Boom Copper by Angus Murdoch (1943. Drier and Koepel. No ISBN)

In researching the history of copper mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for my forthcoming novel, Kotimaa: Homeland, the tale of Finnish immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s, I needed to locate resource materials that succinctly laid out the history of the industry with an eye towards the human story behind the hardscrabble lives of the early miners. Angus Murdoch’s book fit the bill.

Murdoch’s storytelling sometimes veers into near-fiction, recalling anecdotal tales as if they were documented history, but, for the most part, his reportage is straight forward, compelling, linear, and succinct.

I would recommend this book as a good starting point for anyone interested in Michigan history, the Finnish immigrant experience, or mining.

4 stars out of 5.



Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick (1968. Del Rey. ISBN 978-0-345-40447-3)

This is not Blade Runner. Though this short novel, really more of a novella, was the basis for the character Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford in both cinematic derivations of the tale), that’s about the only consistency between the book and the movies. The original film, which came out in 1982, is so much more complex and detailed in its examination of Deckard, the bounty hunter whose job it is to “retire” replicants (androids who are virtually indistinguishable from humans), his motivations and his demons, than this written work. In addition, a thread to the book that, so far as I can recall, is completely absent from the film, is the theology of Mercerism, a mumbo jumbo of spirituality that doesn’t really seem to add much to the novel’s plot line. I’m glad the movies chose to eliminate that storyline as it adds nothing to the novel and would be, if attempted on film, even less compelling than in print.

And then there is Rachael Rosen, played in both movies by Sean Young, the one replicant that Rick Deckard cannot retire. Her role in the novel is very different and less satisfying and intriguing than portrayed in either film.

All in all, this is one of those tales that contained a germ of an idea-the hunting of rogue androids by a policeman-that genius filmmakers turned into a franchise with far more heart and substance than the original tale.

2 stars out of 5. Watch the original film and Blade Runner 2049 for a far more compelling vision of the future.



Miles Lord: The Maverick Judge Who Brought Corporate America to Justice by Roberta Waburn (2017. University of Minnesota. ISBN978-1-5179-0231-5)

No. This is not how judges act, decide cases, or go about their business. That’s the thought that rings true after devouring Walburn’s well-written and researched biography of Minnesota’s most iconic, debated, loved, and hated jurist. There were so many aspects to how United States District Court Judge Miles Lord went about doing his work as a trial judge that are inapplicable and indeed, inopposite to my work as a state court judge that, while reading Walburn’s accounting of Lord’s work on the Reserve Mining case and the Dalkon Shield litigation, I found myself clenching, grimacing, and well, quite frankly, shaking my head. And yet…

Beneath it all, was a Minnesota Iron Ranger steeped in the DFL Party’s desperate rush, during the 1950s and early 1960s, to establish itself as the People’s Party, filling in the void left by the Farmer Labor Party that had held sway in Minnesota for most of the Great Depression. Lord saw himself as a fighter-both literally and figuratively-for the ordinary man both in his role as Minnesota’s Attorney General and as a judge. Personal friends with both Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy, two United States Senators from the DFL who found themselves on opposite ends of the Vietnam War, Lord tried to bridge the philosophical gap between his mentors through mutual friendship, hoping upon hope to propel HHH into the presidency. He failed in bringing McCarthy back into the fold and, in the process, failed at electing Humphrey to the presidency. Admittedly, the sections of the book detailing Lord’s ties to politics are fascinating. But it’s Walburn’s depiction of Lord’s work on the Dalkon Shield cases that is the focus of her dissection of what made the man tick.

A confession here. Perhaps I’m a bit too close to the subject matter. Not because I share Lord’s vocation, but because of my own background. I was a law clerk at the Robins, Kaplan, and Ciresi Law Firm when Judge Donald Alsop forced another Twin Cities law firm, after discovering improprieties, to disgorge over 400 Dalkon Shield products liability cases. I was working at the Robins firm when the boxes arrived a week before I left to begin my summer study for the Minnesota Bar Exam. Later, after I’d passed the bar, I represented two Duluth women who’d been injured by the Dalkon Shield in front of of Judge Alsop. Both cases settled but there’s no question that Judge Lord’s exposure of AH Robins’ malfeasance in manufacturing and promoting a device that devastated women’s health contributed to cases being resolved short of trial.

I found the author’s careful dissection of Judge Lord’s pugilistic background, juxtaposed upon the tense, ugly world of corporate litigation, to be a fascinating read. Mind you, there’s much that Miles Lord did in both the Reserve and Dalkon cases that caught the attention of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and got him in trouble with the appellate court. But, true to his Iron Range nature, reprimands and reversals did not change the judge’s belief that he was not just a referee between unequal litigants. In Miles Lord’s eyes, his role-as described in loving detail by his former law clerk- was to ensure everyone got a fair shake, damn the personal consequences. While that’s an admirable goal for a jurist, it’s one only those appointed to their jobs for life likely are able to fulfill with such unfettered bravery.

All in all, one of the best Minnesota biographies I’ve ever read.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5.



Faith Works by Jim Wallis (2000. Random House. ISBN 1-4000-6479-1)

An Evangelical friend gifted this non-fiction “handbook for Christians” a year or so back. It sat on my shelf, waiting discovery, until it became one of my bedside and bathroom reads. Because I’m a life-long Liberal Christian (yes, we still exist!), I’ve taken it upon myself to try and understand the recent election of The Orange Headed One through the eyes of my more conservative, vocal, Christian brothers and sisters. I was hoping this book would guide me to some sort of comprehension. It did not. But that’s not because the book lacks depth or quality writing or spiritual insight. Wallis’s work is filled with all of those things. But it is, at this point, eighteen years old already and sadly, written at a time when the current disaster of a president wasn’t in the picture.

Too harsh you say? I’m being too judgmental? Here’s the thing. My entire life, my biggest pet peeve is hypocrisy, the “do as I say, don’t do as I do” mentality of certain folks in power. Wallis works hard to paint a picture of the a possible unification of Christians on the right and the left by turning away from debating whether one side or the other has the keys to the kingdom, or has a clue as to WWJD (What Would Jesus Do). He reports on a then-growing movement of like-minded and stout-hearted civil rights leaders, churchmen and women, and deep thinking politicians who understood, at least back in the late 1990s, that economic disparity, racial inequality, wage inequity, and environmental instability (most often in areas inhabited by the poor) are not just political questions: they are Christian issues. His reportage, as a leader in this re-discovery of the need to blend Christian charity with governmental oversight and programming,  is concise and accurate. But there is one fundamental flaw in his logic. He could not anticipate that his audience, fueled by the advance of Balkanization through politically-driven television and radio and websites, would not come together to confront the issues he raises but rather, separate farther and farther until the two sides of any big-picture argument are no longer able to talk in a common, respectful language.

I was hoping that Wallis, an acclaimed Evangelical himself, could point us all in a direction that would lead to reconciliation and healing. But despite his best efforts, that didn’t happen and in fact, seems desperately impossible. His stern warnings about Trump the candidate went unheeded by his fans and those fellow Evangelicals who believed Wallis, back when this book was written, was spot on. (See And yet, here we are. We elected ( I include myself because, well, I am still an American and must live through the next three years alongside my fellow citizens who put Trump in office) a man who thinks only of himself, is a serial adulterer, denigrates women and minorities and immigrants and just about everyone who doesn’t share his white skin and his privilege, avoided military service when called, and worst of all, has no semblance of Christian charity or belief about him. Wallis tried, when he began the Sojourner Movement in the 1990s in the face of  Congressional attacks on the social safety net, to bring Jesus forward, to make Him the focus of a discussion of how to improve morally as a people. I applaud his tenacity and his faith. I am only sorry that his vision of a unified approach to the biggest social and equity issues confronting our nation has led us to this.

In reading Wallis’s book, my one major criticism is that he soft sells the wide gap between Evangelicals and Liberal Christians when it comes to the issue of abortion. The topic is only marginally present along the edges and never is tackled head on. This is, in my estimation, a mistake. Until the two sides in the abortion debate can come to some sort of armistice, whereby the Right is allowed to hold fast to its belief that abortion is a moral sin but admits those who think otherwise aren’t murdering, unfeeling animals; and the Left acknowledges that abortion is a morally difficult topic and recognizes that casually denigrating those who believe abortion to be morally repugnant are ignorant, backwater boobs is wrong; none of what Wallis hopes to accomplish across the spectrum of Christianity is likely possible. My personal take is such an accommodation may once have been plausible and all sorts of Believers might have been able to agree to disagree had that dialogue taken place around the time Bill Clinton (no moral guiding light, I’ll admit) shared his belief that abortion should be “legal and safe, but rare” in 1992. Had that discussion taken place before Hannity and Maddow, perhaps Wallis’s vision might have come to pass. But that era disappeared within the whirlwind of impeachment based upon a Liberal president’s own moral failings. Absent the heavens opening and Jesus descending sometime soon to guide us out of this morass, I’m not encouraged that things are gonna change and men and women across the political divide will roll up their sleeves and do the Good Work that Wallis believes is possible.

4 stars out of 5. Trump isn’t Wallis’s burden to bear. He is ours.



(PS One could write volumes about the disconnect between how Evangelical Christianity held its collective nose and voted for an immoral man simply because he assured them “I stand against abortion” and yet aimed its collective slings and arrows in the direction of an intelligent, honest, faithful, and thoughtful black man. But this isn’t the place…)




Big Shoulders by William Jamerson (2007. Pine Stump. ISBN 978-1-882882-12-0)

The back cover jacket of this “coming of age in a CCC camp” novel reveals that the author is an award winning filmmaker (Camp Forgotten: The CCC in Michigan) so when my writer-turned-aunt handed me this book, being that I am a historian by training, I thought, “what the heck.” I must say, even though I managed to finish the story ( ever the optimist, I rarely ever give up on a novel), it’s not a story that I’d recommend to anyone over the age of 16. So. in addition to all of the book’s other flaws and faults, I’d add false advertising to the mix as well. Why?

There’s nothing on the back cover or inside the novel that warns the reader that the book is written for middle and high schoolers. That’s probably because the author did not intentionally set out to write a juvenile novel. But that, in the end, is what readers are left with. Beyond that, Jamerson’s writing style, while accurate, is stiff and analytic and contains few, if any, memorable scenes or passages. The old adage for budding fiction authors, “write like your parents are dead” is completely absent. Mr. Jamerson, while likely a very nice man and a find filmmaker, takes zero risk in his prose. The protagonist, Nick Radzinski-a city boy claimed by the camps for redemption-ambles along in this tale, avoiding, as the author does, any real consequence or conflict or revelation of mind or spirit. Two major plot points, Nick’s looming fight with the camp tough and his burgeoning affection for a local girl (Betty) end in abject disappointment. And the ending, where Mr. Jamerson attempts to “bring it all home” with a climatic, suspense-filled, nail biting conclusion, fails to excite or engage. The final scenes, in which Nick uncovers the identity of a camp thief-a person he’s been seeking to uncover to clear his good name-don’t even rise to the level of middle school suspension of disbelief, much the thrilling  to an adult-level read.

On the plus side, I discovered no sentence clunkers or typographical glitches or major deviations from the English language in this book. But technical competence cannot bring life to a body of words that lacks heart.

In the end, I wish I’d watched the documentary.

2 and 1/2 stars out of 5.




Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah (2011. St. Martin’s. ISBN 978-0312663155. This review is of the Audible version of the novel.)

It’s a long way from Duluth, Minnesota to Williston, North Dakota. So, when my wife Rene’ and I decided to change things up and not “do” Thanksgiving at home but travel to our son’s home in the Bakken, bringing my 89 year old mom with to visit her great granddaughter, I knew the only way we’d survive 10-11 hours (one way) in the Jeep was to have a good audio book ready to go. Having thoroughly enjoyed The Nightingale, a fabulous portrayal of conflict, love, and the French resistance during WW II, when I saw this title, saw that it was by Ms. Hannah, and read a few blurbs, I guessed it’d be a story my wife, my mother, and I would all enjoy. I’m glad I trusted my instincts.

Set in present day Washington State and WW II Leningrad (St. Petersburg), this tale is a complex family saga, historical novel, and contemporary love story (or actually, love stories) chronicling the lives of two sisters, Meredith and Nina as they slowly uncover, while mourning the loss of their father, the truth of their mother’s heritage and the reasons behind her stern, Russian demeanor. While the contemporary sections of the story were, as is always the case with Ms. Hannah’s expert narration, dialogue, and word craft, well paced and cleanly drawn, it is the “story within the story” (actually, at one point, this novel includes a story within a story within a story as well!), Anya Whitson’s (the mother’s) recalling of her survival of the siege of Leningrad by the Germans (for more on the siege see that is both riveting and heart-wrenching. In the details of Anya’s life during the war, Hannah hits on all cylinders, compelling readers (or in our case, the listeners) to fear and dread and hope as each scene slowly unfolds. In a word, the Leningrad segements are masterful; expositions of fine prose by a writer at the peak of her craft.

My only criticism of the novel is that the ending (no spoiler here) is a bit too convenient, a bit too coincidental for my taste. But the two females on that long ride to and from Williston do not seem to share my concerns in this regard. Perhaps I’m too engaged in my own craft as a writer to allow for suspension of disbelief to the degree Ms. Hannah requires at the end of a very, very satisfying tale. The truth is, even with my slight critique of the book’s conclusion, this novel is a well-written generational tale that both men, who like action and warfare and history, and women, who are more partial to cerebral tales of familial conflict, can enjoy.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5. A page turner and a marvelous read.



Across the River and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway (1950. Scribner. ISBN 978-0-684-84464-0)

Mmmm. How to begin? How about with this. After being lured into the crazy world of writing, editing, and publishing by the seductive, dynamic, and brusque style of my authorial mentor; after diving headlong into the pool of words to create seven novels, a collection of short fiction, a biography, and one volume of essays, reading this book-the last novel written by Pappa Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea came out two years later but is a novella)-made me feel like I’d hit my head on the bottom of that linguistic swimming pool. I should have heeded the critics who, when this book was released four years before I was born, panned it as “Hemingway’s worst” (see But, being this was his last effort to write another Great American Novel, I had to give it a chance. Sadly, I must report those critics-most of whom are long dead (as is the author)-were spot on.

Here’s a story of a fifty-something combat officer, a career army man who’d served in both the Great War and WW II, and who’d spent considerable time during both conflicts in Italy. The Colonel falls in love with a 19 year old Italian girl, Renata (I’m not being pejorative here; the protagonist refers to her as “Daughter”) while on a duck hunting trip to Venice. Or perhaps, he met her somewhat earlier and they are ending their relationship. One can’t really be sure about timelines or much else in this jumble of a late-in-life Lolita story (Hemingway is more cautious with his lust for young things than Nabokov since Renata in this tale is at least older than the age of consent). What’s the problem, you ask?

First off, I’ve written before about sixty or seventy year old white men writing tales of love where the object of the thinly disguised autobiographical protagonist’s affection is a woman twenty or thirty or forty years younger than the male centerpiece. I’ve criticized Jim Harrison, Larry McMurtry, and John Irving for similar flights of fancy. Not because such December-May relationships don’t happen in real life (they do) but because the versions of this age old daydream from testosterone deprived men I’ve come across simply don’t ring true. Other than the classic Lolita I’ve yet to run across a novel that pulls off the December-May thematic alignment with poise and grace. Hemingway doesn’t do it here and additionally, in an apparent nod to Joyce and experimental prose, Hemingway discards punctuation, capitalization, sentences, plot, and any sort of meaningful tension to create interest in either the Colonel or his young mistress as the tale labors towards its predictable conclusion.

In addition, readers of this slender tome experience a fictional version of A Moveable Feast starring two lovers and no one else. There are no interesting supporting actors or actresses adding context or color to the tale. It’s boring, staid, and not at all titillating. Two scenes out of this 170 page disaster of a story convince me that, had he actually cared, Pappa could have pulled it off. The book’s beginning and end feature some fine writing about duck hunting in the tidal marshes of Italy. But if I want great duck hunting stories, I’ll read Sam Cook or Gordon MacQuarrie. Here, the outdoor scenes, while well written and concise, are too little, too late to save the plot or the characters or the author.

Pick up a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Sun Also Rises or Farewell to Arms and regale in Hemingway’s masterful, curt yet precise writing. Don’t waste your time on this outline of an old man’s lustful desires.

2 stars out of 5.



The Circus at the Edge of the Earth by Charles Wilkins (1998. McLelland and Stewart. 978-0771088421)

In this travelogue, memoir, and depiction of a dying art form, my Canadian friend and noted nonfiction writer, Charles “Charlie” Wilkins leaves us with a concise, riveting, and accurate portrait of the Great Wallenda Circus. That alone is worth the price of admission (which, in my case, was quite modest since I bought the book used at Duluth’s great new independent bookstore, Zenith Books). But more than reportage of the locales and route of the Wallenda show as it made its way through NW Ontario and Eastern Manitoba, more than a critique of the individual performances of its component parts, it’s Wilkins’s ability to relate to, embrace, and yet effectively profile the performers, workers, and ultimately, the founder of the troupe-Ricky Wallenda himself, that makes this such a great read.

Wilkins introduces his first such character, the tiger tamer Wilson Barnes, on the very first page. The riveting first chapter, which portrays Barnes’s history and the inner workings of his training regimen, sets the stage (pun intended), detailing the steadfast hard work and dangers inherent in trusting five hundred pound cats to remain compliant even as their native hearts look upon Barnes as not much more than a next meal. But it is the appearance of elephant man Bobby Gibbs, whose larger-than-life persona is contained in a mammoth, obese, extraordinary physical presence who, upon entering the narrative, ends up stealing the show (yes, intended that one too!). In the character of Bobby Gibbs, the author finds his cornerstone to build a vivid, depressing, exhilarating, sad yet happy tale of a vanishing way of life. Wilkins admits to his humanness; he never claims to be an entirely disinterested scribe simply chronicling the demise of an art form. Instead, he allows us to accompany one tour of the Wallenda Circus through his knowledgeable and equitable eyes, all the while providing a historical narrative of both the Wallenda family and the component parts of this less-than-greatest show on earth. He takes on animal rights activism, the Shriners (who sponsor the shows), Canada’s treatment of its First People, and other ancillary yet important topics with an eye to explaining, not condemning; a trait that serves the narrative well and adds spice to the tale. Here’s a sample of the high quality of prose that populates this book:

“(T)his blind guy came out on the floor with his mother at intermission and the mother said to me, ‘My son would like to touch the elephant. Is that all right?’ And I said, ‘Sure, just take him out there.’ And she said, “He doesn’t need me. He can go out on his own.’ And this guy walked right out to where Judy was standing and put out his hand and gently started moving it across the side of her face. She don’t miss much-she knew right away that something was different about him. She just stood there kinda lookin at him outta one eye, and then very cautiously brought her trunk up and over and extended that little finger on her trunk, and brought it down so that it touched him lightly just below the eye. She was saying to him, ‘I understand-it’s your eyes…'”

I waited years to finally get my hands on this book. Having met and been encouraged by Charlie in Thunder Bay when I was just beginning my writerly journey, I’ve read most of his other work, all of it solid and exceedingly memorable. But, mostly out of a sense of nostalgia I suppose (having not attended a circus in a decade or so now that my sons have grown into men) this was the Wilkins book I wanted to read. And I’m damn glad I finally did!

A stellar effort of nonfiction writing.

5 stars out of 5. I’d highly recommend this book to book clubs. It’ll spark hours of conversation and reflection.



My Own Words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mary Hartnett, and Wendy W. Williams (2016. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-5011-4524-7)

Someone gifted me this book for Christmas. It sat on my reading shelf, somewhere down in the stack, until Rene’ and I were packing for a trip to Tuscany and Rome. Despite the book’s bulk, I tossed it in my suitcase with relish, thinking, That’s gonna be a great read. I will finally find out something about my legal heroine’s upbringing and life. Well, I, along with whomever bought me the book, misconstrued exactly what this volume entailed. Sadly, expecting a memoir or autobiography of one of most notable liberal Supreme Court Justices still serving telling me her story through childhood remembrances and perhaps, through anecdotes shared by others, this hastily put together mishmash of old school editorials, speeches, and lectures wasn’t anything like what I was expecting. Now, it is true there wasn’t any “bait and switch” here: The cover never proclaims this volume to be a memoir or autobiography (can someone enlighten me as the difference, please?). Instead, the subtitle tells potential readers that the book’s material is “in her own words”, which, because the speeches and other writings quoted are indeed the Justice’s, is not deceptive. But it’s also true that neither the front nor the back cover indicate this tome is simply a collection of Bader Ginsburg’s previous writings. In some ways, the disappointment I experienced reading this collection, given my high expectations for unique, revelatory prose matched my reaction to Pat Conroy’s, A Lowcountry Heart, a similar collection of Mr. Conroy’s prior speeches, eulogies, and blogs that was published after the author’s demise. Here, Justice Ginsburg, being very much alive, missed a chance to tell her story in her own words. That, to me, was a missed opportunity.

3 stars out of 5. An interesting compendium of writings worth reading to understand the Justice’s take on modern American life but not a linear memoir or biography.



From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon (2016. Lake Union Publishing. 978-1-50393932-5)

I didn’t know. Looking for something as a “backup” read for a two week trip to Italy and with two big paperbacks already crammed into my suitcase, I wanted a digital book on my phone that I could read and enjoy during the 9 hour plane rides to and from Europe. I looked on Amazon, found this novel as a “free” read on Prime, and downloaded it onto my iPhone 7 in the Kindle app. All I can say is: “Wow!”

Little did I know that this story of a Jewish woman and a Catholic priest caught in the whirlwind of Italy after the Nazis take control of the country during WW II would serve as a literary tour guide for my first visit to Florence and Rome. Yes, that’s right: without a clue, I’d downloaded a book simply because of the cover art and because it was free and it turned out to be a novel set in the very country, and in the very cities, I was visiting! Weird, huh? Anyway, to cut to the chase, those folks who loved the literary sensibilities and historical accuracy of The Nightingale and, more recently, All the Light We Cannot See, will love, yes that’s right, simply love this story. It’s memorable for all the right reasons and would make for a fine book club read.

5 stars out of 5. I suggested it to my wife for her book club and they picked it up. I’ll let you all know what a group of rural Minnesota women think!




Going Coastal: An Anthology of Lake Superior Short Stories (2017. North Star Press. ISBN 978-1-68201-069-3)

I have to be careful here. I’m reviewing a collection of short stories by contemporary writers (some of whom are acquaintances of mine) whose work appears in a collection for which my own short story, Isle Royale, was not selected for inclusion. So I’m hoping this review is objective and not fueled by the sting of rejection. The best way to determine the measure of my fairness? Buy a copy from Zenith Books or The Bookstore at Fitger’s and read it!

As a whole, I was impressed by the quality of the writing. There were a couple of stories here worthy of national attention. My favorites are “The Urge for Going”, a story of a Native American’s journey home that follows the North Shore of Lake Superior. There was something about the tone of the story and the geographic progression of the protagonist’s internal and external trek that struck a chord. The other notable piece, “The Heart Under the Lake”, was much different but every bit as readable and riveting. Most of the other stories were also skillfully crafted. However, “The Lake Effect”, a piece of historical fiction involving the loss of a steamer in 1919 had a number of implausibilities embedded in the plot that made it difficult to swallow, not the least of which was the protagonist, the captain, “darting” across an icy deck from one section of the doomed ship to another during a snow squall. Details make historical fiction believable, allow the reader to suspend his or her disbelief, and “The Lake Effect” simply failed to attain that mark in my view. However, if you read the piece and form a more favorable opinion, so be it.

The remainder of the book includes solid writing, which, coupled with the short duration of the tales, makes the book a great choice for a vacation read. By way of example, “Water Witch” has a refreshing, somewhat mystical theme, one not found in the remainder of the stories in the collection. My one criticism of the collection as a whole is that the breadth and depth and complexities of Lake Superior’s geography and history and people don’t really get the expansive treatment they deserve. Yes, the First Peoples deserve to be showcased. And the North Shore is magical. But what of the Norwegians, the Finns, and all the other ethnic groups that settled around the lake? And where were the stories of the towns, the cities, and industry to be found around the largest freshwater lake in the world? And why no tales set in the UP, another magical, nearly mythical region of the Lake Superior Basin? A good collection that reflects, in a partial way, how it feels to live here.

4 stars out of 5.


The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens (2016. 7th street Books. ISBN 978-1-63388-205-8)

The first third of this murder mystery/legal thriller depicted the Twin Cities with such clarity and succinctness that I was ready to give the book a “5 star” rating right off the bat. My ardor for the writing cooled a bit as the plot evolved but, despite the fact that Eskens, in my view, grew a bit less engaging and compelling in his details and depictions as the story arc climaxed, this is s still a fine, fine summer read.

Max Rupert is convinced that defense lawyer Ben Pruitt killed Jennavieve Pruitt, Ben’s wife. Past experience with the lawyer may or may not have caused Rupert to ignore other, more plausible suspects. As is usual in such novels, there are depictions of wealth and privilege and sex and violence, all of which move the story along quite well. As a former prosecuting attorney and now a sitting judge of more than 19 years, I can vouch for the fact that Eskens gets the details mostly right. The one glitch I found, one that should have been edited out early on, is this exchange:

“They’ll hold me over for a bail hearing.”

We’ll get you in and out as fast as possible.”

“And what if the judge denies bail?”

(p. 151)

Fact is, since Pruitt is alleged to have committed murder, a state crime, he’s in Minnesota State District Court on the charge. Minnesota requires bail be set in every case, no exceptions. Even Charlie Manson would be allowed bail in Minnesota; unlike some states where the judge can simply “remand” (keep in jail) a defendant without setting bail. The lay reader won’t likely even see this glitch and, to be fair, it’s about the only error in the procedural depictions in the book that I found.The twist at the end seemed a bit forced to me but I’ll let you discover that on your own and form your own conclusion as to whether it works fully as an ending or not.

The dialogue is crisp and believable. The plotting, quick and lithe, just as you’d expect in this type of yarn. Overall, a well done pot boiler that makes for a good summer hammock read.

4 stars out of 5.




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