Posts Tagged ‘Crime’

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton and Erin Torneo.

May 30, 2014

pickingbookcover.phpA 22 years old college woman was raped at a knife point in the middle of a summer night on her own bed. She managed to study her attacker’s facial features and everything about him during the rape. She thought that would help her to correctly identify this assailant.

Jennifer picked Ronald Cotton among other men in a line-up because of Ronald’s seemingly close resemblance to her assailant.  Ronald Cotton was arrested, but he was sure he would beat this accusation, because he hadn’t raped Jennifer, and he was sure he could prove it, unfortunately, his alibi was not enough to free him. Ronald Cotton was convicted of Jennifer’s rape and another woman who was raped the same night.

Ronald Cotton was given eleven years in prison despite the lack of a convincing evident. He was transferred to various prisons, but coincidentally ended up in the same prison with another inmate serving life for a similar crime. This inmate confessed the crime to another inmate who happened to like Ronald but the confession was thrown out.
Ronald Cotton was exonerated after eleven years behind bars based on a DNA test. The result of the DNA pointed to the inmate who had earlier confessed to the crime.

Jennifer did not get in touch with Ronald right after his release because of guilt and fear.  Ronald’s faith, family and his personality helped him to get over his hurt and forgave the woman who accidentally robbed him of 11 years of life. What happened when Jennifer and Ronald finally reunited was the result of forgiveness and redemption..

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Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen

May 21, 2014

paperclipbookcover.phpFor anyone who is a history buff, this is one of the best books telling the story of the closing days of WWII. Annie Jacobsen’s research is phenomenal. Her book tells the story of the end of the war…. Germany knows it is going to lose……she doesn’t even know who the final conqueror will be…Russia or the United States…the US is coming from the West and Russia is barreling towards Germany from the East. To me it is the most detailed story of the war from midway in 1944 to past the their final surrender in April of ’45 and beyond !!

Although I was aware that certain top German scientists were shepherded to the United States to continue their research, I had no idea that the total numbered was in the thousands !! It didn’t seem to matter to certain US authorities that some of these men (plus a few women) were heinous criminals and deserved to be executed. All these ‘patriots’ knew was that they must bring this science to the United States.

Considering that the end of WWII occurred almost 70 years ago, it is truly amazing the story that Anne Jacobsen has put together for all of us. If one has any doubt about the truth that she unveils, a few minutes reading of citations and data from archives and from subsequent generations of these men will remove any doubt from your mind. The special program that let these men continue their research included the promise of future citizenship !! was called ” Operation Paperclip”. And even the name given to the operation has some meaning. The book is long , but once ‘hooked’ you will find it difficult to put down.

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Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King

May 2, 2014

devilbookcover.phpI love it when I read a book and it leads me to another book and another, etc.  A few years ago I read the award winning book Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Isabel Wilkerson. It was indeed epic as Wilkerson followed the lives of three individuals leaving the Jim Crow Era South for a better life elsewhere. One of the gentleman was leaving the volatile citrus groves of Florida. She made mention of the Groveland case (Florida) as an example of the danger faced by African American men in the South and I filed that away in my brain, hoping to find out more one day.

As a result, I finally picked up the Pulitzer prize-winning book Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King and it is much more than an account of the trial of three young African-American men accused of kidnapping and raping a white woman in rural 1948 Florida. It is a detailed glimpse in the complex machinations of the Civil Rights Movement as played out in the courtroom. Many things impress me about this book. As always, I am astounded by the cruelty of the Jim Crow era South. Freedom from slavery was an important first step towards equality for African Americans, but given the discrimination faced in the years after slavery was abolished, it really seems like more of a baby step. This book was also a reminder that the landmark Plessy vs Ferguson (1896 Supreme Court decision providing a legal basis for “separate but equal” segregation) was a tremendous hindrance on the path to equality since “equal” is a subjective term that never actual measured up. Thurgood Marshall’s landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954 Supreme Court decision disallowing school segregation) was the result of years of planning and small victories that ultimately overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. I just had no real understanding of the complex planning it took to make it to that one important case.

Thurgood Marshall (chief counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund) and the NAACP frequently took on lots of cases like the Groveland Boys (often referred to as “Little Scottsboro” in comparison to a similar case in Alabama 15 years earlier). Their strategy was never acquittal but to kick the case up to higher courts through appeals with a decision that not only acquits the innocent but also has broader significance to civil rights with each case building on top of one another.

If you think this book sounds like a somewhat interesting, but probably overly detailed academic snooze fest you are wrong. Devil in the Grove is a well-written, accessible and at times, a page-turner. Gilbert King is comprehensive as he explores this unbelievable and sad event in American history.

In addition to Devil in the Grove, I also do recommend the above mentioned Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. If you are looking for a shorter read about the Civil Rights Movement, I cannot say enough wonderful things about March (Book One) by John Robert LewisAndrew Aydin and Nate Powell which is a graphic memoir about non-violence during the Civil Rights Movement.

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The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption by Laurence Leamer

January 30, 2014

Are you concerned about the influence of big money and power in our society today? If so, you’ll want to read “The Price of Justice” by Laurence Leamer and get the true story of how one CEO used his money and power to corrupt the halls of justice in the Supreme Court of West Virginia. This is a non-fiction page turner that will make you burn with righteous indignation at the conniving, cut-throat methods he used.

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, is the real life villain in this story. His massive coal company ran roughshod over the competition and the entire state of West Virginia, both the people and the environment. Dare to challenge him and you’ll be branded unpatriotic to West Virginia and very likely watch your life go down the tubes. If he wanted something he wouldn’t stop until he got it. One of his victims, Hugh Caperton, had his small company and life destroyed by Blankenship. Hugh decided to fight back, and with the help of two highly exceptional and motivated lawyers started a 14-year legal battle that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

This story formed the basis of John Grisham’s popular fiction book “The Appeal” and the real life version is every bit as compelling as fiction. So if you like legal thrillers, try the “Price of Justice” for a non-fiction change of pace that may be right up your alley.

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Best New Books of 2013: Pam W’s Picks

December 11, 2013

My reading tastes are kind of all over the map, but I especially enjoy mysteries and historical fiction.  This year my list is full of lots of new authors.  I’ve read and really liked many of the books that are at the top of the best seller’s lists, but here are five of my favorites that might be less well known.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Conkin’s novel alternates between the story of Josephine, a slave in Virginia during the 1850’s at a failing plantation; and Lina, a first year associate of a large corporate law firm in present day New York who is working on what her boss calls a history making case. Lina’s case requires her to find a descendant of a slave who would like to be a plaintiff in a case over who painted a series of famous paintings that have long been attributed to Lu Ann Bell, but now are believed to have been painted by her slave.  As Lina investigates the case, the novel switches back to tell Josephine’s story.  Josephine’s was the more riveting tale, but the modern story was interesting as well. I look forward to more by this author.

Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee
Bay of Fires, a wonderful debut novel by Poppy Gee, is set in a remote holiday town on the east coast of Tasmania. Sarah Avery has lost her job and is spending some time with her parents in the cabin they visit every summer.  Sarah is fishing when she finds the body of a young woman on her favorite beach.   Suddenly, Sarah’s family and friends become murder suspects.  I loved the unusual setting and the spooky atmosphere of this book.  The author does a wonderful job of describing the wild nature of Tasmania’s east coast, and the insular nature of a small, isolated community. Check out my full-length post here.

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
Pochoda’s novel starts off with two bored young girls on a slow, hot evening in Brooklyn.  The girls want to do exciting, something that will make their lives more interesting and prove they are more grown up.  Later that evening, one girl is found on the shore unconscious and the other is missing.  What happened, and who is responsible?  Is it the teacher who found the unconscious Val?  The young man who was known to be the last to speak to the girls? Pochoda’s focus is less on the police investigation than on the description of the neighborhood and its residents.  But this is the beauty of her book.  By the time I finished, I felt like had visited Red Hook, Brooklyn, and that her characters had become my neighbors.  I hated to leave them when the book ended.

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley
Amity and Sorrow is a moving tale of a woman trying to undo a terrible mistake she made when she was young.  After losing her family, she took up with a charismatic man who took her to live in a remote area.  Years later, she is fleeing from him and the cult he has created. Amaranth is terrified that her husband will follow her to force her and her two daughters to return.  The girls are unable to imagine what their lives will be like outside of the family.  The older daughter, Sorrow, has no intention of leaving the only life she has ever known and is fighting her mother every step of the way.  The younger daughter, Amity, is caught between her mother and her sister.  Riley’s writing is spare but she is able to paint a vivid picture.  You will find yourself hoping for redemption for Amaranth and her family, no matter what she has done in the past. See my full-length post here.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Honor Bright is from a Quaker community in England.  Jilted by her fiance, she decides to go with her sister to Ohio for her sister’s wedding.  Tragedy strikes, though, and when her sister dies, Honor doesn’t know what to do except finish the journey and bring the news to the man who was to be her brother-in-law.  Along the way, she is introduced to the issue of slavery and the return of escaped slaves in a frightening incident.  As a Quaker, Honor is firmly against slavery.  But the small community she has come to is in a difficult situation.  If they are seen to help the runaways, they risk losing their own lively hoods or more.  This dilemma is what Honor has to navigate in her new unexpected situation. She is dependent on the kindness of people she is not related to, and cannot upset them.  But she also wants to live according to her morals. Chevalier’s take on the issue of slavery is unique, and Honor was an engaging character.  Fans of historical fiction will really enjoy this one.

The Killer’s Wife by Bill Floyd

September 16, 2013

I love books that give the reader an unusual point of view. When you hear about some heinous crime on the news, the focus is on the victims or the murderer—but don’t you always wonder what the axe murderer’s mother is thinking? Or his wife? That is what author Bill Floyd explores in his novel The Killer’s Wife.

Nina Mosley slept beside her husband Randy for years, never knowing of what he was capable. When Randy is convicted of a series of killings, Nina is both shocked by the depths of his depravity and ashamed of her ignorance that allowed the gruesome crimes to continue. Why didn’t she question Randy’s implausible explanations for the random scars appearing on his body? How could she ignore the strange coincidences surrounding the murders announced on the news?

In an attempt to escape public scorn and prying press, Nina changes her name and moves across the country to Cary, North Carolina, with her son Hayden. This is where Floyd starts his novel—six years after the court sends Randy to death row, and Nina, now Leigh Wren, is confronted in the supermarket by the father of one of Randy’s victims. “I know what the police said, how it was all your husband,” Charles Pritchett sneers, “But you were never cleared to my satisfaction, not by a long shot.” Nina panics that her identity will be exposed, just as her life has settled, and she is beginning to feel secure. Then Pritchett hits her where she is most vulnerable: “Where is Hayden tonight, Nina? You should keep a closer eye on him. I didn’t keep a close enough watch over Carrie, and you know what happened to her.”

Nina decides to lay low for a while in hopes that things will settle down. As mutilated murder victims start turning up in the news, however, Nina flashes back to Randy’s creepy fetish. Has Pritchett’s obsessive need for revenge brought him to Randy’s depths? Where is Hayden tonight?

Floyd spends some time getting into Nina’s mind at the beginning of the book, so the reader really understands the character. When the action starts, be prepared to set aside some time, because you will not want to put this book down.

Bill Floyd along with several other local authors will be at West Regional Library on September, 24th, please visit our website for more details.

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Poppet by Mo Hader

July 16, 2013

poppetSomeone, or something, is causing patients to harm themselves at the Beechway High Security Unit. The patients believe that the ghost of a long dead dwarf is responsible, but A. J., the senior nursing coordinator, is looking for a more earthly cause. His suspicions fall on a recently released young man, Isaac, who was found guilty of killing his parents 10 years ago. A.J. continues to investigate these odd incidents against the wishes of his boss Melanie. She just wants the problem to go away and since Isaac has been released from her hospital, she believes the problem is no longer hers to worry about. Complicating the issue is the fact that A.J. and Melanie have recently become involved with each other. When A. J. discovers that Isaac is following him and Melanie, he enlists the help of inspector Jack Caffrey despite Melanie’s insistence he not involve the police.

Caffrey is also working on an unsolved crime, that of a young woman who went missing over a year ago. Caffrey’s boss is ready to scale back the investigation, but he is not ready to let go. He understands all too well the feelings of the young woman’s mother, who cannot lay her daughter to rest when she has no body to bury. Caffrey has been haunted by the disappearance of his brother years ago.

Hayder has written a host of wonderful characters into her new book. The inmates at the hospital are very creepy, but not unrealistic or unsympathetic. A. J. is such a likeable character you are rooting strongly for everything to work out for him. I was also very happy to see Flea, the police diver, return. She is one of my favorite characters in the last few years. Hayder left much unresolved between Caffrey and Flea in her previous books, Skin, and Gone, so it is good to see them working together again.  Start with Ritual if you’d like to hear their entire story.

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Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

June 3, 2013

Dennis Lehane has described his newest book, Live by Night as an homage to the gangster genre. Taking place mostly around Prohibition time, in Tampa with the rum trade as its vocation, the story makes heavy use of the political and ethnic backdrop that defined the place and era. The revolutionary spirit sweeping through the Hispanic world has made its way through Florida and into gangster organizations seeking to profit from Cuban rum.

Joe is a small time Boston outlaw who, after a violent prison stint, is tapped by the local mob boss to shape up the rum operation in Florida. Some of the best action takes place during Joe’s prison time, but the pace barely slackens once he heads south. He slaps arrogant grifters into shape and turns a sloppily managed illicit trade into a criminal empire. Yet, we are always on his side. Joe doesn’t shy from violence, but he has a conscience: he feels bad when he destroys the people who are worth feeling bad about, and he becomes something approaching a respectable figure for his straight-dealing. When the KKK comes after him, he puts them down for good just like any other rival gang.  Somehow, we always cheer for him and want him to succeed in his criminal enterprise.

Lehane explores the premise that the gangster code is no less ethical than the legal behavior of legitimate business — that a gangster who throws a man out of a window is no less ethical than a banker who throws his entire family out of his house. It’s an idealized principle that may not stand up to real-world scrutiny, but it is a large part of the appeal behind movies like The Godfather and Scarface. It also captures some of the current zeitgeist after the financial meltdown. As usual, Lehane spends as much time building character as he does with moving the plot forward with explosions. If you like your criminal epics delivered with a deft touch of artistry, Live by Night will satisfy.

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Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance by Gyles Brandreth

May 20, 2013

With the invention of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created one of the single most recognizable detectives, and style of detecting, the world has ever known.  Numerous are the authors who have striven to emulate the great detective, and numerous also are the failures.  Happily, I feel that Gyles Brandreth in Oscar Wilde and a Death of no Importance accomplishes the feat quite well.  If you can imagine Holmes’ observations and deductions’ coupled with Wildes’ sly Irish wit, you begin to get an excellent picture of why this book is such a fun and engaging read.

Chronicled by his good friend Robert Sherard, Oscar Wilde brings his not inconsiderable intelligence and wit to the aid of a dead young actor whom no one else will believe was murdered.  After befriending his own private detective consultant, the then highly popular Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilde and Sherard begin the hunt for justice for young Billy Wood.  Chasing clues through Victorian London, with occasional stops for sumptuous cuisine and fine entertainment, Wilde seeks not only the killer, but also the proof needed to garner police involvement.  Inspired by these tragic events, Wilde also begins work on a new story – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Brandreth has his characters hopping from exclusive gentlemen’s clubs to theatrical shows to a seaside resort, with many other stops in between.  Through it all he paints a surprisingly vivid and realistic picture of Victorian London, and the inner workings of a real life group of friends.  I found it fascinating when I discovered that Doyle, Wilde, and Sherard truly were great friends during the 1890’s, and this led a wonderful sense of realism to an already well written work.  Luckily, the fun and excitement continues with Oscar Wilde and A Game Called Murder.  For anyone who enjoys historical fiction, detective fiction, or Victorian London, this novel is a definite must read.

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A Wanted Man by Lee Child

May 13, 2013

For a change… Jack Reacher is hitchhiking cross country trying to get to Virginia. Why Virginia?  He’s not saying. He is also sporting a broken nose. It takes awhile, but near midnight he is picked up by sedan carrying two men and a woman. Happy to accept the ride, Jack makes idle chatter as they head East. They pass through several police roadblocks and Reacher is curious as to who the police are looking for. He is asked to do some of the driving and as he does, he starts to have a feeling that something is very wrong with the passengers of this sedan.
The two men, Don McQueen and Alan King seem like they are a duo, but the woman, Karen Delfuenso is quiet , looks very scared. As the two men catch some sleep, Reacher realizes that Delfuenso is trying to tell him something by blinking with her eyes in some sort of Morse Code. Suddenly as Jack puts it together, Karen has been kidnapped and Reacher has been given a lift because now as they pass the police roadblocks, there are 4 passengers in the car , not just two men, who the authorities may be looking for.

After they pass several of the roadblocks, Reacher starts to realize that the men no longer need neither Karen or himself. He is sent into a gas station to get some coffee and it is here that McQueen makes his move and tries to shoot Reacher. He misses and then takes off, and Reacher is left to ponder his next move. He contacts the FBI and will soon meet agent Julia Sorenson. Sorenson realizes that if it is true that Reacher was just an innocent hitchhiker, she may be able to use him to catch up to their quarry.

Fans of Lee Child may have thought that maybe he was losing some of his ‘mojo’ but have no fear , he is back with a vengeance ! As with most Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, the pace is such that the book might be a one day read. For the first time , Reacher may be working with two female protagonists , as the three of them may be fighting to stop a terrorist plot.

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