Sunday, December 30, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Chasing Smoke by Bill Cameron

Author Bill Cameron
     I first heard of author Bill Cameron after reading 5 on Friday feature about him on Jen's Book Thoughts. The 5 on Friday feature has a different author each week answer five questions about themselves, some about their writing, some more personal. It is a nice way to humanize the name behind the books. I knew as I was reading Mr. Cameron's answers that I had to read one of his books. He answered the questions honestly, as I'm sure all participants do, but also with humor and a sardonic tone. Here is an excerpt:
My favorite place to read is: My wife would probably say it was the bathroom. I scoff at that notion. (Ahem.) I say it’s my backyard, though of course the weather has to cooperate. Which, since I live in Portland, doesn't happen often enough to suit me. Sometimes I sit in the swing, sometimes in the Beverage Chair, and sometimes the hammock (though the hammock often causes napping to occur). They’re all equally awesome. (Though, I suppose, the bathroom is pretty great too.)  
     Although the answers were probably only six or seven paragraphs, I knew that if his novels were written similarly, I couldn't go wrong.

     I chose Chasing Smoke, but as I write this I don't remember why. The novel features Portland, Oregon, homicide Detective Thomas "Skin" Kadash. I later learned there are a series of novels that feature Skin Kadash. Chasing Smoke was preceded by Lost Dog (which I could only find as an eBook from Amazon), and followed by Day One and County Line
     Chasing Smoke was not a disappointment, both in terms of the writing style I was hoping for and a good, hard-boiled mystery. The story was told in the first person of Det. Kadash, who is near the end of his career. He is also not working as a result of a temporary disability; bladder cancer. While convalescing, his partner asks him to help take a look at a death she is investigating, the latest in a series of deaths of cancer patients all seen by the same doctor as Det. Kadash. The deaths all appear to be suicides, but the daughter of one of the victims thinks they are murder. As Det. Kadash looks into it, he doesn't find much other than a few coincidences. In the process, he ruffles feathers that a lot of people would have preferred have been left undisturbed. 
     Like every good hard-boiled mystery, the protagonist has a difficult time following the rules, has an adversarial relationship with his supervisor, and is better at antagonizing the people he interviews than getting valuable information from them. He has sharp wit, razor tongue, and a gift for sarcasm. But he is also very introspective, although often seems ambivalent, about his career, love life, and cancer. Kadash seems likable to those who really know him, but sadly, that is a small group of people. And he doesn't seem to have a problem making the group smaller. 

     The book was a little slow to get started; it took about a third of the way through the book to get that feeling of being there and caring about the hero that is so important to a good mystery. There was also sideline about a romantic interest of Det. Kadash, Sylvia. It was a small portion of the book and seemed somewhat insignificant, just not enough about it for me to really care about either Sylvia or how her role mattered to Kadash.  
     Kadash talked about basic training and being in Vietnam, and a childhood friend of his being killed in Vietnam. However, in another part of the book Kadash said he was 10 years old in 1967. That would have made him only 18 years old in 1975; US involvement in Vietnam ended the Spring of that year, making Kadash and his friend a little young to be in basic training preparing to be sent there. A minor inconsistency, but sometimes those little things that are easily avoidable sticks in my craw throughout a book. 
     *** EDIT: Just after publishing this review, I discovered Mr. Cameron also discovered his inconsistency in Det. Kadash's age; he blogged about on his site. And I should restate that although I noticed the age issue, it didn't take away from my enjoying the story, it's just something I noticed. *** 

     I enjoyed Chasing Smoke, especially the second half. My first impression about Bill Cameron was right: he is fun to read. A smartass of the first order!

Cameron, Bill. Chasing Smoke. Big Earth Publishing, October 15, 2008.
ISBN-13: 9781606480199

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Perfect Kill by AJ Quinnell

AJ Quinnell, 1940-2005
     I was introduced to AJ Quinnell books after reading Man on Fire when it was re-released at the same time the movie featuring Denzel Washington was. As usual, the book was 100 times better than the movie, and I searched for more from Quinnell. I was disappointed to see that all his other books, four featuring mercenary Creasy, were out of print. Last week I was happy to discover that all of Quinnell's books are now available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

     The Perfect Kill is the second of the four Creasy novels. It jumps ahead several years to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in Lockerbie. On board were Creasy's wife and four year old daughter, with whom he has lived in peace and contentment on the Mediterranean island of Gozo after his last act of vengeance years earlier.  Of course, their deaths awakened the call for revenge and justice that he thought had died many years earlier. Plans for the Perfect Kill are set in motion, and Creasy works methodically and coldly to accomplish his task.

     Like Man on Fire, I enjoyed The Perfect Kill. It was well balanced between action and story and the character of Creasy. A reader could tire of the coldness of him, or at least of the emphasis of it, only to find that he's not so cold after all, but it was only a minor detraction from a well told and action packed story. 

     Creasy, noting his advancing years, also begins work on a protégé who can not only help with this mission but carry on after Creasy can not. In doing so Creasy learns, in part as a result of what he has caused, that he does not have a, "monopoly on vengeance."

Quinnell, AJ, The Perfect Kill. 1992

Saturday, December 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Devil She Knows by Bill Loehfelm

     The reptile house. The snakes. That was what her father liked best...The snakes didn't scare her, they bored her silly. They never moved. Ever...What the hell had her father been looking at? The same snakes in the same glass boxes, every time.     Now, eighteen years later, draped over the back of the couch, her legs coiled beneath her as she gazed out the window, Maureen knew what her father had seen in those glass boxes. He'd seen himself, and the similarity didn't end with living in a box...Maureen figured both she and her mother should've spent more time looking into her father's eyes. Maybe one f the would've spotted him for the fake he was. 
     Dark, right? And that passage from The Devil She Knows by Bill Loehfelm is actually one of the more enlightening moments in the book. 
     The Devil could be the darkness inside the characters in this book. Maureen, a late twenties waitress. Amber, her mother, never moved on from being abandoned by her husband eighteen years earlier. Nat Waters, a broken down New York City Detective, who buried his regrets in his job and never looked back. Dennis, Tanya, Vic...owned by something they can no longer control. All of them broken, exhausted, tired of a life that they felt they couldn't change because of choices made long ago. 
     Or the Devil could be Francis Jordan Sebastian. The man that owned them all, in different ways and for different reasons, but owned them not the less. 
     There area lot of devils to choose from in The Devil She Knows

Bill Loehfelm
     This book was wonderfully balanced with descriptive writing, deep and complicated characters, good dialogue, and a plot that was not particularly complicated but sufficiently gritty to satisfy readers. 
     What I enjoyed the most was protagonist Maureen Coughlin. She was merely surviving, defining success as scraping by waiting tables while leading an empty life surrounded by empty people. Because she saw something she shouldn't have, something that she gladly would've forgotten, she became the focus of an evil, homicidal, man. But she took control of her life, her destiny; she decided she would no longer settle for the emptiness of just getting by. 
     Amber shot her a look. "You got nowhere else to go, so suddenly you're interested in your mother?"....     "I got a life full of strangers," Maureen said, "people I see all the time and know nothing about. I met Waters three days ago and I know more about his life than I know about yours. Why is that?" She dug her fists into her armpits. "I don't wanna be strangers, Ma. Not now. Not anymore."
    Bill Loehfelm is one of the authors I had the privilege to meet at Bouchercon 2012. It was a chance meeting, when he generously shared his table at a crowded hotel lounge. This is his third novel but the first I've read. I recently learned there will be a sequel, The Devil in Her Way. I'm looking forward to seeing how Maureen responds to a world in which she has redefined her existence. 

Loehfelm, Bill. The Devil She Knows, Sarah Crichton Books. May 24, 2011. 
  • ISBN-10: 0374136521

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Shoulders of Giants by Jim Cliff

     The Shoulders of Giants is a great first novel by British author Jim Cliff. Set in Chicago, it is told in the first person from the point of view of the very green private investigator Jake Abraham. Jake is a lover of the mystery fiction genre himself, and throughout the book thinks back to stories he read in his youth. 
     He takes his first case looking for the daughter of a disgraced Chicago Police Captain, who at the peak of his career lost everything, and now his daughter.  When she is found dead, he keeps Jake on the case, doubting the Chicago police will do him any favors solving the murder.

     Cliff jumped into the plot without much buildup. While at first this worried me, thinking he would be incapable of any character development or deeper story telling, it worked very well. The book moved quickly, plot was complex, and there were lots of red herrings to keep readers guessing. I could be in the minority in this, but I liked that Jake seemed to play by the rules, cooperated with police, even worked with them and shared ideas, instead of going rogue as so many other detectives in the genre. I also liked that some relationships were what they appeared to be, and not a deeper part of the plot in a genre where betrayal is often the norm. It kept Jake much more real to me.

     Although I enjoyed the book, it was not without some shortcomings. Foremost was the use of British slang; takeaway instead of take out, straight away, dressed smartly, ear defenders instead of ear muffs or ear protection, and having a bath instead of taking a bath, for example. Perhaps it's only noticeable to American readers, and it didn't change my enjoyment of the book, but since the novel is set in Chicago and from the first person point of view of an American, I would have expected a more American way about the writing. 

     Another thing that bothered me was the author's discounting of the bright light emitted by a handgun fired in a dark room. This would have had a small impact during one seen in the book.

     Overall, the likable and real characters, great plot, and Jim Cliff's writing ability make The Shoulders of Giants an excellent novel. Considering it is his first effort, I look forward to great things to come.

Cliff, Jim. The Shoulders of GiantsCreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 13, 2012)

ISBN-13: 978-1477642658

Monday, October 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Panther by Nelson DeMille

     Years ago I read The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille; I wasn't impressed. While an interesting story, I thought it was too long and too slow. Since then, friends have pushed more from DeMille. I resisted. 
     Until now.
     I got my hands on an early copy of DeMille's latest novel, The Panther, released Tuesday October 16, 2012. It is the latest in the John Corey/Kate Mayfield series. The short version of this review: I can't believe I've missed the first five in the series. I have a lot of catching up to do!
     Of course, I've never given the short version of anything, so here is the rest:
     John and Kate are married, both working on the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City. John is an NYPD Detective, Kate an FBI Special Agent. The story is told from mostly in the first person from the point of view of John, a smart, reflective, witty, pain in the ass. The same qualities that make him a good investigator make him difficult to get along with and even more difficult to supervise. That, of course, makes a great story!
     In The Panther, John and Kate are given an assignment in Yemen: to arrest the terrorist responsible for the attack on the USS Cole. Well, "arrest" might not be the most accurate way to describe what the team is really supposed to do, but that is the official assignment.  They've been specially selected, since the American born and raised Panther would like to "arrest" John and Kate, too, to avenge the death of an al Qaeda terrorist that they were responsible for. The two are working with agents from myriad intelligence agencies on this mission: military, State Department, the CIA. All are hardened and experienced patriots, and all have secret agendas that are slowly revealed throughout the book. 

Nelson DeMille
    The book  includes loyalty, deception, betrayal, murder, and more, and that's just among the good guys!  Despite being over 6o0 pages, it is a page turner, helped along by fast dialogue and the laugh out loud wit of the protagonist. 
     I don't know if was DeMille's intent, but I felt Corey's distrust and cynicism, along with the methods used on their Panther hunt, was a critique on the War on Terror, or at least the way it's being fought.
     The Panther is more about the story than the characters. John Corey is a New York cop, and narrates as one would expect from a New York cop. Although he has depth so far as recognizing the danger of the mission, and that there is a good chance he'll be killed, he isn't complex. He knows what he knows and doesn't seem to worry much about what he doesn't. Even the private moments between John and Kate are light. But the danger of the mission always looms, and even reading from the safety of my home I was tense waiting for the surprise attack, ambush, or explosion that I felt was imminent.    
     The Panther is an excellent book that I'm confident will return Nelson DeMille to the Best Seller list. His other John Corey books are now on my read list, and I've even considered giving The Gold Coast a second read, thinking there must be something I missed! 

DeMille, Nelson. The PantherGrand Central Publishing (October 16, 2012). 
ISBN-13: 978-0446580847

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bouchercon 2012

     The weekend Bouchercon 2012 was held right in my hometown of Cleveland at the Renaissance Hotel. For those who don't know, "Bouchercon is the world mystery convention and has been taking place annually since 1970....It is named for famed mystery critic Anthony Boucher." Because of my real job, or at least the one that provides me with a paycheck, I was able to attend only one day of Bouchercon 2012. It was not only my first Bouchercon, but my first conference or convention of any kind dealing with books. And thanks to my friend Jen from Jen's Book Thoughts, I navigated that day without a hiccup, met a lot of great people in the mystery community, and had a great time. 
Sean Chercover
     The event consists mostly of panel discussions. Each panel has a moderator and several people with an expertise on the topic for discussion. After a brief discussion, the panel takes questions from the audience. I was able to attend two panels. The first was about characters with unusual jobs, including a tattoo artist written by Karen Olson, race car driver by Tammy Kaehler, a nun by Alice Loweecey, and a juvenile delinquent drug dealer and blackmailer by Aric Davis. The second panel was about the unusual research authors do for their books. It included a new likely favorite, Sean Chercover, whom I had a chance to speak with briefly later in the evening, and was moderated by publicist Dana Kaye.
Robin Cook
     After the panel discussions, I saw an interview of medical doctor and New York Times bestselling author Robin Cook, author of dozens of medical thrillers including Coma, Outbreak, and Chromosome 6. The interview was especially interesting to me because part of the discussion turned to the current healthcare debate, combining books and politics!
     There were also several mystery booksellers there, and I was able to get signed first editions of Dennis Lehane's Live by Night and Will Lavender's Dominance
     The evening of the first night included an opening ceremony emceed by John Connolly at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where the Macavity Awards were presented by Janet Rudolph from Mystery Readers International

Michael Connelly
     Perhaps more interesting than the panel discussions, and I'm sure all of the panels I missed, were the people I met at Bouchercon 2012. There were bloggers, reviewers, publishers, agents, editors, and of course authors of all levels of success and experience. I can't speak for everyone, or all the authors there, but I was encouraged to buy several books I never heard of just by meeting and talking briefly with the people I met, such as Ray Daniels, Bill Loehfelm, and Kathleen Ryan, and Aric Davis
Michael Koryta & Jen Forbus
     While that was fun, the biggest thrill was meeting a few authors and people I have read for many years: Michael Koryta, Michael Connelly, Alafair Burke, and Marcia Clark. I was even able to have a a spirited discussion with Koryta and Connelly about the future of the book industry; we were unable to reach a conclusion. I was also finally able to put a face with the wonderful, kind, and helpful Miriam Parker with Mulholland Books!
     I can say without hesitation that everyone I met at Bouchercon was kind, considerate, polite, and very approachable. Thousands of books were signed, pictures taken, and questions asked; I did not see or hear of a negative experience.

     The convention, even just one day of it, was a wonderful experience with wonderful people. Bouchercon 2013 is scheduled for Albany, New York; I hope to be there.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Patriot Paradox by William Esmont

     "Mike's last thoughts, of his wife and children, flew through the back of his skull at four hundred and fifty feet per second" 
     The last sentence of the first chapter; I was hooked. Mike is...was...Mike Vetter, a CIA agent, likely killed by his own people. His brother, Kurt, himself a former CIA analyst, rushed home from Peru, where he was escaping the tragedy of the sudden death of his wife and daughter. Instead of mourning for his brother, he was thrust into what Mike was unable to complete before his death: getting the data Mike was killed for into the hands of Amanda Carson, a woman Kurt had never heard of, but one of the few people Mike trusted. As soon as he did, Kurt and Amanda were running for their lives, chased by rogue CIA agents that would stop at nothing to complete their mission.

     The Patriot Paradox by William Esmont is a fast paced, story driven book; those looking for deep, complex characters will be disappointed.  
     One of the things I liked about the book was the use of technology. Cell phones, voice recognition, powerful search engines, and more; perfect for the conspiracy theorists and Big Brother types among us (sadly, mush of the technology highlighted is likely very possible, and should concern most of us...but that's for a different post!). 
     Though I generally enjoy more character development, I can appreciate a good story, too. This one was good, but could have been better; a bit more hot pursuit, some more close calls for our heroes, or keeping the secret of the threat to world peace a little longer. 
     If you're looking for an in depth mystery, The Patriot Paradox may leave you lacking. But if you need a quick read on a rainy Sunday, or a good vacation book to get lost in, it will be a home run!  And since I'm on vacation, I just ordered the sequel, Pressed!

The Patriot Paradox, The Reluctant Hero Series. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, October 8, 2010. ISBN-10: 1467904384

Thursday, August 30, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The River by Michael Neale

     The River is not a river. In this story perhaps it is, but one man's River is another man's Mountain, or Ocean, Flying, Biking, or Running. It is what makes a person who he is, a one word, oversimplified but equally complicated analogy that defines a life. In The River, the debut novel by Michael Neale, it is a river in a Colorado canyon that defines not just one man, but three generations of men. 
     The story begins with a hike in the woods. Father John Clarke and his five year old son Gabriel take a long hike to a beautiful view over the canyon and the river below it and engage in an intense game of marbles. While playing, they hear two kayakers in trouble, headed for an un-navigable section of the river that would certainly result in their deaths. In the process of rescuing the men John Clarke loses his life before young Gabriel's eyes. Gabriel, his little life shattered, finds himself living with his mother on a Kansas farm. He grows up, still haunted by the loss of his father, and becoming a young man who is quiet, reserved, frustrated, unable to really live. When his best friend calls one day and invites him on a camping trip to Colorado, he reluctantly agrees, facing his demons hoping to find himself were he was lost so many years before. 
     Instead of finding himself in Colorado, he finds The River. It seems to call to him, speak to him, and draw him near. He becomes friends with Tabitha, a girl he meets on the trip, and she invites him to Colorado for the summer to work at her father's white water rafting camp. He agrees, after being drawn both to Tabitha and The River, and the trip changes his life forever. Gabriel finds himself, but also finds his home. 

     The River is a nice story about a boy fighting his demons, over powering them, and becoming a man. I enjoyed reading it; freshman author Michael Neale is a good storyteller. Although I liked the book, I feel Mr. Neale tried too hard to make his point about the role of The River in the story. For example, he capitalizes The River at every mention, uses the words The River  more often than would be natural, and includes scenes where dreams and reality are confused. All of this was unnecessary, the spiritual and metaphorical significance of the river was well made without it, and it could be argued that overdoing it in that sense detracted from what someone else's metaphorical River could be. 
     There are also several other relationships in the book that had great potential and could have been much further developed. Gabriel and the farmer with whom he and his mother lived; Gabriel and Tabitha; Gabriel and his mother. All had potential, but left me wanting more. 
     Despite the criticisms above, The River is a great story of a boy becoming a man, overcoming his demons, growing strong and confident, facing his fears, and finding success despite the serious blows and set-backs. That story is always empowering for me. 


Friday, July 27, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Prophet by Michael Koryta

    Michael Koryta's ninth book, The Prophet, is scheduled for release on August 7, 2012. After three paranormal thrillers, The Prophet is a return to Mr. Koryta's roots: a mystery set in northeast Ohio. Since I am a fan of mysteries, a fan of Mr. Koryta, and a northeast Ohioan, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of this thriller. And I was not disappointed. On page five, still part of the prologue, I knew I was hooked after reading this, a glimpse inside the mind of the as of yet unknown antagonist:
     Unshakable confidence. Unshakable stupidity.
     He is fascinated by the confident specimens of the helpless. He finds no fascination in the fearful. 

     The story is about Adam and Kent Austin, brothers who are tormented over twenty years after their sister was kidnapped and murdered. Adam, the older of the two, blamed himself, and joined his father in drinking too much and obsessing on revenge. He ruined his chances of advancing his promising football career when he left Ohio State after only one semester. He eventually returned to his home to work as a bail bondsmen in a struggling blue collar city. Kent focused on football, becoming the head coach of the high school team he played on. He found religion, had a beautiful family, and was cool, calm, and collected; a respected member of society. Neither of the brothers had fully moved on after the death of their sister, and when another high school girl is found murdered, it comes back to haunt them. It doesn't take long for Adam and Kent to realize they both were to blame for the girl's death, and the killer doesn't seem to have any intention of letting them forget it. 
     Michael Koryta has grown as an author with every book, but The Prophet may be the most notable since Envy the Night. He superbly developed the character of two protagonists. Both brothers had likable and dis-likable qualities, both had good intentions, and despite doing things differently, neither were really wrong in the reasoning behind their choices. The antagonist was beautifully despicable, rich with evil, a pleasure to hate. 
     Good character development is what makes an author great, which makes me feel as if I know the characters and understand their thoughts and actions. Consider this exchange between Adam and Kent:
    He looked back at Kent. "Can you do that? Because you're going to need to. The shotgun rounds will drop him, but they won't keep him down. Not a .410 shell, which is what this takes. So you'll need to be able to finish it. Can you do that?"
     I don't hope to have the opportunity to find out."
     "Can you do it?" Adam said. "Because otherwise, there's no point, Kent. Go buy some pepper spray and hope the neighbors hear with Beth screams." 
     Kent winced, turning his head as if to shed the words. Then he swallowed, looked back at Adam, and extended his hand for the gun.
     This exchange was emotional for me, brought tears to my eyes; brothers, not on the best terms, but there for each other, talking about decisions that had to be made, life and death decisions, about character, and fundamental truth. But to a reader who had not read the 253 previous pages, hadn't known Adam and Kent Austin, would likely not have had a similar response, there would be no emotional investment in the people having that conversation.
     Dialogue like this, between characters that seem alive and real to a reader, is what makes reading worth it, something that can rarely, if ever, be captured in a movie or television show. Plot is sometimes secondary to good, believable characters; a good plot can not survive bad characters, but a book with a weak plot but likable heroes can. In The Prophet, a reader will experience the best of both.  
     Finally, just as a quick side note for those who aren't football fans, don't let that disuade you from reading The Prophet. While football was integral to the book, defined the characters, it isn't what the story was about. It was much deeper than that. And Mr. Koryta will have you if not loving football, then at least caring about the outcome of the games in this book.
     Michael Koryta has become an author unto himself. His books can compete with the best--Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Daniel Woodrell, James Lee Burke, Stephen King, Lawrence Block--and he has developed a style that is unlike the others, making him a stand-out author. I look forward to reading many more books from him. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Black & White by Wes Albers

     "I wish I could remember my last solid shit but I can't."

     So begins Black & White, the debut novel by Wes Albers. I first learned about this book at one of my trade web sites, or in a police magazine; a novel about a San Diego Police Officer, by a San Diego police officer, with a plea to give it a try. I did, and now look forward to more from Wes Albers.

     John Hatch is a veteran San Diego police Patrolman, partnered with a rookie just off field training, in a not-so-nice part of town. He is single (never married), middle-aged, and appropriately bitter about his station in life, but not so much that he can't enjoy himself or has become pessimistic about ever finding happiness. He is a cop, which he distinguishes nicely from police officer, he likes it, and even acknowledges that to be successful at anything else would require not being a successful cop.
     As you might expect, Hatch has his foes. One is a new Sergeant, one who has moved up the ranks quickly, but was never a cop, looking to rise to the top. "Let me put it this way, the cream always rises to the top. You've heard that before, haven't you, John?" says Sgt. Roosevelt, after questioning why Hatch is still only a patrolman, and why he so quickly is not. 

     Black & White, described by several other reviewers as gritty, is full of lines of literary genius:
Eating a carne asada burrito is happiness, but the satisfaction always leads to a messy run to the crapper. Life is tough and makes no promises. 
It was never that complicated. I just needed one little clue and the answers would become as apparent as the intent of drunken teenagers on prom night.
     Before you think this is the classic police novel, don't! It has some great police stories, and one whodunnit, but the mystery plays a secondary role to the character study of John Hatch.
     Black & White is written in the first person, which I normally don't like in crime fiction because it doesn't allow for a more objective view of the protagonist. But it works in this book because of Hatch's self-awareness.
     John Hatch is a complicated man. He is a cop first, but has not given up on wanting more. He is a patrolman, and will listen to the boy-wonder Sergeant, but only because he has to. But when I expect a confrontation, he takes the diplomatic route. When I expect the cold, callous attitude of the tough-guy book cop, there is a kindness or empathy that surprised me. He is frustrated by having to deal with a rookie patrolman, but also knows his role in developing that patrolman's skills, turning into a cop, which is is reminded of by his retiring mentor.
Author Wes Albers
     Other times expectations are right on. Hatch does go head to head with the Sergeant, and puts up a wall between people he cares about.  But what makes it more real to me than many other police novels is that Hatch is aware, sometimes painfully, of his conduct, its consequences, and how he might be able to do things differently to achieve a better result. 

     If you like police novels, or are a police officer, know a police officer, or are curious about police officers, give this book a read. It is entertaining and enlightening, and will make you crave more from Wes Albers and John Hatch.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Monkey Murder Mayhem!

     Today I went to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's Rainforest exhibit with my family. This is nothing new; we've been members of the Zoo for four years and go regularly. Today, however, we witnessed something truly blog worthy!
Pied Tamarin monkey with babies on its back
     Just before we were about to leave, I was looking at an exhibit of Pied Tamarin monkeys. I saw one with some babies on its back. I called my wife and two young children to come and see them. We saw a notice on the information card that the babies were born on January 15, 2012, making them eight days old! I took a picture with my mobile phone (one of the few times going to the zoo without my camera) and was posting it on Facebook when my wife said that another monkey grabbed one of the babies and was hurting it. I looked, and it appeared that an adult monkey was trying to kill the baby. My wife alerted zoo staff, and within minutes several zookeepers arrived, but unfortunately, it was too late, and the baby had been killed. The zookeepers got the dead baby away from the killer monkey, but didn't separate the second baby from the rest of the group. I asked one of the zookeepers a few questions. I was told the babies were on the father's back, and the one that killed the baby was the mother. 
The dead infant is dangling from its grip
     Although saddened by what happened, I didn't question it much; nature, right? I know there are species that kill their young, and supposed the pied tamarin monkeys were one of them.
     After the baby died, the zookeepers disappeared. I was in the gift shop when my wife came back and said the second baby was now being killed! Again, she went to the Zoo staff and reported the attack, and the zookeepers returned, again, too late.
     After the second death, I wondered why they didn't segregate the second baby. Since I don't know much about zookeeping or pied tamarin monkeys, I thought the staff at the Zoo knew what they were doing. Or maybe the Zoo has a policy about not interfering with the natural parenting of their animals. Maybe there has never been an incident of raising a baby pied tamarin monkey without its parents, so separating it wasn't an option, since it would inevitably lead to death. Again, I'm not an expert in zoo-keeping or animal husbandry, so I didn't give it too much thought.
Pied tamarin babies (not today's victims!)
      But when I heard from my wife a few hours later that the pied tamarin is on the endangered primate species list, I thought a little more. Why, after the first baby was killed, would Zoo staff do nothing to protect the second one? 
     I also learned, with only a few minutes of research, that these kind of monkeys are cared for mostly by the males in the group, only turned over to the mother for nursing. They live in groups of between 4 and 15, with one alpha female, who, typically, is the only female allowed to breed. Infanticide is not unheard of, often a dominant female killing the babies of other breeding females in the group or when the mother is stressed and competing with other females
Adult pied tamarin monkey
     Infanticide in tamarin monkeys occurs when mothers feel competition with other females or they don't have enough help and support from the group in the care of their young. One study indicates that 80% of infants die if there are two gestating females in the group; only 20% if there is only one reproductive female. Also, 75% of infants survive to adulthood when there are at least three males helping; only 41.7% survive if their are only one or two males to help.
     In fifteen minutes of research, I learned enough about these monkeys to know that several steps should be taken to help prevent the likelihood of infanticide in this endangered primate. First, don't house more than one gestating or competing female with the mother and babies. Second, be sure that, in addition to the mother, there are three or more males available to help with caring for the young. Perhaps the zookeepers took these steps, and more, to prevent the death of the pied tamarin babies. But given the results, perhaps they didn't.