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Book Review
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Three New Books From Florida, Key West and Beyond

"The Pope's Conspiracy" by Lewis M. Weinstein (CreateSpace, $14.95)

Key West resident Lew Weinstein's latest trade paperback, "The Pope's Conspiracy," is a historical thriller that takes place over the first six months of 1478, mostly in Florence, Italy.

The story focuses on a young Jewish printer and his wife who become caught up in the political machinations of the Vatican. Having escaped the Spanish Inquisition, Benjamin and Esther Catalán come under the patronage of the Medici family. At the time, Lorenzo de Medici had been the unofficial head of Florence for nine years. And Sixtus IV had been the Pope since 1471.

The couple encounters a plot to murder Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano. Could the Pope himself be behind this dangerous political maneuver?

Based on historical events, "The Pope's Conspiracy" brings the Renaissance alive with appearances by Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Sandro Botticelli as the murderous Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli. You will enjoy the author's attention to historical detail, from the workings of the Gutenberg printing press to a tour of Florence's palazzi and piazzas. "I spent a good deal of time in Florence, virtually haunting the Palazzo Medici for several days," he told me recently. "I spent time with Masaccio's frescoes, the Baptistry doors, and of course the Duomo. I attended mass in the Duomo, sat where Lorenzo was in my story, looked around to 'see' the assassins leap to the attack when the host was raised."

"The Pope's Conspiracy" is Weinstein's fourth novel and a sequel to "The Heretic," published in 2000, although both books can stand alone. He tells me he's working on another novel set in 20th-century Germany and Poland.

-- Reviewed

by Shirrel Rhoades

"Coming Apart"

by Charles Murray

(Crown, $27)

Isee "Coming Apart" as little more than a right wing political screed dressed up in the trappings of the author's "alleged" research findings.

It seems to me that Charles Murray decided first on the point of view he wanted to espouse, i.e., that the declining lower middle class is the cause of its own problems due to its failure to maintain what he calls the "founder virtues" (especially industriousness and marriage).

Murray's "facts" are concocted according to rules that do not come close to conforming to the kind of rigorous investigative procedure practiced by researchers who really want to learn something.

Mostly derived from census data, the author excludes categories that would complicate his conclusions and groups the rest of America's humanity into two constructs he calls "Belmont" (the elite ones, sort of like him) and "Fishtown" (some imaginary lower-middle class group that none of the elite know much about).

Murray and the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank of which he is a part, have an agenda. Now, I do not argue that every aspect of what liberal government seeks to do for its poorer citizens is successful. Some of it is horribly conceived and incompetently executed. Some of it is corrupt. But there have also been significant successes (voting rights for minorities, equal rights for women, early education programs in disadvantaged neighborhoods, diversified admissions programs at elite colleges) and the goal to enable all Americans to have a fair chance to engage in "the pursuit of happiness" was and is critically important. If our country does not figure out how to help those who are now spiraling downward to become productive members of our economic and political society, they and their children will continue to be a serious drag on America's ability to succeed in a competitive world.

Murray's analysis does serve one useful purpose. It gets us talking about political issues that we ought to be addressing -- although not perhaps in the way Murray and his group would like.

-- Reviewed

by Lew Weinstein

"Unnatural Acts" by Stuart Woods (Putnam $26.95)

This is an absolute must read, guaranteed to entertain. "Unnatural Acts" is the 23rd novel in the Stone Barrington series by Stuart Woods. Stone returns to Manhattan to the usual opening scene at Elaine's for dinner with his best friend, Dino Bacchetti, the NYPD police lieutenant. This night, however, is different. This is the final night in business at Elaine's legendary restaurant on the Upper East Side -- Elaine Kaufman, the restaurateur, has died and those left to manage the restaurant have decided the business is no longer viable without her.

This shocking revelation is just the beginning of "Unnatural Acts." Multiple plots involve Stone's former police partner Dino, his associate at the prestigious Woodman & Weld law firm Herbie Fisher, his billionaire clients like hedge-fund manager Marshal Brennan and his son Dink, plus a new lady friend for Stone, Marla Rocker, who's being stalked. There's also the reemergence of a previous character, former FBI director Shelley Bach, now a fugitive on the run for killing five people.

It's nonstop adventure and certain to meet the readers' expectations of this award-winning author who maintains residences in Florida, New York and Maine. He's written more than 45 novels and yet another in the Stone Barrington series is due in September. (Woods is signing copies of "Unnatural Acts" at Key West Island Books on Thursday, April 26, at 5 p.m.)

-- Reviewed by David

and Nancy Beckwith