****The Soul of an Octopus

photo: Matt Biddulph, creative commons license

By Sy Montgomery – The New York Times has called naturalist Sy Montgomery “equal parts poet and scientist” and the Boston Globe says she’s “part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson.” Maybe, with all those parts, it’s fitting that this 2015 book—National Book Award finalist The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness—is also about a creature with many parts.

If we really understood how wondrous octopuses are, we wouldn’t eat them. (Their remarkable nature, by the way, extends to the genetic level.)

The first thing that’s hard to grasp about octopusus is that almost two-thirds of their neurons are not in their brains, but in their arms. In one early encounter with the octopus Athena, Montgomery says, “Unconstrained by joints, her arms were constantly questing, coiling, stretching, reaching, unfurling, all in different directions at once. Each arm seemed like a separate creature, with a mind of its own. In fact, this is almost literally true.”


(photo: wikimedia/commons)

She speculates that this “distributed intelligence” enables the octopus to multitask. It reduces the burden on the brain to coordinate all those arms, which can change color and surface texture in an instant, camouflaging themselves from predators or potential prey and indicating mood, from calm to distress to happy red (as pictured). The arms, she says, “learn, think, decide, and remember—while at the same time processing the flood of taste and touch information pouring in from every inch of skin.”

That the information they receive by touch is remembered is evident from another powerful theme of Montgomery’s book. Octopuses are not just smart—as she demonstrates in describing their many tricks—they have something akin to an emotional life, evidenced by their relationships with the people around them. (No, they’re not just food-seeking.)

They can recognize individual people and other animals because of their extraordinary senses. An octopus’s chemoreceptors can detect another’s “scent” from at least thirty yards away, and research suggests their suckers are a hundred times more sensitive than the chemical receptors on your own tongue.

At Boston’s New England Aquarium where Montgomery interacted with several octopuses over a period of years, one—Octavia—was very friendly. As Octavia’s life was coming to a close, she  laid thousands of eggs, which she obsessively guarded night and day. For many months Montgomery and the caretakers had no physical contact with her. When she was weakening fast, they moved her to a simpler environment without her eggs. Freed from that duty, Octavia’s behavior made it clear she remembered her friends, embracing them as before.

Read this book and marvel!

Travel Tip: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga VNP

photo: Cuyahoga jco, creative commons license

If what springs to mind when you hear “Cuyahoga River” are the images from 1969 when the highly polluted waterway actually burned, the long, narrow Cuyahoga Valley National Park will be a more than pleasant surprise. Not only did the infamous fire prompt environmental legislation that led to a desperately needed clean-up of rivers nationwide, it got some folks thinking about the positive aspects of the river and the beauty of the valley through which it flows. Once nearly barren of fish and wildlife, it’s now a thriving habitat.

I’m told the word Cuyahoga comes from a Mohawk Indian word for “crooked,” and this river does indeed twist and turn repeatedly on its 85-mile journey, first southward, then north, eventually emptying into Lake Erie in the city of Cleveland. The Indians would make the eight-mile portage from the Cuyahoga to the Tuscarawas River for access to the Ohio, then the Mississippi and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

photo: David Fulmer, creative commons license

What To Do There

As Europeans settled the area, the Cuyahoga become the waterway that enabled construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal between industrial Cleveland and tire-manufacturing mecca Akron. The meticulously maintained canal towpath is now a centerpiece of the park’s offerings, well traveled by walkers and bicyclists.

Also nestled in the valley is a historic train line, which runs the length of the park. From the train, you can not only appreciate the surrounding woodlands and adjacent villages, so removed from urban bustle, but you also may view wildlife. Passengers on our trip saw hawks, a young eagle, turtles, deer, and the tourists swarming the bicycle rental shop in the tiny town of Peninsula.

The Park has nearly 125 miles of trails of varying degrees of difficulty for hikers, skiers, and horseback riders, camping options (we stayed at a ritzy B&B), canoeing, kayaking, and fishing, and lovely Brandywine Falls (pictured). We visited a huge marsh created when beavers were introduced into an area that was the former site of an auto salvage lot. A green heron visited when we did.

covered bridge. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

photo: Tim Evanson, creative commons license

Villages incorporated in the park harbor interesting features: a covered bridge (closed in the evening for clog-dancing), huge farmer’s market, canal locks, a ski resort, golfing, nature education centers, canal history, and the famous Blossom Music Center concert venue. So near to major cities, on weekdays at least, it’s a true getaway for all seasons.


Planning on a visit of a day or two or just a stopover when driving through, here’s how close you are when you’re in Cleveland: 24 miles, 36 minutes or
Pittsburgh: 123 miles, two hours.


You can order any of these books through the Amazon affiliate links below (yes, I get a few cents if you do!):

  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – beautifully written novel about the unexplainable death of a teenager
  • All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House by David Giffels – a young family’s trials when reclaiming a rubber-baron’s elegant Akron mansion from the forces of nature (rain, critters, wisteria)
  • Crooked River Burning by Mark Winegardner – a novel about social class, city movers and shakers, and the Cuyahoga River—“funny, tough, elegiac”
  • The Wrong Man: The Final Verdict on the Dr. Sam Sheppard Murder Case by James Neff – the real-life 1954 murder case that made F. Lee Bailey famous

Road Trip: Paterson, New Jersey

Paterson NJ

photo: Tony Fischer, creative commons license

Inspired by the recent charming Jim Jarmusch film Paterson about a city bus driver/poet played by Adam Driver, we drove up there one recent Sunday to take in the sights and cultural offerings.

Paterson’s Great Falls, which drop some two million gallons of Passaic River water a day are about a tenth the height of our sentimental favorite Niagara, but nonetheless quite lovely. If all goes as planned, the area around the falls, now a National Historical Park, will become a full-fledged national park with expanding historical attractions over the next few years.

Alexander Hamilton founded the city. When shown the falls the first time, he was asked what he thought of them. He didn’t say, “lovely,” or “nice view,” he said “power.” (In recognition of the city’s founder, the score to the musical Hamilton plays in the visitor center.) And he was so right.

As in Niagara, a portion of the river’s flow is diverted to power a hydroelectric plant. The power generated by  the falls brought Paterson to prominence as the first planned industrial settlement in the nation and enabled development of its textile, locomotive production, paper, machine tool, and other industries. Many of those brick factories still stand, prime loft-conversion properties. The National Park Service offers guided tours of the falls area, and our good-humored, lively guide (who coincidentally grew up in Paterson) was a gem.

Eventually I hope the Park Service offers tours of Hinchliffe Stadium, home of the Negro Baseball League’s New York Black Yankees, among other teams. The stadium has been preserved as part of the park.

Lambert Castle - Ken Lund

photo (cropped): Ken Lund, creative commons license

The local museums were of considerably less interest, though we enjoyed a trip to Lambert Castle in the Garret Mountain Reservation, home of the Passaic County Historical Society. This little castle was built in the late 1800s by a prominent Paterson silk mill owner and once displayed the owner’s extensive art collection. The house itself was interesting, and has fantastic views of the New York City skyline, but we’d timed our visit to hear a concert by an extraordinary Ukranian pianist, Sophia Agranovich. Hearing her challenging selections played in the castle’s music room, while seated in the three-story atrium where the sound could swell, was a memorable experience.

Finally, we partook of Paterson’s well known multicultural scene, with dinner at a fantastic Middle Eastern restaurant (reportedly the best in the state), Al-Basha, 1076 Main Street. Order the Mazzah appetizer platter!

To Read While Strolling:


Kedi, cat, IstanbulWorried about the increasingly autocratic government of Turkey? Erdogan’s round-up of dissidents? His relations with Syria? You can forget all that watching this documentary (trailer) by Turkish filmmaker Ceyda Torun and cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann, about Istanbul’s Big Romance with—cats! (What did you think “Kedi” means?)

At an hour twenty-minutes, the film is somewhat longer than it might be, but as a vacation from the news cycle, perhaps not long enough. The residents of Istanbul don’t “own” most of the cats that roam their streets and markets, that nest in quiet places and makeshift hideaways. But they more than tolerate them, they celebrate them. And the cats, meanwhile, act like “slumming royals,” says Joe Leydon in Variety. You can see the cast here.

A number of the featured felines rule the neighborhoods where they live, defending their turf against interlopers and providing benefits to the humans. “They absorb my negative energy,” one man says. A waterside restaurant owner who’d had a problem with “mice” (I fear this was a euphemism) celebrated the day “this lion took up residence.” She takes care of the “mice,” to the comfort of the diners, I’m sure. My particular favorite was the cat who lives at a deli. She never goes inside, but paws at the window—rather insistently, it should be noted—when she wants one of the countermen to make her a snack.

The filmmakers identified a number of the city’s human residents whose mission seems to be to keep these felines in food. One pair of women cooks twenty pounds of chicken a day for them. (!) “All of us have tabs with all the vets,” says a bakery owner, and we see a man take an injured kitten to the vet in a taxi..

In short, the film is charming. It talks about how cats are different than dogs. And it shows how caring for the cats has been helpful to people in many ways. Suitable for all ages, and especially for those who have—or wish they had—been to Istanbul and now are reluctant to go because of paragraph one above. As Leydon says, it’s “splendidly graceful and quietly magical.”

Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 97%; audiences: 87%.

Related Reading

Istanbul isn’t the only city with wonderful cats. Felines of New York –featuring indoor cats, it must be said—gives them deadpan quotes: “I’m not entirely familiar with the Internet thing. Like, I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never watched it or smelled it or whatever you do to the Internet. I’ve heard it’s full of cats, though. Is that true?” LOL! (affiliate link below).

*****No Stone Unturned


photo: Dan4th Nicholas, creative commons license

By Steve Jackson, narrated by Kevin Pierce. Every year, thousands of Americans disappear who are believed murdered, but their bodies are never found. Even if the police have a suspect, lack of a body and the evidence associated with it impedes and may even prevent prosecution. Without a body, the case may be just not winnable “beyond the shadow of a doubt.”

As harrowing as any fictional thriller, this absorbing book tells the real-life story of Colorado-based NecroSearch International—an organization of volunteer scientists that brings a surprisingly large array of disciplines to the search for clandestine graves and the analysis of the evidence they hold. What began as a research project has led to work with police forces from across the country to find the bodies of more than 300 people missing and believed murdered. This book, initially published in 2001, was updated in 2015 for the audio and Kindle editions.

When a small group of researchers began this work, they were interested only in developing more scientific methods for grave searches. They started by burying the bodies of pigs at various depths to see how, over time, different detection methods could yield useful results. Eventually, they added experts in additional specialties, bringing together forensic scientists, soil experts, naturalists, botanists who know which plants grow in disturbed soil, geologists, experts on hydrology, meteorology, psychology, geophysics, entomology, anthropology, and “cadaver dog” handlers. Some members now are from law enforcement.

They use technology—like ground-penetrating radar, infrared imaging, and aerial photography (now sometimes using drones)—but it’s their encyclopedic knowledge of the way soil, stone, water, plants, insects, and wildlife interact that sets them apart. The scientists always caution that no technology can reveal where a body is, but their methods can tell the police where to look.

When the police have a suspected grave site, the alternative, still used too often, is to bring in a backhoe, destroying evidence and disturbing the remains, so that tiny details that provide important clues are lost. NecroSearch approaches a site like an anthropologist exploring an ancient city, gently removing one layer of soil at a time and sifting it for evidence.

Their first of many setbacks was when some of the pigs were dug up and scavenged by animals. Once they realized a human corpse was as likely to be scavenged as one of the pigs, this became an opportunity to bring in animal behavior experts to consider likely predators and how they would deal with the remains.

Jackson, a journalist with a talent for clear and compelling prose, tells the story of their accumulating expertise through the actual cases they worked on—not all of which were successful. Team members work as volunteers, asking only for expense reimbursement. Their payment is in the form of satisfaction—the successful application of scientific methods to difficult problems, aiding the police in finding evidence that will allow a murderer to go to trial, and, every bit as important to them, giving closure to the family and the investigators, often after years of fruitless searching and agonizing uncertainty.

Kevin Pierce gives a fine, energetic reading that draws you into the cases and what it means to the scientists when they are able to resolve one. “There is no statute of limitations on murder,” they say, “and no statute of limitations on grief. The truth does matter.”

Frida Kahlo: Her Casa Is Our Casa

Kahlo, desert

photo: Jodi Goalstone

After setting all-time attendance records with 500,000 visitors at New York’s Botanical Garden (NYBG), Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life is firmly planted in Tucson through next May.

Tucson Botanical Gardens is the only other American institution to display the inspiring homage to Kahlo’s Casa Azul, her childhood home in Mexico City. That distinction is fitting because Sonoran Desert plant species are quite similar to the ones at Casa Azul. Kahlo described her beloved home this way: “Mi casa no es tan cómoda, pero tiene un color muy bonito. My house is not so comfortable, but it is nice of color.”

According to an article in the Desert Leaf, a Tucson magazine, the idea for the exhibition germinated when the NYBG’s vice president for exhibitions interviewed a job candidate who had worked and studied in Latin America. Discussing their joint botanical passions led them to the idea of showcasing Kahlo’s gardens.

NYBG engaged hundreds of scientists along with Broadway scenic designer Scott Pask (a part-time Tucson resident and graduate of the University of Arizona) to recreate the key structural elements.

Kahlo, Rivera

photo: Jodi Goalstone

Renowned for her unsmiling, direct gaze and iconic unibrow as much as her artistic acumen, Kahlo found refuge and inspiration in her gardens. After her marriage (not to mention separation, divorce and remarriage) to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, they purchased property adjacent to Casa Azul and tripled the size of the gardens. They lived there from 1929 until 1954.

According to exhibit materials, Rivera, at Kahlo’s suggestion, designed a four-tier pyramid structure to house his large collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts. Agave and cacti crowned the palapa (woven grass) roof to reflect the blend of indigenous culture and history. This representation is what the visitor sees as a centerpiece of the exhibition. Other plantings around Casa Azul included yucca, organ pipe cactus, bougainvillea, and jacaranda.

But the area wasn’t meant only for solitary contemplation, according to Mexican artist Humberto Spindola. NYBG commissioned him to recreate The Two Fridas, a Kahlo double self-portrait using amate (bark paper) typical of Aztec and traditional Mexican folk art, which Kahlo often used in her work.

photo: Jodi Goalstone

photo: Jodi Goalstone

Spindola told the Desert Leaf: “(They) held many fiestas and gatherings at the house and gardens, entertaining their many artist, poet, writer, and communist friends” with platters of Kahlo’s wonderful food, lots of tequila, and live mariachi music. They surely made an unusual couple; Rivera was about a foot taller than the 5’3” Kahlo and was 20 years her senior.

If you are planning a Southwest sojourn, Tucson is a diverse and distinctive destination. It now is a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, and has a host of notable attractions including the Desert Museum, Mission San Xavier del Bac, and walking, hiking, and horseback riding in Sabino Canyon in the surrounding Santa Catalina Mountains. Additionally, there now is daily non-stop air service from JFK to Tucson on American Airlines.

For more information on the Kahlo exhibition, go to www.tucsonbotanical.org.

This guest post is by Tucson-based Jodi Goalstone, author of the entertaining blog Going Yard, Offbeat Baseball Musings, celebrating her 20th year living in the Old Pueblo.

****Blood of the Tiger

photo: Damian Moore, creative commons license

photo: Damian Moore, creative commons license

By J.A. Mills – Tigers are many people’s joy and woe. Beautiful, intelligent apex predators, their numbers in the wild have diminished to a few thousand, and the forces threatening them seem irredeemably entrenched. This book lays out in stunning, infuriating detail the shortcomings and compromises in international policies toward tigers by both governmental and non-governmental organizations, even presumed good guys like the World Wildlife Fund.

Mills’s arguments are well supported by many other organizations and investigations. The nub of the problem is this:

  • Wildlife protection efforts focus on illegal trade, ignoring the legal Asian “tiger farms”
  • “Tiger farms” provide a totally inappropriate environment (group cages) for solitary animals like tigers, and animals raised in them cannot survive, if released into the wild
  • Proponents say tiger farms reduce pressure for poaching wild tigers, which is completely false
  • The availability of tiger products from farmed animals builds demand for these products, increasing the incentive for poaching
  • It is vastly cheaper to poach a tiger (about $10) than to raise it on a farm ($10 per day in food alone)
  • Consumers view products from farmed tigers as inferior to those from wild-killed ones.

Here is what becomes of farmed tigers in China. They are hunted in fake “big game” shoots, their pelts are made into rugs and clothing, their meat is eaten (yes), their carcasses are deboned and the bones steeped in vats of wine, then sold as “tiger wine.”

All this happens behind the smoke screen of “domestic” versus “international” trade, of China’s 1993 ban on tiger bone products, and fake compliance with international wildlife protection regimes.

While Mills’s book gets these points across effectively, it is not very inspiring reading, as it details one failed attempt after another by international organizations and high-level conferences to “save the tiger” in the face of false cooperation by, primarily, Chinese government officials to do whatever they please.

Luxury tiger goods are big business in Asia. What’s true for tiger-derived products is also true for bear paws, bear bile, rhino horn, and elephant ivory. Indiscriminate killing of the latter two species puts them on the path to extinction as well. Some Chinese investors openly say they are stockpiling these animal parts for the time when the animals are extinct and the “value” of their collections will skyrocket.

We in the United States are part of the problem. Inconsistent policies across states allow private individuals to keep wild animals, and there are more tigers in U.S. back yards than in the wild.  Often the conditions they are maintained in are filthy, too small, and in every respect wholly inadequate. You may recall the notorious and tragic episodes that have resulted in Jackson Township, N.J., and Zanesville, Ohio.

I am a regular supporter of Panthera, an organization dedicated to saving the big cats in the wild. Unfortunately, even their promotional material skirts a fundamental problem, by emphasizing the fight against “illegal trade,” when China’s tiger farms are perfectly legal. Mills supports her text with ample footnotes and a short section on “what you can do,”  including strengthening state laws about private tiger ownership in the United States. Her website provides more ideas.

***Cold Blood, Hot Sea

Maine, lobstermen, boat

David Nicholls, creative commons license

By Charlene D’Avanzo – This story, billed as “A Mara Tusconi Mystery,” introduces Mara, age 31, whose work at the Maine Oceanographic Institute (MOI) centers on the timely subject of climate change. D’Avanzo deserves credit for taking on the difficult task of making a science topic accessible to a general audience and taking advantage of the possibilities for drama inherent in this contentious field.

The story holds several key points of friction. First, between Mara and an aquaculture startup corporation up the Maine coast a short distance, which she believes may be fudging its data—anathema for any reputable scientist. And, second, between her fellow climate researchers and an apparently well funded cadre of climate change deniers who increasingly resort to spying, sabotage, and threats of physical violence. She has her personal issues as well: she gets seasick easily and she’s a behind-the-scenes player, deathly afraid of public speaking. At the same time, she’s trying to persuade Maine lobstermen that her research isn’t the threat, but the underlying changes in sea temperatures that could jeopardize their livelihoods.

As the novel begins, Mara and other MOI researchers head out to sea on their ship Intrepid to launch huge data-gathering buoys that will reveal ocean temperature trends. The buoy of her friend and colleague Harvey (a woman) goes into the water without incident. Because Mara is seasick, she turns the launch of her buoy over to Peter Riley, a young MOI PhD. Something goes disastrously wrong with the winch, the buoy slips, and fatally injures Peter.

An old MOI hand advises Mara to investigate Peter’s death on her own, secretly. She says the organization’s administrators may try to cover up any problems, in order not to scare off potential funders. Thus amateur sleuth Mara starts on a bit of a whirlwind of plot-driven activity.

D’Avanzo gives Mara a large cast of potential allies and antagonists, almost too many to flesh out in sufficient detail. Partly because the novel is told strictly from Mara’s point of view, we don’t get to know these other characters in very well. Stronger characters would create more unpredictability in the outcome and make me more invested in it.

When the opportunity arises for Mara to play a more prominent role in the climate change debate, she must weigh the risks of harassment along with the opportunities to make a vital contribution, and her personal strengths against her fears.

A longer version of this review appeared on CrimeFictionLover.com.

A Zoo at Night!

owl, zooWhile it may be hard to tear the kids away from the amusement park rides and midway attractions at Hershey Park, near Harrisburg, Penna., don’t overlook ZooAmerica’s adjacent North American Wildlife Park. Originally the zoo had larger acreage and a comprehensive collection of world animals, but styles of zookeeping have changed a lot since Milton Hershey first thought of a zoo to house animals presented to him as gifts.

With the amusement park expanding and the animals needing more space, more tailored care, and more programs suited to keep them both physically and mentally healthy, a more focused program made sense. The downsizing of the zoo has let the staff concentrate on much more completely on comprehensive animal welfare. And North America has a lot!

You can visit the zoo during the day directly from within Hersey Park or do just the zoo (separate entrance). You can also participate in by-reservation-only early morning or evening behind-the scenes tours. There are also special tours for photographers. Because we were traveling with three children, the likelihood of mobilizing everyone early enough for the morning program seemed unlikely—and kind of anti-vacation—so we chose the after-dark tour. Good choice!

The After-Hours Tour

Two zookeepers accompanied our group of six and one other couple and showed us much the regular visitor does not see. The wolves were howling as we followed the zoo’s paths guided only by flashlights. The zookeepers knew, of course, which species and individuals were likely to be active at night. They showed us where the animals’ food is prepared, explained what goes into each different diet, and we saw where they are cared for if they are sick—if they need surgery, they go to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center (just like you or me), to be operated on by a team of veterinarians (not).

Hershey bearWe fed river otters, a sloe-eyed alligator, and a huge tortoise. In the education center, we “petted” a baby alligator and held a young owl. That was quite a thrill! The highlight was the opportunity to hand-feed bears (grapes on a skewer held through the bars), which the bears delicately removed. These real-life Hershey bears—outdoors in daytime—come into their cages to sleep at night, so kids and bears had bars between them, plus, of course, seven hovering adults to make sure little fingers stayed well away. These were black bears so he isn’t terribly visible in the photo.

The zoo staff was terrific about explaining animal behavior. They obviously delighted in the children’s—and adults’—fascination with their work. These days, would-be zookeepers generally follow one of two main educational pathways: zoology, as you would expect, and psychology. Modern zookeeping emphasizes creating interesting environments and novel challenges for captive animals.

An unforgettable experience!

Your Travel Circles

I provide this information to help you make the most of your trips to “destination cities” by also seeing attractions in a reasonable driving distance. I’ve had too many business trips when I never got out of the meeting hotel!

  • If you’re visiting Harrisburg, Hershey is less than a half-hour (14.5 miles) away.

If you’re visiting Philadelphia, Hershey is less than two hours (95 miles) away.

***Devil in the Grass


(photo: heymeadow, creative commons license)

By Christopher Bowron – This debut thriller is an ambitious mix of Florida politics, Satanic cults, Seminole tradition, and alligators. And a bull shark. Author Bowron is clearly familiar with the southwest Florida setting, which he describes expertly, bringing the story to vivid life.

The Florida Everglades is home to any number of dangerous predators, including humans of the sort who don’t mix well with civilization. The 9-foot tall sawgrass that gives the Everglades its nickname—River of Grass—provides Canadian author Bowron’s inspiration for the book title as well as superb cover for his characters as they ply their small boats through its waters.

The impetus for the plot is also grounded in real life: the ongoing political battle between those who want to save the Everglades as a unique and irreplaceable natural resource and the agricultural interests making vast fortunes growing sugar cane and raising cattle along its edges. In Devil in the Grass, former pro football player and half-Seminole Jackson Walker works as an intern for Republican State Senator, James Hunter, who supports Clean Water legislation. Walker, in his mid-20s, meets and falls for a woman working for the state Republican Party. She seeks him out, seduces him, and gradually exposes him to the Satanic cult called The Brotherhood of Set.

After a while, Walker does what he believes will be an innocent errand for the cult leader, and at the book’s opening we find him hiding out in Big Cypress Swamp, accused of slaying a man and woman in a Satanic ritual. Although he believes he’s being framed because of his work with the Senator, letting himself become soft and apathetic may have contributed. He regrets the demise of his football career and its heroes: “It was the fearlessness with which they marched onto the field that had mattered to him.” Inevitably, Walker will be called upon to demonstrate that same fearlessness before the book’s last page.

If the leaders of the Satanic cult weren’t creepy enough, they have for generations used a particular local family—the McFaddens—to be their clean-up crew. They are prone to torture and killing, and they let the vastness of the Everglades hide the evidence. I’m a little burned out on serial killers with chain saws, but the alligators make for heart-pounding excitement.

As the story gets rolling, not only the police, but also the Satanists and their instruments, the McFaddens, are after Walker. And don’t forget the gators.

The book clearly ends with the promise of a sequel, which I hope can make the bad guys as believable as the environment and that Bowron gets a little help with dialog. I’m not sure when this novel takes place, but if Buck Henderson’s “old Cadillac” was manufactured after 2002, it has a trunk release lever. And I ardently wish he hadn’t laid Jimmy McFadden’s psychotic behavior at the door of “severe autism.” Scientific study has failed to link the two.

A longer version of this review appeared on CrimeFictionLover.com.