It Made the Grade

December 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

…for one reviewer at least.

Making the Grade, my police procedural starring a female protagonist, earned a very positive review recently by an Australian book reviewer.

Here’s what he wrote:

“Ever wondered what it is like to be a rooky police detective? What if you were the first woman detective on staff? What if your first case was a no breaks murder by a bona fide psychopath? Shannon Lynch is on her first day of duty as a detective and she immediately feels that her new workmates don’t really trust her and wont until she proves herself. She knows this is a serious job and she is determined to meet the standards. Her new boss, Lieutenant Keller, says he at first will not appoint Shannon to a partner, but attach her to two other detectives, Al Joiner and Chuck Miles, to basically just observe. Shannon is not impressed and Joiner and Miles’ reception of her leaves her even more peeved. Peter Pollak has written a novel that grips the reader right from the start guiding them through the working of a case that takes the police to standard and not so standard territory.

“This is a `hard boiled’ police yarn ideal for any reader wanting to be entertained. While Pollak’s approach to police work is standard, giving us some idea of the routine of a police job, the events are hardly standard and are narrated in an exciting style. Pollak surprises us, shocks us and keeps us on tenterhooks. Most of the book is written from Shannon’s point of view, however, at key points we also see into the lives and thoughts of other characters. This gives variety and depth.

“From the start we gain a liking for Shannon and in time we come to understand Joiner and Miles. These characters ring true and are well crafted. While the style is `hard boiled’ we still feel that Shannon and her partners, and even the perpetrator are real. They are not in any way larger than life. Shannon slowly evolves over time developing into a more complex view of her work and life. Joiner and Miles also change, though to a lesser extent.

“Making The Grade is chiefly about success. What is success? How do we get there? What should be our mental attitude to both success and failure? So much of modern society revolves around this issue and the topic arises early, when we are young. We may consider ourselves beyond that but we all have to take tests, keep our jobs, be accountable to our friends and family.

“Indeed a second issue is friends in trouble. Some people are pure users and others are not. How do we decide who to help and who not? Pollak does not give us any pat answers, but instead chooses to raise questions in our mind. Life is never easy to navigate.

“Closely connected to friendship is the issue of loyalty. Once again it is recognised that life is complex and there are no easy answers.

“As I have indicated the book has a lot to do with a woman trying to make it in a man’s world. Feminists will not be offended by the novel, but Pollak is not issuing standard polemics. Pollak recognises that there certainly IS a male power system, but once again life is seen to be complex. This is definitely not a cut out detective story with cut out opinion. Shannon is a feisty capable woman, but she does shed a few tears (though she certainly struggles for control with fortitude). She never was and never will be a stay at home with the kiddies `little woman’.

“Pollak has got the psychology of his novel right. Most of all this is not your standard out there over the top psycho. The killer could easily pass for any man in the street, except of course when he is in the act of actually killing someone. Martha Stout is a psychologist who is successful both as an academic and in a flourishing clinical practice and her book The Sociopath Next Door makes it clear that these people are very good at appearing normal and even helpful. Indeed a sociopath could be living next door to you and you wouldn’t even know it. Pollak’s killer certainly fits this picture. The details I have mentioned and others make it clear that the author has certainly done his research on this one.

“The law is of course an institution of society and Pollak invites some contemplation of the matter. What is the purpose of the law? The philosopher Michel Foucault has challenged the law, saying it is another power system used to manipulate the masses in such a way that ruling elites are reinforced. Would we, however, survive without it? Once we step out of our comfortable lounge room into the hustle of everyday living we may learn that life can be unpleasant, dangerous. Even the `safety’ of our homes is not an assured fact.

“Close to the discussion of the law and society is that of bureaucracy. Organizations certainly can put ridiculous restraints on people, but then again some order is needed to make systems work.

“At 255 pages this book is excellent for a weekend read on the patio. It is interesting and entertaining, with some excitement and characters that are believable. Making The Grade can be read purely as light entertainment, but also has some depth if you care to look for it. Don’t get me wrong: it is not a boring philosophic tome. All in all the book is a great read, especially for those interested in police yarns.”

If you haven’t read Making the Grade, you can find it in digital format on the Amazon website. Click here.

Signed paperback copies are available at The Book House in Albany, NY, The Open Door in Schenectady, NY, at Greetings & Readings in Hunt Valley, MD and at Mysteries on Main Street in Johnstown, NY. Mysteries will mail out copies. Links to all four stores can be found in the “where to buy” section of my website.

Unsigned copies can be found at Ukazoo Books in Towson, MD and Antigone in Tucson, AZ or ordered from the Amazon or Barnes & Noble websites.

Celebrating Independent Bookstores: Schenectady’s Open Door

August 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Like most men, I typically wait until the last minute to purchase birthday and holiday gifts. But when my company, Empire Information Services, Inc. (today: readMedia, Inc.) was located in Schenectady, NY, I could always find something–whether I needed an anniversary present for my wife or a birthday or holiday present for my kids–at the Open Door Bookstore and Gift Shop.

Also, like most men, I’d probably never walk into a gift shop on my own for fear I’d either break something or have to ask what something was, and we men don’t like to ask for directions when we’re lost or what something is that’s prominently displayed in a gift store.

Thank goodness shopping for a non-book gift at The Open Door is not intimidating at all and the clerks are always happy to answer even the dumbest questions.

According to Janet Hutchison, the current owner, The Open Door was founded as a children’s bookstore in 1971 and has always been at its current location on the corner of Franklin and Jay streets in downtown Schenectady. Janet and her husband purchased the store in 1983 and have expanded it to accomodate the transition to carrying a larger selection of books as well as the gift section, which now includes jewelry and toys.

No doubt the Hutchison’s have entertained suggestions that they move to the suburbs or to a mall, but they’ve stuck with downtown Schenectady through thin and thinner. These days a local resident tells me things are looking pretty nice downtown and parking is not a problem. There’s a free 2-hour parking lot west of the store that runs between Union St. and Liberty and some decent places to grab lunch on Jay Street and around the corner on State Street.

Janet has graciously set up a date for me to sign copies of The Expendable Man and Making the Grade at the store. Richard Russo, Bill Kennedy and many others have done the same over the years. I’ll be there Saturday, Sept. 8 from 1:00 to 2:30 PM. But if you can’t make it during those hours, I’ll try to keep the store stocked with copies of both books.

So, if you need a book or a gift and you haven’t been in downtown Schenectady for a while, you can’t go wrong at The Open Door.

Attention: Schenectady Area Residents

September 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you live in Schenectady, New York or are just passing through, stop by The Open Door bookstore at 128 Jay Street.

Not only are they now carrying The Expendable Man, but they are a great place to browse for books, birthday presents, holiday gifts or something for yourself.

The Expendable Man can also be found at The Book House in Styvesant Plaza in Albany and Mysteries on Main Street at 144 W. Main Street in Johnstown.

Thank you for supporting independent bookstores.

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