Books by Joe Sharkey

LADY GOLD by Angela Amato
Released: Aug. 3, 1998

One of these writers spent nine high-wire years with the NYPD, and does it ever show. The story's too long, and occasionally repetitive, but first-novelist Amato, a former gold shield detective (hence the title), and Sharkey, an investigative reporter (Bedlam, 1994, etc.), have teamed up to make this cop novel seem as real as any Smith & Wesson. At the outset, Eugene Rossi, a CI (Confidential Informant), is in police custody. Detective Gerry Conte gets assigned to help baby-sit him and to help wring him dry of all pertinent information. Rossi ("He's just a young punk") wouldn't mean much to the NYPD if he weren't nephew to Tony Rossi, a Mafia underboss. But Uncle Tony wouldn't mean much, either, if he weren't a potential link to "Seashore Sally" Messina. It's Messina the NYPD wants to put away forever, partially because he's a murdering crook and deserves such a fate, but mostly because he's equally high on the FBI's wish list. Naturally, both law enforcement organizations yearn to be the first to make a viable case against the slippery Messina. (And by doing so rake in a bonanza of public relations rewards.) Meantime, Gerry finds herself drawn—unwillingly—to Eugene. He's arrogant, ignorant, a fifth grade dropout, and yet there's some charm to him, a weird kind of innocence that Gerry finds hard to resist. In addition, her sense of fair play is outraged by what she considers shameless double-dealing on the part of the NYPD, with clueless Eugene as the patsy. While the NYPD and the FBI plot and counterplot to trap Messina, Gerry's caught in the middle. She wriggles free, battles colleagues who are also back- stabbers, outfaces the Internal Affairs Bureau, and eventually scores a sweet if offbeat victory. Authenticity galore. Plus Gerry, who is as appealing as she is convincing.(Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: April 19, 1994

Trenchant and lively exposÇ of the private mental-hospital business, full of attention-grabbing tales of despicable villains, chagrined confessors of misdeeds, brave whistle- blowers, and even some heroes of sorts. Names, dates, and places are all here. Investigative reporter Sharkey (Deadly Greed, 1991, etc.), his curiosity piqued and his ire raised by a brief personal encounter with a psychiatric hospital, takes a hard look at the abuses of such for-profit institutions. The provision of mental- health benefits by employers, now mandatory in many states, provided an irresistible opportunity for the psychiatric hospital business. Dominated by a few large chains with expansionist visions and aggressive marketing techniques, the industry boomed in the late 1980's, with the number of psychiatric hospitals more than doubling between 1984 and 1989. High-pressure advertising encouraged inpatient mental-health treatment for ordinary adolescent behavioral problems and run-of-the-mill emotional difficulties. Competition for patients with insurance coverage led to payoffs to clergy, family counselors, ans school and hospital officials; bonuses for psychiatrists willing to come up with appropriate diagnoses; misleading use of crisis hotline phone numbers; and even abduction of potential patients. Sharkey, who writes with a practiced reporter's directness, concentrates on marketing abuses, but he also gives a glimpse of common practices inside treatment centers: overmedication; therapy resembling punishment more than treatment; and discharge dates pegged to insurance expiration dates. The industry has promised reforms, but Sharkey notes that the basic problem remains: how to provide proper mental-health care in an atmosphere of profit incentives. An impossible-to-ignore alarm about one segment of the medical-industrial complex, timed perfectly for the year's big health care debate. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1993

Uncommonly trenchant account of the only known FBI agent to confess to murder. Mark Putnam's admission in June 1989 that he'd killed an informant stunned his Bureau supervisors. In previous two years on the job, Putnam had made a complex case against an interstate truck-theft ring under local police protection; busted a serial bank-robber; and amassed cocaine-trafficking evidence on a local politician. His first posting was to an obscure office in Pikeville, Kentucky, whose inhabitants included, as Sharkey (Deadly Greed, 1991, etc.) puts it, ``some of the most cantankerous and individualistic humans alive''—men and women who had to make shift with mining, drug-dealing, or welfare in order to survive. When Putnam revved up, the other Pikeville agents warned, ``Relax...this is a sleeper office nobody cares about.'' Undaunted, the young agent rode around with the local sheriff, meeting the people of the hills and hollers. Soon, a seam into local crime was opened by pretty Susan Smith, mother of two, occasional prostitute, and drug- user. Smith coveted the money that the FBI paid informants, and fingered for Putnam a bank robber hiding with her ex-husband. An intense two-year working relationship followed, with Smith romantically obsessed with the agent despite constant rebuffs. Finally, with his marriage faltering, Putnam succumbed—but he soon broke off the affair, prompting Smith to retaliate through a raging campaign of defamation. The woman finally consented to ``talk it over,'' and Putnam drove her to a deserted road where she attacked him—kicking, scratching, and biting. By the time the fight ended, Putnam had strangled Smith and rolled her body into a ravine. Telling no one, he attempted for a year to go about business as usual—but he lost weight, scratched his chest until blood ran, and became cadaverous. At last, like Raskolnikov, guilt and terror drove him to confess. Bristling with vivid characters, knuckle-biting revelations, and psychological wallop: a true-crime standout. (Photographs) Read full book review >
Released: June 21, 1991

Despite a failed effort to link its subject to a larger picture of greedy national yuppieism, this murder story builds and grips like a novel woven by James M. Cain and Theodore Dreiser. The story runs a course whose ironies are well captured by Sharkey (Death Sentence, 1990—not reviewed). This is a tale of a pathetically flawed man whose veneer of charm hid an emptiness that even his own family could not see and that at last drove him into moral eclipse. Without hope of college, tall, handsome Charles Stuart attended vocational technical school in Revere, Mass., learning restaurant skills, and worked in pizza shops while dreaming of his place in the sun as a gracious restaurateur. A little later, he landed a job turning hamburgers at the Driftwood, where he told white lies about losing his football scholarship to Brown because of a leg injury. Soon he met, and later married, brilliant Carol DiMaitis, an honor student he helped steer into graduate school for tax law. Meanwhile, by vast luck, he landed a job with some furriers; he proved so skilled a salesman that his income soon rose from $40,000 to $130,000 a year. Carol was stunned by his rise, since even with her law degree she could not hope to rise above $40,000 yearly. At 30, Carol wanted a baby, got pregnant, refused to abort. Charles steeped her in insurance, shot her to death in his car on a dark Boston street, wounded himself, called for the police. A TV crew came and got incredible footage. In the hospital, Charles described a black assailant and the police, amid huge public outcry, found just the patsy, whom Charles later ID'd in a lineup. How Charles screwed up and why he jumped to his death in a freezing river forms the rest of the story. Certainly not perfect, but riveting all the same. Read full book review >