Monthly Archives: February 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Twelve to Murder: A Mac Faraday Mystery’: Bodies Pile Up, Gnarly is Gnarly, Commitment Issues with Mac and Archie

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

In my previous reviews of Lauren Carr’s Mac Faraday mystery novels, I neglected to mention the humor that infuses these very readable books.

Humor — much of it engendered by Gnarly, Mac’s irrepressible German Shepherd — is present in her latest Mac Faraday mystery, “Twelve to Murder” (Acorn Book Services, 262 pages, $12.99 trade paperback, also available in a Kindle from Amazon).

BOOK REVIEW: 'Twelve to Murder: A Mac Faraday Mystery': Bodies Pile Up, Gnarly is Gnarly, Commitment Issues with Mac and Archie


The murder of a wealthy middle-aged couple in their  home in Deep Creek Lake, MD, opens up several cans of worms involving Hollywood celebrities. And, despite the fact that Mac Faraday is no longer a homicide detective, he becomes involved in the case.

The victims are Janice and Austin Stillman. Janice is a high-profile agent, relocated from Tinseltown to Garrett County, Maryland’s westernmost county. One of Janice’s clients, former child star and teen idol, Lenny Frost, is almost immediately suspected of doing the deed. Austin Stillman is a high-powered public relations man.

In what is perhaps the most hilarious hostage scene in crime fiction, Lenny holds a motley crew of innocent bystanders at gunpoint in a local pub. His mind befuddled by a combination of drugs and alcohol, he calls on Mac — whom he calls Mickey Forsythe, a character in a Robin Spencer novel — and his dog Diablo, with Gnarly playing the role, to hear his side of the story. Mac and Gnarly become hostages and the former D.C. homicide detective who inherited the Spencer resort and mansion, join the crowd in the seedy  Blue Whale Pub in McHenry, Md.

One of the story lines  of “Twelve to Murder” is Mac’s relationship with Archie Monday, a beautiful emerald-eyed blonde, who was the  research assistant to Mac’s birth mother, Robin Spencer. On the day Mac’s divorce from his first wife was finalized, the impoverished Mac Faraday becomes heir to the late Robin Spencer’s  $270 million fortune and her mansion and resort. The details of all this are contained in the first Mac Faraday novel, “Murder, My Son.” For my review of this wonderful novel:

Mac has twelve hours to find the killer or killers of the Stillmans, a deadline set by Lenny.  Can Mac, his half-brother, Police Chief David Callaghan, Gnarly and the rest of the gang meet this deadline?  Read “Twelve to Murder” to find out.

Lauren Carr writes that her inspiration for Lenny Frost was the entire class of entertainers who are on destructive paths:  “Anyone who is near the news can’t help but hear about the fall of one child star or teenybopper idol after another. Miley Cyrus twerking everywhere. (I actually had to google to find out what that is.) Lindsay Lohan going in and out of rehab like it had a revolving door. Has-beens arrested and committing suicide or dying of overdoses. In the eighties, Corey Haim was a very successful child star, became a teen-idol, and ended up dead before he was forty.”

Reviewer’s note: Sharp-eyed readers will notice that I’ve skipped the last Mac Faraday novel, “The Lady Who Cried Murder,” released in October 2013.  I didn’t receive it: “The Lady Who Cried Murder”  was delayed in delivery by the massive storms that hit West Virginia, where Acorn is located, according to Carr, who also owns Acorn Publishing Services. Be patient: I’m reading as fast as I can!


Lauren Carr

Lauren Carr


About the author

Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder , was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award.

A best-selling mystery author on Amazon, Lauren Carr is the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, set in the resort community in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. It’s Murder, My Son, Old Loves Die Hard, Shades of Murder, Blast from the Past, The Murders at Astaire Castle, and The Lady Who Cried Murder  have all made the top one hundred in sales for police procedural on Amazon, and been getting rave reviews from readers and reviewers. Twelve to Murder, the seventh installment in the series was released in February 2014.

Lauren Carr’s website:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘POWER: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History’: Yes, There’s Really a Power — Dave Power — Behind the Now Iconic Brand

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
It has been said that getting anything done in the Army bureaucracy is like mating elephants: It is done at very high levels with a lot of bellowing and it takes two years to get anything done. I’m guessing  that James David “Dave” Power III would find that quote about Army bureaucracy not unlike the first job he got out of college, working for the tractor division of Ford Motor Co.

BOOK REVIEW: 'POWER: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry's Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History': Yes, There's Really a Power -- Dave Power -- Behind the Now Iconic Brand

Despite having an uncle in a high level position at General Motors, Dave Power, born in Worcester, MA in 1931, wanted to get his first job by himself, according to “POWER: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History” (Fenwick Publishing Group, Bainbridge Island, WA, 416 pages, foreword by CNBC’s Bill Griffeth, afterword by Dave Power, index, notes, trade paperback, $19.95, available at and other online sources, also available in a Kindle edition).

Authors Sarah Morgans and Bill Thorness have produced a book that I’ve been waiting for…even if I didn’t know it. I’m a car nut and I’ve also experienced the wrath of car dealers as an auto editor at The Milwaukee Sentinel in the 1970s, when one reporter I assigned a big Buick with a small displacement V6 engine  gave the sedan a less than glowing review after a week of behind the wheel testing. The Buick dealer complained and the newspaper decided to end the well-received auto section, sticking to non-editorial-produced “advertorial” sections. My auto editor job disappeared and I went back to my regular duties as real estate editor.

What happened to me was nothing compared to what Dave Power experienced after he  started what was literally a family business, J.D. Power and Associates, in Los Angeles in 1968.  After making a name for his fledgling business when his research revealed the O-ring problems of  Mazda’s Wankel rotary engines, his customers were mainly other Japanese manufacturers like Honda and Toyota.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Japanese manufacturers were just getting a toehold in the U.S. I remember my 1972 road test of the newly introduced Honda Civic as auto editor in Milwaukee. I praised the Honda, comparing it to the British Mini, but with much better quality. It was one of the first mass-market front-wheel drive cars.  I predicted success for the car at a time when VW was outselling it by a huge margin.

Drawing on his background as a Wharton MBA and his auditing experience at Ford Tractor,  Power and his staff developed a statistically accurate tabulation of customer complaints and praise. The authors describe how, when the company that was initially his biggest foe — Ford Motor Co.! — challenged his model, Power hired three university statistics professors at $5,000 a head.  After examining his methods, all three pronounced them statistically sound. The rest is history, as they say.

No other individual has had as broad an impact on the auto industry during the past fifty years as Dave Power. Dave’s persistence in getting auto executives to listen to customer concerns was key to the across-the-board rise in car quality, and the influence of his J.D. Power and Associates rankings has permanently raised the bar on customer satisfaction.

Enhanced with anecdotal quotes from Dave Power as well as dozens of industry insiders, “POWER” is a compelling study of an intelligent, polite, market-research regular guy wonk who bluntly called them as he saw them. His unblinkingly honest research ended up making customer satisfaction a watchword — not just in automotive but in all manufacturing and service industries.

Power’s late wife Julie was an important factor in his company’s success, as were his children who helped prepare the questionnaires for mailing to customers, complete with a shiny quarter pasted on the form.

At first — largely because of his involvement with Japanese car makers —  the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) was hostile to J.D. Power & Associates, accusing the firm of being pro-import and anti-domestic car. After all, it was based in southern California, where imports were more accepted than in other parts of the country. Soon, however, most of the makers came to realize the value of the studies and the company became a worldwide success, with offices in Detroit, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. It was sold to McGraw-Hill Financial in 2005.

“POWER”  is valuable because it describes how the idea of asking customers about quality issues — something that sounds like common sense today — was far from that in 1968 when Dave Power started his company. The book will appeal to car nuts, of course, but also to marketing students and general readers interested in the subject. Topics covered include the Audi 5000 sudden acceleration issue, which turned out to be false, and John Z. DeLorean and his “Back to the Future” sports car — and how DeLorean scammed Power — among dozens of other anecdotes. Including his experience with the beautiful but problem plagued Jaguar XJ6 sedan he owned.


J.D. Power III

J.D. Power III


Dave Power’s top 10 cars he’s owned:…


About the authors

Sarah Morgans has spent more than a decade documenting the history and culture of some of the country’s most storied corporations, organizations, and individuals. She served as the editor of more than a dozen authorized histories, including those of Ford Motor Company, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby, the New York Giants, Humana, Dover Corporation, and CBRE, as well as entrepreneurs Wayne Huizenga, Gerald Hines, and Gary Milgard.


Bill Thorness, from his profile: “I am a Seattle-based writer and editor who has somehow finagled publishers into letting me write books about two of my favorite pastimes: gardening and biking. (Sometimes I even combine the two, and give free bike tours to community gardens and local organic farms.)”

BOOK NOTES: New Everyman’s Guide Brings Venerable U.S. Constitution Resolutely into the 21st Century

  • By David M. Kinchen 

If the U.S Constitution were written today, it would have pretty much the same content as the original but would look different, be organized differently, and would be considerably easier to understand. When beyond prolific (he’s a one-man writing factory!) author Philip A. Yaffe decided to write an everyman’s guide to the Constitution, he conducted an internet search to find such a document as a good place to start. Surprise, there wasn’t one!

“I put in every combination of search words imaginable into several internet search engines and kept coming up empty. I couldn’t believe that no one had ever done such an update of the Constitution, so I decided to do it myself.”

BOOK NOTES: New Everyman’s Guide Brings Venerable U.S. Constitution Resolutely into the 21st Century

This seemingly one-of-a-kind updated Constitution is a key section in the author’s new Kindle e-book   “The U.S. Constitution: The Essential Ten Percent” (Amazon Digital Services Inc., print length 201 pages, file size 587 KB, $6.40). 

“One of the things that make reading and understanding the Constitution somewhat difficult, aside from its rather archaic language, is that it is never updated. Whenever changes are made, they appear in a list of amendments at the end of the document, not in the body. Thus, if you go through it from start to finish, you will read certain things you will discover only at the end that are no longer valid,” Mr. Yaffe explains.

The Updated Constitution excludes all text deleted by amendments from the original Constitution and all text rendered invalid by legislation, historical events, or other factors. The list of amendments, of which there are 27, has been entirely integrated.

For easier reading, most of the archaic phraseology, punctuation, and word capitalizations used in the original Constitution have been updated to modern standards. For easier understanding, the Updated Constitution is also somewhat reformatted. In particular, there is a new section called “The Rights and Freedoms of the People.”

“There is a misconception that the Bill of Rights, the collective name of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, spells out all the rights and freedoms of the people. However, other rights and freedoms are also in the Constitution, either in the original body or in later amendments. This section brings all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution into a single place, for better understanding and for easy reference,” Mr. Yaffe says.

A second key chapter of the e-book is a line-by-line analysis of the original Constitution, both body and amendments. Here, in layman’s language Mr. Yaffe explains crucial philosophical and historical pressures that shaped the Constitution, starting from the original document through to the last of the 27 amendments, which was adopted into the Constitution in 1992, some two centuries after it was originally proposed.

Other chapters in the book include:

•       Misconceptions about the Constitution

•       Quotations about the Constitution

•       Jokes about the Constitution

•       Failed Constitutional Amendments

•       The Declaration of Independence

•       The Articles of Confederation

•       The Gettysburg Address


There is also a short essay titled “Would the United States of America Be

a Valid Model for a Future United States of Europe?”

“I have been living in Brussels, Belgium, since 1974. Every time a U.S. general election rolls around, I get questions about how Americans elect their president and vice president, and why the election system is so complicated and bizarre. Each time I explain as best I can. Then during the 2012 election, the thought occurred to me that if the current European Union ever evolves into a true United States of Europe, its political structure and election system will probably be quite similar to that of the United States.

“Europe and the U.S. of course are dramatically different in terms of their histories and cultures. Nevertheless, the parallels between the United States of America and a future United States of Europe are striking,” Mr. Yaffe points out.

“In short,”The U.S. Constitution: The Essential Ten Percent” is not a substitute for more extensive books on the subject. Rather, it is a kind of prequel. Its objective is to make reading these other books easier and more fruitful,” he concludes.

Philip A. Yaffe

Philip A. Yaffe

About the author

Philip A. Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) with a degree in mathematics and physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s daily student newspaper.

He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and international marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a specialized marketing communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974.

Books by Yaffe:


•       The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional


•       The Gettysburg Collection: A comprehensive companion to The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional


•       Actual English: English grammar as native speakers really use it


•       Gentle French: French grammar as native speakers really use it


•       What’d You Say? / Que Dites-Vous? Fun with homophones, proverbs, expressions, false friends, and other linguistic oddities in English and French


•       The Little Book of BIG Mistakes


•       Myths and Misconceptions: Things We Know that Just Aren’t So


•       Extraordinary Ordinary Things


•       One-line Wonders: Humor in the Fast Lane


•       The Eighth Decade: Reflections on a Life


Books in “Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists” Series


(at February 2014)



•       Astronomy & Cosmology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists


•       Human Biology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists


Books in “The Essential Ten Percent” Series


(at February 2014)


•       College-level Writing: The Essential Ten Percent


•       Human Psychology: The Essential Ten Percent


•       Logical Thinking: The Essential Ten Percent


•       Public Speaking: The Essential Ten Percent


•       The Human Body: The Essential Ten Percent


•       The U.S. Constitution: The Essential Ten Percent


•       Wise Humor: The Essential Ten Percent


•       Word for Windows: The Essential Ten Percent

OP-ED: Operation Nazification

  • By David Swanson 
David Swanson

David Swanson

Annie Jacobsen’s new book is called Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America.  It isn’t terribly secret anymore, of course, and it was never very intelligent.  Jacobsen has added some details, and the U.S. government is still hiding many more.  But the basic facts have been available; they’re just left out of most U.S. history books, movies, and television programs.

After World War II, the U.S. military hired sixteen hundred former Nazi scientists and doctors, including some of Adolf Hitler’s closest collaborators, including men responsible for murder, slavery, and human experimentation, including men convicted of war crimes, men acquitted of war crimes, and men who never stood trial.  Some of the Nazis tried at Nuremberg had already been working for the U.S. in either Germany or the U.S. prior to the trials.  Some were protected from their past by the U.S. government for years, as they lived and worked in Boston Harbor, Long Island, Maryland, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, and elsewhere, or were flown by the U.S. government to Argentina to protect them from prosecution.  Some trial transcripts were classified in their entirety to avoid exposing the pasts of important U.S. scientists. Some of the Nazis brought over were frauds who had passed themselves off as scientists, some of whom subsequently learned their fields while working for the U.S. military.

The U.S. occupiers of Germany after World War II declared that all military research in Germany was to cease, as part of the process of denazification.  Yet that research went on and expanded in secret, under U.S. authority, both in Germany and in the United States, as part of a process that it’s possible to view as nazification.  Not only scientists were hired. Former Nazi spies, most of them former S.S., were hired by the U.S. in post-war Germany to spy on — and torture — Soviets.

The U.S. military shifted in numerous ways when former Nazis were put into prominent positions. It was Nazi rocket scientists who proposed placing nuclear bombs on rockets and began developing the intercontinental ballistic missile.  It was Nazi engineers who had designed Hitler’s bunker beneath Berlin, who now designed underground fortresses for the U.S. government in the Catoctin and Blue Ridge Mountains.  Known Nazi liars were employed by the U.S. military to draft classified intelligence briefs falsely hyping the Soviet menace. Nazi scientists developed U.S. chemical and biological weapons programs, bringing over their knowledge of tabun and sarin, not to mention thalidomide — and their eagerness for human experimentation, which the U.S. military and the newly created CIA readily engaged in on a major scale.  Every bizarre and gruesome notion of how a person might be assassinated or an army immobilized was of interest to their research. New weapons were developed, including VX and Agent Orange.  A new drive to visit and weaponize outerspace was created, and former Nazis were put in charge of a new agency called NASA.

Permanent war thinking, limitless war thinking, and creative war thinking in which science and technology overshadowed death and suffering, all went mainstream.  When a former Nazi spoke to a women’s luncheon at the Rochester Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1953, the event’s headline was “Buzz Bomb Mastermind to Address Jaycees Today.”  That doesn’t sound terribly odd to us, but might have shocked anyone living in the United States anytime prior to World War II.  Watch this Walt Disney television program featuring a former Nazi who worked slaves to death in a cave building rockets.  Before long, President Dwight Eisenhower would be lamenting that “the total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” Eisenhower was not referring to Nazism but to the power of the military-industrial complex.  Yet, when asked whom he had in mind in remarking in the same speech that “public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite,” Eisenhower named two scientists, one of them the former Nazi in the Disney video linked above.

The decision to inject 1,600 of Hitler’s scientific-technological elite into the U.S. military was driven by fears of the USSR, both reasonable and the result of fraudulent fear mongering.  The decision evolved over time and was the product of many misguided minds. But the buck stopped with President Harry S Truman.  Henry Wallace, Truman’s predecessor as vice-president who we like to imagine would have guided the world in a better direction than Truman did as president, actually pushed Truman to hire the Nazis as a jobs program.  It would be good for American industry, said our progressive hero.  Truman’s subordinates debated, but Truman decided.  As bits of Operation Paperclip became known, the American Federation of Scientists, Albert Einstein, and others urged Truman to end it. Nuclear physicist Hans Bethe and his colleague Henri Sack asked Truman:

“Did the fact that the Germans might save the nation millions of dollars imply that permanent residence and citizenship could be bought? Could the United States count on [the German scientists] to work for peace when their indoctrinated hatred against the Russians might contribute to increase the divergence between the great powers? Had the war been fought to allow Nazi ideology to creep into our educational and scientific institutions by the back door? Do we want science at any price?”

In 1947 Operation Paperclip, still rather small, was in danger of being terminated. Instead, Truman transformed the U.S. military with the National Security Act, and created the best ally that Operation Paperclip could want: the CIA. Now the program took off, intentionally and willfully, with the full knowledge and understanding of the same U.S. President who had declared as a senator that if the Russians were winning the U.S. should help the Germans, and vice versa, to ensure that the most people possible died, the same president who viciously and pointlessly dropped two nuclear bombs on Japanese cities, the same president who brought us the war on Korea, the war without declaration, the secret wars, the permanent expanded empire of bases, the military secrecy in all matters, the imperial presidency, and the military-industrial complex.  The U.S. Chemical Warfare Service took up the study of German chemical weapons at the end of the war as a means to continue in existence.  George Merck both diagnosed biological weapons threats for the military and sold the military vaccines to handle them.  War was business and business was going to be good for a long time to come.

But how big a change did the United States go through after World War II, and how much of it can be credited to Operation Paperclip?  Isn’t a government that would give immunity to both Nazi and Japanese war criminals in order to learn their criminal ways already in a bad place?  As one of the defendants argued in trial at Nuremberg, the U.S. had already engaged in its own experiments on humans using almost identical justifications to those offered by the Nazis.  If that defendant had been aware, he could have pointed out that the U.S. was in that very moment engaged in such experiments in Guatemala.  The Nazis had learned some of their eugenics and other nasty inclinations from Americans.  Some of the Paperclip scientists had worked in the U.S. before the war, as many Americans had worked in Germany.  These were not isolated worlds.

Looking beyond the secondary, scandalous, and sadistic crimes of war, what about the crime of war itself?  We picture the United States as less guilty because it maneuvered the Japanese into the first attack, and because it did prosecute some of the war’s losers.  But an impartial trial would have prosecuted Americans too.  Bombs dropped on civilians killed and injured and destroyed more than any concentration camps — camps that in Germany had been modeled in part after U.S. camps for native Americans.  Is it possible that Nazi scientists blended into the U.S. military so well because an institution that had already done what it had done to the Philippines was not in all that much need of nazification?

Yet, somehow, we think of the firebombing of Japanese cities and the complete leveling of German cities as less offensive that the hiring of Nazi scientists.  But what is it that offends us about Nazi scientists?  I don’t think it should be that they engaged in mass-murder for the wrong side, an error balanced out in some minds but their later work for mass-murder by the right side.  And I don’t think it should be entirely that they engaged in sick human experimentation and forced labor.  I do think those actions should offend us.  But so should the construction of rockets that take thousands of lives.  And it should offend us whomever it’s done for.

It’s curious to imagine a civilized society somewhere on earth some years from now. Would an immigrant with a past in the U.S. military be able to find a job? Would a review be needed? Had they tortured prisoners? Had they drone-struck children? Had they leveled houses or shot up civilians in any number of countries? Had they used cluster bombs? Depleted uranium? White phosphorous? Had they ever worked in the U.S. prison system? Immigrant detention system? Death row? How thorough a review would be needed? Would there be some level of just-following-orders behavior that would be deemed acceptable? Would it matter, not just what the person had done, but how they thought about the world?

* * *

David Swanson’s wants you to declare peace at  His new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition. He blogs at and and works for He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson andFaceBook.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘E.E. Cummings: A Life’: Susan Cheever Revisits a Controversial Figure in American Literature

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'E.E. Cummings: A Life': Susan Cheever Revisits a Controversial Figure in American Literature

 The case could be made that Susan Cheever was fated to write about poet, artist, novelist and playwright E. E. Cummings (1894-1962), if only because of her meeting Cummings when she was 17 and unhappy in the private school she was attending.

She writes about meeting the older friend of her novelist father John Cheever in 1960 in “E.E. Cummings: A Life” (Pantheon, 240 pages, 18 pages of black and white images, notes, bibliography, index, $26.95).

In a relatively short book that should be read by everyone interested in not only poetry but the arts scene in the first half of the 20th Century, she writes that Edward Estlin Cummings had been relegated to make “a modest living on the high-school lecture circuit. In the winter of 1960 his schedule brought him to read his adventurous poems at an uptight girls’ school in Westchester where I was a miserable seventeen-year-old junior with failing grades.

“I vaguely knew that Cummings had been a friend of my father’s; my father loved to tell stories about Cummings’s gallantry, and Cummings’s ability to live elegantly on almost no money—an ability my father himself struggled to cultivate. When my father was a young writer in New York City, in the golden days before marriage and children pressured him to move to the suburbs, the older Cummings had been his beloved friend and adviser.

“On that cold night in 1960, Cummings was near the end of his brilliant and controversial forty-year career as this country’s only true modernist poet. Primarily remembered these days for its funky punctuation, Cummings’s work was in fact a wildly ambitious attempt at creating a new way of seeing the world through language. Part of a powerful group of writers and artists, many of whom were Cummings’s friends—James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Hart Crane, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse—he struggled to reshape the triangle between the reader, the writer, and the subject of the poem, novel, or painting. As early as his 1915 Harvard College graduation valedictorian speech, Cummings told his audience that “the New Art, maligned though it may be by fakirs and fanatics, will appear in its essential spirit . . . as a courageous and genuine exploration of untrodden ways.”

Fashions impact on the arts as well as everything else in a society, but when he died at age 68 in 1962 Cummings was, after Robert Frost, the most widely read poet in the U.S., writes Cheever. To a large extent, his fan base was young girls like Susan Cheever. He was the poetry equivalent of a rock star to them, thanks to his playful use of the language and his beautiful love poems like:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling).

He was also a rebel against authority, which resonated during those pre-Hippie years when “beatniks” ruled. You might even make the case that he was a living, breathing grown-up Holden Caulfield. He was also a conservative, an anti-communist, a fan of Sen. Joe McCarthy  (R-WI),  perhaps influenced by his early 1930s visit to the Soviet Union where he saw a police state first hand. Cheever delves into astrology, noting that Cummings was a Libra, born Oct. 14. As a Libra myself, I understand what she’s attempting to state: We Libras are a complicated mass of contradictions!

In a relatively short book — about 190 pages if you don’t count the bibliography, notes, acknowledgement and index — Cheever also provides the skeleton of a book that examines the American literary scene in the first half of the 20th Century — in essence a book I’d like to see her write that does for this period what her “American Bloomsbury” did for the 19th Century.

That book, subtitled “Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau” succeeded in fleshing out the authors most of us laboriously plowed through in high school and college. In “American Bloomsbury” she points out that these authors — now considered secure in the literary canon — were once considered avant-garde types at odds with the establishment.

In the same way, in the early 20th Century, Cummings, a product of a nineteenth-century New England childhood, was, in contrast to his “man’s man” minister father, a slight, non-athletic youth who loved nature and had a sense of fun that went against the dour New England grain. He grew up in Cambridge, Mass., only a few blocks from Harvard, but he grew to hate the city for its self-assured intellectualism and prejudices.

At Harvard, he roomed with John Dos Passos; befriended Lincoln Kirstein; read Latin, Greek, and French; earned two degrees; discovered alcohol, fast cars, and burlesque at the Old Howard Theater; and raged against the school’s conservative, exclusionary upper-class rule by A. Lawrence Lowell.

Lowell was the Harvard president who instituted a quota system that aimed at keeping Jewish students a small minority. He didn’t care much for black students either at America’s most prestigious university. Cheever also points out that women were not welcome at Harvard and were forbidden until well into the 20th Century from taking classes there. They had they own ghetto in Radcliffe.

While Cummings raged against the anti-Semitism of Lowell and others, he wasn’t free from it himself, as Cheever clearly states. Among the many poems, or parts of poems by Cummings that she reproduces is one that most people would consider anti-Semitic. She calls his anti-semitism “indefensible.”

To explain How to deal with the often vicious anti-Semitism of Cummings, Cheever muses on page 176:  “Trying to re-create another time and place is difficult; trying not to let our own modern knowledge and understanding bleed into those descriptions of the past is almost impossible. On the one hand, a biographer’s responsibility is to bring the past to life on the page in all its details — including the relative knowledge and ignorance of the community described. On the other hand, shouldn’t the biographer give the reader and the subject the benefit of everything known at the time of writing? Should poems and books be understood in a vacuum — in the historical silence in which a writer connects viscerally and spiritually with a reader? Or should they be understood as pieces of the web of their own time and ours?”

Cheever also describes Cummings’ complicated relationship with women and the beyond horrible estrangement engineered by his ex-wife Elaine from his only child, Nancy. I marvel at how Susan Cheever managed to get so much material in a very accessible, relatively short book. Please forgive me for harping on the length of the book, but so many biographies these days are gigantic doorstops that intimidate most readers! Even professional reviewers!

About the author

Susan Cheever was born in New York City in 1943 and graduated from Brown University. A Guggenheim fellow and a director of the board of the Yaddo Corporation, Cheever currently teaches in the MFA programs at Bennington College and The New School. She lives in New York City. She is the author of   American Bloomsbury, Louisa May Alcott, and Home Before Dark, a memoir about her father, John Cheever. Her website:

For a 2011 commentary by the late critic Roger Ebert about whether or not Cummings was a racist, click:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa…and Me’: Enthralling Memoir of a Privileged Man Who Was Fortunate to be Enveloped by Unconditional Love

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa…and Me': Enthralling Memoir of a Privileged Man Who Was Fortunate to be Enveloped by Unconditional Love

“I was brought up in another era, a time when parents from a certain level of society had little to do with the daily care of their children. People were hired to raise the children while Mother and Father watched from a discreet distance.”  — Tony Cointreau

The only problem with that scenario, writes Tony Cointreau in “Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa . . . and Me: My Improbable Journey from Chateaux in France to the Slums of Calcutta” (Prospecta Press, 312 pages, photographs, $24.95) is that children so raised — no matter how privileged with wealth and luxury — grow up deprived of something essential: unconditional love.

Tony Cointreau, an heir to the French liqueur family, writes that his beautiful mother, Dorothy Richards, a silent film star, was emotionally remote. He received more love — unconditional love — from his Aunt Tata, his mother’s sister.

Add to the mix an angry bullying brother, Richard,  a cold and unproductive Swiss nurse and sexual molestation at the age of eight by a predatory teacher and Tony was on a quest for love and a mother figure. He reveals that he never told anyone about the molestation, fearing that no one would believe that such a trusted man could also be a monster.

He was fortunate enough to befriend such diverse people as the Queen of Broadway, Ethel Merman; Lee Lehman, the beautiful wife of Robert Lehman, head of Lehman Brothers, and last, but far from least, Agnes Bojaxhiu, born in Albania, in 1910, much better known as Mother Teresa, founder of Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to helping the very poor of the world.

Here’s a YouTube of Tony explaining is work with Mother Teresa:

His descriptions of meeting and caring for people in Mother Teresa’s facilities in the U.S. and Calcutta, India, are particularly moving.

His first “other mother” was the internationally acclaimed beauty Lee Lehman, who provided Tony, born in 1941, with the love that wasn’t forthcoming from his mother.

Then, after Tony met the iconic Broadway diva Ethel Merman, she became his mentor and second “other mother.” His memoir describes in detail his intimate family relationships with both women, as well as his years of work and friendship with Mother Teresa, his last “other mother.”

Tony’s memoir voices his opinion that he had no special gifts or talents to bring to Mother Teresa’s work and that if he could do it, then anyone could do it. I think he’s being overly modest, because he was an international singing star, performing in both French and English. In the end, he writes that all that really matters is a willingness to share even a small part of oneself with others.

Tony also describes his relationship with Jim Russo, whom he married in 2008 in Los Angeles. This is a decades long relationship, with Russo providing love and support for a sensitive boy who grew up needing the kind of love we all need.

I’ve said before, in other reviews, that I have a love/hate relationship with memoirs. I’m sure most readers will lean toward the love part in Tony Cointreau’s very readable and moving memoir.

About the author

Tony Cointreau, christened Jacques-Henri Robert Mercier-Cointreau, is an heir to the French liqueur family. Although Tony served on the Cointreau board of directors for several years, his voice took him to the stage and his heart took him to Calcutta.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Healthy Joints for Life’ Explains Reasons for Joint Pain, Provides Non-Surgical Methods of Eliminating Pain

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

Richard Diana, M.D., author (with Sheila Curry Oakes) of “Healthy Joints for Life: An Orthopedic Surgeon’s Proven Plan to Reduce Pain and Inflammation, Avoid Surgery and Get Moving Again” (Harlequin trade paperback, 352 pages, illustrations, appendixes, index, $17.95) is unique in the history of both pro football and medicine: He’s the only board certified surgeon to have played in Super Bowl XVII. He was a running back and special teams player for the Miami Dolphins under legendary Coach Don Shula.

Diana’s book is fun to read — something I never expected from a health and medicine book– as well as informative and potentially life saving because of his anecdotes of his playing days for one of the best coaches in NFL history. His patients want to know everything about a real college student athlete who was drafted by the NFL and played for the legendary Ohio native Don Shula.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Healthy Joints for Life' Explains Reasons for Joint Pain, Provides Non-Surgical Methods of Eliminating Pain


Now 84 and retired, Shula was renowned for his no-excuses approach to football, and life in general,  Diana writes. From what I gleaned from reading this very accessible book, the good doctor has adopted Shula’s philosophy whole hog.

Dr. Diana’s  eight-week plan for treating for treating joint pain and arthritis is unusual for a surgeon because it relies on exercise and especially diet modification to make life more comfortable for joint pain sufferers. In my experience, surgeons think about surgery 24/7, so it’s refreshing to find one who believes it’s best to try non-surgical approaches, leaving the surgery as a last resort.

Based on cutting-edge research that has clarified the crucial role of a molecule known as NFkB in regulating inflammation, Dr. Diana’s proven eight-week program teaches you to harness the power of this research to reduce inflammation, relieve pain and rejuvenate your joints.

Dr. Diana explains in scientific detail:

• Which delicious foods reduce inflammation

• Simple exercises tailored to your ability

• The right supplements to help increase your mobility

Dr. Diana explains the science behind joint pain and tells us what foods to avoid. I wasn’t surprised to find an emphasis on healthy foods like wild salmon and colorful vegetables. Avoid what I call the South of the Mason-Dixon Line Diet, where everything you can imagine — and somethings you couldn’t imagine — is fried and you’re well on your way to reducing the inflammation behind joint pain. Drink green tea instead of coffee (ouch! I love coffee, but I know I drink too much of it), cut out sugar, increase your fiber and reduce your carbs, etc. etc. Dr. Diana tells all!

I must be either lucky or doing the right things all along — or both — because in my mid-70s I have no joint pain. When everybody was running, I said “No, thanks” and walked a lot, something Diana says is good for you. I more or less (more now, less in the past!) watched my diet. On the advice of my cardiologist, I’ve dropped about 30 pounds and have kept those pounds off for nine months now.

When I lived in Wisconsin, California and West Virginia, I would cross country ski whenever I had a chance. The original form of skiing, cross country or Nordic  avoids the joint stress of Alpine or downhill skiing. It’s to walking what Alpine skiing is to running, I like to say. Nordic skiing is probably the most aerobic exercise you can do and you can get exercise equipment to simulate that exercise in your home — but only if you consult your doctor.

Joint pain strikes people of all ages, so get your hands on “Healthy Joints for Life” and practice the exercises and dietary recommendations the “Jock Doc” provides in this fun-to-read book.

Richard Diana, M.D.

Richard Diana, M.D.

About the Author

RICHARD DIANA, M.D., born 1960, retired from the Miami Dolphins after Super Bowl XVII to attend Yale School of Medicine. He has been an orthopedic consultant to several collegiate athletic programs as well as to the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Diana is a board-certified surgeon and has been named a Top 100 Doctor in America. He is a clinical instructor at Yale School of Medicine and attending surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital.



REALTYTRAC: U.S. Foreclosure Activity Increases 8% in January

  • By David M. Kinchen 
REALTYTRAC: U.S. Foreclosure Activity Increases 8% in January

RealtyTrac® (, the Irvine, CA-based source for comprehensive housing data, on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 released its U.S. Foreclosure Market Report™ for January 2014, which shows foreclosure filings — default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — were reported on 124,419 U.S. properties in January an 8 percent increase from December but still down 18 percent from January 2013. The report also shows one in every 1,058 U.S. housing units had a foreclosure filing during the month.

January marked the 40th consecutive month where U.S. foreclosure activity declined on an annual basis, but the annual decline of 18 percent was the smallest annual decline since September 2012, and the 8 percent monthly increase was the biggest month-over-month increase since May 2012.

“The monthly increase in January foreclosure activity was somewhat expected after a holiday lull, but the sharp annual increases in some states shows that many states are not completely out of the woods when it comes to cleaning up the wreckage of the housing bust,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “The foreclosure rebound pattern is not only showing up in judicial states like New Jersey, where foreclosure activity reached a 40-month high in January, but also some non-judicial states like California, where foreclosure starts jumped 57 percent from a year ago, following 17 consecutive months of annual decreases.”

High-level findings from the report:

  • A total of 57,259 U.S. properties started the foreclosure process for the first time in January, up 10 percent from the previous month but still down 12 percent from January 2013 — the 18th consecutive month where foreclosure starts have decreased annually.
  • Counter to the national trend, January foreclosure starts increased from a year ago in 22 states, including Maryland (up 126 percent), Connecticut (up 82 percent), New Jersey (up 79 percent), California (up 57 percent), and Pennsylvania (up 39 percent).
  • Scheduled foreclosure auctions (which are also foreclosure starts in some states) increased 13 percent in January compared to the previous month but were still down 8 percent from a year ago — the 38th consecutive month where U.S. scheduled foreclosure auctions have decreased annually.
  • Counter to the national trend, scheduled foreclosure auctions increased from a year ago in 27 states, including Oregon (up 326 percent), Connecticut (up 223 percent), Maryland (up 113 percent), New York (up 73 percent), and Nevada (up 73 percent).
  • Scheduled foreclosure auctions in New York were at the highest monthly level since October 2010 — a 39-month high — and scheduled foreclosure auctions in Nevada were at the highest level since February 2012 — a 23-month high.
  • There were a total of 30,226 U.S. bank repossessions (REO) in January, down 4 percent from the previous month and down 40 percent from January 2013 to the lowest level since July 2007 — a 78-month low.
  • Counter to the national trend, 12 states posted annual increases in REO activity in January, including New York (up 118 percent), Oklahoma (up 93 percent), Connecticut (up 75 percent), New Jersey (up 26 percent), and Maryland (up 11 percent).
  • States with the highest foreclosure rates in January were Florida, Nevada, Maryland, Illinois, and New Jersey.
  • Among the nation’s 20 most populated metropolitan statistical areas, the highest foreclosure rates were in Miami, Tampa, Chicago, Baltimore and Riverside-San Bernardino in Southern California. Only four of the 20 largest metro areas posted annual increases in foreclosure activity: Baltimore (up 119 percent), New York (up 40 percent), Washington, D.C. (up 38 percent), and Philadelphia (up 14 percent).

Local broker quotes
“Ohio’s foreclosure rate increased 23 percent for the month of January 2014 compared to December of 2013, but the added inventory is being absorbed quickly in the market due to low available inventory of single-family home listings,” said Michael Mahon, executive vice president/broker at HER Realtors, covering the Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio markets.  “Despite this increase in foreclosure activity, all signs in Ohio point to continued, positive growth of appreciation in single-family home prices as well as homeowner equity for 2014.”

“Foreclosure activity in Oklahoma is continuing to wind down,” said Sheldon Detrick, CEO of Prudential Detrick/Alliance Realty covering the Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., markets.  “I wouldn’t say it’s over, but it’s definitely winding down, which has resulted in multiple offers on every REO that is listed with many of them selling for higher than the listing price.”

Florida, Nevada and Maryland post top state foreclosure rates

Florida foreclosure activity in January increased 19 percent from December but was down 13 percent from January 2013 — the sixth consecutive month with an annual decrease in foreclosure activity following passage of foreclosure fast track legislation there in July. Despite the downward trend in foreclosure activity, Florida still posted the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate: one in every 346 housing units with a foreclosure filing.

Florida foreclosure starts jumped 43 percent from December to January, but were still down 33 percent year over year, while scheduled foreclosure auctions increased 28 percent from December and also were up 28 percent from a year ago to the highest monthly level since October 2010 — a 39-month high.

Scheduled foreclosure auctions in Nevada were at a 23-month high in January thanks to a 43 percent month-over-month spike in the numbers, which were up 73 percent from January 2013. Nevada foreclosure starts and bank repossessions were still down from a year ago, but the state still posted the nation’s second highest foreclosure rate: one in every 533 housing units with a foreclosure filing.

Maryland overall foreclosure activity increased on a year-over-year basis for the 19th consecutive month in January, helping the state post the nation’s third highest foreclosure rate for the month: one in every 543 housing units with a foreclosure filing.

Other states with foreclosure rates among the nation’s 10 highest in January were Illinois (one in every 603 housing units with a foreclosure filing), New Jersey (one in every 619 housing units), Connecticut (one in every 752 housing units), Delaware (one in every 818 housing units), South Carolina (one in every 850 housing units), Ohio (one in every 885 housing units), and California (one in every 921 housing units).

Metro foreclosure rates and activity

Eight of the top 10 foreclosure rates in January among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of 200,000 or more were in Florida, led by Port St. Lucie with one in every 211 housing units with a foreclosure filing — more than five times the national average.

Other Florida metros with foreclosure rates ranking among the nation’s 10 highest in January were Miami at No. 2 (one in every 239 housing units with a foreclosure filing); Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville at No. 3 (one in every 279 housing units); Lakeland at No. 4 (one in every 294 housing units); Ocala at No. 5 (one in every 330 housing units); Orlando at No. 6 (one in every 358 housing units); Tampa at No. 7 (one in every 389 housing units); and Jacksonville at No. 9 (one in every 410 housing units). Orlando and Tampa were the only two Florida metros in the top 10 where foreclosure activity did not increase from December to January.

Foreclosure activity in Atlantic City, N.J. increased 117 percent from a year ago and the metro area’s foreclosure rate — one in every 400 housing units with a foreclosure filing in January — ranked No. 7 for the month. One in every 421 housing units in Rockford, Ill., had a foreclosure filing in January, the nation’s 10th highest metro foreclosure rate for the month despite a 37 percent year-over-year decrease in foreclosure activity.

REALTORS: Metro Areas See Solid Home-Price Growth, Some Markets Facing Affordability Issues

  • By David M. Kinchen 
REALTORS: Metro Areas See Solid Home-Price Growth, Some Markets Facing Affordability Issues

The lion’s share of metropolitan areas continued to experience strong year-over-year price growth in the fourth quarter, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), released Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. A companion metro area annual affordability report shows less favorable conditions, particularly in the West.

The median existing single-family home price increased in 73 percent of measured markets, with 119 out of 164 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) showing gains based on closings in the fourth quarter compared with the fourth quarter of 2012. Forty-two areas, 26 percent, had double-digit increases, two were unchanged and 43 recorded lower median prices.

There were fewer rising markets than seen in the third quarter, when price increases were recorded in 88 percent of metro areas from a year earlier, with 33 percent rising at double-digit rates, reflecting a slowdown in price growth.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said there are two ways of looking at the price gains. “The vast majority of homeowners have seen significant gains in equity over the past two years, which is helping the economy through increased consumer spending,” he said. “At the same time, home prices have been rising faster than incomes, while mortgage interest rates are above the record lows of a year ago. This is beginning to hamper housing affordability.”

The five most expensive housing markets in the fourth quarter were the San Jose, Calif., metro area, where the median existing single-family price was $775,000; San Francisco, $682,400; Honolulu, $670,800; Anaheim-Santa Ana, Calif., $666,300; and San Diego, where the median price was $476,800.

The five lowest-cost metro areas were Toledo, Ohio, with a median single-family price of $80,500; Rockford, Ill., $81,400; Cumberland, Md., at $89,500; Elmira, N.Y., $99,500; and South Bend, Ind., with a median price of $101,100.

The national median existing single-family home price was $196,900 in the fourth quarter, up 10.1 percent from $178,900 in the fourth quarter of 2012. In the third quarter the median price rose 12.5 percent from a year earlier.

The median price is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less. Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales generally sold at discount – accounted for 14 percent of fourth quarter sales, down from 24 percent a year ago.

Yun said that tight supplies in many areas accounted for double-digit price growth. At the end of the fourth quarter there were 1.86 million existing homes available for sale, slightly above the fourth quarter of 2012, when 1.83 million homes were on the market. The average supply during the quarter was 4.9 months; it was 4.8 months in the fourth quarter of 2012. A supply of 6.0 to 6.5 months represents a rough balance between buyers and sellers.

Yun added, “New home construction activity needs to increase significantly in the fast appreciating markets to help relieve upward price pressure.” In 2013, housing starts totaled 924,000, well below the historic average of 1.5 million units that typically are needed.

“Added housing supply will help moderate price growth this year, and should help to stem erosion in affordability, but mortgage interest rates are projected to rise above 5 percent by the end of the year,” Yun said.

Total existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, fell 7.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.94 million in the fourth quarter from 5.36 million in the third quarter, but were 0.8 percent above the 4.90 million level during the fourth quarter of 2012.

According to Freddie Mac, the national commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.30 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 4.44 percent in the third quarter; it was a record low 3.36 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, with records dating back to 1971.

NAR President Steve Brown, co-owner of Irongate, Inc., Realtors® in Dayton, Ohio, said consumers need to keep in mind that all real estate is local. “The national figures provide useful background, but it really gets down to supply and demand in a given neighborhood,” he said. “Metropolitan area figures are an excellent gauge of local housing markets, but there can be widely ranging conditions within a metro area. This is why it’s best to consult with a Realtor®, who has additional resources and can provide much greater detail on specific locations.”

NAR’s national annual Housing Affordability Index, with breakouts for metropolitan areas, fell to 175.8 in 2013 from a record high 196.5 in 2012. For first-time buyers making small downpayments, the affordability levels are relatively lower. The index is calculated on the relationship between median home price, median family income and average effective mortgage interest rate. The higher the index, the stronger household purchasing power; recordkeeping began in 1970.

An index of 100 is defined as the point where a median-income household has exactly enough income to qualify for the purchase of a median-priced existing single-family home, assuming a 20 percent downpayment and 25 percent of gross income devoted to mortgage principal and interest payments.

Metro areas with the greatest housing affordability conditions in 2013 include Toledo, Ohio, with an index of 395.4; Rockford, Ill., at 374.5; Decatur, Ill., 343.7; Lansing-East Lansing, Mich., 331.4; and Springfield, Ill., at 327.8.

In the condo sector, metro area condominium and cooperative prices – covering changes in 55 metro areas – showed the national median existing-condo price was $197,200 in the fourth quarter, up 10.7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012. Forty-four metros showed increases in their median condo price from a year ago, one was unchanged and 10 areas had declines.

Regionally, total existing-home sales in the Northeast declined 7.1 percent in the fourth quarter, but are 7.1 percent above the fourth quarter of 2012. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast was $241,000 in the fourth quarter, up 5.5 percent from a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales fell 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter, but are 2.0 percent higher than a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest increased 7.0 percent to $152,400 in the fourth quarter from the same quarter a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South declined 4.4 percent in the fourth quarter, but are 3.6 percent above the fourth quarter of 2012. The median existing single-family home price in the South was $173,000 in the fourth quarter, up 8.3 percent from a year earlier.

In the West, existing-home sales dropped 12.7 percent in the fourth quarter, and are 8.1 percent below a year ago. With notable inventory restrictions, the median existing single-family home price in the West jumped 15.5 percent to $286,200 in the fourth quarter from the fourth quarter of 2012.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Lion Plays Rough’: Continuing the Saga of the Maxwell Brothers in Gritty Oakland

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

Lachlan Smith has created a wonderfully readable pair of brothers in Teddy and Leo Maxwell, two lawyers practicing in Oakland, California. In last year’s debut novel, “Bear Is Broken”, we learned about the brothers and how Leo begins to learn how to practice law when his brother Teddy is shot in the head, disabling him. (See below for link to my review.)

In “Lion Plays Rough” (Mysterious Press, 254 pages, $24.00) Leo has been hired by  Jeanie, Teddy’s ex-wife, and is trying his best to latch on to a big case that will make his reputation. Teddy has undergone six months of rehabilitation, after spending months in the hospital. The once mighty Teddy is living with Leo and is dependent on him. He can’t practice law, but he’s still the big brother Leo looks up to.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Lion Plays Rough': Continuing the Saga of the Maxwell Brothers in Gritty Oakland

Out on his bicycle one day in Marin County, north of San Francisco, Leo’s almost run over by a beautiful woman in a convertible. He’s mostly unharmed, but his bike is a wreck. The woman says she’s Lavinia Martin and promises to pay Leo for repairs to his damaged bike. She takes his card after Leo explains what he does for a living.

Leo’s challenges begin when Lavinia shows up at 580 Grand and hires Leo to represent her brother on a murder charge. Without seeing the brother, Leo takes the case…Big mistake! 

As he investigates the case, which involves serious corruption in the Oakland Police Department, he discovers that Lavinia’s “brother” — if indeed he is — is represented by Nikki Matson, one of Oakland’s most infamous gangland lawyers. When Leo meets his  “client” he’s informed that the man doesn’t have a sister named Lavinia Martin — he says he doesn’t have a sister at all! Leo finds himself caught between the proverbial rock — the D.A. and the cops — and the hard place, Oakland’s criminal element.

Since so much of the book is a spoiler, I won’t reveal the perils that Leo Maxwell faces, other than to say that real-life lawyers are unlikely to face them. But this is Oakland, Alameda County, California, where the unexpected can turn up to bite you on the butt.

“Lion Plays Rough” is as good as “Bear Is Broken,” which is high praise indeed because I liked that novel and praised it in my review. I don’t think the second novel will be the last we’ll see of Leo, Teddy and Jeanie.

                                                                   * * *

Link to Lachlan Smith’s ” Bear Is Broken” reviewed by me on Feb. 6, 2013:

Lachlan Smith

Lachlan Smith

About the Author

Lachlan Smith was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and received an MFA from Cornell. He earned his law degree from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. His fiction has appeared in the Best New American Voices series. In addition to writing novels, he is an attorney practicing in the area of civil rights and employment law. His website: