Pick of the Month, February 2011


Riddle Child by Annelie Botes, Viking, $18.00

One in 100 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the rate appears to be growing. Cause and treatment remain unknown. A recent study shows a correlation between autism and closely spaced births. Controversy has swirled around its link to vaccines. Now Andrew Wakefield, the main proponent of vaccines as the culprit theory, is accused of fraud by the medical establishment and allegedly received $680,000 from Richard Barr, a lawyer “looking for lawsuits.”

Riddle Child tackles the story beyond the cold statistic. It starts with the suspicious death of Alexander, an autistic nine-year-old boy. After a harrowing interrogation, police arrest his mother Ingrid Dorfling, convinced she murdered him. But did she? Set in South Africa, the novel chronicles the stress suffered by middle class parents of a severely handicapped child living in a small town that lacks support services. When experts fail to provide answers, Ingrid’s obsession to care for Alexander intensifies and leads to tragic consequences. Although she loves him, he rejects her. His bizarre and violent behavior drives away family members and acquaintances and leaves her isolated, exhausted, and in financial trouble. Only the elderly, colored housekeeper Miriam Slangveld remains. Central to the denouement is the strong bond between Ingrid and Miriam that transcends their differences in age, race, religion, and socioeconomic status.

Annelie Botes has created an unforgettable literary mystery. The writing is exquisite, the characters superbly drawn. She captures the toll severe autism can take and Western societies‘ shortcomings in dealing with the problem.


The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant, Gotham Books, $26.00

Michael Vick ran a sadistic dogfighting operation, Bad Newz Kennels. Dogs who failed to meet his standards were beaten to death, hanged, and/or electrocuted. An associate wanted to give away these dogs, but Vick insisted they be killed. In trying to close down the operation, investigators faced unexpected roadblocks from the foulmouthed Surry County (VA) Commonwealth’s Attorney Gerald Poindexter, and they had to turn to the Feds. After lengthy foot-dragging by Poindexter, they raided the kennels and seized 51 pit bulls. Although pressured to kill these dogs, the investigators sought ways to save them. In the end, only a couple had to be put down, one bitch because she was too weak to survive from overbreeding done with the use of a rape stand.

Gorant, owner of a pit bull, defends the breed and believes they are receiving a “bad rap” - a controversial topic even among some animal rights groups, with Texas considering Justin’s Law banning pit bulls. His follow-up of Vick’s dogs reveals how terrorized and damaged they were and the long and complex road to rehabilitate them. Several became pets and therapy dogs. The pit bull Jonny Justice is one of the success stories. Eventually he qualified for Paws for Tales program, an innovative approach to encourage children to go to the library and read books. Gorant effectively argues that dogs seized from dogfighters should not be put down as standard procedure. Instead, each dog is unique and should be treated as a victim of this brutal sport. A great read.

Few, if any, readers of The Lost Dogs will weep over Vick’s lament of being forbidden to own a dog. Even though the Humane Society claims he is a changed man, others believe that anyone who tortures animals is a sociopath and should never have a dog. They point out that he is a liar who fooled NFL’s Roger Goodell and had a flat affect during a recent TV interview, his apology sounding as if read from a script.


Nightmare Mountain by Peg Kehret, Puffin, $6.99, ages 9-12

When precocious 12-year-old Molly Newman visits her aunt’s llama ranch, she starts to fear somebody wants to kill her as she finds herself in scary situations. An especially suspenseful incident has her caught in an avalanche. A theme of this novel involves the lasting damage caused by parents who openly favor one child over another. This award-winning book has enjoyed a long shelf life.

Peg Kehret, author of over 40 books, has received dozens of Young Reader awards, PEN Center Award for Children’s Literature, and the Henry Bergh Award from ASPCA. Her novels have tackled issues such as animal abuse and bullies.

Scholarly/Small Press

University of Nebraska Press, founded in 1941, publishes around 100 titles annually and has over 2,500 titles in print.

It focuses on nonfiction books and scholarly journals. It also publishes regional prose and poetry and reissues of classics and is one of the leading translators of French literature in the U.S. Its titles include Ogallala: A Century on the Trail by Elaine Nielsen, a fascinating history of a Nebraska town from 1823 to 1923, reflecting the cultural development of the West. Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime, and Complicity by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry investigates the Washington Huskies under Coach Rick Neuheisel and was nominated by Mystery Writers of America for the 2011 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, Best Fact Crime category.

Commentary - Cold Cases Part II

”Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man’s life.” (Daniel Webster)

Special Cold Case Squads have proliferated across the country and seek justice for victims who may be long forgotten. The first one, called the Pending Case Squad, was established in 1979 in Florida by the Miami-Dade PD (see therestlesssleep.com ). Media attention is crucial to cold cases since this can result in new tips and a push for further investigation (e.g JonBenét’s homicide). It can also result in a rush to  by the police or for the case to be dismissed as a suicide or accident (which some are). For investigators to leave important questions unanswered or appear involved in a cover-up will nearly always brings forth wild speculation in high-profile cases.


Ten High-Profile Cases That Remain Unsolved Mysteries

  1. The death of Marilyn Monroe, 36, on Aug. 5, 1962 was ruled a “probable homicide,” and LAPD Det. Jack Clemmon believes she was murdered. Conspiracy theories abound. The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe by Donald H. Wolfe points to the Kennedy family. Others have suggested suicide or accident.

  1. Labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa, 62, disappeared from a Detroit suburb on July 30, 1975. His body was never found. An autobiography was published posthumously. Numerous books and articles are available about Hoffa’s life and death.

  1. Peoples Temple defectors Jeannie Mills, 40, author of Six Years With God, her husband Al, 51, and their daughter Daphne, 15, were murdered on Feb. 26, 1980, in their home in Berkeley, CA. Their son Eddie, then 17, was in the house but claimed not to have heard anything. “Could it be Jim Jones’ last revenge?” asked reporters from People. The son became one of the main suspects. In 2003, Cold Case investigator Russell Lopes reopened the case and amassed new evidence against Eddie. But the prosecutor refused to take it to trial. Eddie’s older sister, Linda Mertle, accused the police of failing to do a proper investigation, then made a bizarre statement, “I don’t care who [killed my parents and sister], it’s so far in the past now.” (Oakland Tribune, Dec. 9, 2005)

  1. When Terri Schiavo, 26, was alone with her husband Michael in their Florida home on Feb. 25, 1990, something happened and she fell into a coma from which she failed to recover. Albeit suspicious, the cause was not investigated. Her estranged husband, who had a live-in mistress, was appointed her guardian over her parents’ objections. In 2005 Terri was starved and dehydrated to death by court order at Michael’s request. Silent Witness by Mark Fuhrman tells Terri’s story.

  1. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art theft, March 18, 1990, remains the largest unsolved art theft in spite of the $5 million reward. Numerous articles and books chronicle this case.

  1. Oklahoma City bombing, April 19,1995, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah building and killed 168 persons, 19 of them children. The rush to execute Timothy McVeigh left unanswered questions such as the identity of John Doe #2 who bears a remarkable similarity to Jose Pedilla and to Al-Hussaini Hussain. According to one theory, McVeigh was the fall guy and Terry Nichols the mastermind. A controversial book dealing with this case is The Third Terrorist: The Middle East Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing by Jyna Davis. Did one perp escape justice?

  1. JonBenét Ramsey, 6, was murdered in her Boulder, Colorado home on Dec. 26, 1996. This unsolved homicide has spawned books pointing to a variety of suspects, including Internet porn. The case was reopened on Oct. 5, 2010.

  1. On August 2, 2006, Robert Wone, 32, a lawyer for Radio Free Asia, reportedly was injected with a paralytic drug, bound, sexually assaulted, stabbed to death, washed, and redressed at the home of a college friend. Three men who were present in the house are Joseph Ray Price (b. 1971), a partner in Arent Fox law firm; Victor Zabrosky (b. 1965), market manager for MilkPEP; and Dylan Ward (b. 1970), a writer/publisher of children’s books & a massage therapist interested in sadomasochism. This is a real life whodunit: Which one of the three, or all of them, murdered Wone, and why is D.C. disinterested in solving it? The victim’s widow, Katherine Wone, has filed a wrongful death suit against the trio. For more information, see whomurderedrobertwone.com

  1. Daniel Smith, 20, died on Sept. 19, 2006, of a drug overdose in the Bahamas in the hospital room of his mother, stripper/model Anna Nicole Smith (b. 1967). A cover-up followed. On Feb. 8, 2007, she met an identical death. An incredible coincidence or double homicide? Rita Cosby presents the details in Blonde Ambition. Larry Seidlin, author of The Killing of Anna Nicole Smith, told TMZ in 2010, “I think there was foul play and it should be investigated by an independent agency.” Literary agent Wayne Kabak stated he is unaware of any alleged plans by his client Kitty Kelley for a tell-all Anna Nicole Smith biography.

  1. Retired NFL player Steve McNair, 36, and his mistress Sahel Kazemi, 20, were shot on July 4, 2009 in his Nashville condo. The police rushed to declare it a murder/suicide perpetrated by Kazemi. Case closed. Her family rejects this explanation. McNair’s friend Wayne Neely discovered the bodies. An average person who stumbles upon two bloody bodies would rush to call 911 and likely flee in case the killer was still on the premises. Neely, however, remained in the condo and called instead a buddy, Robert Caddy, who rushed over.  Over 35 minutes passed before they contacted 911. Why the delay? Vincent Hill, a former detective, provides in his self-published book, Playbook to a Murder, his take on the crime and the investigation.

Winners and Losers


  1. Tom Porter, 52, Texas, saved the life of a one-year-old girl strapped in a burning pickup truck. He had to use his pocket knife to cut her free. The driver, Carl Lucius Jr., hit a feral hog, which caused the car to crash and burst into flames.

  2. David Pearson, 16, Virginia, has brain cancer, and yet his one wish for Christmas was to give presents to other children with cancer. His generosity is inspiring.

  3. Kyria Henry, 23, Virginia, established Paws4people when she was only 12. This organization recruits prisoners to train dogs to help disabled children and veterans.

  4. Kansas City Royals’ pitcher Gil Meche, 32, chose integrity over money. He made the honorable decision when he turned down $12 million because he felt he could not play well enough with his hurt shoulder to deserve the money.


  1. Alan Gribben, 69, an Auburn University professor and book censor who would fit well into George Orwell’s 1984, is mutilating Mark Twain’s classics Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer for a reissue by rremoving words and adding his own lingo. His unethical actions undermine the First Amendment.

  2. Superior Court Judge (CA) Robert Perry’s reported statements and rulings involving the charges against Anna Nicole Smith’s associate Howard K. Stern revealed the judge to be out of touch with reality and unable to grasp the implications of the “Clown Video” and Dr. Khristine Eroshevich’s nude romp in the tub with ANS.

  3. Taylor Wynn, 16, and McKenzie Barker, 15, FL, faked an obscene Facebook profile of a classmate in a brutal case of cyber bullying. They are charged with felony aggravated stalking of a minor under 16. They might also face charges of producing child porn and invasion of privacy.

  4. Coach Jim Tressel and The Ohio State University disappointed Buckeye fans with their decision to place money ahead of integrity in the tattoo parlor scandal.

Omsk Drama Theater, the first section built in 1874.

A wooden church in Siberia

Dormition Cathedral in Omsk was built in the Russian Revival style in 1893 and blown up by Communists in 1935. Around 2002 it was rebuilt according to its original design.

A group of workers pose in front of the ruins of the Giorgievsky Church in Gorky (renamed Nizhny  Novgorod in 1991) after they demolished it. The Bolsheviks converted or destroyed over 50,000 churches in the country.

photographer M. Dmitriev

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