My Friends Write!

Despite Covid, my friends who are writers are coming out with new books, but with fewer—or at least vastly different—strategies to let us know about them. I’ve joined any number of their ZOOM and Facebook book launches, followed their social media announcements, and read their marketing emails. By and large, these strategies are interesting and not totally satisfying. Better than nothing, I suppose, if frustrating for them.

Here are three recent books by writer friends not reviewed here before. Dick Belsky and Al Tucher I know from crime writing conferences and events sponsored by the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I haven’t met PA De Voe in person, but we’ve bonded over a shared passion for Robert van Gulik’s Tang Dynasty magistrate, Judge Dee Goong An. I mentioned James McCrone’s new political thriller yesterday. Click on the book’s title for my Amazon affiliate link.

The Last Scoop

RG Belsky is a former New York City newsman who’s turned his intimate knowledge of the city and its characters into a number of engaging crime novels. In this story, harried Channel 10 news director Clare Carlson is in the middle of both a puzzling murder story and a potential exposé of city political shenanigans. In following clues left by her late mentor, she gradually uncovers what would have been his last scoops: a previously unrecognized serial killer on the loose and a pattern of mob payoffs. Clare is a bull in a china shop, but she has a powerful, self-deprecating sense of humor, and the demands of the daily news cycle keep her plowing forward at speed. Read my full review here.

Pele’s Domain

A novella set in Hawai`i is almost too appealing. This new story by Al Tucher brings the lore, the multicultural mix, the unique foods, and the island attitude front and center once again. Pele, the volcano goddess, is acting up, and the volcano that’s her home, Kilauea, is erupting spectacularly.

For residents of the raggedy communities in the path of the searing lava, the eruptions are more deadly hazard than spectacle. Trees, houses, cars—all incinerated. Perfect places to hide a couple of murders. The ironic contrast between tropical paradise and dirty dealing in Tucher’s novels is always fun and, here, Kilauea itself is added to the detectives’ adversaries. Read my full review here.

Judge Lu’s Case Files

If a Hawaiian escape isn’t quite distant enough, go back to Ming Dynasty China where PA De Voe channels what must be an earlier incarnation to write with such authenticity her novels and short stories set in that period.

The twelve short stories in this collection have straightforward plots, partly a result of their length and party the reality that cases in that era had to be wrapped up in a day or two. Plus, miscreants were expected to confess, and “encouraged” to do so by their jailers.

Although the stories take place more than 600 years ago, they provide timeless insights into human behavior. Read my full review here.

****Below the Fold

Written by RG Belsky – This is former newsman Dick Belsky’s second crime story featuring Pulitzer-Prize winning print journalist Clare Carlson, now significantly reduced in career status by working as the news director for Channel 10 television.

Clare has a wittily cynical, self-deprecating take on her job and the events and people around her, and the novel begins with her musing on why some deaths—those of blonde white females—matter more than others, at least in the news business. Most of the time.

Clare runs a lively morning news meeting, in which the reporters and staff hammer out which stories to feature that day, absent any even bigger story breaking. On this particular day, Clare’s assignment editor Maggie challenges the team to look a little deeper and discover what was important about the life and death of a person they wouldn’t ordinarily spend time on, a fifty-four-year-old homeless woman stabbed to death in an ATM vestibule. Because Clare rises to the challenge, they discover, over time, just how significant the story of Dora Gayle turns out to be.

The first glimmer there may be more to the homeless woman’s story than they anticipated comes when Grace Mancuso, a woman Gayle’s polar opposite—young, beautiful, wealthy, a stockbroker—is brutally murdered. Beside her body is a list of five names, five people who appear to have nothing in common, who in fact believe they have never even met. The last name on the list is Dora Gayle.

Through Clare’s investigative journalism, Belsky expertly rolls out the stories of all these people, living and dead, and their possible intersections. Except for Gayle, of course, are they suspects in either murder? Potential victims? In the process, Belsky lays down enough red herrings to feed lower Manhattan.

Belsky, who lives and worked in Manhattan for years, knows his setting well, not just its geography, but its culture down to the neighborhood level. You may look up from his pages and be surprised to find yourself somewhere other than Washington Square or the East Village, so thoroughly is this story imbued with the spirit of New York.

It isn’t a spoiler to say that, in the end, the death of Dora Gayle, a death that ordinarily would have been passed over without journalistic notice, started the novel’s engine, bearing out Clare’s advice to her news team that “there’s a story to every murder.”

Image by Michal Kryński from Pixabay

****The Kennedy Connection

Kennedy half-dollar

photo: Eric Golub, creative commons license

By R.G. BelskyAuthor Belsky was most recently managing editor of news for NBCNews.com and is a former managing editor for the New York Daily News, among other journalistic posts. He has ample experience to write authoritatively about his main character and first-person narrator, Gil Malloy, a down-on-his luck Daily News reporter, and about the book’s Manhattan setting. The Kennedy Connection is the first in the Gil Malloy series and takes place in 2013, as the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination approaches.

When we meet Malloy, he’s been disgraced after a serious breach of journalistic ethics. Though he kept his job, he’s assigned to the newsroom dregs, while he watches another young reporter, Carrie Bratten, acquire the mantle of up-and-comer that he once wore. Frustrated with his second-class citizenship, he’s a little too quick to latch onto a story he thinks will redeem him.

Meanwhile, his former agent asks him to help her get publicity for a new book. The hook? The author claims to be Lee Harvey Oswald, Jr., illegitimate son of Kennedy’s assassin. Oswald, Jr.,  believes the book will clear his father’s name.

And a police buddy asks him to investigate the death of a young ex-gang member from the South Bronx, Victor Reyes. Reyes was shot 15 years earlier, left a paraplegic, and finally died when the bullet lodged in his spine worked loose and traveled to his heart. The unknown malefactor who shot him is now a murderer. Malloy’s friend is killed by a drunk driver before the reporter can do more than conduct a few initial interviews with family and cops on that case. Now one is a serious drunk and another’s a deputy police commissioner.

These distractions are soon cut short when a series of murders begins, each with a Kennedy half-dollar left at the scene. These deaths seem too much of a coincidence, taking into account the revelations of the new book by Oswald, Jr., especially when someone sends Malloy a letter promising more mayhem. In the envelope, a Kennedy half-dollar.

Malloy is teamed up with Bratten to cover this high-profile story and again riding high in his journalistic world. Author Belsky does a good job making Malloy a likeable character who could use a little more personal insight. The other newsroom characters are also well drawn, and there’s some engaging banter.

Just like Jake Epping in Stephen King’s 11/22/63, the character of Oswald, Jr., is trying to rewrite the history of JFK’s assassination and, like Jake, ends up having second thoughts about meddling with the past. Efforts to deconstruct what Malloy calls “the greatest murder mystery in history” have a substantial literary pedigree, from King’s work to Don DeLillo’s Libra, to James Ellroy’s American Tabloid, to Tim Baker’s Fever City. Belsky has made an engaging contribution to this lineage.

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