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Frank’s characters confront moral uncertainties

bookWhat would you do if your teenaged daughter was assaulted, beaten and shot almost to the point of death, and raped? Would you hunt down the assailants? And what would you do if you were a physician and an ardent pro-life advocate and found that this same daughter was pregnant? What would you do if you were a Miami cop — a good one — and suddenly found yourself being ordered about by fools and politicos? And how do you go on defending a system that seems to condemn the victim rather than the perpetrator of a crime?

In The Upside To Murder (ISBN 978-1-60830-078-5, $16.95), Marshall Frank, a retired Miami-Dade police captain and a columnist who previously lived in Haywood County and whose work has on occasion appeared in The Smoky Mountain News, explores all these questions in this latest novel.

Orville Madison, a black physician and a devout Episcopalian, turns vigilante after his daughter, 16-year-old Cassandra, ends up barely alive in a hospital, assaulted, raped, and left for dead. Orville takes up a handgun and becomes a hunter not only because he thinks the police are inept and the system incompetent, but also because, like most parents, he doesn’t want his daughter to relive her ordeal by going through a trial. Through some outstanding detective work, he begins to track down her assailants and delivers his own brand of justice.

Enter Ray Blocker and Kyle Atkins. Ray is a Miami-Dade detective with a solid career nearly behind him; Kyle is his young sidekick, a college graduate whose lifelong dream was to enter law enforcement. Ray’s personal life is a shambles; Kyle lives at the other end of the spectrum, in love with his wife and children, and giving due time to his family life. Together these two men also begin searching for Cassandra’s attackers, slowly realizing as they follow clues and bodies that someone is one step ahead of them on the chase.

Several previous novels by Marshall Frank have come under review in this column, and with each of them the reader can see the growth of this writer both in his technique and in the depth of his characters. What makes The Upside To Murder particularly interesting, other than the well-told story itself, is that Frank raises questions to which there are no easy answers and then allows us to see through his characters the confusion and torment caused by moral dilemmas.

Orville, for example, a compassionate physician who has helped the poor and who loves his family, straps on a weapon and becomes an avenging angel. Well-known for speaking out against abortion, he now faces a hideous choice: does he convince or even force Cassandra to bear her child, or does he let her go through with the abortion she wants? His dialogues with his wife, Addie, in which we see the conflict between principle and love, are both realistic and thought-provoking.

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In Ray Blocker, we also see conflict at work on several levels: true justice versus the justice system, experience and hard work at odds with bureaucrats who care more about the television camera than about right and wrong, the conflict between our personal and public lives. One minor storyline of The Upside To Murder, for example, involves Ray’s involvement with a prostitute, Dominique Blanchard. Both she and Ray have come to love each other, yet some higher-ups disgruntled with Ray’s comments about them want to use this information to destroy his career. Again Frank gives his readers an engaging moral dilemma, and though we are clearly supposed to side with the detective, Frank plays fair: he shows us where and how Ray has made a mistake engaging in this relationship.

In addition to The Upside To Murder, Marshall Frank has written 10 other books, six novels and four works of non-fiction. He has also published many articles in magazines and newspapers, many of them dealing with Islam and the “War on Terror.” Readers interested in his most recent columns may find them at


Sometimes it’s hard to remember how the past felt, our own past, what we were and who we were. We can remember special dates — our graduation from high school, maybe, or our wedding, where we were on 9/11 or what happened when the sports team we love won some big game — and sometimes we can remember the little things, usually, though not always, the painful ones: the afternoon we fell from the oak in the back yard and broke our wrist, the summer evening we wrecked the family car, the minute a loved one died. But all too often we fail to summon up, if we even think about it, how our past felt.

In his collection of poems, Cold Spring Rising (ISBN 978-1-935708-52-0, $12.95), John Thomas York, by dint of a fine memory and a lovely lyricism, brings back the North Carolina of his younger days. Though York hails from Yadkin County and now lives in Greensboro, his fine work in this collection should appeal to a wide variety of North Carolinians, or for that matter, to anyone who grew up in the rural South. Robert Morgan, novelist and poet, said of York’s work: “I know of few poets who recreate so effectively the awe and aching immediacy and imaginative intensity of childhood,” and anyone reading Cold Spring Rising must surely agree.

Here, for example, are a few lines from “Bobby Jester’s Dandelion Blues,” in which Jester returns home from a day of mowing grass and dandelions at a local college:


I pick up Daddy’s old Martin, pick out

a song about sleepless nights, I listen

to the crickets, to Grandma’s rocker creaking

beside me on the porch. In her wobbly voice

Grandma says, “Remember your roots, boy,”

and I nod and sigh, as if I could forget, as taproots

lunge into the dirt, as the full moon flies.

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