Monthly Archives: June 2013

BOOK NOTES: ‘The Pie Man’, Set in Southern WV, Picked Up by Henry Holt and Just Published as ‘Redemption Mountain’

redemption mountain

Gerry FitzGerald believes in miracles. I don’t know this for sure, but when his publish-on-demand 2009 novel “The Pie Man” was picked up by major publisher Henry Holt and Company and published on June 25 under the new title “Redemption Mountain” (448 pages, $28.00) it has all the elements of a miracle in today’s fluid world of publishing. Publishers are consolidating, merging and — I imagine — shaking with fear as is now publishing books — instead of just selling them.

I reviewed “The Pie Man” in 2009 (see below) and I just received my review copy of “Redemption Mountain.” I’ll review it when I finish it, but Gerry FitzGerald assures me that it’s essentially the same novel, “edited, tightened, and shortened” as he told me in an email. I want news of “Redemption Mountain” to get out as quickly as possible, so I’m doing this review as a “Book Notes.”

Here’s my review of “The Pie Man”, posted Nov. 3, 2009 on

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Pie Man’ Captures the Essentials of Contemporary Rural West Virginia with Well-Drawn, Unforgettable Characters

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen Book Critic

Gerry FitzGerald, a native of Massachusetts who owns an advertising agency in Springfield, MA, has written “The Pie Man” (, 536 pages, $23.95) one of the best books about West Virginia and the culture of the coal counties that I’ve ever read. It’s a tour de force debut novel that captures the spirit of the Mountain State’s southern coal counties.

Charlie Burden, Natty Oakes, Pullman (Hank) Hankinson, Eve Brewster, Emma Lowe, Buck Oakes, and of course Boyd (The Pie man) Oakes — these are all people who come to life with FitzGerald’s portrayal of them and other residents of the fictional town of Red Bone in the very real McDowell County, WV.

Outsiders typically either demonize or beatify people in their novels. FitzGerald avoids this trap, creating well defined characters with very human flaws, much as novelist Martin Cruz Smith did in his 1981 novel “Gorky Park,” set in the Soviet Union. Smith had never visited the Soviet Union before he wrote “Gorky Park”; FitzGerald has visited McDowell County, but admitted in a telephone interview that he was basically a short-term visitor to the area. “I never spent any prolonged time in West Virginia,” he said. “My knowledge comes through reading a great many different things. In addition to the books mentioned in the acknowledgments, one of my greatest sources of information was the Welch Daily News, which I subscribed to for about three years back when I was formulating and then beginning the story.”

Natty Oakes is in her late twenties and is the mother of two children, 12-year-old Boyd, The Pie Man, who was born with Down Syndrome, and his younger sister Cat. She’s married to Buck Oakes, an abusive man who takes out his failures in life on those around him, including his wife. Even Buck’s sister, Eve Brewster, who runs a convenience store in Red Bone, hates the way he treats Natty and ignores his two children.

Into this insular world of people who know all the secrets of the town comes Lexus-driving Charlie Burden, partner of a New York City engineering firm that has designed and is supervising the construction of a gigantic state-of-the art clean coal-burning electricity generating plant in McDowell County. He’s taking over the job of “Big Mule” — a coal mining term for the top boss — after his grossly obese predecessor dies of a heart attack in a strip club.

Charlie, in his very late 40s, is married to the lovely Ellen, a year or so older, who’s involved in the activities of their country club in Westchester County, the county north of New York City where Bill and Hillary Clinton have a home. Their son is a successful stockbroker in Boston, while their daughter is attending Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, which happens to be where FitzGerald earned his graduate degree. Their world couldn’t be more different than Red Bone, WV, but Charlie Burden, possessed of all the toys of a wealthy man, is at a “Is That All There Is?” stage of his life.

Charlie wants his firm, Dietrich Delahunt & Mackey, to send him to China to supervise a gigantic construction project. He’s tired of being a computer user and paper shuffler at the firm and wants to get his hands and feet dirty in the field. Instead he’s sent to West Virginia on what he considers to be a routine assignment.

After a night or two in a company owned condo in Bluefield, he decides to live closer to the job site and rents an apartment in a building owned by Eve Brewster in Red Bone. That’s where he meets Natty, a runner like him, coach of The Bones, an under-14 soccer team and the mother of The Pie Man. His next door neighbor is Pullman (Hank) Hankinson, a retired teacher and the man who plays cribbage with him and who educates Charlie in the ways of how corporate America has treated West Virginia like a Third World colony by Big Coal, Big Railroads and Big Industry in general for more than 100 years.

Burden becomes The Pie Man’s best friend, who calls him “Chowly.” He runs with Natty and is charmed by her to the point where he admits to himself — and soon to Natty — that he’s falling in love. Yes, there are elements of a Romance novel in “The Pie Man,” with the ruggedly handsome hero and the attractive heroine. This is also a novel of the sturm und drang of big business, as various elements opposed to Burden and his mentor, senior partner Lucien Mackey, try to take over the firm. It’s also a novel of political corruption and powerful Charleston law firms run by faux good ole boys who know how to make things happen — like obtaining a permit for a mountaintop removal coal mine to feed the maw of the new electrical plant and buying farms of people in the way of “progress.”

With a minimal budget, Natty has coached her soccer team into a powerhouse in the county, thanks to skillful players like Emma Lowe, a 13-year-old black girl playing on a team composed of boys. Emma’s reputation has attracted the notice of scouts from the University of North Carolina, which has produced some of the best women soccer players in the nation. Natty is the closest character in the book to saintliness, serving as a home health aide to retired miners and running a children’s library in a run-down building near the soccer field.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, other than to say it involves scenes of violence, conflict, humor and self-realization. The depiction of the bus trip to New York will have you laughing and crying at the same time. Buck and Charlie take to the woods to challenge two veteran French-Canadian lumberjacks in a male-bonding scene of great power. “The Pie Man” is a first-rate depiction of a state that has suffered at the hands of outsiders, including writers and moviemakers — John Sayles of “Matewan” fame excluded. In fact, John Sayles might be the perfect filmmaker to bring “The Pie Man” to the big screen. Or maybe Daniel Boyd, who cast my late, great friend and former colleague at The Register-Herald, Neale Clark, in his films “Paradise Park” and “Invasion of the Space Preachers.” (Clark was also in “Matewan,” playing Isaac, one of the mountain men who came to the aid of the miners dispossed by Baldwin-Felts.) Neale would have made an outstanding Hank Hankinson.

Gerry FitzGerald spent almost 10 years writing a book that anyone familiar with West Virginia will appreciate and enjoy. It’s available on and I urge everybody to buy it. And, while you’re at it, buy an extra box of Kleenex: You’ll need it!

About the Author: Gerry FitzGerald has owned his own advertising agency for the last 25 years in Springfield, Massachusetts. He is a Viet Nam veteran and a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism/ Northwestern University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in East Longmeadow, MA with his wife Robin and children Thomas and Joanna.
Here are excerpts of some of the reviews of “The Pie Man” as submitted by FitzGerald:

The reviews below were for the first version of Redemption Mountain, a print-on-demand publication entitled The Pie Man, which came out in 2009. Reviews were taken from Amazon and other on-line sources.

I am an active book club member and end up reading books that truthfully aren’t very good. The Pie Man by Gerry Fitzgerald is the real deal! It is rich with characters who you really care about, and a plot that keeps you totally involved. It was a large book, but so well written that I read it in no time. Part of the ending was shocking, but had a real WOW factor. I didn’t want the story to end! As I was reading the book it actually played like a movie in my mind. I agree with other reviewers that it would make a great film. Bravo to the author for his remarkable debut novel. Maryanne Goulart, Westport, MA

The Pie Man is an outstanding literary first effort. The author illustrates a mastery of several diverse subjects, interweaving them into a very readable, intriguing tale of love, heartache, and the triumph of ethics over the exploitive appetites of corporate greed. Remarkably rich character development allows the reader to deeply experience a range of attachments and emotions – from the eminently lovable, to the thoroughly despicable. The author effectively employs humor, and has a wonderful command of language, allowing scenes to vividly come to life, and leaving the reader no choice but to rejoice at the unlikely good fortune of the underdog. Invariably, chapters end in a manner that vaguely but cleverly hint at what’s to come, preventing the reader from inserting the bookmark and getting to bed! The novel teases the reader into predicting the outcome, then amending that prediction; but the story eventually concludes in a fashion that defies prediction. Oh yes, and if you don’t absolutely fall in love with the Pie Man himself, you’re likely incapable of falling in love! Kevin McCullough, Wrentham, MA

I just finished The Pie Man and feel lost without these characters in my life. I love a book like this that stays with me long after the read is over. The story line kept me wondering and hoping for different outcomes and the author doesn’t disappoint by being predictable. I was involved with each of the characters and was left wishing for more. What a fascinating culture and industry I learned about all the while being so entertained, I couldn’t put it down. Gail Mathes, Port St. Lucie, FL

This book was sent to me by a friend. I usually like to select my own reads but I thought I’d honor the gift. This is one of the best books I have read in years and I read quite a bit. You won’t be sorry for buying this book. The characters become your friends and when you finish the book you don’t want your friends to leave. A real winner. Frank Towers, Roxbury, NY

One of the best stories I have read this year! I didn’t want the story to end…at least not the way it did…even though I knew that it would. Each chapter kept me coming back for more, even the ending. I felt each person’s feelings as the story progressed. I fell in love with Pie Man and felt such sorrow for Charlie and Natty and what the outcome of their relationship would produce. When I bought the book I thought that it would bore me with technical terms about the coal mining industry, not so, the writer kept my interest in both the mining and especially in each of the character’s lives and how the strip mining effected them. A wonderful read, I hope it’s enjoyed by many readers young and old. Y. Taylor, Holyoke, MA

“The Pie Man,” written by Gerry FitzGerald, tells a beautiful story of love, soccer and, like most books of the area, coal. His descriptions are well worded and thought out, and he paints a fantastic picture in the reader’s mind. “The Pie Man” has a lot of soul, and encompasses the spirit of rural West Virginia.”Reviewed By The Daily Athenaeum, Morgantown, WV

“Gerry FitzGerald, a native of Massachusetts who owns an advertising agency in Springfield, MA, has written “The Pie Man” (, 536 pages, $23.95) one of the best books about West Virginia and the culture of the coal counties that I’ve ever read. It’s a tour de force debut novel that captures the spirit of the Mountain State’s southern coal counties.” Reviewed By David M. Kinchen, West Virginia, Book Critic

And here’s the miracle part, told in an email to me by FitzGerald:

“……Redemption Mountain is the edited, tightened and shortened version of “The Pie Man”, and I’m sure you will still enjoy it. “The Pie Man” was “discovered” in 2011 by a bookstore owner who recommended it to her St. Martin’s Press rep, who took it to New York where it was read and loved by Sally Richardson, the founder and President of St. Martin’s. Then, I got a big time agent, who moved it to Henry Holt & Company.”

* * *

Gerry FitzGerald believes in miracles and I do, too. Look for my standalone review of “Redemption Mountain” in July.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Rules of Wolfe’: Gripping Tale of Risk-Taking by Texas Family With Mexico Connection

the rules of wolfe

I’ve heard of “border radio” but “Border Noir” — part of the title of James Carlos Blake’s “The Rules of Wolfe: A Border Noir” (The Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, 272 pages, $24.00) — is a designation new to me. The thriller deals with the Rio Grande Valley-based (in Texas we call it simply “The Valley”) Wolfe family of gunrunners and smugglers with operations in the northern Mexican drug cartel states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, among other locales.

The Wolfe family, blended Anglos and Hispanics like much of south Texas, has rules, but family member Eddie Gato Wolfe is eager to get on with his life, feeling shackled by the family’s slow-going, traditional ways and emphasis on higher education at institutions like Louisiana State University. Eddie’s impetuousness leads him to leave the relative safety of the Texas side of the border to work security for a drug cartel led by La Navaja.

Driven by the unbridled testosterone of youth, Eddie falls for a mysterious woman named Miranda, whom he learns too late is the property of an intimate member of La Navaja’s organization. When they’re discovered, the violent upshot forces Eddie and Miranda to run for their lives, fleeing into the deadly Sonoran Desert in hope of crossing the border to safety. Eddie is familiar with the subtropical climate of Cameron County (Brownsville and vicinity) but the heat and obstacles of the Sonoran Desert are an elevated level of difficulty as Eddie and Miranda try to evade the operatives, including bounty hunter El Martillo, that La Navaja sends after the fleeing pair. If their pursuers don’t get them, the killer desert might accomplish the task.

Eddie’s family attempts to make contact with him, but the obstacles are daunting. I found the narrative and the dialogue capable of sustaining interest — only if you’re interested in brutal cartels and their savage ways.

More often than not, reading the news accounts of the sordid goings on in places like Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo is enough for me, without adding a fictional account like “The Rules of Wolfe.” Balancing this negativity on my part is the wonderful writing by Blake, a man who has written almost a dozen novels and knows the terrain and the people of South Texas and northern Mexico intimately. If I’m forced to compare Blake with any other writer I’ve read and enjoyed, it would be Robert Olen Butler, whose “The Hot Country” I read, enjoyed and reviewed last October (link: By the way, Butler has a new Christopher Marlowe Cobb (the protagonist of “The Hot Country”) historical thriller, “The Star of Istanbul”, due this October.

About the author

James Carlos Blake, born 1947, is one of the America’s most highly regarded living authors of historical crime fiction. Born in Mexico, his family moved regularly when he was a child, living in various towns along the border and coast before finally settling in Texas when he was six. After a stint in the army, Blake attended the University of South Florida and received a Master’s degree from Bowling Green State University, both universities where he would later teach. In 1997 he left teaching to write full-time.

Blake’s first novel, “The Pistoleer”, was published in 1995 to overwhelming acclaim. Its unusual format—with each chapter told from a different character’s perspective—caused critics to dub it an unusually promising debut. Since then Blake has written eight novels and one collection of stories, most of which dealt with real-life characters from the American west. He lives and works in Arizona. More about Blake at

COMMENTARY: The NFL is in Crisis Mode


The National Football League should be in public relations crisis mode. There probably has never been a 24 hour period in the league’s 93-year history where two players have been kicked off of their teams because of a murder charge and an attempted murder charge. But to put the league problems into the neat little world of the sports scribes and others, the league’s biggest problem is that Woody Johnson’s New York Jets franchise remains circus-like as the team’s quarterback Mark Sanchez was caught on tape having some fun dancing and apparently dropping his pants or something that 20-somethings might do having a good time.

But in the tony, upscale village of Bronxville, New York at the local Starbucks, two football fans, and one an elderly white fan and a middle aged black man were talking about football. These are the people of means who could buy tickets or go to games because their corporate bosses buy tickets and give them out to employees. The middle-aged man said that’s how he attends games, as he gets his tickets free from his bosses.

Mark Sanchez’s little dance and the accompanying nonsense from the tabloid mentality media didn’t bother them in the least. It was that Herman guy in New England that caught their attention. That Herman guy was arrested for murder.

The conversation between the two men was fascinating because one of them without prompting told the other that he thought, “Herman or something with an “H” was fired because they (the New England Patriots) were protecting their image and had to do something.”

The man got the name wrong, it was Aaron Hernandez but he was one hundred percent correct in his assessment of the situation. New England and the National Football League were in damage control crisis mode.

They had to protect their most precious assets, the NFL logo aka The Shield, the Patriots logo and the Browns logo. Then they had to get out in front of the story to appease the fans, customers, business partners including television networks and the scribes. The mythmakers who create “perceived perception” about football, football players, football owners, football coaches and the trappings of the industry.

The league has been hard hit with arrests since the Super Bowl. According to the San Diego Times Union NFL Arrests Database, there have been 30 incidents where 29 players who were on NFL rosters or players who were connected to the NFL in the past year have been charged. An unemployed player Titus Young has been arrested twice. The charges range from assault to drunken driving.

Hernandez, of course has been charged with murder and five weapons counts in connection with the killing of Odin Lloyd. Cleveland fired Ausar Walcott this week after he was charged with attempted murder after he allegedly punched out a man in a New Jersey nightclub.

The “Shield”, the NFL logo should be taking a tremendous hit in image with the arrests of Hernandez and Walcott for very serious crimes. But you wonder when you read tripe about the New York Jets and the “circus” atmosphere because the team’s record was at best mediocre in 2012 and the quarterback Mark Sanchez had a bad year.

Day after day, the New York tabloids and ESPN attached the “circus” label on the Jets. The general public bought the notion created by the mythmakers. The Jets record was mediocre and the media pushed the story while ignoring real problems in the real world that collided with the NFL fantasy world. There was a murder-suicide in Kansas City involving Jovan Belcher. Belcher allegedly killed the mother of his child and then committed suicide in front of Kansas City Chiefs officials near the team’s campus in December.

There was a DUI-manslaughter charge involving a Dallas Cowboys player. Joshua Brant was arrested following a car crash that took the life of his teammate Jerry Brown. After being released from jail, Brant was on the sidelines cheering on his Cowboys teammates.

Despite all of this, the New York tabloids and ESPN insisted that there was a Jets circus.

The real “circus” in the Jets camp is something the New York tabloids and ESPN aren’t covering too heavily. The team has had three players arrested in the off-season. Two were fired following their arrests, Claude Davis and Cliff Harris. Both were taken in for marijuana possession. A third, running back Mike Goodson-who somehow did not make the San Diego Union Times database, was charged with drug possession and a weapons charge. Goodson is still employed with the Jets.

The media inflicted “circus” tag is inappropriate, ill advised and is a product of lazy journalism driven by a tabloid mentality as New York media seems to want to emulate the financially strapped New York Post.

The franchise hired Tim Tebow who became the central character in this so-called circus. Tebow could not perform but the story continued because the mentality ‘it sells newspapers’ exists in the New York market. Of course that is not the case as both the New York Post and New York Daily News have lost 10 percent of the readership and both papers have laid off employees. The New York market’s Newark Star Ledger, a paper that covers the Jets, may not last until the end of the year.

The Jets franchise is a “circus” but it was not the only New York area NFL team to have a player associated with the team in 2012 or on the 2013 roster arrested. The mighty and well-respected New York Giants were tarnished with the arrest of Michael Boley on February 8 on child abuse charges. The only good thing about this from the Giants and the NFL’s viewpoint was that Boley was fired from the team three days earlier.

The Jets had a fourth player arrested, which seemed to be unnoticed by the circus attendees, the tabloids and ESPN. Bryan Thomas was taken into police custody on October 31, 2012 and charged with assaulting his wife and in possession of drugs. Thomas, who is a free agent, was arrested again in April and charged with beating his wife.

But Mark Sanchez’s butt makes him the butt of the national media jokes.

The two men sitting in the Bronxville Starbucks didn’t know about Walcott. But they did known about the initials CYA or Cover Your Ass. That is what Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslum, are doing.

By the way, Haslum also has the NFL in a dither and has some explaining to do to the courts. Haslum’s Pilot Flying J Company was raided by FBI officials and the Internal revenue Service in April as part of an investigation into the company’s business practices. It has been alleged that Pilot Flying J had been engaged in rebate fraud. The case is ongoing.

Much has been said about Robert Kraft’s New England Patriots being the “gold standard” of NFL franchises and it could be argued that Kraft has replaced the New York Giants late owner Wellington Mara as the “conscience” of the league.

But John Madden’s quote of “winning is a great deodorant, it covers everything” may be applicable in the Patriots’ situation. The team wins so the warts are overlooked.

When Goodson was arrested, the New York tabloids again came out in their usual the Jets circus fashion and questioned whether or not the new man at the Jets helm, John Idzik, did a thorough job of researching Goodson’s character when Idzik hired him.

That doesn’t apply to New England. This may be a minor point, but the good looking, white Super Bowl champion quarterback with a model wife has an illegitimate child. Black players with illegitimate children are always noted and signaled out like the Jets Antonio Cromartie.

The Patriots coach Bill Belichek is no angel. He had a valid contract with the Jets in 2000 and quit as the “HC” of the team. He ended up in New England. One day the whole story will probably come out on the Belichek quitting and ending up in New England. Then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue gave the Jets a first round draft choice from New England at assuage the team.

Belichek, in 2007, was hit with a $500,000 fine, the team with a $250,000 fine and a first round pick in 2008 for video taping Jets defensive signals which is against league rules. His personal life is also mixed. He was named in a divorce case as a person who broke up a marriage. His sons have been arrested on minor charges. He has a history of hiring players with questionable character.

Yet it is all perfectly good in the “Patriot Way” of doing things.

Last year, the team hired Dante Stallworth who had spent time in a Florida jail following a DUI manslaughter charge. Aqib Talib has an impressive rap sheet. He allegedly assaulted a taxi driver in 2009 and in 2011 alledged fired a gun at his sister’s boyfriend. Kraft’s team took Alfonzo Dennard in the 2012 draft about a week after punching a police officer. Dennard did 30 days jail time.

Kraft’s team hired Albert Haynesworth in 2011 a number of months after Haynesworth was fired by Washington. Among the police blotter incidents that Haynesworth rang up was an arrest for punching a motorist in the face because of a road rage incident and a bad accident caused by driving 100 miles an hour that left a motorist paralyzed.

Brandon Spikes in 2010 was suspended for violating the league’s drug policy.

Another Belichek signee was Willie Andrews who did 30 days in jail for gun possession in 2002. Andrews was no model citizen when Belichek hired him in 2006 but he helped the team get to the Super Bowl in 2008. After the Super Bowl, Andrews was arrested on a marihuana charge. A few months later, Andrews was arrested for drawing a gun on his girlfriend. At that point, the Patriots brand was taking a hit and Andrews was fired.

In 2005, Belichek hired Corey Dillon, a good running back, who had an assault on his wife charge in 2005.

In the Bill Parcells days, Kraft fired Christian Peter, a drafted player, before Peter ever stepped onto the field with the Patriots. Peter had a history of physical abuse of women while in college.

Kraft has carefully crafted the Patriots brand and image and winning certainly has camouflaged the dark and seedy side of his business. Kraft too is not exactly a paragon of virtue to Patriots fans. He attempted to move the team out of Foxboro because of stadium problems and was eyeing Hartford as a possible destination.

In 1998, Kraft had a deal with Connecticut Governor John Rowland to relocate the franchise to Hartford. Rowland was going to build the stadium with state money and give Kraft 90 percent of the revenue generated in the building and build a hotel on the property and not pay any property taxes. A sweetheart deal to be sure. But Kraft pulled out of the deal two days before he would have had to pay a buyout fee because of “environmental” concerns. Massachusetts taxpayers kicked in $75 million and there were other incentives for Kraft to build his own factory or stadium in Foxboro.

The apologists and sportswriters and fans will find some justification and anoint Kraft as some sort of hero. Same with Haslum, after all it is football and the fans can overlook all of the problems. Mark Sanchez is the butt of jokes, the target of lazy writers and a tabloid mentality. ESPN thought it could bring eyeballs to its SportsCenter franchise with wall-to-wall Jets and Tebow coverage.

The NFL has to take a deep look at the business and ask can we survive with all the bad behavior. But it’s not that difficult a problem. Americans love football and once training camp starts, Belichek will intimidate timid sportswriters aS kickoff time approaches. The NFL (and college football) has a stranglehold on men.

Not much will change.

Evan Weiner can be reached at . His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at http://www.bickley.comand and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports are available at, iTunes, nook, versent books, kobo, Sony reader and Diesel.

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Stop the Capital Punishment Hypocrisy


Among the hundreds of news stories marking the 500th execution in Texas since the state resumed them under new guidelines in 1982, one from The Nation stood out for its excellent writing.

I have no particular opinions on the death penalty, although if anyone deserved it, it was No. 500, Kimberly McCarthy who murdered her 71-year-old neighbor Dorothy Booth. From the AP story, widely used among the 647 entries I saw on Google News, it was a particularly heinous crime, deserving of the death penalty if any crime is (link: Kimberly McCarthy, who was put to death for the murder of her 71-year-old neighbor, was also the first woman executed in the U.S. in nearly three years.

“McCarthy, 52, was executed for the 1997 robbery, beating and fatal stabbing of retired college psychology professor Dorothy Booth. Booth had agreed to give McCarthy a cup of sugar before she was attacked with a butcher knife and candelabra at her home in Lancaster, about 15 miles south of Dallas. Authorities say McCarthy cut off Booth’s finger to remove her wedding ring.

“It was among three slayings linked to McCarthy, a former nursing home therapist who became addicted to crack cocaine.”

A personal note: I was born in Michigan, which has the distinction of being the first English language jurisdiction to abolish capital punishment: from Wikipedia: “Michigan’s death penalty history is unusual in contrast to other States. Michigan was the first English-speaking government in the world to abolish totally the death penalty for ordinary crimes. The Michigan State Legislature voted to do so on May 18, 1846, and this has remained in law since. Although the death penalty was formally retained as the punishment for treason until 1963, no person has ever been convicted or indeed tried for treason against Michigan, and therefore Michigan has not executed any person since statehood.”

I’m against hypocrisy in any form, so stop picking on a state, Texas, where I’ve lived since the summer of 2008. Those opposed to the death penalty who live in states with capital punishment (32 as of June 27: should put their money where their mouth is and lobby to have the state legislature do away with the death penalty.

I’m especially talking to you, California, where I lived and worked as a newsman from 1976 to 1992. Maryland was the most recent state to abolish capital punishment, this past May. Illinois, where I grew up after leaving Michigan, abolished it in 2011. California is as blue as can be, so the state should join Illinois and Maryland and abolish the death penalty — if that’s what the people want.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The King’s Deception’: Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone returns in a Novel of Espionage, International Blackmail

the king's deception

The strange case of whistleblower/traitor (take your pick) intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, and the snubbing of the U.S. by Hong Kong, Russia and perhaps Ecuador shows that countries are capable of acting like the worst kind of junior high kids, making the tension between the U.S. and the U.K. in Steve Berry’s explosive (literally and figuratively) “The King’s Deception” (Ballantine Books, 432 pages, $27.00), all that more possible.

The tension arises from the decision by Scotland to release the Pan Am Flight 103 (AKA the Lockerbie) bomber, Libyan national Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, who was suffering from terminal cancer. As Berry explains in a Writer’s Note at the end of the book, the dates were manipulated but the facts are there. I remarked about the historical accuracy of Berry’s writing in my 2012 review of his previous book, “The Columbus Affair”:

“The King’s Deception” brings back Berry’s Cotton Malone, now retired, divorced from his wife Pam and running a bookstore in Copenhagen. As the novel opens, Cottom is escorting a teen-age fugitive, Ian Dunne, back to England. Always the accommodating type, Cotton is doing this as a favor to his former boss at the Justice Department. Along with Dunne — a beautifully drawn character straight out of Dickens — is Cotton’s 15-year-old son Gary, who will spend some time with Cotton in Copenhagen.
Cotton is confronted by gunmen in London while Ian and Gary disappear.

That’s when the ex-agent (is there really such a thing?) learns about his rival, CIA agent Blake Antrim who’s running Operation King’s Deception, and the world of high-stakes international gamesmanship that’s unfolding in real life in the NSA/Edward Snowden affair. Antrim and his team have stumbled upon a long-hidden secret that would undermine the United Kingdom in a way anyone familiar with real estate titles would recognize. And Malone is a lawyer, among his other accomplishments.

I won’t go into the intricacies and spoilers in Berry’s action-filled, well-written (what else from Steve Berry?) other than to recommend it to readers who want to mix real history with their spy vs. spy action. There’s plenty of action in “The King’s Deception” and the Tudor secret that’s behind Blake’s operation will intrigue readers who’ve come to expect an ideal blend of history mixed with fiction from Steve Berry. Yes, I recommend “The King’s Deception” as a great read this summer — or any time.

About the Author

Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Columbus Affair, The Jefferson Key, The Emperor’s Tomb, The Paris Vendetta, The Charlemagne Pursuit, The Venetian Betrayal, The Alexandria Link, The Templar Legacy, The Third Secret, The Romanov Prophecy, and The Amber Room. His books have been translated into 40 languages with more than 14,000,000 printed copies in 51 countries.
Steve Berry was born and raised in Georgia, graduating from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. He was a trial lawyer for 30 years and held elective office for 14 of those years. He is a founding member of International Thriller Writers — a group of more than 2,000 thriller writers from around the world — and served three years as its co-president.

For more information, visit

History lies at the heart of every Steve Berry novel. It’s this passion, one he shares with his wife, Elizabeth, that led them to create History Matters, a foundation dedicated to historic preservation. Since 2009 Steve and Elizabeth Berry have traveled across the country to save endangered historic treasures, raising money via lectures, receptions, galas, luncheons, dinners, and their popular writers’ workshops. To date, nearly 2,000 students have attended those workshops. In 2012 Berry’s devotion to historic preservation was recognized by the American Library Association, which named him the first spokesman for National Preservation Week. Among his other honors is the Royden B. Davis Distinguished Author Award.

OP-ED: When Education Is a Business

Wittner_Lawrence BY Lawremce S. Wittner

To what extent is education corrupted when it becomes intertwined with profit-making businesses?

This question becomes increasingly relevant as corporations move into key roles at American universities. In late June of this year, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo steamrolled a bill through the state legislature to establish tax-free havens for businesses on the campuses of the State University of New York (the largest public university in the United States) and on those of some private colleges. This legislation, he promised, would “transform SUNY campuses and university communities.” Faculty, he said, should “get interested and participate in entrepreneurial activities.” Indeed, “you’d be a better academic if you were actually entrepreneurial.”

What can happen when education is run like a business is shown in a new, hilarious satire by Joel Shatzky: Option Three (Blue Thread Communications). Shatzky, a novelist and playwright who taught dramatic literature at SUNY/Cortland for 37 years, provides an unnerving, madcap, depiction of the corporatization of the university — in this case, a university very much like SUNY.

The story begins when the novel’s hero, Acting Visiting Assistant Professor L. Circassian, receives two letters from the administration: the first laying him off and the second taking him back on as an adjunct, with a 35 percent pay cut. Queried by a confused Circassian, Dean Lean explains that there are three options: “Option One is that you are an invaluable member of the faculty that has to be let go; Option Two is that you are a superfluous member of the faculty that can’t be let go. Is that clear so far?” When Circassian replies that it is not, the dean continues: “Option Three was devised several months ago by Central Administration and what it means is that we don’t have the funds to keep you but we can’t let you go because you are too valuable.” Circassian remonstrates that he can’t survive on the reduced salary, especially as he can barely exist on the one he already receives, whereupon the dean retorts: “Of course, we understand that. That’s why this is called `Option Three’; it’s a combination of two unacceptable solutions to a problem.”

This is only the beginning of the nightmarish, downward spiral of Circassian’s life and that of the other faculty at this fanciful institution of higher education. Governor Putski (a nice mixture of former New York State Governor George Pataki and Cuomo, with a name suggesting the Yiddish word for a portion of the male anatomy), egged on by Operation Change (a conspiracy of the wealthy much like Change New York), repeatedly slashes funding for the state university, thereby giving campus administrators the green light they desire to proceed with its evisceration.

Circassian, much like Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”, looks on in amazement as irrationality proceeds unchecked by reason. Rival corporations buy up departments and compete for students, debasing teaching and knowledge. Finally, with the campus swept by chaos and madness, the administration announces that 95 percent of the teaching will be done by automated programs (holograms), with the 5 percent of the faculty remaining assigned to teach those students who have elected to have “live” instructors.

Circassian somehow survives all of this, although not before being kidnapped and brought, bound and hooded, to the office of Amber Slaughter, the head of Operation Change. In their ensuing conversation, Circassian seeks to defend the public university as a place of educational opportunity for all. But the wealthy Slaughter coolly rejects that notion, retorting that “democracy sucks.” He explains that he and other members of his class have no desire to educate what he calls “the rabble.”

And so Circassian and the reader ultimately learn what the privatization of public education is all about.

Despite this harsh premise, Option Three is a very funny book, enlivened by new and very creative words (“yibbled,” “blicking,” “charfled,” “traffled,” and many others) and ideas. Readers will certainly enjoy the novel’s playful tone. When the English Department’s corporate manager develops a course entitled “Shakespeare for People Who Hate Shakespeare,” he suggests a revised version of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy to “make the product more marketable.” It runs:

Should I live or should I die?
That’s the riddle: tell me why.
Must I live with aggravation,
Or die if that’s my inclination.
Yes, die and take an endless snooze,
That’s the nobler way to choose.
But in death could I have a dream,
Perhaps that way’s a bit extreme.
Still, who’d dare take all the crap,
That bitter life drops in your lap.
Live long enough, you’ll get the shaft,
`Til all that’s left to do is laugh;
But here’s Ophelia, nymph is she,
By her my sins remembered be.

Although the book focuses on the unraveling of university life, it even has a relatively happy ending.

But what is happening to higher education today, as it undergoes a corporate makeover, is considerably less amusing. The sharply reduced government funding for public universities, the replacement of full-time faculty with low-wage, rootless adjuncts, the rapid development of mass, online courses for academic credit, and the increasingly pervasive corporate presence on campus all indicate more concern for the business-defined bottom line than for intellectual growth. Future satirists of university life will be hard-pressed to stay ahead of the emerging reality.

* * * *

Lawrence Wittner ( is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “What’s Going On at UAardvark?” (Solidarity Press), a satirical novel about corporate takeover and rebellion at an American university. For David M. Kinchen’s review:

Bigger Moon Shines in Sunday Night’s Skies

IMG_1873IMG_1465_1.JPG supermoon 6:23:13
Sunday, June 23, 2013 – 22:02

Here’s a photo of the perigee moon or “supermoon” in the skies of Port Lavaca TX at 9:35 p.m. central time, Sunday, June 23, 2013. Second photo was taken with a 400 mm lens on a Canon EOS 5D Digital camera at 10:35 p.m. For everything you need to know about this subject, click:
Photo by David M. Kinchen, 500 mm mirror lens on a Canon Digital Rebel XT

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Don’t Ignore Heart Problem Symptoms: A Personal Story


Along with the rest of the world, I was shocked to learn of the death of James Gandolfini at the age of 51 on June 19, 2013 in Rome, Italy.

I was an admirer of this talented actor and was a dedicated “Sopranos” fan.

One thing that brought me up, “whoa, Nellie!” style: The date of his death was the third anniversary of my heart attack, a wake-up call that has changed my life.

Actually, June 19, 2010 was the first heart incident for me. I had a repeat this past February, one that resulted in two more stents. I now have a total of four, including the two placed in 2010, when I was 71. I turned 72 the following October. Mark that age: 71, two decades older than Gandolfini. I graduated from college in 1961, the year the world famous actor and New Jersey native was born.

My old newspaper home, the Los Angeles Times, had a story confirming the results of the Italian autopsy, that Gandolfini died of a heart attack: Link:,0,2612970.story

What surprised me, given Gandolfini’s girth, was that he didn’t have symptoms of heart trouble before the attack that killed him. Maybe he did and ignored them, suggested a story in the New York Daily News:

Another question needs to be answered for me to be satisfied: How did Gandolfini pass the physicals required for TV and motion picture production? Or maybe he was not examined by a doctor familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack.

Hint: Heart attacks are not always accompanied by chest pain. In my case, neither one was accompanied by chest pain. Rather, I experienced excessive sweating, nausea and disorientation. Fortunately, I was able to call 911 and be transported — the first time — to our local hospital, where our family physician immediately sent me to a board certified cardiologist in the nearest sizable city, Victoria, Texas. I was fortunate indeed to have Dr. Crowley, my family doc, and Dr. Parikh, my cardiologist, treat me.

Here’s my personal, heartfelt (L.O.L) plea, to everyone, men, women, middle-aged people, young people, blacks, whites, asians:

Have your family doctor check you out and, if necessary, get a referral to a cardiologist. Don’t wait for symptoms; you many not get any until it’s too late.

How do I feel now: thanks to adjustments in my diet, exercise and medication, I feel years younger. I’ve lost 15 pounds in the past month and hope to reach my target weight — about 210-215 pounds — by autumn. That’s about right for my large-boned, 6-1 frame. It’s easy to lose weight in our Texas summers!

OP-ED: 10 Problems with the Latest Excuse for War

  • By David Swanson

If you own a television or read a newspaper you’ve probably heard that we need another war because the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

If you own a computer and know where to look you’ve probably heard that there isn’t actually any evidence for that claim.

Below are 10 reasons why this latest excuse for war is no good EVEN IF TRUE.

1. War is not made legal by such an excuse.  It can’t be found in the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the United Nations Charter, or the U.S. Constitution.  It can, however, be found in U.S. war propaganda of the 2002 vintage.  (Who says our government doesn’t promote recycling?)

2. The United States itself possesses and uses internationally condemned weapons, including white phosphorus, napalm, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium.  Whether you praise these actions, avoid thinking about them, or join me in condemning them, they are not a legal or moral justification for any foreign nation to bomb us, or to bomb some other nation where the U.S. military is operating.  Killing people to prevent their being killed with the wrong kind of weapons is a policy that must come out of some sort of sickness.  Call it Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

3. An expanded war in Syria could become regional or global with uncontrollable consequences.  Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Russia, China, the United States, the Gulf states, the NATO states . . . does this sound like the sort of conflict we want?  Does it sound like a conflict anyone will survive?  Why in the world risk such a thing?

4. Just creating a “no fly zone” would involve bombing urban areas and unavoidably killing large numbers of people.  This happened in Libya and we looked away.  But it would happen on a much larger scale in Syria, given the locations of the sites to be bombed.  Creating a “no fly zone” is not a matter of making an announcement, but of dropping bombs.

5. Both sides in Syria have used horrible weapons and committed horrible atrocities.  Surely even those who imagine people should be killed to prevent their being killed with different weapons can see the insanity of arming both sides to protect each other side.  Why is it not, then, just as insane to arm one side in a conflict that involves similar abuses by both?

6. With the United States on the side of the opposition in Syria, the United States will be blamed for the opposition’s crimes.  Most people in Western Asia hate al Qaeda and other terrorists.  They are also coming to hate the United States and its drones, missiles, bases, night raids, lies, and hypocrisy.  Imagine the levels of hatred that will be reached when al Qaeda and the United States team up to overthrow the government of Syria and create an Iraq-like hellin its place.

7. An unpopular rebellion put into power by outside force does not usually result in a stable government.  In fact there is not yet on record a case of U.S. humanitarian war benefitting humanity or of nation-building actually building a nation.  Why would Syria, which looks even less auspicious than most potential targets, be the exception to the rule?

8. This opposition is not interested in creating a democracy, or — for that matter — in taking instructions from the U.S. government.  On the contrary, blowback from these allies is likely.  Just as we should havelearned the lesson of lies about weapons by now, our government should have learned the lesson of arming the enemy of the enemy long before this moment.

9. The precedent of another lawless act by the United States, whether arming proxies or engaging directly, sets a dangerous example to the world and to those in Washington for whom Iran is next on the list.

10. A strong majority of Americans, despite all the media’s efforts thus far, opposes arming the rebels or engaging directly.  Instead, a plurality supports providing humanitarian aid.

We might better spread democracy by example than by bomb.

There are nonviolent pro-democracy movements in Bahrain and Turkey and elsewhere, and our government doesn’t lift a finger in support.

But if you remember all those years of protesting wars and wishing millions of foolish partisan Republicans would join us in protesting blatant mass-murder even though the president was a Republican, I have good news for you.  The Republicans are leading the way in pretending to oppose war this time.  So, if you Democrats, who I’m sure were 100% sincere in opposing wars some years back are still ready to act, maybe — just maybe — we can buildright now the sort of broad movement we’ve wanted.

If you’re not too busy.

* * *
David Swanson’s books include “War Is A Lie.” He blogs at and http://warisacrime.organd works for He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson andFaceBook.  

HUD, CENSUS BUREAU: Housing Starts Rise 6.8% in May

  • By David M. Kinchen 
HUD, CENSUS BUREAU: Housing Starts Rise 6.8% in May

Housing starts rose 6.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 914,000 units in May due primarily to increased production on the multifamily side, according to data released Tuesday, June 18, 2013 by HUD and the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The outlook for housing continues to brighten as builders respond to increased demand for new homes and rental apartments”, said National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Chairman Rick Judson, a home builder from Charlotte, N.C. “While challenges with regard to the cost and availability of building materials, lots and labor are still keeping the pace of improvement in check, both builders and consumers are more confident about their prospects in the current marketplace”.

“Unusually wet weather across much of the country likely dampened the pace of single-family production in May”, said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Nevertheless, the strength in permit issuance for single-family units — and stockpiling of permits for future use — provides further evidence that housing continues on a slow and steady path to recovery.”

While single-family housing starts held at a solid but virtually unchanged pace of 599,000 units in May, multifamily production bounced back from an over-correction in the previous month with a 21.6 percent gain to 315,000 units. From a regional perspective, combined starts activity was mixed in the month, posting gains of 17.8 percent in the South and 5.7 percent in the West and declines of 9.0 percent in the Northeast and 13.7 percent in the Midwest.

Issuance of new building permits — a leading indicator of future construction —  declined 3.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 974,000 units in May. This reduction was due entirely to a 10.0 percent decline to 352,000 units on the multifamily side following a spike in that sector’s permits in April. Meanwhile, single-family permits edged up 1.3 percent to 622,000 units in May — their best pace in five years.  Regionally, permits rose 4.0 percent in the Northeast but declined 6.1 percent in the Midwest, 3.3 percent in the South and 3.5 percent in the West in May.