Monday, November 11, 2013

Introducing Detective Sergeant Mulheisen

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

First published in 1977, this is the book that introduced Detective Sergeant "Fang" Mulheisen of the Detroit P.D., the protagonist in Jon A. Jackson's excellent series of crime novels. Also appearing for the first time is Joe Service, the mob hit man who would be Mulheisen's long-running nemesis.

The book takes place during a brutally cold and snowy December. As it opens, a beautiful and wealthy young housewife is savagely murdered during the course of an apparent burglary. I mean, one minute you're lounging in the tub with your aromatic bath salts and five minutes later, you're stumbling into the neighbor's house with a knife sticking out of your back. It's just that kind of a day.

Det. Sergeant Mulheisen is soon on the job and is intrigued to learn that the woman's husband is Arthur Clippert, a former gridiron star known as The Clipper back in his glory days. More recently, the Clipper is the last man standing when the Fidelity Trust Insurance Company goes under in an investment scandal of gargantuan proportions. Twenty million dollars is missing in the fraud and Clippert is the only member of the firm who hasn't yet been indicted.

Mulheisen begins doggedly pursuing the case and turns up a sexy young friend of the murdered woman who has some very interesting tales to tell. Things proceed as they naturally will and before you know it, it's Christmas Day; one of the biggest blizzards in history has hit Detroit; the city is basically closed down, and a bunch of really nasty villains are in the wind.

One really shouldn't say more for giving away too much of the plot, but Mulheisen is a very intriguing protagonist, and I'm very much looking forward to re-reading this series and following his career all over again. This story, like all of the others, is very well-told; the characters are well-drawn, and there's enough suspense and wry humor to satisfy virtually any crime fiction fan.

If you somehow missed this series, you might well want to look for it. But you should understand that Mulheisen and Joe Service have a long and complicated relationship that evolves over the course of the series. You'll definitely want to start at the beginning and watch it unfold.

A Pigeon Sings

The Good RatThe Good Rat by Jimmy Breslin
Review by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jimmy Breslin made me an offer I couldn't refuse: a book with mobsters, crooked cops, a turncoat, and a trial in which a stool pigeon sings about the mafia's secrets.

Journalist Breslin made a career of following the mafia, writing of Queens, NY from the street-level. In The Good Rat he writes of the 2006 trial of two police detectives as they are brought down by the testimony of Burton Kaplan, an aging man with thick mob ties, who decided to come clean in hopes of seeing the outside again and spending time with his family before he dies.

As they are described, you can smell the streets and even feel as if you've walked into the mob-frequented bars alongside the writer, who spent much of his time in such joints. But beyond even that, Breslin's real talent is in creating a mind's eye image of these almost larger-than-life characters. I call these real-life men "characters," because what else do you call men with nicknames like Gaspipe, The Clam, Fat Tony and Three-Finger Brown?

The Good Rat masterfully interweaves the trial with NY mafia history, going back and forth to illuminate some time, place or person mentioned during Kaplan's testimony. Conversely, this background info is presented to set up thrilling reveals during the trial.

Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Is a rat ever good? Sure, he's helping to put away some men who did terrible things, but after all, he wouldn't have the information with which to dig their graves unless he himself had gotten his hands dirty.

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The Great Boobie Juice Debate

Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’tBottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t by Suzanne Barston
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strident yet understanding and always smart, Bottled Up is a thoughtful argument for chillaxing on the women that formula-feed their babies as opposed to breastfeeding them.

As the "Fearless Formula Feeders" blog master, Los Angeles Family Magazine Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Barston stands as a sort of champion for reluctant-but-proud bottle feeders and those women who wanted to breastfeed, but for whatever reason, can not. In Bottled Up she fights back - not against breastfeeding, but against the nonsense flung upon mothers who nourish their infants on formula, a product much maligned recently.

With Barston's own sad-but-humorously-relayed tale and those of others woven into the argument, the book is highly entertaining and more importantly, informative. In fact, the notes, reference and further reading section takes up nearly a fifth of this thoroughly researched book. The real life stories are suspenseful, hair-raising and even occasionally blood-chilling. In some instances, this hot topic has affected life and death situations. It's not all doom and gloom, however, as Barston interjects welcome wit and mood-lightening humor just enough to keep things from becoming too depressing.

As a baby-less, non-breastfeeding man, I can't say that I was too aware of the apparently vicious battle going on between the two camps. Certainly I knew that breastfeeding was considered the healthier choice, but having come from a time when pretty much all people my age (including myself I believe) were bottle-fed formula as infants, I didn't think it was such a big deal. IT IS! Holy Moses, there are some mean-ass ladies out there casting down condemnation and fiery vitriol upon women who would DARE feed their babies formula this day and age. Barston does a hell of a job countering their arguments with very valid reasons for why, in some circumstances, the correct choice is formula. I welcomed this informative look into a sub-world war, if you will, that someone in my position would normally not be privy to.