Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Interview with Dead of Night Author Jonathan Maberry!!!!!

It seems lately that zombies are everywhere!!!!  In the movies, on TV, and most importantly in BOOKS!!!!  Criminal Pages had the delightfully gruesome opportunity to interview famed author Jonathan Maberry, best known for his Patient Zero  and Rot & Ruin series, about his newest zombie tale: Dead of Night. After the interview look for links to more Dead of Night extras!!!

CRIMINAL PAGES:  What inspires you to write about zombies?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Zombies are the perfect vehicle for telling any dramatic story you want. They lack individuality and personality, which means that the focus isn’t on their experience. They are emblematic of a shared threat that affects every human character in the book.  Once the zombies are introduced, everyone –characters, author and readers—all ‘get’ the essential threat. It then becomes a story about people interacting during a massive, shared crisis. That’s pretty much the definition of drama right there.

Also, zombies represent whatever we fear. That’s what draws so many different writers –and even different kinds of writers—to the genre. We can tell cautionary tales about whatever pushes our psychological, ethical, societal or political buttons.  Whether that is a fear of a global pandemic (World War Z by Max Brooks), the failure of government to protect citizens during a crisis (Dead City by Joe McKinney), the loss of identity in an increasingly depersonalized world (Breathers by S. G. Browne), rampant consumerism (George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), or the potentially catastrophic misuse of technology (Dead of Night), the zombie allows us to stand on our soapbox and be heard.

CRIMINAL PAGES:  How is Dead of Night different from your other works?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Dead of Night is my first standalone novel. My intention had been to write a novel that was, in part, an unabashed homage to George Romero, while also allowing me to make my own mark on the genre. I had a wicked amount of fun writing the story.  Unlike Patient Zero, this book doesn’t have a top-of-the-line action hero. The characters in this book are all deeply flawed and very human. That amped up the suspense for me while I was writing it because I didn’t really know who –if anyone—was going to make it out alive. In a series you always know…in a standalone, all bets are off.

CRIMINAL PAGES:  Many people are fearful that with the advances in medical and genetic technology an outbreak of a zombie virus could happen. What do you think?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I think we’re racing toward a wall at high speeds. Our technology has advanced much further than our ability to manage it.  Our tendency is to build something and then step back to look for bugs.  That’s fine with computers, but it’s a frightening approach when dealing with weapons of war.  We never do as much testing as we should.

Also, our medical industry has so badly misused things like antibiotics that many of the diseases that were in essence ‘defeated’ a generation ago are coming back now in much stronger forms. Those antibiotics were our defense against these things, but now we’ve reduced the likelihood of their working at all. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control),  NIH (National Institutes for Health) and WHO (World Health Organization) all agree that a global pandemic is likely.  Perhaps imminent.

Will that be zombies?  Probably not, but the effect will be about the same.

CRIMINAL PAGES:  You write for both teens and adults. Is there a difference in your writing process?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I approach all of my novels the same way: I concentrate on the story and don’t really think about things like the age of my readers. I had this discussion recently with Neil Gaiman.  We were both guests at the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars and we spent most of the evening talking shop. Neil said that when he wrote his Newbury-winning novel The Graveyard Book, he wrote it with his adult audience in mind. It was only after it was done that his editor told him it was a middle-grade novel.

In my Rot & Ruin series I tend to write without filters for my first draft. The only real concessions I make is that on second draft I edit out most of the harsh language. I certainly don’t write down to kids. Today’s teens are way too sharp and way too well-read to tolerate that kind of thing.

CRIMINAL PAGES:  How do you decide which audience a book will be geared towards?

JONATHAN MABERRY: When I cook up a book I hammer out a proposal and fire it off to my agent. She’s adept at telling me who the book is best suited for.  A good example of this is Rot & Ruin. I originally wrote that as a novella for editor Christopher Golden’s The New Dead anthology. That antho was aimed at the adult audience and, even though the protagonist was a teenager, I thought I was writing an adult story.  But my agent, Sara Crowe of the Harvey Klinger Agency, told me that it read like the opening of a YA novel. I thought she was crazy, but as it turns out she was right. She usually is.  Simon & Schuster bought the rights to that a sequel, and later bought two more books to round out the series. It was marketed for younger YA –the 12 to 15 year old crowd- and it’s gone on to win a slew of YA awards.  Go figure.

CRIMINAL PAGES:  Can we expect a sequel to Dead of Night?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Kind of.  There are other stories linked to the book, two of which will be out this year. One is “Chokepoint”, a short story set several days after the events in Dead of Night.  That story will be in an online magazine, but it hasn’t been announced yet. (Check me out on Facebook for that news).

The other story is a novelette called “Jack and Jill”, and that takes place at the same time as Dead of Night, but with different characters. That story is included in the upcoming anthology, 21st Century Dead edited by Christopher Golden, due out in bookstores and for e-readers in June.  More stories tied to Dead of Night will show up soon, too.  And there’s one that is more or less a sequel to it, set years after the events of that book, which is available as an e-story, “The Wind Through the Fence”. 

CRIMINAL PAGES:  What’s next for you?

JONATHAN MABERRY: My 4th Joe Ledger thriller debuts in April, ASSASSIN’S CODE.  A holy war fought with genetically-engineered vampire assassins.  Fun stuff. 

Then in May, V WARS debuts.  It’s a shared-world vampire anthology that I cooked up and edited.  It features novellas by Nancy Holder, Scott Nicholson, John Everson, Yvonne Navarro, Gregory Frost, Keith DeCandido, and James A. Moore.

The third in my post-apocalyptic zombie series for teens, FLESH & BONE, debuts in September.

Plus I have a slew of short stories coming out this year. One just hit stores, “The Death Song of Dwar Guntha”, a John Carter of Mars story in the anthology UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS (in hardcover from Simon & Schuster), and I’ll have a fantasy novelette, “Spellcaster 2.0”, in AN APPLE FOR THE CREATURE, an anthology edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kellner (September 4 from Ace).  And lots of others.  Even a story in an anthology called BEFORE PLAN 9: Plans 1 Through 8 From Outer Space.

If you would like to know more about DEAD OF NIGHT checkout the awesomely gory book trailer on You Tube by clicking HERE 

If you enjoyed DEAD OF NIGHT, you can download seven free bonus scenes from Jonathan Maberry’s website by clicking HERE


Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer.  He’s the author of many novels including Assassin’s Code, Dead of Night, Patient Zero and Rot & Ruin.  His nonfiction books on topics ranging from martial arts to zombie pop-culture. Since 1978 he has sold more than 1200 magazine feature articles, 3000 columns, two plays, greeting cards, song lyrics, poetry, and textbooks. Jonathan continues to teach the celebrated Experimental Writing for Teens class, which he created. He founded the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founded The Liars Club; and is a frequent speaker at schools and libraries, as well as a keynote speaker and guest of honor at major writers and genre conferences.  Jonathan lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife, Sara and their son, Sam. Visit him online at www.jonathanmaberry.com
and on Twitter (@jonathanmaberry) and Facebook.


Praise for DEAD OF NIGHT:

“Jonathan Maberry is the top gun when it comes to zombies, and with DEAD OF NIGHT, he's at the top of his game.  Frankly, I'm shocked by how effortlessly he moves between the lofty intellectual heights of T.S. Eliot's poetry and the savage carnality of the kill.  DEAD OF NIGHT develops with the fevered pace of a manhunt, and yet still manages to hit all the right notes.  Strap in, because Maberry's latest is one hell of a wild ride.  I loved it.” - Joe McKinney, author of Dead City and FLESH EATERS

             “Jonathan Maberry has created an homage to death itself and an homage to the undead that is as poetic as it is terrifying.  It's a brand new and intriguingly fresh slant on the zombie genre that we all love!” -John A. Russo co-screenwriter of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

“Maberry is a master at writing scenes that surge and hum with tension.  The pacing is relentless.  He presses the accelerator to the floor and never lets up, taking you on a ride that leaves your heart pounding.  It’s almost impossible to put this book down.  Dead of Night is an excellent read.”  S.G. Browne, author of BREATHERS

"It would be enough to say that Jonathan Maberry had topped himself yet again with an epic zombie novel that is as much fun as it is terrifying.  But that he has also created a story of such tremendous heart and social relevance only further cements his place as a master of the genre.  It also doesn't hurt that in DEAD OF NIGHT he has created one of the most compelling heroines I've read in years.  Dead of Night blew me away!"  --Ryan Brown - Author of PLAY DEAD

“Once again, Jonathan Maberry does what he does best; Take proven science, synthesize it and create something truly terrifying.  In DEAD OF NIGHT, Maberry lays the groundwork for a Bioweapon that could very well create zombies in the real world.  Combining great characters (I fell in love with Dez Fox from the moment she was introduced) and taut, blindingly fast action, DEAD OF NIGHT, is a runaway bullet train of a ride. This is Jonathan Maberry's best writing yet.” –Greg Schauer, owner Between Books, Claymont, DE

“Dead of Night stands drooped head and lurching shoulders above most zombie novels. The nightmare increases exponentially - from minor outbreak to major crisis with unstoppable speed, building to a heart-stopping climax you won't be able to put down.” --David Moody, author of the HATER and AUTUMN books

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Hop Winners!!!!

The winners of our Holiday Hop Giveaway are:

Linda Henderson and Ann*

Thanks to everyone who entered!!!!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

AWESOME Deal on Gregg Olsen's YA Thriller "Envy" - Today Only!!

If haven't gotten your copy of Gregg Olsen's debut YA thriller Envy yet, here is a deal you cannot pass up!!  Today ONLY Barnes and Noble will be selling Envy for 50% off!!!!!

Click this link to get your coupon!!!   http://www.barnesandnoble.com/email/Print_nav.asp?PID=39676

If you missed my review of Envy click HERE to read it!!!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mystery Review: Serial by John Lutz

The Killer Becomes The Hunted
She was gagged. Violated. Tortured. Nailing the killer is priority number one and only the best will do—that means Frank Quinn. And Quinn wouldn't want it any other way. Because he recognizes the victim. Years ago, as a homicide detective, he saved her young life. Now the hunt is on, and deep in his gut, Quinn welcomes it. He knows he's seeing the work of a truly twisted serial killer. Except it's not the ritual weapon that makes this killer so disturbing. It's who he kills—and how he makes them suffer. . . (goodreads.com)

1/5 stars


Every time I have gone to the store this summer the cover of John Lutz’s mystery novel Serial called to me from the shelf.  It is one of those covers that catches your eye and makes you want to open the book.  I am quite anal about starting a series at the beginning, but after giving Serial a good preview and reading the first few pages I decided to go ahead and buy it.  I was excited at having a new series to delve into for the summer.  By about page 30 I came to the realization that this has got to be one of the WORST books ever written!  I am not exaggerating; this book was awful.  I try to be objective when writing reviews and avoid trashing a book I disliked, but this goes beyond dislike.  There were parts of the plot that I just found totally offensive.  So I will clarify before you continue to read that this is not so much a review, as it is a rant about all the things I hated about this book.  First let me describe the plot.
Serial begins with the protagonist, Frank Quinn, meeting the Commissioner of the NYPD at a gruesome crime scene.  A woman has been tortured and killed in a very ritualistic fashion.  The killer leaves several clues at the crime scene that suggests he is just getting started.  That is where Quinn comes in.  He is a world- renowned “serial killer hunter” who was once a NYPD detective and now runs his own private investigation agency with four other retired NYPD detectives.  Also, the victim happens to be a young woman whose life Quinn had saved from a burning car fifteen years before.  Therefore this killing is personal and Quinn wants to catch the guy who did it even more than other serial killers he has chased (except that plot angle is dropped as soon as he leaves the crime scene).  As the plot progresses several more women are being murdered at the hands of “The Skinner” and Quinn and his team drink a lot of coffee at their desks and ponder what the killers motive may be.  Every few chapters there is a flashback that takes the reader to Hogart, Missouri beginning twenty years before in 1991.  This plotline describes the life of a woman named Beth whose parents were killed in a fiery car accident.  In fact the first two victims of The Skinner also lost loved ones in horrible car accidents.  It seemed that there was a pattern emerging.  As the plot jumps between present day New York and 1991 Hogart we learn that Beth is married to an abusive man who is a little crazy about religion.  One night when he sends her out to buy him some beer Beth is brutally raped in the woods.  The sheriff, Wayne, who has a crush on Beth catches her rapist and he is sent to jail.  Unfortunately the attack has left Beth pregnant with his child.  Her nutty husband, Roy, can’t handle this and leaves her alone and destitute to raise her son Eddie.  Fourteen years later, in 2005, Beth learns that the man who was sent to prison for raping her was wrongly convicted after DNA tests confirm he could not have been her attacker.  Beth, dealing with horrible guilt, decides to start fresh and move an hour away from Hogart.  This is when she meets Link Evans.  A good ole’ country boy who loves Beth’s son Eddie just as much as he loves Beth, or maybe more.  Three years into their marriage Beth can no longer deny the strong resemblance between her new husband and her son, but she decides to wait another two (or three, depending on what page you are on) years before finally sharing her suspicions with Sheriff Wayne and asking him to compare Eddie’s DNA to Link’s to see if it is a match.  Since Link travels for work almost every weekend it also gives Beth and Wayne a chance to renew the affair they started after Roy left. 
Now, while all of this is going on more women are being murdered in New York in 2011.  At first the author wants the reader to believe that fiery car crashes are the common link between the Skinner victims and Beth.  It is obvious that Beth is somehow the key to the whole mystery.  It isn’t until about the 4th victim that we learn that the common factor is actually that all of the women have wrongly accused a man of raping them, sending the men to prison and ruining their lives.  The fiery crashes and other commonalities of the crimes were just red herrings thrown out by the author to throw the reader and the detectives off the Skinner’s track.  Unfortunately they did nothing to add to the suspense of the plot and were dropped like a hot rock once they were no longer useful.  The amount of coincidences between the victims in this book becomes statistically impossible and only makes the plot more ridiculous and far-fetched. 
During the Skinner’s rampage one of the falsely accused men actually is able to track him down and blackmail him.  It really wasn’t that hard as he caught the Skinner stalking the woman he was accused of raping, who he himself was stalking as well.  Once Quinn and his team find the connection between the women and get a list of the men they mistakenly accused you would think they would go out and find all of these people, maybe interview them.  Nope.  They just sit at their desks, drink some more coffee, and wait until someone is murdered until making their next move.  The next move consists of going to the crime scene, looking around, and then going back to the office to sit and drink more coffee.  Finally, a drunk and disgraced former NYPD cop named Jerry Lido, who rocks at computer stuff (because no one is real life could ever do what he does) finds a name among airplane tickets that matches the exact dates of the Skinner murders.  And that name?  Yep, you guessed it: Link Evans.  Poor Beth has apparently picked two losers for husbands. 
While Beth and Sheriff Wayne wait anxiously for the DNA results that will reveal if Link raped Beth all those years ago, Quinn and his trusty sidekick Pearl (I’ll get to her in a bit) fly to Missouri to capture their serial killer.  They are totally unconcerned that every shred of evidence they have on him was obtained illegally and would never hold up in court.  As luck would have it Link’s current trip is cut short and he arrives home just in time to see Sheriff Wayne getting it on with Beth.  So, Link grabs a shotgun and is about to kill the poor Sheriff when Quinn and Pearl show up.  Link could care less and shoots Wayne anyways while taking Beth hostage and driving off in the Sheriff’s SUV.  Quinn, Pearl, and the State Patrol catch up with Link several miles later after he crashes the SUV, and just when you think Quinn is a goner Sheriff Wayne appears out of nowhere with a rifle and shoots Link dead.  This is quite amazing since the last we saw of Wayne he was mortally wounded and Link had his SUV.  Apparently the super-human Sheriff ran all of those miles and got the rifle out of the SUV just in time to save the day!  Now that the Skinner is dead all of the answers about the Skinner case are gone too. 
After the police leave, declaring the Skinner case closed, Sheriff Wayne brings Beth the results of the DNA test.  He lies to her and says that Link’s DNA does not match the DNA of the man who raped her and therefore Link was not Eddie’s biological father, when in fact, Link was the rapist all the time.  Meanwhile, back in New York Quinn feels uneasy with the resolution of the Skinner case.  There was no direct evidence found to link Link to the murders.  The police never found the unique carpet-tucking knife the Skinner used to carve up his victims.  So Quinn decides to interview the man who was mistakenly accused of raping the last Skinner victim.  The man, Scott Trent, drives a truck delivering  . . .carpet!  As Quinn begins to question him Pearl calls to tell him that Scott Trent is no other than Roy, Beth’s crazy first husband!  After one of the dumbest chase scenes in the history of chase scenes Quinn finally apprehends Roy and the Skinner case is finally solved.  And Beth can rest easy because her crazy 2nd husband wasn’t the Skinner after-all; it was her crazy 1st husband.  Sheesh – see what I mean about impossible coincidences? 
For those of you kind enough to keep reading I am now going list all of the problems in this book.  Just writing this is making me feel better J

The Plot- Once the connection between the victims and Beth was established it seemed as if the author was trying to make a statement about how women ruin innocent men’s lives by accusing them of rape.  The entire subject of rape was handled in an incredibly insensitive manner.  I took particular offense to the vastly repeated phrase, “her rapist.”  As if women somehow own the men who violate them and are responsible for their attacks. 

The Victims- The author does a good job of portraying the women as strong and independent survivors, but once they meet the Skinner they become submissive and weak.  Every single one of them!  Except the last one (number six, I think) who finally fights back and survives.   The extent to which he weakens these women is an insult to the female race.  I could have bought his obviously sexist descriptions for one or two of the victims, but not five.  It was almost as if the author took pleasure in degrading his own characters. 

The Characters- I will admit that I liked Beth.  Her story is what kept me going to the end.  I wanted to know how she was connected to the events in New York.  Other than that the rest of the characters were awful.  First there is Quinn, the great serial killer hunter.  Not once in this book does he do anything to earn that title.  He literally sits at his desk and drinks coffee, unless he is out drinking with Jerry Lido.  Jerry is the only one who actually did any detective work in this entire book.  Quinn spends most of the time pining away for Pearl.  Pearl, by the way, is the only cop not referred to by her last name, and when her name appeared it appeared about 20 times per paragraph.  Every other word seemed to be Pearl.  If Pearl wasn’t in the room the other characters were either talking about her, or thinking about her.  I think the author was as obsessed with her as Quinn.  The other problem with Pearl is that she had no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  She was caustic and rude, and not in a witty fun way.  Whenever she showed up Quinn had to baby-sit her to make sure she behaved.  Her behavior completely impeded the investigation and Quinn was the only one who could stand her.  He describes her as his “ideal woman,” but never once does the reader understand why in the world he would feel that way.  I cannot stand when characters have illogical feelings for other characters.  It makes no sense. 

The DNA- Apparently the author doesn’t watch Law & Order and he must have missed that whole O.J. debacle (the first one).  Why?  Because it seems he has no idea that DNA fingerprinting has been used as evidence in court since the mid to late 90’s.  These men in the book who were falsely convicted of rape were tried and convicted on witness I.D. and blood typing, although, based on the timeline the author creates the crimes all took place in the year 2000 and beyond.  Why would the state of New York wait 5-6 years after a trial to finally compare DNA?  It makes no sense (I’ve been saying that a lot) and given the timeline in the story the technology was available and being used widely in the real world, so it becomes very difficult as the reader to just dismiss it as well.

Sloppy Writing- I am one of those people that love to find errors in books.  The errors usually amount to small typo’s that escaped the notice of an editor.  The amount of plot errors made by the author in this book is completely unforgivable.  It’s terrible that the author cannot keep his story straight, but the fact that his editor missed these too is amazing.  There are some pretty big errors (although I found no typo’s).  He often lost track of his characters citing the wrong name or having one person in two places at the same time while forgetting about the other characters in the scene.  Then there came the two major errors.  First was the Weaver error.  Weaver was a female cop who was beaten by the Skinner as she tracked him.  A few days after her beating Quinn tells his staff that she is out of the hospital, on medical leave, not thinking clearly, but expected to make a full recovery, and staying with her sister.  Literally two pages later another detective is assigned to guard the outside of Weaver’s hospital room in case the Skinner comes back to finish her off. Her condition is very grave, as she has been slipping in and out of a coma since the attack.  When she does get out of the hospital (again) several chapters later it is obvious she will never be the same again and her career as a cop is over.  On the plus side she does go to stay with her sister.  I was so stunned that an accomplished author would make such an obvious mistake that I went back and reread the Weaver scenes and again I had not missed anything.  The author had messed up.  The next major plot error occurred in Missouri.  When Sheriff Wayne gets a new computer he can’t use diner owner Norm Vanderbilt (no relation to the Vanderbilt’s – that what the author wrote) suggests that his wife Edna’s nephew Matthew, who is staying with them, takes a look, as he is a whiz at computers.  When we finally meet Edna she is a lonely widow as her husband, and Wayne’s hunting buddy, Joe died several years before.  We hear a lot about poor dead Joe, as Norm has been conveniently forgotten.  That’s too bad since he probably could have helped Edna with her porn loving nephew and not bothered Sheriff Wayne about it. The other plot problem is that there are way too many scenes that go absolutely nowhere and have nothing to do with the murders.  They are not suspenseful.  They are just plain boring.  Finally, the timeline in this book is vital to the interconnecting stories, but it gets lost several times and rushed as the author tries to match the stories together.   One day in Missouri it’s 2010 and two weeks later it’s the present, which per the New York timeline is 2011, and this time travel occurs in the middle of summer, so it’s no where near New Years. 

Too many coincidences- To make this story believable you have to believe that Beth wrongly identifies a man she thought had raped her in 1991, as do several young and beautiful women living within proximity to each other in New York between 2000-2005. Although the Skinner only gets six the actual total is 29.  When Beth’s husband leaves her she unknowingly marries the man who actually did rape her after learning the man she identified was innocent.  At the same time her first husband Roy finds himself in the exact same predicament of being wrongly identified as a rapist and serving time in prison.  Husband #2 goes off the deep end and tries to kill Beth after learning she was having an affair with Sheriff Wayne, although he was having one with a woman in New York.  Husband #1 goes off the deep end after his release from prison and kills women who accidentally identified the wrong men as their attackers.  Yet, he finds the time to frame Husband #2 for his crimes.  And it would have worked if it weren’t for those meddling detectives!  And let’s not forget that just about everyone in this book has been the victim of a fiery car crash that claimed the lives of their loved ones.  I’m starting to think that I got the genre wrong.  Maybe this book was supposed to be fantasy.

To those who stuck with it and read my rant – thank you.  I hope my opinions are not offensive, as John Lutz must have a large following considering the amount of books he has written.  I am willing to agree that maybe I just picked the wrong book to start with.  If anyone would like to recommend another of his titles I would be happy to give it a try.  I would like to read SWF Seeks Same as I enjoyed the movie.  And maybe I am being too critical, but it’s my blog, so I get to voice my opinions.  You don’t have to agree and you don’t have to read my review.  But I started on a new mystery last night and I can’t put it down, so hopefully my next review will be a bit more positive.  J

Thursday, July 21, 2011

X-treme Readers: Review: Envy by Gregg Olsen

X-treme Readers: Review: Envy by Gregg Olsen: "Murder is such a dirty word… New York Times bestselling adult true crime author Gregg Olsen makes his YA debut with EMPTY COFFIN, a grippin..."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: Dancing With Death by Shanna Hogan

Phoenix, Arizona, 2004. Former stripper turned suburban housewife Marjorie Orbin filed a missing person's report on her husband. She claimed that Jay, a successful art dealer, had left town on business after celebrating their son's birthday more than a month before. Jay loved his family more than life itself--and no one believed he would ever abandon them. Authorities suspected foul play...
A WIFE LYING IN WAITThe search for Jay made local headlines. But key elements in Marjorie's story still weren't adding up: Why did she wait so long before going to police? If Jay was away on business, as she claimed, why were there charges made to his credit card in Phoenix? Then, the unthinkable happened.
A SHOCKING DISCOVERYJay's headless, limbless torso was discovered on the outskirts of the Phoenix desert--and all evidence pointed to Marjorie as the killer. Soon, an exhaustive investigation would reveal surprising new details about her life--six previous marriages, an ongoing and passionate affair with a man from her gym, alleged ties to the New York mafia, a drug habit--and lead to her conviction for the murder and dismemberment of her seventh husband. (amazon.com)

The first few times I saw Shanna Hogan’s true crime novel, Dancing with Death, on the shelf at Wal-mart I took a pass.  I had two reasons for not wanting to read this book.  The first was that I had seen Marjorie Orbin’s episode of Snapped and thought I already knew all about the story.  The second reason was that Dancing with Death is Shanna Hogan’s first true crime novel.  I am very picky about what true crime authors I will read.  There are a ton of terrible TC books out there written by reporters who know how to report a story, but not how to turn it into a creative narrative where the characters come to life.  When I finally decided to read Dancing with Death I was not disappointed!  Shanna Hogan is a talented author who went far beyond just writing the facts.  From the very first page I was riveted by this terribly sad story and soon realized that there was a lot more to it than what was depicted on a 60 -minute episode of Snapped.
            By the time ex-stripper and former Vegas showgirl Marjorie Orbin settled down with her husband Jay she had already been married six previous times.  Not that Jay was aware of that fact.  Marjorie had led him and his family to believe that Jay was only her second husband and that she was a widow.  Unfortunately, none of those claims were true.  In fact, many of the things Marjorie told people were lies.  She bent the truth whenever she had a chance to portray herself in a more positive light or to garner sympathy from whomever she was speaking too.  Even if Jay Orbin knew the truth about Marjorie’s lies he might not have cared.  He was in love and had been for years.  Marjorie was his dream woman and he would do whatever he could to make her his wife.  Marjorie, who was drawn to wealthy men, knew a good deal when she saw one and made a deal with Jay.  She would marry him if he would pay for the expensive fertility treatments she needed to endure in order to have a child.  Of course, like many deals, this one had a deadline.  If Marjorie did not become pregnant within the first year she would be able to walk away from Jay with no strings attached.  Desperate to have Marjorie in his life Jay did everything he could to give his wife the child she so badly wanted.  Marjorie became pregnant within a year and gave birth to a son.  Now Marjorie was trapped.  She needed to stay with Jay in order to live a comfortable life with her son.  Yet, she insisted to anyone who asked that her marriage was more of a “deal” and that she was not at all romantically involved with her husband.  In fact, she often described him as “overweight” and “disgusting” and spoke often of wanting to be rid of him.  Then Jay Orbin disappeared.  According to Marjorie, Jay embarked on a business trip never to be heard from again.  Yet, she didn’t seem all that concerned and it took her several weeks to report her husband missing.  Rather than look for her missing husband, Marjorie was busy moving her new boyfriend into her house and telling her son that Larry would now be the boy’s father.  Not exactly the actions of a concerned wife.  When Jay’s dismembered body turns up in the desert several weeks after he was last seen the police start to zero in on Marjorie as her bizarre behavior takes on an even more sinister tone. 
            This story had all the elements of a modern tragedy.  The portrait Shanna Hogan portrays of Jay Orbin is that of a generous man who loved his family, and relished life itself.  Jay’s affable character, and Marjorie’s complete inability to recognize what a wonderful father and man he was, makes this story heartbreaking.  Her need to tear Jay down to others and completely over exaggerate his physical flaws was disgusting.  The pictures of Jay Orbin included in the book do not depict a “fat and disgusting” man, but an attractive man with a warm smile Hogan thoroughly researched Marjorie Orbin’s past and creates a chilling portrait of a sociopath whose only concern in life is her own wants and needs.  Although Marjorie is described as a devoted mother her relationship is overly controlling where her son is treated more like a possession than a child.  The marriage itself only existed in order for Marjorie to gain the things she wanted, but needed Jay to provide.  From the minute she met Jay Orbin Marjorie used him for his wealth without ever thinking about the actual man she was destroying.  He was a means to an end and when she was finished with him she threw him away like trash, literally.  The list of casualties who suffered at Marjorie’s hands is enormous.  Many lives were destroyed in her wake of destruction.  What amazed me was her ability to use her beauty and charm to manipulate those around her, even while in prison.  Shanna Hogan was able to meet with Marjorie Orbin after her conviction to try and get her side of the story.  The author writes that she too was drawn to Marjorie’s personality and easily manipulated by the complements Marjorie lavished upon her.  Unlike others in Marjorie’s life Shanna Hogan was able to get some distance from Marjorie, which allowed her to look back and see the cunning sociopath Marjorie Orbin really is.  I found that portion of the book to be perhaps the most chilling. 
            I definitely recommend Dancing with Death to anyone who loves a good true crime novel full of drama, twists and turns.  The book is very well written and pulls the reader into the investigation and trial of Marjorie Orbin.  The sad thing is knowing that this is a true story.  Jay Orbin was a real person who left behind a son. His son now has to go through life without the father who loved him so dearly.  The callousness of that act is heartbreaking.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: A Twisted Faith by Gregg Olsen

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First let me begin my review by letting you know that I am not a religious person.  Sixteen years of Catholic education has left me a bit jaded, to say the least.  Therefore, as I read Gregg Olsen’s latest true crime novel A Twisted Faith I was stunned not only at the depravity of the main character, Nick Hacheney, but also his ability to brainwash and control a plethora of seemingly intelligent individuals.  I use the word individuals because I think that Nick’s control was not limited to the women he victimized.  So many people wanted to believe that this man had a direct line to God himself that they all failed to recognize the sociopath and predator that he truly was.
            When Nick Hacheney’s beautiful wife Dawn was tragically killed in a fire in the couples home on December 26, 1997 the members of Christ Community Church rallied around their youth pastor in a show of undying support.  Although not everyone was a fan of the young pastor they all had to admit that he didn’t deserve the fate that God had just handed him.  Reservations about Hacheney and his inappropriate behavior towards some of the female congregants were dismissed.  His behavior was viewed as that of a man in severe emotional pain who was in dire need of comfort.  Yet the comfort Nick sought was not just emotional, but physical as well.  Within a week of his wife’s passing Nick Hacheney had manipulated at least three of the women from Christ Community Church into sexual relationships.  Some of these women acted willingly while others felt they had no choice because God had told Nick this was how he would get over the loss of his wife.  The women believed they were doing God’s will.  It would take years before one woman, nearly destroyed by the betrayal she committed, would move from Nick’s grasp and face the truth of what really happened.   Her need to come forward would lead to Nick’s downfall and finally the truth surrounding his wife’s death would be told. 
            As I read this book I was utterly disgusted.  Not at the writing.  Gregg Olsen does an excellent job telling this story.  He is thorough in his reporting of the facts and it is obvious that he gleaned his information directly from those who lived it.  He was even able to interview Nick Hacheney himself for this book.  It was Nick Hacheney who disgusted me.  First off, this is not a good-looking man.  He was overweight and balding, although even in his younger days he was not very appealing.  How could this total loser convince so many women to either fall in love with him or sleep with him?  The answer is: he brainwashed them.  Pure and simple.  He preyed upon their faith and belief in God to manipulate them into doing whatever it was that he wanted.  I found it impossible to believe that these women were that naive, but it is much easier to judge a situation for what it truly is when looking from the outside in.  It probably didn’t help that Christ Community Church was acting more like a cult than a legitimate place of worship.  This is due to the fact that it was being run by an egomaniac who actually thought he was an “apostle” of God.  In my opinion he was just a con man looking also to prey upon people for power and monetary gain, as opposed to Nick Hacheney who wanted physical dominance over those he controlled.  What angered me the most about the book was that everything Hacheney did he blamed on “God’s will.”  The man never once has ever taken any responsibility for his actions.  Whenever he was caught in a lie or compromising position he claimed that his behavior was dictated directly by God and out of his control.  The truly ludicrous part is that everyone around him accepted that answer and allowed him to continue his depraved and immoral life without interruption.    Could Dawn Hacheney have been saved?  I don’t know, but I do think that it took way too long for the wheels of justice to catch up to her murderer.
            One of the reasons I like to read true crime is that I enjoy reading about the pathology of those who will stop at nothing, even murder to get what they want.  I enjoy complicated stories full of sordid details about seemingly normal people.  A Twisted Faith definitely fits that bill.  The details of this story are absolutely mind-boggling and are almost impossible to believe.  Yet if you go to Gregg Olsen’s website you can read guest blogs and comments from those who lived this real life drama.  Another reason I enjoy true crime is that I love reading about the investigation and trial that finally bring justice to the victims.  This is the only area where I am disappointed.  Traditionally Gregg Olsen focuses his books on the events and the characters, often stopping his story at the point when the accused is finally apprehended.  I would have liked to read more about the second investigation into Dawn Hacheney’s death and the trial that finally put her husband behind bars.  I definitely recommend A Twisted Faith to anyone who loves true crime.  Gregg Olsen does an excellent job out outline this complicated story for his readers.  It is absolutely a book you need to read in order to believe!