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Night Bird by Brian Freeman

Brian Freeman is a Minnesota-based author.  This is the second in his Frost Eaton detective triller series. Eaton is a handsome, single, cat-loving San Francisco police detective, a very likeable character.  The latest in the series, “The Night Bird” was just published February 1 by Thomas Mercer.

Night Bird” is a very scary psychological thriller about a serial killer who copies the techniques of a San Francisco psychiatrist, Francesca Stein, but with an evil intention.  Stein uses hypnosis and subliminal messaging to erase disturbing memories from patients and replace them with memories that will stop the phobias that developed around the trauma.  The psychotic maniac, instead, uses hypnosis and psychological and sensory torture to cause some of Stein’s patients to commit suicide upon command.  The killer wears a mask, which in San Francisco, does not cause a lot of notice.  He calls himself the “Night Bird” and uses all manner of technological tricks to spy on his victims and on Dr. Stein so that he knows what will trigger anxiety in the patients who become his targets. One of the songs he uses to trigger suicidal events in his victims is the song “Nightengale” by Carole King.  I don’t think I will ever be able to listen to that song again without thinking of this book!

It does not take long to get really sucked into this book.  One reason is the main characters all have interesting lives and stories built around their own unique situations so it became easy to feel empathy for some characters and disgust and revulsion for others. The characters are all memorable whether they are heroes or villains. One way or the other, the reader can picture these characters living and working in San Francisco.  The author appears to know the city well, even though he lives in Minnesota.

I am not totally convinced about the premise of the book that people who have been traumatized can be made to totally forget those traumatic experiences through hypnosis, drugs and subliminal suggestion, but I am willing to suspend my skepticism for the purposes of getting into the plot.  The premise is similar to that of the successful new TV show, “Blindspot.”  There are some nice twists to the plot as well that keep the reader guessing until the end.

Overall, Freeman has a winner with “The Night Bird.” It should be a hit with those who like to stay up late reading a real page-turner of a psychological thriller that will remain vividly in the memory bank for a long time to come.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols


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Killer Weed by Michael Castleman

Michael Castleman has written an interesting new “Ed Rosenberg Mystery” called “Killer Weed.”  It is a well-researched nod to the  “Summer of Love” of San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury District during 1967-68 and how the culture of free love, rock-and-roll and drugs have played out for the Baby Boomer generation over the years.  While the characters are fictional, for the most part, their experiences have historical roots.  The protagonist does a really good job of tracing the start of marijuana trafficking along the West coast and that information almost gets Rosenberg killed.

This is also the second book I’ve read this year where the protagonist is a newspaper journalist who has gotten canned due to the extreme bloodletting in the newspaper industry.  Ed Rosenberg has just lost his job at the “Foghorn” a San Francisco daily paper, followed shortly thereafter by the pink slip to Ed’s wife who has been a publicist for the paper.  Ed settles into the life of a freelance writer and accepts an assignment working for a billionaire who wants to detail what happened during the Summer of Love and also wants to find out about his own past as the kid of one of the flower children who was murdered during that time.  Ed discovers certain patterns in a more recent murder that point to a connection to that earlier one.  Meanwhile, Ed’s wife has gone to work for a politico who, if elected, should bring Julie, Ed’s wife, on board as his press secretary– only he is assassinated in a scene reminiscent of Harvey Milk.  Yet another murder for Ed to investigate.

Meanwhile, Ed’s daughter, Sonya, refuses to accept the school’s drug prevention information because it runs counter to what she has learned from her weed-smoking dad and her wine-drinking mom.  As punishment she must do a research project that compares and contrasts the school’s curriculum with latest medical research on the use and abuse of marijuana and the author uses this device to provide a balanced understanding of the issues about marijuana use and whether or not it is addictive and/or dangerous to use.

Killer Weed” is a blast from the past where I found myself learning new things while getting nostalgic about the 1960’s and enjoying a well-constructed murder mystery all at the same time.  Well done, Michael Castleman!

Liz Nichols


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The Dog Park Club by Cynthia Robinson

“The Dog Park Club” mystery is the first in a new series by San Francisco author, Cynthia Robinson, about a gay/bisexual opera singer sleuth, Max Bravo.

Max is an interesting character. He is partly of gypsy extraction and his dark good looks seem to attract both men and women, and he seems to be receptive to both. At the same time, his life is largely a lonely one spent traveling around the world singing major baritone parts in various opera companies and in traveling shows of the San Francisco opera. This is a unique character to feature as a mystery protagonist.

In this situation he takes on the role of dog walker for his best friend, Claudia and her dog, Asta. Max and Asta frequent the dog park near Claudia’s home in Berkeley where they meet a very eclectic cadre of characters– a pert and pregnant mortgage broker who disappears about half way through the book; a Vietnam vet who lives in his RV; a Spanish long term visitor, a German friend of Max, a computer genius, a couple of lesbians and sometimes Claudia. Once Amy Carter disappears the rest of the gang meets several times to figure out how to prove that Amy’s husband, Steve, is behind the disappearance.

The more this motley crew investigates the more other possibilities turn up about Amy’s disappearance.

This is an amusing first novel in a unique genre that the author calls a comic noir mystery. It reminds me a little of Ann Rice, but set in San Francisco rather than New Orleans.

Liz Nichols

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A Killing in Real Estate by Michael Castleman

I was sent “A Killing in Real Estate” to review by the author after a book publicist asked if I’d be interested in it. Being a real estate investor, a former northern Californian, and a mystery maven, I was delighted to get hold of Michael Castleman’s third Ed Rosenberg novel and I was not disappointed.

Castleman is a San Francisco journalist, non-fiction writer and novelist. He has lived in the Bay area since 1975. He obviously writes about what he knows.

In this murder mystery journalist, Ed Rosenberg, happens upon the bludgeoned body of a colleague from the San Francisco


newspaper. The police seem neither interested nor particularly competent in solving the murder, so Rosenberg pitches in. He examines many contentious family and neighborhood connections, and believes that the firebombing of the dead reporter’s house shortly after the death is probably related to the killing. This is one of several recent fires in the Mission District, and it makes nearby homeowners and businesses nervous and more ready to leave when developers offer a buy-out.

Rosenberg writes a column on City history for the newspaper. In the course of his work he digs back in the historical records and in a Depression-era diary and writes articles for the paper about some of the famous San Francisco fires going back to the early days of the city, and about the bloody 1934 dock strike that pitted Irish-American workers and Irish-American cops against each other. He wonders if the feuds of the past are being played out again as a neighborhood feud pitting those in support of Mission District development against those who want to preserve status quo.

Will Rosenberg snoop to the point where his life, family and home are put in danger? The tension mounts throughout the book as the danger becomes more and more personal for Rosenberg and his family.

Even though this is a work of fiction, the settings, political and economic perspectives, historical background, and observations about the character and motivations of different segments of the San Francisco population all ring true. I know that from personal experience with San Francisco, its people and politics. The book really took me back to our days living near the Bay area.

Castleman’s observations about how development in the City get done are particularly insightful and are woven very effectively into the plot of this book.

Kudos to Michael Castleman for a sophisticated and chillingly plausible murder mystery.

Liz Nichols

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