‘Hollow Man’: Mark Pryor’s new psychological thriller exposes our inner sociopath – #fiction #bookreview

 

Hollow Man

Mark Pryor

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

By day, Dominic is a tough prosecutor working in a Texas district attorney’s office. That means he can carry a badge and a gun when he’s not in court getting convictions. By night, he is guitar player and singer with a British accent who is trying to make it big in the highly competitive live-music scene in Austin, Texas. Day and night, however, Dominic is something else entirely: a hidden sociopath who wants to commit a crime.

In Hollow Man, driven in part by several sudden and upsetting changes in his life, Dominic finally decides to take that plunge, setting up what he thinks will be a simple heist that will net a lot of cash. But first, for practice, he needs to break into a pub.

“I wanted to practice,” he says in the book. “I couldn’t do a run-through of the theft itself. It had too many moving parts and also was a matter of planning, not practice. No, I wanted to test myself so I’d know how it felt to be a criminal. After so many years of resisting that very temptation, I needed to break the seal, give up my virginity, phrase it how you will.”

But the break-in goes awry, and so does the supposedly well-planned heist. Indeed, it turns into capital murder. And what happens next becomes a chilling, engrossing journey into the mind of a man whose “fear response is almost zero. If someone close to me is in danger, or even if I am, it’s as stressful as a game of chess.”

In Mark Pryor’s new standalone psychological thriller, the danger and tension just keep rising. And Hollow Man‘s ending is both a masterful and shocking surprise.

Si Dunn

 

Blind Moon Alley – John Florio’s 2nd Jersey Leo novel is a noir knockout – #bookreview

 

 

Blind Moon Alley

A Jersey Leo Novel

John Florio

(Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle)

 

Jersey Leo absolutely is a misfit in Prohibition-era, Depression-ravaged Philadelphia. He is a mixed-race albino who works behind the bar at the Ink Well, a speakeasy where the customers include seedy criminals and tough cops looking both for booze and bribes.

Jersey Leo breaks the law every time he pours a drink. He also knows how to use a gun and brass knuckles. And he isn’t above hiding an escaped convict.

Yet he also has genuine notions of right and wrong within his dark world where bread lines and desperation are just around the corner. Mostly, he just wants to stay out of trouble, he claims. “No, I’m not out to rid our streets of crime and corruption. All I want to do is pour some moon, make a little dough, and if the stars align, spend a bit of time with a certain five-foot-two-inch coat checker whose eyes haven’t seen enough of the real world to stop sparkling.”

Of course, that’s not how life works out in Jersey Leo’s underworld, where his street name is “Snowball.” He makes a solemn promise to a cop-killer friend now facing execution in the electric chair, and soon that promise has him running from crooked cops and trying to flee Philadelphia with a speakeasy siren named Myra. She was his grammar-school crush, he’s reasonably sure he loves her again, and he wants to take her to the West Coast, far from the murdering crowd in Philly. Yet there suddenly are more forces and complications at work than Snowball can comprehend or handle once he tries to scrape up their escape money.

Blind Moon Alley, the second Jersey Leo novel, is a thriller rich with thrills–and chills. (The series’ debut novel is Sugar Pop Moon, published last year.) John Florio is a fine writer with a smooth, taut style and tone that quickly bring to mind Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and even Robert B. Parker.  Jersey Leo, however, is not a detective. He is just, in his words, “a genetic milkshake with one too many scoops of vanilla, a piano keyboard with no sharps or flats, a punch line to an inside joke that I’ve never been in on.” He might shoot you if he has to. Or, he might give you his last dollar if he knows you are having a harder time surviving than he is.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York – #bookreview

The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York

 

The Mob and the City

The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York

C. Alexander Hortis

(Prometheus Books, Kindle, hardcover)

 

Forget The Godfather, its sequels and numerous other, famous “Mafia” movies. This excellent book cuts straight through the hype, fictions, and glamorizations to tell “the hidden history of how the street soldiers”–not the godfathers–“of the modern Mafia captured New York City during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.” And its author convincingly argues that “the key formative decade for the Mafia was actually the 1930s”–not “the Prohibition era of the 1920s” as numerous books and movies have had us believe. During the Great Depression-ravaged Thirties, the Sicilian mafiosi , the Cosa Nostra (“Our Thing”), rose to become New York’s top crime syndicate, with thousands of foot soldiers and associates eventually “entrenched throughout the economy, neighborhoods, and nightlife of New York.”

The Mob and the City is well-written and superbly researched. C. Alexander Hortis has dug deeply into available resources but also uncovered important new data sources, including previously secret files obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. Hortis presents a convincing case that there was (1) never really a “golden age of gangsters” in New York and (2) definitely not much honor among thieves. “The wiseguys,” he writes, “broke every one of their ‘rules,’ trafficked drugs almost from the beginning, became government informers, betrayed each other, lied, and cheated.” Hortis’s story of how New York City’s booming economy also offered the major crime syndicates “an embarrassment of riches” to exploit and plunder is fascinating and eye-opening reading.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK BRIEFS: Movie Stunts, Famous Bandits and a World War I Regiment – #bookreview

Cowboy Stuntman

From Olympic Gold to the Silver Screen
Dean Smith with Mike Cox
(Texas Tech University Press – hardback, Kindle)

Dean Smith won an Olympic gold medal in the 400-meter relays at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Then the 20-year-old returned home to Northwest Texas, where he had been a rodeo cowboy. Later, he dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin, spent time in the Army and briefly played professional football with the Los Angeles Rams. But he dreamed of working in Western movies. He finally got his break in 1957, in Dallas. He met up with a friend from Oklahoma whom he had known as Jim Bumgarner. Bumgarner now called himself James Garner, and he was the star of a new TV show, “Maverick.” Garner got Smith into the Hollywood movie and TV stunt business. More than 50 years later, Smith’s entertaining memoir covers not only his rural Texas years but his long career “doubling” in risky action scenes for some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Roy Rogers, Robert Redford, and even Maureen O’Hara.

***

Butch Cassidy: The Lost Years

William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
(Kensington Books – hardback, Kindle)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid most likely are dead — very dead — by now. But rumors persist that the two famous bandits survived a shootout with Bolivian soldiers after they stole a Bolivian silver mine’s payroll in 1908. Then they escaped back to America and disappeared. Prolific author William W. Johnstone has taken those rumors one step further and created a clever, pleasant novel set in 1950. It features a dedicated young Pinkerton detective who happens to be the son and grandson of Pinkerton agents who tried and failed to track down the famed bandits. But the book’s key character is an 85-year-old West Texas rancher who can spin a very good tale–and who might be, or may not be, be Cassidy himself.

***

They Called Them Soldier Boys

A Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I
Gregory W. Ball
(University of North Texas Press – hardback)

Historian Gregory W. Ball’s new book is a well-written study of the 7th Texas Infantry Regiment, its combat experiences in France in World War I, and what happened to many of its soldiers after they returned home to Texas n 1919. One of the Texas National Guard regiments that made up the U.S. Army’s 36th Infantry Division, the 7th Texas  took part in some of World War I’s biggest battles. “What those soldiers experienced, what they felt, and how they expressed themselves to their loved ones back home,” Ball writes, “is important to the history of World War I and of Texas, as their experiences form an important, albeit neglected, part of the Texas military experience.”

Si Dunn

The Trials of Eroy Brown: The Murder Case That Shook the Texas Prison System – #bookreview #in

The Trials of Eroy Brown: The Murder Case That Shook the Texas Prison System
By Michael Berryhill
(University of Texas, hardback, list price $29.95; paperback, list price $25.00)

A prizewinning journalist has dug deeply and impressively into a double killing that still haunts the Texas Department of Criminal Justice more than 30 years after it happened.

In 1981, a prison farm manager and a warden were killed by a black inmate who claimed self-defense. Many predicted the inmate, a convicted burglar and robber named Eroy Brown, would be executed.

But just a year earlier, Texas inmates had won a huge federal civil rights victory against “unrelenting cruelty” and brutal civil rights violations within the Texas prison system. In three trials that followed the killings, juries repeatedly considered the state’s evidence and found Brown innocent each time.

The verdicts, writes Berryhill, “marked the end of Jim Crow justice in Texas.” His account of Eroy Brown’s “astonishing” defense is based on trial documents, exhibits, and journalistic accounts and also draws upon Brown’s story told in his own words.

Berryhill, an excellent writer and researcher, chairs Texas Southern University’s journalism program. He previously has won a Texas Institute of Letters prize for nonfiction.

He has written for a number of well-known publications, including Harper’s, the New Republic, the Houston Chronicle, and the New York Times magazine.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available soon in paperback. He also is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

The Silver Lotus – fine historical fiction by Thomas Steinbeck – #bookreview

The Silver Lotus
By Thomas Steinbeck
(Counterpoint, hardback, list price $25.00; Kindle, $9.99)

Written in the style and language of a 19th-century novel, The Silver Lotus is a grand, sweeping, absorbing tale of Pacific seafaring, romance, family, and business and cultural interactions that ultimately help spur the growth and development of the Northern California coast.

This elegant work of historical fiction has surprisingly little dialogue. Its author, Thomas Steinbeck, son of the great novelist John Steinbeck, relies, instead, on heavy doses of exposition. Yet The Silver Lotus remains an engrossing, well-written story throughout. And it is a refreshing change from books full of fast and furious action and characters who engage in taut exchanges of clever words, while revealing little about their feelings, emotions or sense of place.

Thomas Steinbeck’s novel begins in Canton, China, the late 1890s, in the home of Master Chu-Woo Yee, a man of “high moral principles.” He also is a successful grain merchant with profitable experience in “a great many [other] varieties of exported and imported goods.”

Master Yee allows very few foreigners into his home. But one of them fascinates and intrigues him: Captain Jeremiah Macy Hammond, “one of the last of a long line of the great Nantucket seamen.”

Steamships now have begun to dominate cross-ocean trade. Yet Captain Hammond continues to transport his cargoes under sail, for a very practical reason: profit. He has amassed a small fleet of schooners that can carry large cargoes while sailing inexpensively with only a few crewmen.

When political turmoil suddenly erupts in China, Captain Hammond uses two of his ships to help to move Master Yee, his family, and the Yee fortune to safety in Singapore. Soon, Captain Hammond and Master Yee’s beloved daughter, Silver Lotus, are in love, and Master Yee is in no position to refuse their marriage.

Lady Yee, as Silver Lotus is known, is a remarkable woman with many talents and interests, as well as uncommon beauty. Before their marriage, she informs Captain Hammond that if he chooses to go back to sea, she will “sail with him, and make her life and home by his side.”

In her honor, Captain Hammond repaints his newest ship his wife’s favorite colors, emerald green with yellow trim outlined in black, and rechristens it “The Silver Lotus.” And Lady Yee proves very adept at living at sea beside her husband. She takes “total interest in everything to do with her namesake, her crew, and her cargo.”

Despite its calm narrative and languid pace, Steinbeck’s book has plenty of action and tensions. There are encounters with pirates, sea storms, illnesses, racism, drug abuse, great wealth, and death. There also are dangerous rescues and glimpses into the intricacies and risks of seafaring commerce, as well as clashes over medical and immigration practices in early 20th-century California.

At one level, The Silver Lotus is simply old-fashioned, entertaining historical fiction, enjoyable to read. On another level, however, Thomas Steinbeck’s second novel is a modern, intelligent reflection on how the melding of cultures, talents, dreams and resources has been a driving force behind the growth and prosperity of Northern California, as well as the rest of the United States.

Si Dunn

Here’s the book scaring me this Halloween: America the Vulnerable – #bookreview #data #security

Subtitled “Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare,” America the Vulnerable is written by Joel Brenner, former inspector general at the National Security Agency.

Brenner has recent experience at the highest levels in national intelligence, counterintelligence and data security. And he has studied firsthand many of the threats and attacks against our national, corporate and personal interests.

“During my tenure in government,” he writes, “I came to understand how steeply new technology has tipped the balance in favor of those–from freelance hackers to Russian mobsters to terrorists to states like China and Iran–who want to learn the secrets we keep, whether for national, corporate, or personal security.” He adds: “The truth I saw was brutal and intense: Electronic thieves are stripping us blind.”

Everything from Social Security numbers to technological secrets that cost billions to develop are being taken — stolen from military and corporate data networks and individual computers, possibly including yours.

His book will leave you wide-eyed and wondering who is surreptitiously poking around inside your computer right at this moment and what they are taking or “borrowing” for sinister purposes.

 Likely the Chinese and the Iranians and Russian mobsters and others, including hackers, are in there or have been there recently.

And Brenner explains how you may be unknowingly helping them find and transfer sensitive and vital information, even when you do something seemingly innocuous as plugging in a thumb drive to your laptop.

You won’t need to watch any monster movies to get scared this Halloween. Brenner’s book or its Kindle version can give you a very serious case of chills and frights. 

Si Dunn