Monthly Archives: March 2015
Yearning to Breathe Free
Reviewed by G G Collins (Copyright 2015)
***** Reports of ghostly sounds by the night Park Ranger on Ellis Island has Anna searching the historic landmark’s creepy abandoned buildings. But what has brought her to New York City is her sister’s illness. It’s a heart-wrenching time for Anna in what is one of Barr’s best stories.
In Liberty Falling Barr reached a comfortable place writing Anna, the park ranger who grapples with murder in every park she works. The nice thing about this series is that Anna is such an authentic person, er, character. We like her because she screws up. She battles alcoholism, she struggles to express her feelings and she knows who we are because she is us. It’s the perfect combination of human weakness quelled by the strength we all somehow muster in challenging times.
In this remarkable chapter in Anna’s life, she has come to New York because her sister, Molly, is gravely ill. Molly is a very important person in Anna’s life: part sister, part mother. The problem is that Molly, too, needs a confidant. While she is a successful therapist, she does everything wrong as far as her own health is concerned: smokes, drinks, no exercise. It has finally caught up with her and she lies in ICU at Columbia-Presbyterian where she underwent bypass surgery complicated by pneumonia.
Anna’s former lover Frederick Stanton is also standing vigil and as steadfast readers know, he is now smitten with Anna’s sister. His obvious love for her sister as he reads to the unconscious woman causes conflicted emotions for Anna, and the romantically inclined attentions of Molly’s doctor further confuse her. No longer on the wagon, Anna sips the deadly brew to fortify her sagging soul.
To be close to Molly, Anna’s staying at a friend’s house on Liberty Island. When a fourteen-year-old girl takes the express route down the Statue of Liberty—usually 354 claustrophobic steps and a hot two-hour climb—Anna’s attention is diverted from her sister. A visitor to the statue claims that a park employee pushed the dead girl. Anna likes the accused, in spite of knowing Hatch for only a short while, and can’t help doing a little investigating on her own even though she has no legal authority. When Hatch is found dead at the base of Lady Liberty some herald it as a guilt-induced suicide but Anna thinks it may be murder.
Missing the open spaces in her home park of Mesa Verde, Colorado, Anna goes exploring Ellis Island, part of Liberty State Park. One building has been painstakingly restored to its lavish 1920s design but the others remain sad ruins of another era. During its day, 10,000 of the masses passed through Ellis Island each day hoping for a new beginning. The building consisted of a huge immigration center and state-of-the-art (at the time) hospital including operating theaters and autopsy facility. Today, the same numbers visit the compound and wonder what it must have been like. You will too because Barr describes it well and you almost feel lost in time.
What she finds leads to a conspiracy of death and destruction if Anna can’t uncover who is behind it. In the final spellbinding pages Anna attempts to thwart a pernicious plot at Liberty’s feet in Barr’s shining homage to the best and worst of humankind.
Liberty Falling does not fall short of expectations and instills in the reader a new appreciation for those who came before—yearning to breathe free.
Liberty Falling (Anna Pigeon Mysteries Book 7)
Berkley, Penguin Group ● 352 pp ● March 1999 ● Now available on Kindle
To read the full poem written by Emma Lazarus and learn about Liberty State Park go to http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm. Lazarus died four years after writing the poem at age 38. It is unclear if she ever saw Liberty standing.
The Truth is Out There
Reviewed by G G Collins (Copyright 2015)
***** Willa Jansson was all set for a three-week no-brainer holiday when she made the mistake of answering the telephone. In a few moments, visions of idyllic beaches and languid hours vanished. Psychiatrist Fred Hershey called in a favor and Willa is hard-pressed to say no in this delightful romp through the strange.
For the past year Willa has been coasting along as a multimedia attorney—mostly because she thought it sounded cool and she’d been unemployed when the opportunity came along. Hershey wants her to defend a client accused of manslaughter in a hit and run accident with bizarre extenuating circumstances.
In this case of tabloid proportions, the accused, mushroom authority Allan Miller, maintains he can’t remember the accident happening. Under hypnosis he confessed to being kidnapped by aliens where he underwent gross experiments. Even he would rather he be guilty of the crime than admit to what his subconscious maintains happened during a period of missing time. (Cue eerie music.)
As Willa reluctantly investigates the earthly possibility that her client committed this crime, the other world of UFOs and alleged abductions comes to the forefront. A crop circle is found in a field by a local citizen who attracts believers to Santa Cruz from all over. Shades of Roswell! Even Willa experiences missing time and struggles with trying to explain it to herself.
It appears the provincial law has not done a compelling job of examining the evidence. Certainly tire tracks were not found in the Brussels sprout field. The car in question had to sail off the cliff adjacent the growing cruciferous veggies in order to land atop the car below. Willa is determined to look for terrestrial evidence to clear her client.
To offer a balanced defense she requests the least kooky UFO specialists she can find. Unfortunately they can’t agree among themselves just how to explain, let alone prove, UFO abductions.
Other witnesses are afraid to testify due to the financial and social ramifications. Willa is fired when the firm catches on to the shenanigans going on in Space People’s Court.
Further complications arise because of a well-known columnist who has been sitting in on the testimony. He exposes Miller’s long ago doctoral thesis which posed the theory that mushrooms may be an alien life-form, opening the prospect of Spore Wars. Well, you get the idea.
Willa’s fruitcake mother shows up ready to organize a demonstration. She has a long ago connection to one of the UFOlogists, but to avoid upsetting the trial her daughter scuttles her back home before she can cause anymore hullabaloo.
Matera doesn’t draw any conclusions regarding the legitimacy of UFO reports or abductions, but getting there is a hoot. As we all know, the truth is out there.
Star Witness (A Willa Jansson Mystery, Book #6)
Simon & Schuster ♦ 255 pp ● June 1997 ♦ Now available on Kindle
Britt Montero Never Takes “No” For An Answer
Reviewed by G G Collins (Copyright 2015)
***** Miami. Bold, sizzling and dangerous. Police reporter Britt Montero is front and center when it comes to danger in this breathless slam-bam thriller from author Edna Buchanan.
It was no surprise when Alex Aguirre’s life was extinguished in a car bombing outside his employer, WTOP-TV. His outspoken commentaries put him in disfavor with Castro, Miami’s high-ranking politicians, The Miami News, the Mafia, CIA, even the U.S. President. Perhaps most menacing is Juan Carlos Reyes, a rich and powerful anti-Castro revolutionary.
A persistent parent grieving his missing son approaches Britt in the newsroom. She reluctantly agrees to do some checking when she remembers another missing boy of similar description. Missing people are nothing new, and rarely news. Most either turn up or don’t want to be found. But the age cluster these boys belong to is the most difficult to find. They are too young to be missed immediately by family or day care; not old enough to be easily tracked by Social Security number, driver’s license or credit cards.
As her investigation evolves, Britt learns that there are other missing boys, all fair-haired, blue-eyed and close in age. The police develop a task force—for political reasons. Parents of the missing boys, encouraged by her inquiries, form a support group. The families revive their hope that the children will be found unharmed.
Britt is exasperated when ordered to do a political interview with Juan Carlos Reyes, during one of her busiest seasons—late summer, the high season for violent crime. Although of Cuban descent, she abhors Cuba and its politics preferring to concentrate on making a difference in the here and now. She blames her superior, an incompetent token-type, but then learns that Reyes specifically requested her.
Britt approaches Reyes with trepidation. His vehement outbursts against The Miami News are legendary. Surprisingly, he is quite charming and alludes to knowledge of her mother (a relationship?) and long-dead patriot father—assassinated by the Castro regime. He tells her of a diary her father allegedly kept until his death, hinting that he may be able to place it in her hands.
When Britt tells her mother about the interview with Reyes, mom promptly pulls a vanishing act leaving Britt alone in a restaurant. Britt’s calls remain unanswered along with her attempts at personal contact. Mom’s uncharacteristic behavior leaves Britt baffled.
Confusion becomes her constant companion when Jorge Bravo, another Cuban insurgent, protests her interview with Reyes claiming him to be a traitor. He scoffs at Reyes statements about her father’s journal. Bravo, a man nearly spent by his compulsion to liberate Cuba, does produce a photo of her father as a young man.
While Britt sorts through clues to the missing boys and tries to determine who she can trust regarding her father’s writings, a hurricane of gigantic proportions rages in from the Atlantic threatening to wipe out the city. When it rains, it pours!
The trail of lost sons reaches its apex during the worst hurricane to strike Miami in fifty years. With all emergency help cut off (“Miami, you’re on your own.”) Britt abandons her storm post to confront the man who knows the truth of her father’s execution. Putting her own life at risk, she exposes the work of a heinous killer.
In Act of Betrayal Britt Montero establishes that a woman alone is not helpless but can be a powerful force during life-altering events. Britt lives life with resourcefulness and grit, never taking no for an answer in her quest for a breaking story.
Act of Betrayal by Edna Buchanan (Britt Montero Series Book 4)
Hyperion ♦ 320 pp ♦ February 1996 ♦ Now available in Kindle format