Friday, July 12, 2019

THE BIRD BOYS by Lisa Sandlin

This review first appeared in Library Journal and is published here with permission. 

The Bird Boys is author Lisa Sandlin’s second in the mystery series (after The Do-Right, 2015) featuring private investigator Tom Phelan and his ex-convict secretary Delpha Wade. 
     After a brief reminder of Wade’s conviction for murder and how it still haunts her, a new client hires Phelan to find his long-lost brother to mend wounds of the past before it’s too late. Phelan and Wade know right away that their new client, using an alias and disguise, is not completely forthcoming about why he wants to find his brother.  Set in 1970’s Beaumont, Texas, the story unfolds as the investigators rely on traditional methods—phone books, libraries, public records, ruses, and hunches—to solve the case. But the truth may come too late as they weight their ethical obligation to their client with the impact reuniting the brothers may have.  During the process, as Wade demonstrates her talents and Phelan begins to recognize her as an investigative partner, they both sense there is more to their relationship. 

VERDICT: Reminiscent of classic mysteries by Chandler and Hammet with more character development and a strong, capable female lead, it will appeal to fans of Lou Bernie, Walter Mosely, and Kent Anderson.  

Sandlin, Lisa. The Bird Boys, Cinco Puntos Press, July 16, 2019. 
ISBN: 978-1947627130

A copy of The Bird Boys was provided by the publisher via Library Journal. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing by Edwin J. Delattre

First published in 1989 and in its 6th edition in 2011, Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing, Sixth Edition, by Edwin J. Delattre is a very lengthy book published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute. The book is very dated for today’s law enforcement officer, unnecessarily wordy, follows a predictably conservative take on law enforcement issues, and seems to apply ethics to support those positions. Some arguments and conclusions seem not to be well supported, and some even contradictory. An example is that the Constitution is Supreme—obviously—but questions 8-1 court decisions in favor of free speech and makes an argument that the constitutional right to confront witnesses is not absolute. 

There was some good content in the book. I particularly agree

with the idea that good character can’t be or is difficult to teach, that preemployment screening of potential police officers is paramount, that standards for candidates should not be lowered to meet staffing shortages, and the “spirit of service” is essential. I agree also with examples of ethics in action in policing, and that those who fail to live up to the high standards required of policing should be removed from their positions. 

With some updating, more balanced positions, and serious editing, this book could play an important role in 21st Century law enforcement. However, there are better options available. 

Delattre, Edwin J. Character & Cops: Ethics in Policing, 6th Edition. American Enterprise Institute, 2011. ISBN: 978-0844772257

No compensation was provided for this review. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The New World of Police Accountability by Samuel E. Walker & Carol A. Archbold

The New World of Police Accountability, Second Edition, by Samuel E. Walker and Carol A. Archbold provides a thorough examination of police accountability in the 21st century. Though there is no one model, progress has been made in police accountability by following guidelines that improve Policy, Training, Supervision, and Review of police practices. This includes implementing policies on critical incidents/events, e.g., use of force; vehicle pursuits, foot pursuits, crisis intervention, and more. It also includes proper analysis of data to gauge the successes and failures of efforts at accountability, which surprisingly is lacking. It also requires the study of risk management in policing, another concept that is poorly understood and utilized by police leaders. 

The authors point out that the PTSR model and the examples they include are nearly always implemented in consent decrees between police departments and the Department of Justice, and usually with positive results, if after rocky starts. Further discussed is the ability of agencies to maintain the changes once implemented, as they are costly and time consuming. 

The book lacked discussion on implementing the new police accountability measures is smaller departments. While big departments are easy to discuss and cite, most of the 18,000 police departments in the US are small to mid-sized yet face similar accountability and liability issues. Some examples or suggestions at how to best apply these ideas, even if only theoretical or only supported by anecdotal evidence, would be helpful to most of the police officers reading the book.

Walker, Samuel E. and Archbold, Carol A. The New World of Police Accountability, Second Edition. Sage Publications, Inc. December 11, 2013. ISBN 978-1452286877

No compensation was provided for this review. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow

This review first appeared in Library Journal and is published here with permission. 

In Confessions of an Innocent Man, David Dow’s debut novel (following memoir Things I’ve Learned from Dying), restaurateur Rafael Zhettah falls in love with an older, wealthy philanthropist. A year after their marriage, she is violently murdered. Despite an alibi and circumstantial evidence, Rafael is convicted, sentenced to death, and spends over six years on death row before evidence withheld by a detective is discovered and exonerates him. Unlike many who have been wrongfully convicted, Rafael’s gratitude is mitigated by a need for retribution, and he quickly begins to seek it. 

The novel explores wrongful convictions, the death penalty and appeals process, life on death row, and exoneration. It is about duplicity--the honest and hardworking man becoming a criminal only after a wrongful conviction; a legal system that seems too often to pit police, prosecutors, and judges against the truth. And includes an ingenious, well planned, and perfectly executed revenge. 

VERDICT: A fast-paced legal thriller that powerfully captures love, surrender, despair, and retribution that will appeal to fans of Phillip Margolin and George Pelecanos, and pair nicely with memoir The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton.

Dow, David R. Confessions of an Innocent Man, Dutton, April 9, 2019. ISBN 978-1524743888

A copy of Confessions of an Innocent Man was provided by the publisher via Library Journal. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Friday, March 29, 2019


Leading Change by John Kotter is s careful examination of how to successfully change a business or organization to succeed in the 21st Century, largely by focusing on leadership as opposed to management. The eight step process is very thorough and does not give any false hopes that the process will be easy or lasting. In fact, quite the opposite impression is given, but not without guidance and hope that the changes can be made. 

The book was filled with examples of change attempts gone wrong. Many started well and failed, for myriad reasons. What would have made this book better for me would have been more examples of successful change, longer term changes, what was done when it worked. Of course those are more difficult to provide, and we often learn more from failure. But it would have been helpful from a leadership and methodology perspective and have provided some needed inspiration. 

Finally, I especially enjoyed and valued the last chapter on life-long learning and reflection. While less substantive than the step by step change formula, it was likely as valuable.

Kotter, John. Leading Change, Harvard Business Review Press, November 6, 2012. ISBN: 978-1422186435

No compensation was provided for this review. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

DOPESICK by Beth Macy

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy tells the story of the heroin epidemic in Appalachian Virginia. It includes background on the crisis, including the introduction to OxyContin by Purdue Pharmaceuticals and their advertising and lobbying campaign that marketed the drug as safe for moderate, chronic pain--as opposed to end of life and acute pain care as most opiates were previously used--with a low addiction rate, one percent, they touted. They hired a slew of sales staff utilizing high-pressure tactics to get doctors on board, rewarding them according to sales, even arguing that abuse of the drug indicated the dose wasn't high enough! 
     Ms. Macy also included the stories of those fighting the heroin crisis: addicts, family members, doctors, and activists, to show the very real and complicated impact on our society. Many became addicted while under the care of a doctor, receiving reckless prescriptions and little guidance on appropriate use of the drug. Doctors attempting to fight opiate use getting bowled over. Families caught in the middle, wanting to help loved ones get clean, but unable to come close to combatting the power of the morphine molecule. 
    Dopesick is a good telling of Purdue Pharma’s responsibility in the birth of the modern opiate crisis, a good argument in favor of medically assisted treatment, and several good examples of addicts and families for the personal connection. 
    While a lot of the story has already been told--Purdue’s role, doctor’s overprescribing, the switch from pills to heroin, the shortcomings in both the availability and success of treatment--Ms. Macy provided unique stories of addiction in western Virginia, the brave and dedicated people committed to fighting it there, and the debate about abstinence or medically assisted treatment, the latter being much more effective but not nearly as accepted by the rehab community. 

Macy, Beth. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America. Little, Brown, August 7, 2019. ISBN: 978-0316551243

Dopesick was purchased by this reviewer. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

THE GIRL IN THE GLASS BOX by James Grippando

This review first appeared in Library Journal and is published here with permission. 

In The Girl in the Glass Box, James Grippando’s fifteenth in the series (after A Death in Live Oak, 2018), Miami attorney Jack Swyteck is asked by his beloved Abuela to defend Julia Rodriguez, a less than forthcoming El Salvadorian immigrant facing deportation after entering the United States illegally to escape an abusive husband. The case is complicated by a hardline United States attorney, Rodriguez’s troubled teenaged daughter and unsympathetic sister, and several murders that implicates them all. Grippando weaves immigration law and policy, domestic abuse, and other current social issues into a story that will quickly capture and keep the attention of readers who may be compelled to read the book one sitting. A plot-driven legal thriller that subtly but effectively highlights modern social issues, certain to entertain today while highlighting issues of our time for future readers.  

VERDICT: A solid addition for fans of Swyteck that works well as a stand-alone for those unfamiliar with the series that will appeal to fans of Phillip Margolin, Alafair Burke, and William Bernhardt. 

Grippando, James. The Girl in the Glass Box, Harper Collins, February 5. 2019. 

A copy of The Girl in the Glass Box was provided by the publisher via Library Journal. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

THE CURRENT by Tim Johnston

     Caroline and Audrey were on a road trip. Audrey on the way to see her father, a retired small-town Minnesota Sheriff, who was dying of cancer. And Caroline running from an embarrassing encounter with a professor and a broken relationship. But a spinout on the way sent the car through the ice of the Black Root river, leaving one girl dead and the second badly injured. The incident was reminiscent of the death of another girl ten years earlier, found in the same river. The case was never solved, and it haunted the whole town, especially Audrey’s father.  As the dying Sheriff started looking into what happened to his daughter, others started asking questions, too, about what happened years earlier to destroy not only the life of the girl found in the river, but the spirit of the town that lost her.
     The Current is more than the title of the second adult novel by Tim Johnston. It is a theme throughout the book: the current of the river, the wind, of thoughts, a tingle in the air, even in “the wings of [the doctor’s] open labcoat riding his currents.” 
     The writing had a strong, free-thought, poetic flow, pulling the reader into the story, pushing characters from the past to the present in their quest to find the truth that has eluded the town for so long, that ten years are anchored by the two deaths. 

Because life was organic and that was one kind of energy, ashes to ashes, but there was also energy between living beings, currents that traveled between them and outside of biology, and that energy could not be buried, and neither could it fade into nothing, because energy never just ended, it transformed and recycled and you felt it even if you didn’t believe in it…Whatever you called it there was a current and you were in it always and you couldn’t bury it.”

     The Current is about regrets and shame, doing the right things, or sometimes the wrong things for the right reasons. A death ten years ago that a town, a parent, a sheriff never overcame, and a recent death that could offer them all redemption. 
     Maybe the girl the current didn’t take could figure out what happened to the ones it did.

Johnston, Tim. The Current, Algonquin Books, January 22, 2019. 
ISBN: 978-1616206772

A copy of The Current was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via; no compensation was provided for this review. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

HOW IT HAPPENED by Michael Koryta

     Rob Barrett is a rising star in the FBI, assigned to assist a small-town Maine Police Department solve the disappearance of a young couple, one the son of a prominent politician. Rob gets a jail-house confession from the a young, less than reliable drug addict, but despite Rob’s certainty that she’s telling the truth, her information doesn’t pan out, leaving Rob’s credibility with the local police and his superiors damaged. 
     But this case is more to Rob than a bad confession. The small town is Rob’s hometown and his childhood problems resurface almost as soon as he arrives. Despite his best efforts at reinventing himself, his past does its best to reclaim him, endangering relationships and possibly his career! 

     Michael Koryta fans and new readers will not be

disappointed by How it Happened. A great story that blends a good mystery with the personal battles we all face: overcoming our greatest weaknesses to become our best selves, but also knowing that our past will always be part of us. Koryta, as always, develops characters well, leaving readers to see a bit of themselves in each of them.

Koryta, Michael. How it Happened, Little, Brown & Company, May 15, 2018. 
ISBN: 978-0316293938

A copy of How it Happened was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via No compensation was paid for this review.