Back to Life

Back to Life, A Hollywood Historical Mystery Novel, Fig Hollow Publishing, an e-book by Lawrence J. Epstein.

Plot: The story opens in Hollywood, CA on April 20, 1939 when the Nazi Regime was showing its increasing aggression. A killer devises and executes his plan to kill Marthe (Marti) Bevin an immensely popular American film artist who espouses the Nazi cause. The next chapter takes place a day later in Sag Harbor, NY where Charlie Singer’s wife is knifed to death by an unknown assailant just as he is returning to her after saving Katie Walker from drowning. It seems that Katie, a seemingly born loser, unfortunately changed her mind about suicide after jumping off a bridge. From this unusual beginning the tale progresses through a complexly interwoven plot that includes more murders, thought patterns prevalent at the time, numerous characters, long held secrets, and minute details easily overlooked by the reader but of the utmost importance in determining the killer(s). Through it all Charlie and Kati manage to survive and gradually to climb ‘back to life’.

Discussion: This is a mystery story written in a manner somewhat reminiscent of those of the fifties by an author who “is a former English professor” and whose other mystery series is about “a man who struggles to find his moral code and live out a life true to his honest self in a world of deception, temptation, and death.” The protagonist Singer shows much of this same attitude. Thus, many readers will find this book to be appealing, fast paced and with a protagonist who is naively engaging and successful in a totally unfamiliar environment.

4* Fascinatingly well-constructed mystery.

String’s Cross

String’s Cross, Heron Drive Press, a novel copyright 2015 by Guri P. Essen.

Plot: The main theme follows the lives of immigrants Rosa Maria Ambuehl, her siblings, her eventual husband Irving, and their children, espacially String. Rosa’s father was a displaced resident of Switzerland who settled in the orchard dominated section of California. Thus she was raised in a rather pastoral existence while Irv was a German Jew, product of New York City’s Jewish ghetto, the third largest such gathering in the world. Additionally, Rosa was a headstrong anti-Semitic young woman explained in part by the fact that she was a staunch Lutheran and was anti almost everyone not WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Irving was an avowed atheist whose two grandfathers were rabbis. He volunteered for WW I, was assigned to Hawaii as a bugler and when discharged from Schofield began his west coast sojourn. From a quite thorough description of the early beginnings of the development of the California citrus area, the author then sets forth a well and rather completely described evolutionary pattern of the early United States as it moves from pre-WW I, through the post war expansion, the ‘flapper’ era, Prohibition, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, WW II, the Korean War (earlier referred to as the Korean ‘Police Action’) and beyond. Included are musical compositions of the various times from early 1900 Ta ra ra BOOM de aye, to WW II’s White Cliffs of Dover and then Chattanooga Choo Choo, String of Pearls , Sleepy Lagoon and more by big bands of Harry James; Glen Miller, Artie Shaw and others; early entertainers such as Gloria Swanson and Theda Bara to Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, George Burns; early radio ‘crystal sets’ to TV and programs Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy with a wrist radio precursor by eight years to an actual model; other inventions such as the Model T by Henry Ford and the camera by George Eastman; and on to the McCarthy Hearings, sentencing of the Rosenbergs to finally silicon valley. Five aberrant chapters, 9, 11, 13, 15 and 17 are labeled First through Last Aside and deal first with the author’s explanation of his relationship with the publisher with respect to finishing the book for medical reasons. The second, third and fourth set forth considerable material with respect to his own life, both personal and with his less than successful entrepreneurial activities and how he was able to cope and adjust. The last a rather extensive presentation of the demise of his father. The book ends with a follow-up of characters included in the narrative.

Discussion: First, this is an extremely well written book from the standpoint of description. The characters are complete, the theme well followed, the individual ‘eras’ well depicted, the examples set forth make recall easy for knowledgeable readers and provide superb new material for those not acquainted with the times depicted. The interjection of the author’s autobiographical data is somewhat startling and its continuation in advancing chapters a bit disconcerting. However, he does provide a most pertinent reason at the very beginning of his story. He quotes Saul Bellow quoting Alberto Moravia: “Every novel is some kind of higher autobiography” and follows with the fact that his relay of the usual disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction…” and follows with: “That legal caution attended to, you should be told that almost everything ever written is fiction” and proceeds to explain why. So, albeit it slightly annoying to this reviewer, it is totally an acceptable practice. As such, most readers will find a fascinatingly presented phase of American History. I believe I should be remiss, however, if a caveat were not included with respect to the detailed presentation of diagnosis and treatment procedures for prostate cancer, similar, but slightly less detailed for breast cancer and similar for the final approach and ultimate demise of a parent. For this reader, such material adds a depressing element and really, for any reader, adds nothing to the main historical theme.

3* 5* Well-presented period of history; believe caveat required, as described.