Tag Archives: crime

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper. June 6, 2017. Ecco, 272 p. ISBN: 9780062394408.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 610.

A propulsive, gritty novel about a girl marked for death who must fight and steal to stay alive, learning from the most frightening man she knows—her father.

Eleven-year-old Polly McClusky is shy, too old for the teddy bear she carries with her everywhere, when she is unexpectedly reunited with her father, Nate, fresh out of jail and driving a stolen car. He takes her from the front of her school into a world of robbery, violence, and the constant threat of death. And he does it to save her life.

Nate made dangerous enemies in prison—a gang called Aryan Steel has put out a bounty on his head, counting on its members on the outside to finish him off. They’ve already murdered his ex-wife, Polly’s mother. And Polly is their next target.

Nate and Polly’s lives soon become a series of narrow misses, of evading the bad guys and the police, of sleepless nights in motels. Out on the lam, Polly is forced to grow up early: with barely any time to mourn her mother, she must learn how to take a punch and pull off a drug-house heist. She finds herself transforming from a shy little girl into a true fighter. Nate, in turn, learns what it’s like to love fiercely and unconditionally—a love he’s never quite felt before. But can their powerful bond transcend the dangerous existence he’s carved out for them? Will they ever be able to live an honest life, free of fear?

She Rides Shotgun is a gripping and emotionally wrenching novel that upends even our most long-held expectations about heroes, villains, and victims. Nate takes Polly to save her life, but in the end it may very well be Polly who saves him.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Murder, Death of a parent

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
When short-timer Nate McClusky kills a member of the Aryan Steel prison gang in Susanville, California, the victim’s brother (who happens to be the gang’s president) sends a death warrant from Supermax—not only for Nate but also for his ex-wife, Avis, and his daughter, Polly. Nate survives his last week in prison but returns home to find Avis dead. Picking up 11-year-old Polly from middle school, he intends to drop her off with a relative until circumstances suggest the only way to keep her permanently safe is to take on Aryan Steel and hit them where it hurts. Polly is at first terrified (and contacts the police) but soon displays an aptitude for crime—she’s her father’s daughter, after all—and decides she wants to be more than just a passenger. Meanwhile, in chapters that read like mid-period James Ellroy, Detective Park searches the bleak and barren parts of California for the girl who now regrets her call for help. From its bravura prologue to its immensely satisfying ending, this first novel (Harper previously penned the short story collection Love and Other Wounds, 2015) comes out with guns blazing and shoots the chambers dry. It’s both a dark, original take on the chase novel and a strangely touching portrait of a father-daughter relationship framed in barbed wire.

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2017)
In his first novel, Harper returns to the seamy criminal fringe he explored in his story collections (Love and Other Wounds, 2015, etc.) for a grim yet moving tale about an ex-con’s efforts to protect his young daughter.Meek, intellectually precocious 11-year-old Polly finds her tattooed, heavily muscled father, Nate, waiting outside her school in Fontana, California. Having been in prison for more than half of Polly’s life, Nate has now been granted an early release. Unfortunately, though, the head of the Aryan Steel gang has just put out a call from his prison cell for his gang members to kill Nate, his ex-wife, and their daughter. Polly’s mother is knifed before Nate can reach her, but he takes Polly on the run to evade hit men while planning how to stop the vendetta. His love for Polly overpowers and empowers him, but there is no sentimentality here—he recognizes with paternal pride that she shares his “buried rage.” He trains her to fight, then takes her along when he robs stores and attacks his Aryan Steel enemies. Although she remains attached to her teddy bear, Polly discovers she takes after her badass daddy more than she or he imagined. The novel combines striking images, like Nate’s “gunfighter eyes” and the “old man of a car” he shows up driving, with disturbingly raw violence—a drug mule gutted by a crooked sheriff to get out the merchandise, the same sheriff gouging out an eye. Even more disturbing are the characters’ raw emotions: after witnessing Nate hold an Aryan Steel member’s back against the coals from a barbecue-grill fire until he gives desired information, Polly finds herself smiling. Yet there is a moral core here. Acknowledging that his vengeful behavior is “dumb and selfish,” Nate knows he isn’t good for Polly. And despite her developing toughness, Polly retains her urge to save the innocent. For all the darkness and even ugliness displayed, the characters’ loyalty, love, and struggle for redemption grip the reader and don’t let go.

About the Author

Jordan Harper was born and educated in Missouri. He’s worked as an ad man, a rock critic and a teevee writer. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

His website is www.jordanharper.com

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Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. April 18, 2017. Doubleday, 352p. ISBN: 9780385534246.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. The book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward Native Americans that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly riveting, but also emotionally devastating.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts; Discrimination; Violence; Alcohol; Criminal culture

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 12))
During the early 1920s, many members of the Osage Indian Nation were murdered, one by one. After being forced from several homelands, the Osage had settled in the late nineteenth century in an unoccupied area of Oklahoma, chosen precisely because it was “rocky, sterile, and utterly unfit for cultivation.” No white man would covet this land; Osage people would be happy. Then oil was soon discovered below the Osage territory, speedily attracting prospectors wielding staggering sums and turning many Osage into some of the richest people in the world. Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, 2010) centers this true-crime mystery on Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman who lost several family members as the death tally grew, and Tom White, the former Texas Ranger whom J. Edgar Hoover sent to solve the slippery, attention-grabbing case once and for all. A secondary tale of Hoover’s single-minded rise to power as the director of what would become the FBI, his reshaping of the bureau’s practices, and his goal to gain prestige for federal investigators provides invaluable historical context. Grann employs you-are-there narrative effects to set readers right in the action, and he relays the humanity, evil, and heroism of the people involved. His riveting reckoning of a devastating episode in American history deservedly captivates..

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 15, 2017)
Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding “headrights” that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the “Reign of Terror.” Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn’t stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann’s crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs. Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

About the Author

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He has written about everything from New York City’s antiquated water tunnels to the hunt for the giant squid to the presidential campaign.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, published by Doubleday, is Grann’s first book and is being developed into a movie by Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures.

Grann’s stories have appeared in several anthologies, including What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001; The Best American Crime Writing, of both 2004 and 2005; and The Best American Sports Writing, of 2003 and 2006. A 2004 finalist for the Michael Kelly award for the “fearless pursuit and expression of truth,” Grann has also written for the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and The New Republic.

Before joining The New Yorker in 2003, Grann was a senior editor at The New Republic, and, from 1995 until 1996, the executive editor of the newspaper The Hill. He holds master’s degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy as well as in creative writing from Boston University. After graduating from Connecticut College in 1989, he received a Thomas Watson Fellowship and did research in Mexico, where he began his career in journalism. He currently lives in New York with his wife and two children.

His website is www.davidgrann.com.

Teacher Resources

Killers of the Flower Moon Discussion Questions

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Overturned by Lamar Giles

Overturned by Lamar Giles. March 28, 2017. Scholastic, 352 p. ISBN: 9780545812504.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Nikki Tate is infamous, even by Las Vegas standards. Her dad is sitting on death row, convicted of killing his best friend in a gambling dispute turned ugly. And for five years, he’s maintained his innocence. But Nikki wants no part of that. She’s been working on Operation Escape Vegas: playing in illegal card games so she can save up enough money to get out come graduation day.

Then her dad’s murder conviction is overturned. The new evidence seems to come out of nowhere and Nikki’s life becomes a mess when he’s released from prison. Because the dad who comes home is not the dad she remembers. And he’s desperately obsessed with finding out who framed him—and why.

As her dad digs into the seedy underbelly of Vegas, the past threatens everything and Nikki is drawn into his deadly hunt for the truth. But in the city of sin, some sinners will do anything to keep their secrets, and Nikki soon finds herself playing for the biggest gamble ever—her life

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Alcohol; Smoking; Gambling

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 9-12. If she knows anything, Vegas native Nikki Tate knows cards. She’s trying to earn enough money to escape Vegas after high school, and she comes by the trade honestly: her casino-owning father, Nathan Tate, was a big deal, until he was convicted of murder five years ago. Now, though, that conviction has been overturned, and Nathan Tate joins a long line of wrongly convicted black men. But the man who returns is not the father Nikki remembers, and the circumstances surrounding the murder he was imprisoned for have not disappeared. As Nathan digs into the past, Nikki, too, becomes more entangled in Vegas’ seedy underbelly, and the stakes are higher than she’s used to. Giles deftly imagines the tense, sinister atmosphere of underground Vegas, while grappling with the issue of race in the justice system. Nikki’s friendships and burgeoning relationship with the son of a rival casino titan are three-dimensional, and she herself is a tough-talking, sometimes impulsive heroine who’s smart even when she’s scared. A fast-paced, endlessly intriguing mystery.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2017)
A fast-paced mystery uncovers a truth hidden by the bright lights of Las Vegas.To bankroll her future escape from Las Vegas, Nikki plays illegal poker games, using her natural skill and training from her father, Nathan “The Broker” Tate. Those skills also help her run the family’s failing casino, which languishes because her father is on death row for murdering his business associate. After five years, though, her father’s conviction—like so many other black men, he’s found to be wrongfully convicted—is overturned and he returns home. Nathan is determined to reveal who framed him, only to quickly end up dead. So Nikki takes up her father’s quest and tries to untangle the mystery. Even her blossoming relationship with Davis Carlino—son of local magnate Bertram “Big Bert” Carlino—won’t get in the way of finding the truth. Then Nikki discovers how Big Bert and her father are connected…and that Davis could be part of it, too. Is Nikki about to become another Vegas cautionary tale? Nikki is a totally appealing character: gutsy, practical, and strong, at the head of a cast of well-drawn supporting characters. The interracial romance between Nikki and Davis, who is white, is handled deftly, as is Giles’ skillful evocation of the townies-vs.-tourists nature of Las Vegas. An utterly compelling whodunit. (Mystery. 14-18)

About the Author

L. R. Giles hunts monsters. When he catches them, he locks them in stories. His work has been featured in the Dark Dreams anthology series, he’s won the prestigious Virginia Commission for the Arts Fiction Fellowship, and he was a Top 10 Finalist in the international SciFi Now/Tor UK War of the Words competition. He resides in Chesapeake, Virginia with his wife.

Her website is www.lamargiles.com.

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Illusion of Justice by Jerome F. Buting

Illusion of Justice: Inside Making a Murderer and America’s Broken System by Jerome F. Buting. February 28, 2017. Harper, 352 p. ISBN: 9780062569318.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Interweaving his account of the Steven Avery trial at the heart of Making a Murderer with other high profile cases from his criminal defense career, attorney Jerome F. Buting explains the flaws in America’s criminal justice system and lays out a provocative, persuasive blue-print for reform.

Over his career, Jerome F. Buting has spent hundreds of hours in courtrooms representing defendants in criminal trials. When he agreed to join Dean Strang as co-counsel for the defense in Steven A. Avery vs. State of Wisconsin, he knew a tough fight lay ahead. But, as he reveals in Illusion of Justice, no-one could have predicted just how tough and twisted that fight would be—or that it would become the center of the documentary Making a Murderer, which made Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey household names and thrust Buting into the spotlight.

Buting’s powerful, riveting boots-on-the-ground narrative of Avery’s and Dassey’s cases becomes a springboard to examine the shaky integrity of law enforcement and justice in the United States, which Buting has witnessed firsthand for more than 35 years. From his early career as a public defender to his success overturning wrongful convictions working with the Innocence Project, his story provides a compelling expert view into the high-stakes arena of criminal defense law; the difficulties of forensic science; and a horrifying reality of biased interrogations, coerced or false confessions, faulty eyewitness testimony, official misconduct, and more.

Combining narrative reportage with critical commentary and personal reflection, Buting explores his professional and personal motivations, career-defining cases—including his shocking fifteen-year-long fight to clear the name of another man wrongly accused and convicted of murder—and what must happen if our broken system is to be saved. Taking a place beside Just Mercy and The New Jim Crow, Illusion of Justice is a tour-de-force from a relentless and eloquent advocate for justice who is determined to fulfill his professional responsibility and, in the face of overwhelming odds, make America’s judicial system work as it is designed to do.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence; Strong sexual themes; Criminal culture

 

Subject Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2017)
A defense attorney from the trial made famous in Making a Murderer tells his story. From the beginning of his “Opening Statement,” first-time author Buting commands attention with his account of Steven Avery’s trial. The author recounts how, as he sat in the office of his co-counsel, Dean Strang, they received word that Avery’s nephew had confessed to helping Avery commit murder. It is in the context of this first phone call that Buting makes clear his passion as a defense lawyer and his justifiable anger with a system that does not, as he points out later, consider those accused of crimes as “innocent until proven guilty.” Avery had already spent 18 years in prison for a sexual assault that DNA evidence later proved he didn’t commit. Once charged with murder, Buting and Strang came to his aid believing that local law enforcement officials were biased against him. The author uses his expertise to make a convincing case, laying out shoddy police work, strange coincidences, and impossible-to-believe evidence that will have even the most anti–conspiracy theory readers thinking that it could have been a frame job. But he doesn’t stop with Avery’s case. Buting gives supporting evidence from other cases he’s worked or knows well, showing consistently how easy it is for police and prosecutors to fixate on the wrong suspect in a rush to solve crimes or without noticing their own bias. To his credit, while the author cuts the justice system no slack for its deep-seated problems, he also makes sure to repeat that it is a systemic issue and that most police, prosecutors, and judges are not out to hurt suspects. Without muddying the waters with excessive legalese, Buting presents a compelling portrait of the mechanisms of building a murder defense. A fantastic look behind the scenes of the U.S. justice system.

About the Author

Jerome F. Buting is a shareholder in the Brookfield, Wisconsin, law firm of Buting, Williams & Stilling, S.C. He received his undergraduate degree in forensic studies from Indiana University and his law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was board director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, past president of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and chair of the Wisconsin State Bar Criminal Law Section. He lectures worldwide and is frequently sought for his legal expertise. He is also the recipient of the Fierce Advocate Award from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the James Joyce Award from University College Dublin, and the Trinity College Dublin Praeses Elit Award.

His website is www.buting.com/Attorneys/Jerome-F-Buting.shtml.

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Illusion of Justice on Amazon

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A Taste for Monsters by Matthew Kirby

A Taste for Monsters by Matthew Kirby. September 27, 2016. Scholastic Press, 352 p. ISBN: 9780545817844.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 850.

Fear the living more than the dead.

It’s London 1888, and Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the people of the city. Evelyn, a young woman disfigured by her dangerous work in a matchstick factory, who has nowhere to go, does not know what to make of her new position as a maid to the Elephant Man in the London Hospital. Evelyn wants to be locked away from the world, like he is, shut in from the filth and dangers of the streets. But in Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, she finds a gentle kindred who does not recoil from her and who understands her pain.

When the murders begin, however, Joseph and Evelyn are haunted nightly by the ghosts of the Ripper’s dead, setting Evelyn on a path to facing her fears and uncovering humanity’s worst nightmares.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence; Sexual assault; Alcohol

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. After a fateful stint in Bryant and May’s match factory leaves 17-year-old orphan Evelyn Fallow with “phossy jaw”—and the scars that come with it—she seeks refuge within the supposedly secure walls of the London Hospital. Assigned to attend the notorious Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, Evelyn is both boundlessly grateful and fiercely frightened. Though the two bond almost instantly, their friendship is swiftly punctuated by the arrival of late-night apparitions, which they soon recognize to be victims of “Leather Apron’s” concurrent murders. With the nightly return of each—first, the tormented Polly Nichols; second, the shrieking Annie Chapman; third, the inconsolable “Long Liz”; and, finally, the self-destructive Catherine Eddowes—Mr. Merrick’s fragile condition worsens. In order to save him, Evelyn will have to appease each spirit, inevitably confronting the squalor she escaped, as well as Jack the Ripper. While the anachronistic prose can be distracting, Kirby’s character development, particularly his portrayal of the extraordinary Mr. Merrick, is consistently impressive. Austen devotees are sure to appreciate Kirby’s commitment to the gothic entanglements of Northanger Abbey.

Publishers Weekly (June 27, 2016)
In this grisly fantasy from Kirby (the Dark Gravity Sequence), the year is 1888 and London’s slums are soon to be terrorized by Leather Apron (later known as Jack the Ripper), who murders prostitutes in the most gruesome manner possible. In a nearby East End hospital resides a monster of a gentler sort: Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, who has a new maid, 17-year-old Evelyn Fallows. Some would label Evelyn a monster as well, her jaw destroyed by phosphorus necrosis from working in a match factory. Evelyn is initially repulsed by Merrick’s deformity, but she soon recognizes him as a gentle soul. After the murders commence, the ghosts of Leather Apron’s victims begin to appear in Merrick’s room. Concerned about the effect of these monstrous apparitions on Merrick’s health, Evelyn ventures into the slums in an attempt to put the suffering ghosts to rest. Evelyn-all grit, anger, and distrust-is a complex and engaging character, the slums and slang of Victorian-era London are carefully delineated, and the eventual revelation of Leather Apron’s identity and fate will leave readers gasping. Ages 12-up. Agent: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary.

About the Author

Matthew Kirby was born in Utah, and grew up in Maryland, California, and Hawaii. As an undergraduate he majored in history, and then went on to pursue an M.S. in school psychology. For ten months out of the year he works with students, and during the rest of the year he writes. He and his wife currently live in northern Utah.

His website is www.matthewjkirby.com.

Teacher Resources

Jack the Ripper Activities and Questions

Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man) Biography

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A Taste for Monsters on Amazon

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