Archive for the ‘crime’ Tag

Crime, ethics and truth   Leave a comment

In Bad City, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Pringle provides an in-depth look at the culture of silence regarding scandals at the University of Southern California while addressing the threat to journalistic integrity at the Los Angeles Times.

When Pringle, a Times investigative reporter, gets a tip about Carmen Puliafito, then dean of USC’s Keck School of Medicine involving drug abuse he’s initially skeptical.

Through diligent inquiry, Pringle pursues the doctor’s activities, which include dispensing and using illegal drugs. His wealth and power allow him to lead a double life as a respected member of academia and the medical community. He’s also the manipulating lover of a much younger woman to whom he provided drugs, money and apartments.

Inquiries to USC are dismissed at the same time his editors attempt to quash the story. Slowly, Pringle suspects a conflict of interest with the paper and its relationship with the renowned university. This only further motivates him to continue his probe.

Pringle is able to substantiate his story, but his editors want more thus delaying publication. When it’s evident the story will languish indefinitely, he and a handful of other reports secretly work to expose the Times and USC connection.

While the focus is on Puliafito, Pringle also addresses other USC scandals including the gynecologist who sexually abused hundreds of women; and the Varsity Blues scandal involving bribes to gain admission to elite colleges and universities around the country.

Pringle successfully challenged both the power in play USC while championing journalism’s important role.

Bad City: Peril and Power in the City of Angels

Four Bookmarks

Celadon Books, 2022

289 pages including acknowledgements and notes


Unraveling a Swedish Mystery   Leave a comment

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I’m not only a fan of Swedish mysteries, I also have affinity for the Scandinavian country thanks to hosting an exchange student years ago. While that relationship remains strong, it has no connection to the often dark tales involving murder and deceit.

Knock Knock by Anders Roslund reintroduces readers to criminal detective Ewert Grens. Seventeen years earlier Grens found a five-year-old girl as the lone survivor of a mass shooting in the family home that included her parents and two siblings.

Now, nearing retirement age, Grens discovers someone has broken into the same house. He’s convinced someone is looking for the girl, long ago given a new name as part of witness protection, and fears her life may be in danger.

A parallel narrative involves Piet Hoffman, a former police informer, whose life and family are threatened. Eventually the two plotlines intersect as several execution-type murders take place, similar to the one Grens investigated all those years ago.

Grens is an ill-tempered loner and long-time widower. That he has a soft side, albeit one rarely seen, is no surprise. By contrast, Hoffman is a devoted family man despite his past. The two are intelligent and complement one another. Their association goes back years to Hoffman’s informant days, but suggesting Grens is pleased to reconnect is far from the truth.

Knock Knock is just the kind of Swedish mystery that hooks me: vivid descriptions of Sweden, in this case Stockholm, a fast-paced narrative and interesting characters with often-imperfect moral codes.

Knock Knock

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021

438 pages

Hidden in Darkness   Leave a comment

I get on book kicks and my latest has been mysteries; they’re my reading guilty pleasure. It’s especially satisfying to come across something as well-written and intriguing as Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson.

Set in a small town in northern Iceland, Jonasson’s novel is dark –thanks to the limited hours of daylight so close to the Arctic Circle – and is filled with intelligent characters with plenty of positive traits and foibles – like most of us.

Ari Thor is in the process of completing his exams at the Reykjavik police academy when he’s offered a job in a small, but once-thriving fishing community on the other side of the country. Without consulting his live-in girlfriend, he accepts the position and leaves her behind.

What he initially encounters is the difficulty of fitting in where most of the residents have lived, if not all at least most, of their lives. He’s an outsider. He’s repeatedly told by his captain “Nothing ever happens here.”

The narrative is told in two different parts: one beginning in spring 2008 and ending in January 2009; the other, set off in separate chapters and in italics, describing a murder. The reader knows the two will intersect, but the question is not just when but how. Jonasson deftly teases curiosity while leaving very few clues along the way.

In the place where nothing happens, Ari Thor deals first with an accidental death and then the brutal beating of a woman. Yet, these are only part of the plot.

Snow Blind
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Minotaur Books, 2010
302 pages

Strength in Numbers   2 comments


I’ve read a few books by Louise Erdrich, but none has captivated me as much as The Round House. I was hooked from the opening sentence, which in retrospect isn’t much: “Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation.” Yet, this simple statement reveals much about the narrator whose life is shaken at its roots by a violent crime against his family.

Thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts lives on a reservation in North Dakota. On an ordinary Sunday afternoon, his life is changed forever after his mother is brutally assaulted and refuses to reveal the identity of her attacker. Joe, his friends, and several family members do what they can to help each other heal, but at the core of that process is naming the man responsible.

Erdrich writes with a sense of determination, there is a need for this story to be told. The crime is complicated by the fact the location of the crime determines which law enforcement jurisdiction oversees the investigation: tribal police, state patrol or local police – entities not known for working together.

The story is full of wonderful characters, each richly developed, particularly Joe and his pals. Within the parameters of the novel are several sub-stories, Indian lore and personal histories, that strengthen those portrayed.

In her afterword, Erdrich notes, “1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime (and that figure is certainly higher as Native women often do not report rape).” This sobering statistic adds another dimension to an exceptionally well-crafted story.

The Round House

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Harper, 2012
321 pages

Frozen Days, Nights and Hearts   Leave a comment

The images of a very pregnant police investigator and the frozen tundra evoked the movie Fargo. However, these are the only similarities with Asa Larsson’s Sun Storm. Larsson, no relation to Steig of the Dragon Tattoo mysteries, has crafted a novel rich with imagery but lacking in true suspense.

Rebecka Martinsson is a tax attorney in Stockholm called home to Kiruna, in northernmost Sweden, to help a friend suspected of murder. The gruesome, ritualistic crime takes place in a church run by the pastors who long ago banished Rebecka from their community. The back story, including the strained relationship between Rebecka and Sanna, more a former friend than a true one, fill most of the pages. What’s noteworthy is how compelling this is. In fact, at several points it’s easy to forget a murder investigation is underway, or that a threat has been made against Rebecka.

Larsson’s writing is stark, like the landscape of which she writes. Yet, it is easy to imagine the corrupt church leaders, their disappointed wives, the aggrieved Sanna, and a friendly neighbor. Rebecka is both insecure and confident. She tries hard to maintain an emotional distance from the area she was forced to leave. These very efforts make her interesting, but not altogether warm and engaging.

The only completely likeable character in the bunch is Anna-Maria Mella, the female investigator. It turns out, she actually is somewhat like the Frances McDormand role in the Coen Brothers’ film: intelligent, caring and ready to give birth.

Sun Storm

Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2007
310 pages

Crime and Fiction 101   3 comments

Although somewhat entertaining, The Writing Class by Jincy Willett is a light
mystery with writing advice. Willett should have heeded some of her own tips,
particularly when it comes to character development. Oh wait, she didn’t really
address that. Still, plenty of other writing elements addressed go unheeded.

The class, comprised of 13 students, is actually a nine-week workshop. It’s taught
by one-hit writer Amy Gallup repeatedly described as “a loner who hated to be
alone.” That’s not necessarily the kind of thing that needs emphasis. Willett could
show this more, rather than tell it so frequently. Amy’s tired and cynical attitude
doesn’t mesh with her sense of humor and appreciation of good writing when it
surfaces. She’s quick to categorize her students when a new workshop gets under
way. However, she soon realizes she’s made some judgment errors, particularly
when someone in the group begins to send anonymous threats, which ultimately
lead to murder. Nonetheless, the group grows close and despite, or because of,
the murders everyone becomes friends and suspects.

Part of the problem lies in the suspension of disbelief which simply doesn’t happen.
The first threats should have triggered someone, if not Amy, to contact authorities.
Although, there is some acknowledgement this should be done, it doesn’t occur until
too late. Perhaps the best parts of Willett’s novel appear in the different voices creat-
through her students’ writings. They are far better representations than the one-
dimensional descriptions of the characters. If this was intentional, Willett was

The Writing Class
Three Bookmarks
St. Martin’s Press, 2008
326 pages