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Reviews Written by
E. Bukowsky (NY United States)

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Murder Plays House
Murder Plays House
by Ayelet Waldman
Edition: Hardcover
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A house to die for., July 18 2004
This review is from: Murder Plays House (Hardcover)
In "Murder Plays House," by Ayelet Waldman, lawyer and part-time sleuth Juliet Applebaum is bursting at the seams. Literally. She has gained fifty pounds during her third pregnancy and she and her husband, Peter, need a bigger house for their growing family. The problem is that a desirable house in L. A. is not easy to get unless the buyers are filthy rich, which Juliet and her husband most certainly are not.
While house hunting with her realtor friend one day, Juliet stumbles upon a dead body in the bathtub. The owner of the house, who is the victim's brother, retains Juliet to help investigate the case. Along with her partner, Al, Juliet starts digging into the life of the deceased, an out-of-work actress named Alicia Felix.
Juliet interviews Alicia's former co-workers, ex-boyfriend, and anyone else with a possible connection to the crime. At the same time, the mother-to-be is trying to cope with her out-of-control appetite and ungainly shape, while also tending to the needs of her husband and young children.
"Murder Plays House" has its moments. Juliet is witty and sassy, and Waldman's wry humor and satirical treatment of the shallow L. A. culture are right on target. The author has a go at the trendy fashions, the insane desire to be thin at all costs, and the desperation of marginally talented actors to make it in show biz.
Waldman has trouble, however, balancing her lighthearted humor with the book's tragic elements, most of which are introduced in the second half of the novel. The carefree tone of the book's opening gives way to a somewhat somber and preachy ending. Although the plots of the "Mommy-Track Mysteries" are only passable, I keep reading them because of my fondness for Waldman's irresistible and down-to-earth heroine, Juliet Applebaum.

Breach Of Trust
Breach Of Trust
by D Buffa
Edition: Hardcover
23 used & new from CDN$ 1.36

4.0 out of 5 stars From idealism to disillusionment., July 17 2004
This review is from: Breach Of Trust (Hardcover)
In D. W. Buffa's latest legal thriller, "Breach of Trust," criminal defense attorney Joseph Antonelli takes the case of Jimmy Haviland, an old friend from law school. Back in Harvard, Joseph had a tight circle of acquaintances, including Jimmy, Thomas Browning, now Vice President of the United States, and the beautiful Annie Malreaux. Both Thomas Browning and Jimmy Haviland were in love with Annie, but tragically, she either fell or was pushed to her death at the Plaza Hotel on Christmas Eve in 1965. Now, many years after the event, Jimmy Haviland is being tried for Annie's murder.
Thomas Browning has enlisted Joseph Antonelli, one of the country's most eminent and successful attorneys, to take Jimmy's case. Browning is convinced that Jimmy is being railroaded by the Vice President's political enemies. These individuals, Browning believes, want the public to think that years ago, Browning saw Jimmy pushing Annie to her death. According to this scenario, the Vice-President of the United States was once involved in the cover-up of a murder.
Buffa's exploration of the ruthless and polarizing world of politics is both timely and relevant. He ably shows how our justice system can be undermined to suit the needs of ambitious and self-serving individuals. These themes resonate in today's cutthroat political climate.
"Breach of Trust" is not just about politics. Buffa effectively shows the contrast between the idealism of youth and the disillusionment of middle age. When he was young, Antonelli looked forward to a fulfilling career. Years later, although he is well off and has achieved professional success and recognition, Antonelli is lonely and his personal life is barren. Antonelli fears that he will grow old alone, and he embarks on an affair with Gisela, a reporter with ambitions of her own. It turns out that most people in "Breach of Trust" have hidden agendas, and the characters generally operate at cross-purposes.
The book's main weakness is Buffa's writing style, which is uneven. Too often, he pads his sentences with overwrought prose, rambling descriptions, and too much repetition. However, the engrossing characters and the thought-provoking plot make "Breach of Trust" worth reading, and I was pleasantly surprised by the bittersweet and poignant ending.

The Flanders Panel
The Flanders Panel
by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.20
88 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A deadly game of chess., July 11 2004
This review is from: The Flanders Panel (Paperback)
Arturo Perez-Reverte's mystery, "The Flanders Panel," takes place in Madrid and was translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. It deals with a mysterious work of art, "The Game of Chess," that was painted by a Flemish artist, Pieter Van Huys, in 1471. Julia, an art expert who has been restoring this painting prior to its being auctioned off, suddenly unearths a message hidden in the painting. The message, "Quis necavit equitem?" is Latin for "Who killed the knight?" It prompts intense speculation as to why the painter first included this message in his painting and later painted over it.
It turns out that the game of chess depicted in the painting provides clues to the meaning of the message, which relates to matters of political intrigue in the fifteenth century. Suddenly, the intrigue reaches into the present when a noted art historian is found dead under mysterious circumstances. It soon becomes apparent that the murderer is an individual with a macabre sense of humor and a thorough knowledge of chess.
I was disappointed in "The Flanders Panel." The characters, including Cesar, who is Julia's surrogate father, Menchu, Julia's best friend and the owner of an art gallery, and Señor Muñoz, a chess expert, are all rather flat and uninteresting. The book is talky and plodding, the plot is too complicated, and the references to chess are incomprehensible to a non-player. The sole aspect of the book that interested me was the history of the painting and the meaning of the hidden message. It is unfortunate that the rest of the novel lacks enough plausibility, suspense, and excitement to make "The Flanders Panel" an entertaining mystery.

Death Match: A Novel
Death Match: A Novel
by Lincoln Child
Edition: Hardcover
36 used & new from CDN$ 1.96

4.0 out of 5 stars The brave new world of love., July 10 2004
This review is from: Death Match: A Novel (Hardcover)
Would you pay $25,000 and undergo a battery of rigorous physical and psychological tests to meet the man or woman of your dreams? In Lincoln Child's new thriller, "Death Match," the eager clients of a company called Eden Incorporated are happy to do so. Unfortunately, a series of unexplained suicides among some of Eden's most well-matched pairs, known as "supercouples," has begun to worry the company's executives. They bring in Christopher Lash, a forensic psychologist who once worked with the FBI, to find out why and how these men and women died. Were these deaths just bizarre coincidences or is something more sinister going on?
"Death Match" is an intriguing thriller that touches on some contemporary themes, such as computer matchmaking, the lack of privacy in the age of the Internet, and the synergy between our government and large corporations. As Lash studies the deaths of these "perfect" couples, he learns that they were indeed happy in every way, with no psychological disorders that would predispose them to suicide. As Lash digs deeper, he makes some horrifying discoveries, and in the process, he places both his reputation and his life in danger.
Child's writing is fast-paced and lively, and the author includes fascinating details about psychological testing and artificial intelligence. He also explores the difficulty that modern men and women have in finding an appropriate mate, and why they turn to computer dating services to solve their problems. Can a sophisticated computer come up with a foolproof way to bring the right people together, or is the attraction between individuals too indefinable to be captured by computer software?
There are aspects of this novel that are far-fetched, and many readers will guess where the book is heading way before the denouement. However, the plot still plays out with sufficient suspense and flair to make "Death Match" a timely and engrossing thriller.

Ice Run: An Alex McKnight Novel
Ice Run: An Alex McKnight Novel
by Steve Hamilton
Edition: Hardcover
26 used & new from CDN$ 3.38

4.0 out of 5 stars Baby, it's cold outside., July 5 2004
"Ice Run" is the latest Alex McKnight novel by Steve Hamilton, and it takes place during the coldest time of the year in Michigan. Snow is measured by feet, not inches, and if you don't bundle up, you can freeze to death. Alex McKnight, the loner ex-cop who had pretty much given up on love, has fallen for Natalie Reynaud, a cop from the Ontario Provincial Police. One night, when Alex and Natalie visit the fancy Ojibway Hotel in Sault Ste. Marie, an elderly man tips his hat to them. Little do they know that this man holds the key to Natalie's painful past, and both Natalie and Alex are about to be dragged back in time.
At its best, "Ice Run" is an atmospheric and brooding story, with terse dialogue and some delightfully quirky characters. I especially like Jackie, who cares for Alex so much that he reams him for getting sucked into Natalie's problems, and Leon, Alex's old friend, who at a moment's notice, drops everything to do some important digging for his old pal.
The villains, alas, are stock characters, and the mystery itself is not particularly involving. However, Hamilton has a way of capturing the loneliness and desolation of a Michigan winter and tying it in with the characters' bitter and icy emotions. Alex is a charismatic and compassionate hero, and it is hard not to cheer for a man who is willing to risk his life for the woman he loves.

Monday Mourning: A Novel
Monday Mourning: A Novel
by Kathy Reichs
Edition: Hardcover
68 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Studying old bones for clues in a macabre case., July 3 2004
Temperance Brennan is on the job again in "Monday Mouring," the latest forensic thriller by Kathy Reichs. Someone has found three sets of bones in the basement of a Montreal pizza parlor, and Tempe believes that the bones belonged to young women in their teens. How did these bones get in this cellar and how long have they been there? This case is a tough one that gives Tempe many sleepless nights.
To add to her problems, Tempe's relationship with Andrew Ryan, the Canadian cop she has been dating, is strained, and she suspects that he may be seeing another woman. In addition, the stubborn and obstructive homicide detective Luc Claudel gives Tempe a headache whenever she tries to convince him to follow up a lead. The pizza parlor case progresses slowly, with few clues turning up to help the detectives in their investigation. Tempe realizes that she will have to use all of her scientific knowledge and experience to find out who killed these girls, and, she hopes, stop the killer from hurting other young women.
Reichs does a workmanlike job of setting up what proves to be a fairly standard thriller plot. What makes Reichs special is her tremendous attention to detail. Since she herself is one of the world's foremost experts in forensic anthropology, Reichs uses her considerable expertise to add fascinating details about Carbon 14 dating of bones and other obscure techniques to bring an element of realism to the story. A subplot about Tempe's friend, Anne, who comes calling when her marriage goes sour, does not move the plot along very much.
The major weakness of "Monday Mourning" is the formulaic ending, which is filled with damsel in distress clichés and a few obligatory twists and turns. However, Tempe is always terrific, and the fascinating forensic information alone makes the book worth reading.

Obesity Myth
Obesity Myth
by Paul Campos
Edition: Hardcover
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.07

5.0 out of 5 stars Fighting the fascists of fat., July 3 2004
This review is from: Obesity Myth (Hardcover)
Paul Campos has courage. In his new and radical book, "The Obesity Myth," he cites scientific evidence contradicting the commonly accepted notion that obese people die sooner than thin people. Although he is a lawyer, not a scientist, Campos is well versed in this subject area. He writes with expertise and passion about a controversial issue that is certain to fuel heated debate among scientists and laymen alike.
If obesity is not the killer that doctors and the media make it out to be, then why do so many people obsess over their weight? Campos cites many factors that have led to our becoming a culture gone mad over thinness. He states that we have been brainwashed by the weight loss industry, the medical establishment, and Hollywood into believing that fat is terrible. Not only do fat people look bad, but they also die young, we are told over and over again. Weight loss is big business, and the more fat and unhappy we are, the more likely we are to fork over big bucks for the next hot diet book or weight loss program. What many of us do not know is that a large number of the studies that demonize obesity are funded by the very same weight loss industry that profits from our desperation to lose weight.
Campos brings sociology, feminism, and politics into the mix. Many individuals in our society consider fat people to be sloppy, irresponsible, and undisciplined losers. Since it is politically incorrect to dislike those whose skin color is different from ours, we have turned our disgust against obese people, who rarely fight back. In fact, many obese people hate themselves, and become yo-yo dieters in a futile effort to reach their "ideal" weight. Other women endanger their health by starving themselves and exercising constantly. Campos also explores how otherwise successful women revert to pre-feminist thinking where their weight is concerned. Even professional women who have a resume packed with accomplishments consider themselves failures if they cannot wear a size six.
Does Campos champion eating whatever we want and ballooning to 400 pounds? On the contrary, he claims that everyone should exercise and eat healthful foods. You can be fit and fat. Since not everyone can or should be thin, he suggests that we are better off accepting ourselves than fighting to change our natural body types. "The Obesity Myth" is an outspoken, literate, well-written, thought-provoking, and surprising look at a subject that is on everyone's mind these days. You may not agree with the author's conclusions, but you will find that this book provides plenty of food for thought.

Groundhog Day (Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
Groundhog Day (Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Bill Murray
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 38.78
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.93

5.0 out of 5 stars Comic perfection., June 30 2004
Phil Connors is a real piece of work. He is a weatherman based in Pittsburgh, whose sarcasm, egotism, and cynicism repel most of the people he meets. He is on assignment for the fourth year in a row, covering another Phil--Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who every year, on February 2, prognosticates how long winter will last. Along with Connors are his producer, Rita, played by the lovely Andie MacDowell, and his long-suffering and much abused cameraman, Larry, played hilariously by Chris Elliott.
Phil hates the groundhog, whom he calls a rat, he hates the people of Punxsutawney, whom he considers little more than boring hicks, and he hates people who are warm and sensitive. Phil is counting the seconds until he can leave this miserable town and get back to the big city. Little does he know that a quirky act of fate will doom him to relive February 2nd, over and over and over again, until he gets it right.
Bill Murray is comic perfection as the cranky and impatient Phil, a person who could not stop and smell the roses if his life depended on it. Thanks to a brilliant screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, who also directed, Murray has ample opportunity to show off his impeccable timing and priceless facial expressions. Whether he is greeting his unctuous landlady at his bed and breakfast, trying to fend off a pushy old classmate, or smoothly convincing a gullible woman that he loves her, Murray nails this self-absorbed and misanthropic character.
The look of epiphany on Phil's face when he realizes that he can do whatever he wants with no repercussions is unforgettable. Since he is doomed to live the same day over and over again, he can hit on women endlessly, spend money like water, and eat as many cholesterol-laden desserts as his heart desires. Soon, however, the novelty wears off, and Phil begins to realize that the same-old, same-old is no longer bearable. To move his life past Groundhog Day, he will have to change inside, where it counts.
If you want to laugh until you cry, see "Groundhog Day," a film that is destined to become a comedy classic.

The Madman's Tale: A Novel
The Madman's Tale: A Novel
by John Katzenbach
Edition: Hardcover
26 used & new from CDN$ 3.10

5.0 out of 5 stars Cuckoo's nest redux., June 28 2004
In his new novel, "The Madman's Tale," John Katzenbach deviates from the thriller formula and succeeds brilliantly. The hero and narrator is Francis Petrel, a middle-aged ex-mental patient who is haunted by voices that constantly invade his thoughts. In flashback, Petrel relives the time twenty years ago when he was committed to Western State Hospital in Massachusetts after his family could no longer tolerate his erratic and threatening behavior. In the hospital, Petrel meets many other patients suffering from paranoia, delusions of grandeur, catatonia, and other mental disabilities. To add to his feelings of insecurity and imminent danger, Francis is enlisted to help trap a murderer, known as "the Angel," who has killed someone inside the mental hospital and will likely kill again.
Katzenbach masterfully recreates the ambiance of a mental hospital in the 1970's. We get to know the pompous director and his staff, most of whom use medications as weapons to keep the patients under control. We get to know Francis, known by the nickname C-Bird, a gentle soul who is terrified almost all of the time and who feels profoundly lonely and lost. The whole cast of mental patients comes poignantly to life. There is Cleo, an enormous woman who thinks of herself as the Queen of Egypt, Newsman, a patient who keeps everyone up to date on current events, and Peter, a former fireman who is more angry than insane. When a nurse is brutally murdered, Peter and C-Bird join together with Lucy Jones, a prosecuting attorney with inner terrors of her own, to trap a killer.
If the novel were completely plot driven, it would have been a run-of-mill suspense thriller. What elevates this book is that Katzenbach uses his journalist's powers of description to capture the deadening routine of the mental hospital, the prison-like surroundings, the patients' lack of dignity, and the harsh drugs that rob the mentally ill of their humanity without curing them. Katzenbach uses original and clever literary devices which play on the relationship between reality and illusion, and demonstrate vividly how individuals who suffer from psychiatric illnesses live in a daily hell that is every bit as bad or worse than anything the outside world can inflict upon them.
In many suspense thrillers, authors cast emotionally disturbed individuals either as pathetic losers unworthy of our attention or as serial killers. In "The Madman's Tale," the mentally ill are people, just like you are me, who are horribly mistreated by a society that fears them and wants them to disappear, never to be seen again. Katzenback does not portray Francis Petrel as a pathetic loser. Rather, he is an intelligent person with intense feelings who is unlucky enough to suffer from a disabling disease. His struggle to survive from day to day is in itself an act of tremendous heroism.

Morningside Heights: A Novel
Morningside Heights: A Novel
by Cheryl Mendelson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 37.95
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.82

3.0 out of 5 stars The lives and loves of New York sophisticates., June 26 2004
Cheryl Mendelson, in her first novel, "Morningside Heights," focuses on the various crises that befall a group of friends and neighbors living on the West Side of Manhattan. Charles and Anne Braithwaite's problems are mostly financial. They spend more money than they take in on their three children's music lessons and tuition, gourmet foods, and maintenance charges on their cooperative apartment. Charles is an opera singer who has never achieved stardom, and Anne has given up her career as a pianist to be a stay-at-home mom.
Charles and Anne have a motley crew of friends, such as the neurotic Merrit, a beautiful and scholarly woman who undermines her chances at happiness by always falling for the wrong men. She has always had a special enmity for a scientist friend of the Braithwaites named Morris, and Morris unexpectedly becomes a part of her life when he moves into the Braithwaite's building.
"Morningside Heights" is a psychological and sociological look at a group of quirky, self-absorbed, well-educated, and sophisticated urbanites who have a tendency to overdramatize the events in their lives. Although the characters are lively enough, Mendelson's writing style is stilted and her dialogue does not ring true. Mendelson also goes into each character's rambling inner thoughts in detail, and these passages are often more tedious than enlightening. There are some plot twists involving the estate of an elderly neighbor and Merrit's tortuous love life, but these surprises are not enough to save the book from its own pretentiousness.

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