Thursday, April 29, 2010

Death Spiral by James W. Nichol

Reviewed for Edwards Magazine Bookclub

James W. Nichol, Canadian author and playwright, has given us a well-written, complicated murder mystery/thriller. Beginning with the protagonist Canadian pilot Wilf McLaughlin during WWII, under heavy fire and toward the end of the war, begins his death spiral as his Spitfire speeds to meet the earth the hard way. "I'm dead" is one of his last thoughts.

But death did not claim him. His plane is found days later with him still in it. His injuries are very serious but he is still alive. After several months in hospital, he returns home to a hero's welcome, but his head full of questions. With one useless arm, and a damaged leg as his main physical problems, there is much more going on in regard to his crash, not the least of which is several days of unaccounted for time, and unexplained blindness for 3 months.

Starting out working in his father's law office, reconnecting with his old friend Andy who is in the police force, and gradually connecting with Carol, his father's secretary, life begins again, but he suddenly finds himself in another type of death spiral. Several deaths in a small town raise eyebrows and awareness and when Wilf seems to be involved in one way or another, whispers around town begin. The deaths all appear to have happened since he came home.

The author has concocted a number of unusual deaths that appear to be unrelated and in some cases appear to be natural causes or accidents. But Wilf will not accept these quick decisions and is sure that they are all related and are in fact, murders. He convinces Andy to help him investigate "unofficially", help that causes Andy a demotion, devastating for a family man.

At the same time, he is trying to acquire his records to find out about his missing time and the mystery of his blindness, falls in love, and does not realize his loved one is already in danger. His father is studying files on the gas chambers and human experiments, which brings Wilf some confusing bits of memories pushing him even harder for answers. Answers he will come to realize he doesn't really want to know.

This book delves into many psychological and philosophical areas, dark places, and bizarre events, interspersed with the humor of friendships. Still, it is an easy book to read, holds the reader's attention, and reminds those of us who can remember, of the terrible crimes of war.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Murder by the Numbers: The Righteous ONE, An Enneagram Mystery by Richard Hicks

Reviewed for "ReviewTheBook"

The first in a rather different mystery series, has the victim been murdered? Was it a suicide? An mercy killing?  Richard Hicks has hit it on the nose with his new series. Chief Eddie DeSilva has just taken early retirement under pressure. His wife had died 10 months earlier in the final throes of cancer, and he has been under a psychologist's care since a shooting incident which, though considered clean, gave rise to suspicions that he was not coping with his wife's death nor having killed a man in the line of duty.

In his reality, he is aware that he is no longer with the department, but his sense of justice will not let him go. When his psychologist, Pauline Graham, asks him for help for a friend of hers, he finds himself drawn into a case he has no business being in. But her friend is believed to have administered a fatal dose of drugs to her father, in terrible pain in his anticipated last few days of terminal illness. Assisted suicide could be construed as murder and the police have arrested Allison

We are introduced to the field of Enneagrams in this series, a personality typing system used by psychologists, therapists, business executives as a method of understanding personalities for whatever direction their particular business takes them.  Pauline, a strong supporter of the Enneagram, is convinced that it is not possible for Allison to perform this act, nor for her very religiously faithful and upstanding Catholic father to commit suicide.

Eddie takes on the case like the bulldog he has always been, calling in favors from friends on the force, jeopardizing them with the new police chief, and putting himself in disfavor with her as well. He has gone from being a favorite among the department to a liability and warned off the case, but he just can't leave it alone.

Since his wife's death, Eddie has been sleeping on his boat, but suddenly it seems he has become a target when someone sabotages his boat, then causes a near-fatal accident. Having been a police chief for so many years, these incidents are treated as possible revenge acts by ex-cons.  Everything starts to heat up, though, and it's anybody's guess what is really going on.  A surprise admission of guilt redirects the whole case of the possible mercy killing.  Within hours the case is redirected again as the pace gets faster and faster until the last red herring is pitched, leaving us wondering how many "accidents", how many deaths, how many secrets were part and parcel of this great first novel.  I'm ready for the next one. Well-written and flowing, characterizations spot-on, subject matter quite fascinating. If you're looking for a new series, look no further.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Confessions of a Trauma Junkie, my Life as a Nurse Paramedic by Sherry Jones Mayo, RN, EMTP, NCCM,

Reviewed for "ReviewTheBook"

You may never have the opportunity to read a book like this again. This true life documentation is an interesting look into the quality and care presented in the most traumatic incidents. Sometimes sad, sometimes humorous, the first part deals with Sherry Jones Mayo's time served as a paramedic.  Vignettes of life, injury and death on the run. As with all traumatic jobs, there must be comic relief, and so there is, the "gallows humor" method of retaining one's sanity in an insane world. I do not use the word "insane" to mean anything degrading, simply as that is how the world appears in chaotic, traumatic incidents of life.  You will find all of these in this honest non-fiction book.

The second part gives the reader insight into who Sherry is, what inspired her, what obstacles she had to overcome in her own life, and where/how the breaking point can suddenly appear. No holds barred, this is again a very honest approach to her life at several stages, her love of family, and how incidents in the ER can impact her concerns for her family.  She has seen it all. It is extremely difficult not to interpret what is happening at work with what might be happening to her own family.  Separating family and work is definitely not as easy as in other occupations.

The third part could well be called survival of the staff from the patients in the ER. It is, for the most part, lighter and a definite theme of how to survive the abuse of the patients.  Told with tongue firmly planted in cheek, it is a day-to-day list of patience above and beyond when it comes to receiving patients who are not really sick or are just simply demanding. The people who are "too sick" to tend to themselves but can manage well enough to treat the caregivers like servants. And then there are the "regulars", people trying to get drugs by acting out pain and telling the doctors what they need.  Here, too, "gallows humor" reigns from necessity.

The fourth section covers in part living with grief, accepting it, healing, and remembering the positive. I found a personal connection in both getting through grief and, further in this section, the result of delayed grief. Apparently I did the right thing in dealing with the loss of my grandmother by writing a story of her childhood, as the only grandchild who had heard all the stories. With delayed grief, it is an entirely different feeling and can hit at any time, even decades later.  It lays buried and unnoticed until some trigger leaves a person reeling and not understanding why, it is buried so deeply.  The content of this section of the book was very helpful to me personally, and I highly recommend the book on the merits of this segment especially.  Referring to grief, Sherry is not only talking about the need for families of patients, but also for those attending to the patients, and their own families too.

A separate story on Hurricane Katrina brings Crisis Intervention to the forefront and demonstrates just how important this is. So little could be done by the rescue teams and yet they felt the need to have done more. This puts a great burden on these people and consequently eventually on their families. This distinct section is a very important read, not only for that aspect but it does explain a lot of errors and delays that occurred at the time.  This portion and the following deal mainly with the very real problems facing even seasoned ER personnel and the need for crisis intervention.

All told, this book will bring a greater understanding of just how much these very special people are capable of, how caring they are, and why some burn out so soon. I definitely recommend this book on many levels. Who has not had some connection to this field at some point in their lives. This is how it is, written faithfully and dealing more with outcomes and feelings than a gory tale.

The book is very well written with a nice balance to hold the lay person's attention. There is also a glossary at the end of the book, although most terms are either recognizable or explained along the way, also.  5 stars

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Southcrop Forest by Lorne Rothman

Reviewed for "ReviewTheBook"

A delightful tale with a strong message.  Cycles of life in the forest told in a friendly way.  How every species on earth depends on another and what that means.  Lorne Rothman has produced an ecological and timely tale for all ages.

The characters draw the reader in immediately.  Little Fur, a colony of tent caterpillars hatched in an oak tree in Southcrop Forest, becomes the lifesaving hero of the plot, under the guidance of Auja, the oak tree. As Fur says, "I'm we" and "we're me", the colony thinks and moves as one. The forest is dying of disease and deforestation, eradicated by the "hewmen" with their giant machinery to make way for development.  A lot of information is in this book and told in a form that allows us to learn about the non-human world around us through this entertaining fable.

These particular tent caterpillars are from very ancient stock called "Runes", which have not put in an appearance for 1,000 years.  They have helped the forest in the past and must do so again. Replenish the soil and bring it back to its previous health so the trees can flourish again. The extent to which environment and habitat are dependent on each other to survive the toxins in the air, the changes in the weather patterns, as well as the lack of coordination with human life is demonstrated so well.  There are also a number of endnotes that are very helpful.

The trees of Southcrop Forest have developed a form of communication with the Runes and with each other, a network through leaves and roots. Through this process they are able to direct the Runes to the "Southcrop Farm" where they will be given what is needed to take to the most important Forest at Dark Sky, giving the Runes the necessary information to bring back the balance and future of the devastated forests around them. The concept of the story and the flow of information through dialogue is wonderful and at the same time very insightful.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass, first in A Body Farm Novel series

It is two years since Dr. Bill Brockton's wife Kathleen died, and he is still immersed in grief and guilt. Written in the first person, the reader immediately becomes connected with the character. His only life in the past two years has been devoted to his work as a Forensic Anthropologist and Anthropology professor.  Now, he has been called upon to assist his nemesis as an expert witness in proving a client innocent of a murder for which Bill believes he was mistakenly sentenced.

In the meantime, a long-dead body has been discovered in a cave, bringing with it a some serious questions. Dr. Brockton is brought in by the Sheriff to assist in the case, which becomes more tricky as the investigation goes on, even though the body is quickly identified.  The very core of the County is about to be turned upside-down.

I love the dialogues, whichever of the two authors who make up Jefferson Bass does the humour I'd certainly like to meet. The "gallows" humour that keeps our sanity when we live with trauma or see so much of it is very well done. I also enjoyed the dialogue including forensic anthropologist characters from other authors' series as real people our protagonist knows, even in one case speaking of a visit from  the author of the Temperance Brennan series, Kathy Reichs, touring the Body Farm.  These, along with wonderful characterizations, are some of the things that make Bass' books so believable.

There are lots of suspects, lots of twists and turns, dead ends, and a double whammy to hit the reader toward the end of the book, but even that isn't the last surprise. So what are we left with?  A satisfying lead into the beginning of what promises to be a continuing adventure into the heart, soul and mystery of crime-solving forensic anthropology.

See also my review for the third book in the series, The Devil's Bones.