The best mysteries with a message

Who am I?

I’ve worked and taught in the field of human services for over 40 years. Helping people and creating nurturing communities isn’t always what it appears. It is mired in hypocrisy, inefficiency, and neglect and the people looking for help are often their own worst enemies. Still, there is something inherently good just in trying to reach out to the vulnerable and fight the injustice that surrounds us. Sometimes that fight is figurative and sometimes it is literal. I am also a black belt-trained martial artist, a boxer, and a world championship professional boxing official. I love the dichotomy of helping people and knowing how to fight.

I wrote...

The Vegas Knockout

By Tom Schreck,

Book cover of The Vegas Knockout

What is my book about?

Duffy Dombrowski just accepted a dream job: chief sparring partner for Russian heavyweight contender Boris Rusakov in Vegas. His obstinate basset hound, Al, and a few friends join Duffy for the ride—but before Duffy knows it, his trip turns into a nightmare. Someone’s killing local Mexican workers, friends, and relatives of Duffy’s gym buddies. And to make matters worse, Duffy’s got Boris’s Russian mobster pals chasing him with murder on their minds.

Quirky characters, rapid-fire dialogue, and nonstop action propel The Vegas Knockout into the sphere of gritty thrillers that hit with astonishing power.

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The books I picked & why

Early Autumn

By Robert B. Parker,

Book cover of Early Autumn

Why did I love this book?

No big shock here, recommending a Spenser book, right? The iconic private eye is probably the most imitated in the genre and, for me, at least, his plotlines are usually secondary to his prose and his message.

In Early Autumn, Spenser takes on a case of a narcissistic woman (an outdated recurring theme in the early books) but quickly changes his focus to her neglected son. Spenser teaches the boy to be a man through carpentry, cooking, exercise, and boxing, using all as a vehicle for self-sufficiency. He encourages the boy to find a passion, and when Paul chooses modern dance and ballet, Spenser is supportive.

The message—self-sufficiency makes life manageable; passion makes it worthwhile.

By Robert B. Parker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Early Autumn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“[Robert B.] Parker's brilliance is in his simple dialogue, and in Spenser.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

A bitter divorce is only the beginning. First the father hires thugs to kidnap his son. Then the mother hires Spenser to get the boy back. But as soon as Spenser senses the lay of the land, he decides to do some kidnapping of his own.

With a contract out on his life, he heads for the Maine woods, determined to give a puny 15 year old a crash course in survival and to beat his dangerous opponents at their own brutal game.

Bright Orange for the Shroud

By John D. MacDonald,

Book cover of Bright Orange for the Shroud

Why did I love this book?

Travis McGee tries to play himself off as a hedonistic beach bum who takes his retirement in installments, only leaving his 110-foot houseboat when funds run low. Of course, we know better. Usually it is a damsel in distress that Travis nurses back to health through artful lovemaking (another out-of-date trope.) In this one it is something different.

A man who knew only briefly shows up a shell of his formal self. He was manipulated and taken (once again, by a narcissistic woman) who was fronting for a bunch of evil con artists. Travis, as you might guess, rights the wrong.

More importantly, he helps restores his friend’s self-confidence and self-worth by allowing him to be part of the heroics.

Message—Helping a friend is generous, helping a friend help himself is virtuous.

By John D. MacDonald,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Bright Orange for the Shroud as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From a beloved master of crime fiction, Bright Orange for the Shroud is one of many classic novels featuring Travis McGee, the hard-boiled detective who lives on a houseboat.
Travis McGee is looking forward to a “slob summer,” spending his days as far away from danger as possible. But trouble has a way of finding him, no matter where he hides. An old friend, conned out of his life savings by his ex-wife, has tracked him down and is desperate for help. To get the money back and earn his usual fee, McGee will have to penetrate the Everglades—and the…

Onion Street

By Reed Farrel Coleman,

Book cover of Onion Street

Why did I love this book?

Moe Prager is a thinking and feeling man’s PI. Sure, Coleman, gives the twisty-turny plots and leaves you wondering who dunnit but, for me, that’s not what makes him great. His characters speak to you about what’s going on with people but not in a hit-you-over-the-head manner. Prager is real and feels like a guy you would know and like.

In this Prager story, Moe is determined to find out who and what someone is mistreating people he loves. He relentlessly pursues the case, sacrificing his own safety and well-being. Along the way, we meet his Holocaust-surviving neighbor and other characters that make the book outstandingly different.

Message—Friends make life worth living even when it means risking your own life

By Reed Farrel Coleman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Onion Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the New York Times bestselling Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot comes a Moe Prager Mystery.

It's 1967 and Moe Prager is wandering aimlessly through his college career and his life. All that changes when his girlfriend Mindy is viciously beaten into a coma and left to die on the snow-covered streets of Brooklyn. Suddenly, Moe has purpose. He is determined to find out who's done this to Mindy and why. But Mindy is not the only person in Moe's life who's in danger. Someone is also trying to kill his best and oldest friend, Bobby Friedman.…

Time to Murder and Create

By Lawrence Block,

Book cover of Time to Murder and Create

Why did I love this book?

It is hard to beat Lawrence Block’s writing. It often seems like a conversation you’d have, late at night, on a bar stool while sipping a bourbon served neat. Later in the Scudder series, it might seem more like a conversation you might have in a diner after an AA meeting but that’s hardly important.

What is important in this book is Scudder’s motive. He’s hired to look after something and then his client winds up dead. Scudder has no reason to keep pursuing the case—he’s not getting paid and his client won’t ever know the difference.

A promise is a promise and Scudder isn’t stopping.

The message—Commitment is about all we have in life. Commitment means integrity.

By Lawrence Block,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Time to Murder and Create as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author behind the upcoming Hollywood all-star film A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES - the second brilliant novel in the Matthew Scudder series

The Spinner is dead, bashed on the head and left to rot in a river. There are three suspects.

Henry Prager has paid enough for the sins of his daughter, and begs Scudder not to destroy his shaky business or the fragile girl's reformed life.

Beverly Etheridge cheerfully admitted all the sex acts Scudder had seen in the photos and she promises to show him a few more.

Theodore Huysendahl offers Scudder enough money to choke…

Fools Rush In

By Ed Gorman,

Book cover of Fools Rush In

Why did I love this book?

This is a fun series. It starts off in the 50s in small-town Iowa with most of the small-time innocence that you’d imagine but Gorman likes to take a different look. He leads us through the era’s less-than-shining moments while we get to relive the 50s and early sixties.

In this one, a young Black civil rights worker turns up dead. Along the way, we learn about racism and the subtle forms it can take and how it can poison a whole community.

In the end, things are not what they seemed but it doesn’t change the facts about America during this era.

Message—People are people and fighting ignorance and hate is all our responsibility.

By Ed Gorman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fools Rush In as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In America's heartland, Sam seeks justice for a black college student who's found dead in a car trunk at the drive-in, while thousands gather in the nation's capital for the March on Washington with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

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