Saturday, 07 July 2018 02:12

Back in 1990, author Paul Levine introduced readers to Miami Dolphin-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter in To Speak for the Dead.

To Speak for the Dead was notable not just because it was a tightly plotted novel with a good swath of humor, but also because it was one of the novels that ushered in a new wave of Florida mysteries.

Jake was smart—with a smart mouth. He had a self-deprecating sense of humor that also included the law profession. He was fond of saying, “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”

Now, Bum Deal, the 13th novel in this series that has been spread over 28 years, will be the finale for Jake.

As Levine said, “That’s right. I’m bidding farewell to my old pal Jake, the second-string linebacker who trudged through night law school and became a combative Miami trial lawyer.”

The reason for Jake’s departure makes perfect sense—it’s his health.

“Jake’s been having these problems—fights with prosecutors and judges, memory lapses, confusion, headaches—and it’s time to say goodbye,” Levine stated in a newsletter.

“Dr. Melissa Gold, a neurologist who treats Lassiter during office hours and spends sultry nights with him in his Coconut Grove house, fears he may have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of all those concussions on the football field,” Levine added.

Or as Jake has said, “The past clings to me like mud on rusty cleats.”

With CTE in the news a lot lately, it’s also a timely topic.

Of course, Jake will not take retirement quietly. In Bum Deal, Jake undergoes experimental treatments, and makes a major career change. He switches sides in the courtroom and prosecutes a surgeon accused of killing his wife. Jake probably should have paid more attention to the law part of Law & Order. The case seems impossible with no forensic evidence, no witness, and no body. Add to that, Jake’s best friends, lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, are defending the surgeon.

“Drained of his mental edge just when he needs it most, my old courtroom warrior faces the possibility of losing the case,” added Levine.

One of the hallmarks of the Lassiter series was Levine’s look at South Florida.

Now it seems everyone knows how weird Florida can be—hey, I live here, folks, and I know how odd it is.

In the early 1990s, Florida was still uncharted territory as far as weirdness went.

But those of us down here knew that Levine was not making up these details such as the courthouse steps being cleaned daily to remove chicken parts and goats’ heads used in Santeria rituals.

Jake would sometimes lose his way in Little Havana because numbered streets were renamed to honor heroes favored by the Miami City Commission, such as General Maximo Gomez Boulevard and Jose Canseco Street.

In an interview with me years ago, Levine said, “The problem is you've got to tone it down. If you re-create what's really going on, people won't believe it.”

Happy retirement, Jake. You were great fun.

So Long, Jake Lassiter
Oline H. Cogdill
Sunday, 17 June 2018 18:47

“I got all my sisters with me”—sung by Sister Sledge; writers: Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards

It seems like just yesterday—and it probably was—that we were overrun with mystery novels with the word “girl” in the title.

We’ve had girls who were on a train, gone, interrupted, in a spider’s web, waiting with a gun, in a maze, good, bad, running, walking, skating, in the woods, the other, wrong, or right.

Yes, each of those words were used in a title with the word “girl.”

I am not making a judgment about the quality of those novels—most of which were quite good.

But lately I am seeing many novels with the words “sister” or “sisters” in the title.

Is sister the new girl?

So here are some of the titles I’ve seen. Again, no judgment about the quality of those novels—most of which were quite good, many of which I’ve favorably reviewed.

So here’s the sisterly roundup:

What My Sister Knew, by Nina Laurin (Grand Central): Andrea “Addie” Warren hasn’t seen her twin brother, Eli, in 15 years, when he was convicted and sentenced to prison at age 12 for killing their mother and stepfather by burning down their house.

The Sister, by Louise Jensen (Grand Central Publishing): A grieving woman takes in a person claiming to be the half-sister of her late best friend.

The Other Sister, by Sarah Zettel (Grand Central Publishing): Two sisters have put up with their controlling father all their lives. Now, they have other ideas.

The Favorite Sister, by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster): Two sisters join the cast of the reality TV series Goal Diggers. One won’t make it out alive.

Sister, by Rosamund Lupton (Broadway Books): A woman gets on a plane to London and receives a call that her sister is missing. Then she learns there are a lot of things she doesn’t know about her sister.

The Second Sister, by Claire Kendal (Harper): A woman’s obsession over the decade-old disappearance of her sister overwhelms her life and puts her at odds with her parents.

The Sisters of Blue Mountain, by Karen Katchur (Dunne Books/St. Martin’s): Estranged sisters reevaluate their relationship and deal with their father’s poor health.

The Night Sister, by Jennifer McMahon (Doubleday): A modern ghost story moves through three eras and revolves around a family’s murder, a hidden room, and the disappearance of a teenager.

The Good Sister, by Wendy Corsi Staub (Harper): A killer stalks his teenage victim after meeting them online.

Bad Sisters, by Rebecca Chance (Simon & Schuster): Three ambitious sisters with a deadly secret.

First Girls, Now Sisters
Oline H Cogdill
Wednesday, 13 June 2018 12:52

While Gillian Flynn remains best known for Gone Girl, many of us were fans long before that novel—and movie—about a marriage gone very wrong set against the background of economic turndown.

Flynn’s 2006 novel Sharp Objects is a terrifically terrifying story about a serial killer in Wind Gap, Missouri, and the reporter who returns to her hometown to cover it.

The reporter, Camille Preaker, has been living in Chicago and the trip home brings back far too many memories.

Camille had a breakdown following the death of her sister, Marian, who died young. Eventually, she was sent to a psychiatric hospital after years of self-harm.

You might guess that her family is quite dysfunctional.

That family includes Camille’s half sister, Amma, who acts like the perfect daughter at home while being as nasty as she can to others.

Mother Adora, is cold and distant to Camille, while doting on Amma. Adora comes from a wealthy family that owns many businesses. Wealth has brought her power but also misery.

(On a personal note, I love that Flynn, who grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, set two of her novels in the Show Me State, which is where I am from. Gone Girl was set in the southeast Missouri town of Cape Girardeau, about 30 miles from my hometown, and also parts of southwest Missouri.)

Sharp Objects won the Crime Writers’ Association’s New Blood and Ian Fleming Steel Daggers awards and was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Writer and the Crime Writers' Association's Duncan Lawrie award.

Sharp Objects now makes its way to television as a limited eight-episode series on HBO, adapted by Flynn and Marti Noxon. IndieWire described the series as "about as close to a summer blockbuster as 2018 TV will get."

Sharp Objects premieres July 8 on HBO.

The cast is top drawer, including Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Elizabeth Perkins, Eliza Scanlen, Madison Davenport, Matt Craven, and Taylor John Smith.

Here is a newly released trailer:

This isn’t the first time that Sharp Objects was considered for a television project. According to sources, British director Andrea Arnold was reported to be directing an adaptation of the novel in 2008 for French production company Pathé. But the project never materialized.

Gillian Flynn's “Sharp Objects” on HBO
Oline H. Cogdill