of The Killing of Mindi Quintana, published May 16, 2010.

Welcome, Jeffrey. What can you tell us about your new crime novel?

My Courtroom Thrillers: Exposing Injustice Through Fiction

As a Philadelphia lawyer whose novels always include some courtroom drama, I am often asked what it is that fascinates me so much about trials.

Well, it’s this: We pluck twelve people from life, call them society, and suspend time while an accused sits in purgatory waiting to be cast out or accepted back among us. An epic battle ensues. At stake is freedom for the accused, vindication (or what can be had of it) for victims, and fairness in the process for all of us. In short, it is justice that hangs in the balance.

As a child I would skip school, take the train to center city Philadelphia and watch criminal trials at our imposing City Hall. My father is a lawyer who had an office across the street; he’d circle trials for me in the Legal Intelligencer, and send me over. He considered what I’d be watching an education as important as anything I’d learn at school, and it certainly was.

Even for a child, it was easy to mark the transformation in the courtroom as the bailiff presented, and the judge took the bench, and the jury was seated. Only moments before, the lawyers and courtroom personnel had been milling about, at ease and informal, gossiping, laughing at a joke, shaking hands or pointing their hellos. Perhaps defendant’s counsel and the prosecutor had stood aside for a moment and chatted—this was usually amicable—and then returned to their tables to make notes, or the defense attorney to confer with the defendant. The judge himself might even have entered the hubbub from his chambers and almost unnoticed conferred with a clerk; or I might have glimpsed him on the phone through his open chambers door, already enrobed or in his suit.

But now, the courtroom called to order, informality evaporated like a disappeared smile. And I would watch amazed as these courtroom actors, these joke tellers and back slappers of a moment ago, slipped unmistakably, even awesomely, into roles much larger than themselves. This is how I experienced it as a child. And it hasn’t much changed, my reverence for the adversarial process by which we Americans render justice.

But, of course, justice isn’t always rendered. The spark for my novels is always an injustice, a particular miscarriage or a systemic problem. It will be an injustice that comes back to me in my thoughts over a long period of time, and increasingly gets to me, until I find myself considering how to expose and address it through fiction. Really what it is, is that I want to get to the bottom of it and understand it myself.

For example, the spark for my novel The Killing of Mindi Quintana was the true-life story of convicted murderer Jack Henry Abbott. Abbott became a cultural icon and literary shooting star when his book of prison letters, In the Belly of the Beast, was published in 1981.

One injustice of the Abbott case is that this evil man’s letters, irrationally justifying his lifetime of violent crime, resulted in public sympathy, literary acclaim, and even his parole. Another injustice, tragic, is that within six weeks of his release Abbott killed again, the night before a laudatory review of his book would appear in the New York Times. A final injustice—the one that got me writing—is that Richard Adan, the 22 year-old waiter Abbott stabbed in the heart for refusing him use of an employees-only restroom, was pursuing his dream of becoming a writer himself.

The Killing of Mindi Quintana deals with the injustice of fame and acclaim through murder. It takes issue with our attribution to our violent criminals of special talents, bravery, charisma and charm; our remaking of them as folk heroes and sympathetic anti-heroes. In The Killing of Mindi Quintana a frustrated department store clerk kills, and his little life turns big. The object now of fascination, he pens the book about his victim everybody wants, and drags her through the mud. A new celebrity murderer takes the stage. A comeuppance is in order.

I’m currently working on my second novel, A Plea for Leniency, in which a white-shoe criminal defense attorney has just lost his case defending a major corporate America CEO. Convinced he’s failed an innocent man, A Plea for Leniency is his unorthodox request of the prosecutor for compassion in recommending sentence. It is the truth about his client he could not tell in court. The novel takes us from Wall Street to the mountain slums of Rio de Janeiro; and from astounding business success to ruin, and in some ways back. We come to see that that this lawyer pleads for compassion not only for his client, but for himself. And we find reasons for mercy.

In A Plea for Leniency the injustice addressed is that of painting CEOs, in an age of popular anger, with too broad a brush; and the scant evidence upon which several high profile CEOs have been prosecuted. Not all corporate CEOs are crooks, not even all accused CEOs are crooks. Mine isn’t, yet he’s swept up in the cultural rage of the Enron and post-Enron eras, and he’s convicted. There’s no constituency for CEOs, maybe they don’t need one—but there should always be a constituency for those wrongfully accused of crime, and those convicted on too little evidence.

For more information on the author:

My comments:  I thought this was an interesting story about profiting from crime and the injustice of it. In this novel, the criminal is thwarted at the end, however, in a clever plan.

My only objection to the novel is the title, The Killing of Mindi Quintana, which gives too much of the plot away, right up front, especially since Mindi's demise is not until the middle of the book. I kept reading just to find out when and how, not what would happen. The book became more suspenseful in the second half, however, with a twist at the very end.

Thanks to Jeffrey A. Cohen for explaining legal thrillers and his book in such good detail and so convincingly.

TLC Book Tour provided an ARC of the book for this tour. Click on the link for other stops on the tour.

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May 16, 2010

Sunday Salon: Relaxing Sunday

The Sunday

Welcome to the Sunday Salon!
In the Shadow of the CypressMy current read? In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck, who I think is John Steinbeck's son.

Making a Case for Life: A New Definition of PerfectionReceived in the mail, Making a Case for Life: A New Definition of Perfection by Stephanie Wincik, a book on disabled children and the vital role they play in families and society.

A book tour post will be up tomorrow for  The Killing of Mindi Quintana by Jeffrey Cohen and I will be doing a review later on of  the time-travel romance, Flirting with Forever by Gwyn Cready.

I'm also reading an ARC of the latest thriller set in hot Bangkok, The Queen of Patpong: A Poke Rafferty Thriller by Tim Hallinan, a Sept. 1, 2010 release.

I reviewed two books, in spite of a hectic work week:  Nancy's Theory of Style, a romatic comedy by Grace Coopersmith, plus the detective thriller, Snakes Can't Run by Ed Lin.  I also had a Guest post by Grace Coopersmith aka Marta Acosta, who also writes the Casa Dracula series.

Have you heard of the new eReader that's coming on the market, the Kobo eReader?  Suzanne of Chick with Books has a post all about it. It's to be distributed by Borders and costs only $150! This may be the one for me!

What did you read last week?

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May 15, 2010

Book Review: Snakes Can't Run by Ed Lin

Snakes Can't Run: A Mystery (Thomas Dunne Books) by Ed Lin

Snakes Can't Run

Book description:
" It's a hot summer in New York's Chinatown in 1976 and Robert Chow, the Chinese American detective son of an illegal immigrant, takes on a new breed of ruthless human smuglers - snakeheads- when two bodies of smuggled Chinese are found dead under the Brooklyn Bridge underpass. But as Robert comes closer to finding some answers, he discovers a dark secret in his own family's past."
The book's title: I knew about the term "snakeheads," having read a mystery set in more recent times about illegal immigration from China. Snakeheads prey on people looking for a way to enter the U.S. at any cost, but the illegals or "snakes" usually face conditions worse than they ever imagined when they get here. I assume that's the meaning behind the title of the book, Snakes Can't Run.

Main character: Author Ed Lin uses dialogue between his characters to give the history of the Chinese immigrants to the U.S., both legal and illegal. Lin also uses the plot and circumstances to explain Chinese customs and culture. The book's main character, Robert Chow, a Chinese American cop with a Chinatown beat, is also a Vietnam vet who sometimes has nighrmares and flashbacks of his time during the war. He tries to help a fellow veteran in Chinatown, Don, who seems to have severe psychosis, insisting there are voices coming from behind the walls of his room. His partner in the police force, Van Dyke, a black cop and a supportive friend, also has family problems of his own and Robert tries to help him with this.

Robert also has to find out the identity of the key player, the top snakehead responsible for the killing of two young men in Chinatown who might have tried to defy the exploiting system of payback to make it on their own. He traces his own father's history as an illegal immigrant and comes up with some surprising finds.

Comments: I learned more about the tongs, what they are, and how they worked in Chinatown to protect and organize people who speak the same dialect or who are from the same villages in China.  I also learned how some of the tongs turned to criminal activity. A good plot, sympathetic main character, and a lot of information about the early Chinese in America. I recommend the book for mystery lovers as well as those interested in this part of American history.

Ed Lin won awards for his first and second mysteries, Waylaid and This Is a Bust. He lives in New York City.

Challenge: Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge, 100+ Reading Challenge, Support your Local Library Challenge

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May 14, 2010

Review: Nancy's Theory of Style by Grace Coopersmith

Nancy's Theory of Style by Grace Coopersmith (Paperback, May 18, 2010)
Genre: women's fiction, romance

My comments: Nancy's Theory of Style is funny, original. I loved the romance and the characters. Nancy is a perfectionist in her tastes - her dress, her apartment, and her relationships have to be "just so." When she splits from her husband because of what he did to their dream house in her absence - putting a gigantic wet bar in their bedroom, for instance - she leaves for her San Francisco apartment and hires an assistant, Derek, who is equally fastitidous about style. Because he is gay, Nancy assumes their business relationship will work out perfectly.

Nancy's style is put to the test not only by Derek, who becomes increasingly attractive to her, but also by a four year old child literally left on her doorsteps by Nancy's irresponsible cousin, Birdie. How does Nancy cope with toys on the living room floor, a puppy in the closet, and the mayhem that a young child brings?

I can't wait for the next romantic comedy that Grace will write! I loved Nancy's Theory of Style! And not just because I was given a free copy of the book by Simon and Schuster to review! For romatic comedy, I give this a five.

See Grace's guest post: Mayhem Ensues by Grace Coopersmith

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge,
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Guest Post by author Grace Coopersmith, Mayhem Ensues

Mayhem Ensues, a guest post by Grace Coopersmith, on her debut romantic comedy,

Nancy's Theory of Style by Grace Coopersmith, (Paperback, May 18, 2010)

Thanks and welcome Grace, for visiting to discuss Nancy's Theory of Style. Why did you switch to this genre? How easy was that for you?

Grace:  I studied literature and creative writing, so naturally I feel guilty about writing romantic comedies. After all, there are so many serious topics to cover: war, pestilence, families ripped apart by abuse and addiction, political corruption. These fabulous topics can be paired with characters who feel a sense of ennui, or alienation, or unspecified rage. I’m utterly dazzled by the range of Oprahish subjects that reveal moral depravity in a convenient, fictionalized form.

Sometimes I daydream about writing such a book. It will be in dispassionate third-person, present tense natch, and I’ll strive to make it simultaneously stark and turgid. It will have tortured metaphors and detail so painstaking that readers will wish they were having a root canal instead. In other words: it would have artistic merit. I’d be able to tell my intellectual friends that I’m working on this noble tome, and they would be impressed and invite me to speak at their book clubs.

Instead, when people ask me what I do, I mumble, “Comedy, um, set in San Francisco, er, young woman, very stylish, contemporary…Oh, are those grilled prawns on the buffet?”

Why do I do it then, when I must suffer the scorn that accompanies a writer of, ugh, romantic comedies? Because I am deeply and irrevocably flawed. Because I would rather laugh than cry. Because I’m delighted when I make others laugh.

My agent told me that I can’t use the term “romantic comedy” to describe my books. “It’s the kiss of death,” she said. Frankly, I have a hard time keeping up with publishers’ What’s Hot/What’s Not Hot lists. Anyway, Nancy’s Theory of Style is a romantic comedy about a young socialite, Nancy Carrington-Chambers, who leaves her gauche husband and their tacky McMansion. She returns to her pied-a-terre in posh Pacific Heights to focus on her event planning company, Froth.

Nancy hires the perfect assistant. Derek Cathcart is a British, gay, and impeccable. Then Nancy’s irresponsible cousin deposits her four-year-old in Nancy’s care and takes off to places unknown. You know what I’m going to say now, right? Sure, you do. Mayhem ensues! I love that phrase. There is a party that goes tragically awry. Parties that go tragically awry are a common theme in my stories. And in my life. But let’s not go there.

When I wrote Nancy’s Theory of Style, I was thinking of our society’s materialism. People were overextending themselves to buy horrible huge houses with rooms they never used. There was a sense of entitlement. There was a sense that things could provide happiness. I also thought of those women who have an unrealistic list of requirements for any man. Then they wonder why they’re alone.

So my message, if any, is that perfection is not only unachievable, it is undesirable. The quirks in life make it interesting and beautiful.

Thanks so much, Grace, for giving us so much insight into your new book! Here is my Review of Nancy's Theory of Style

Grace Coopersmith is one and the same as Marta Acosta, author of the CASA DRACULA books. 

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May 11, 2010

The Nicolas Le Floch Affair by Jean-Francois Parot: Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays, hosted by MizB, asks you to choose two sentences at random from your current read. Include the author and title for readers.

The Nicholas Le Floch Affair (Nicolas Le Floch Investigation)The Nicholas Le Floch Affair (Nicolas Le Floch Investigation) by Jean-Francois Parot ( Paperback - March 2010)

"And what kind of poison was it?"
"That's the problem. I have no idea."

Translated by Howard Curtis from the French, this is a crime fiction novel set in 1774 in Paris, France. It is the fourth in the series featuring the hero, Nicolas Le Floch, a police commissioner at the Chatelet.

A plot is in the works to blame Nicolas for the death of his lover, socialite Julie de Lasterieux. In this mystery, he fights to clear his name and find the true culprit.

The book is printed by Gallic of London and was sent to me by the publisher for a future review.

May 9, 2010

Mailbox Monday, May 10

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. Share with us the books that arrived at your house last week!

Recently arrived:

Whiter Than Snow
Whiter Than Snow by Sandra Dallas, women's fiction set in Colorado, 2010

The Season of Second Chances: A Novel

The Season of Second Chances: A Novel by Diane Meier, set in Western Mass., 2010 

The Queen of Patpong: A Poke Rafferty Thriller by Timothy Hallinan, set in Bangkok, 2010

Money to Burn: A Novel of Suspense by James Grippando, set in the Bahamas and New York City, 2010

And a win from Staci at Life in the Thumb: South of Broad: A Novel by Pat Conroy.

South of Broad: A Novel

Two women's fiction, fiction by a male author, and two thrillers. Two of the books are ARCs. What did you get in the mail last week?

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...