Wrecked stone once intended as monument to general
Civil War , Feature story / January 20, 2018

A couple hundred feet down the road from the house where we stay on a Maine island is a rectangular granite block about 75 feet long, half covered in weeds, and on which are stacked a few lobster traps and boat parts. As it turns out, this is a rather ignominious end for a piece of stone intended to be used as a monument for General John E. Wool. For many years we used to walk past this granite monolith and wonder. When our kids were young, they scrambled up and walked up and down the stone, a sort of granite jungle gym. A sign nearby marks a gravel road known as General Wool Street, and therein lies a story. Unless you are familiar with the Mexican-American War and the War of 1812, you may not be really familiar with General Wool. A native of New York state, Wool served in the War of 1812 and helped lead a successful U.S. Army expedition into Mexico, where he fought under the command of Zachary Taylor. Both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee served as junior officers in in the Mexican War. In his fascinating memoirs, Grant describes his service in…

This new thriller plot is radioactive
Cold War , Feature story / January 18, 2018

Simon Miller recently published his new historical thriller, EBOLOWA. He shared a few thoughts on what inspired him to write the book. “I discovered that ex-KGB Alexander Litvinenko wasn’t the first man to be killed by a secret agent using radio active material,” he said. “It happened years before in Geneva to someone who features in the background plot of EBOLOWA, a thriller based on a true story of courage, complicity and murder.” EBOLOWA offers an intriguing premise inspired by real history as investigator Harry Kaplan delves into a 1956 drowning. You can learn more about Simon and his new novel at his website, http://simonmillerauthor.com

Best novels about WW2
Feature story , World War II / October 9, 2017

Here are some of the best novels about World War II. A few are classics that you may have overlooked. A few WWII favorites for your bookshelf, just in case you missed them! EYE OF THE NEEDLE by Ken Follett *Spoiler alert. This novel features a German agent who just so happens to be a diabolical and ruthless killer, pursued by an interesting British sleuth, and ultimately brought to ground by the wife of a sheep farmer. Although this novel is set in WWII, the espionage factor here is really secondary to the fact that this is a ripping good pyschological thriller. I keep a battered copy on my desk and dip into it from time to time when I need a good shudder. THE EAGLE HAS LANDED by Jack Higgins This is a novel that I read way back in high school, and wrote a book report for in Mrs. Hawk’s English class. A WWII action thriller not apparently not the sort of novel she had in mind for a book report, and I think I got a B-, but the novel itself deserves an A. The plot centers around a crack team of German commandos who parachute into…

Authors make a case for history
Feature story / March 15, 2016

Put several historical fiction writers together in the same room and ask them the question: “Does history matter?” The answers, in story form of course, touched on politics and humanity, and spanned the centuries. And as it turns out, many writers would say that the past is a glimpse into the future. That discussion took place at the last Thrillerfest, a gathering of authors and fans of the thriller genre in New York. Hosted by best-selling author Steve Berry, the roundtable included David Morrell, Ann Parker, Terrence McCauley, Francine Mathews, Kay Kendall, David Healey, Anne Cleeland, and Jerry Amernic. Though diverse, the answers to the questions that Berry asked had a similar theme that history matters more than ever. Fiction writers do their share of research to get the details just right. Morrell, the creator of the iconic character Rambo, discussed how he immersed himself in the Victorian era for years as he researched a new series set in 1850s London. The first book, Murder as a Fine Art, is both thrilling and fascinating as Morrell describes everything from the opium habits of everyday Londoners to the sooty fog that descended upon the city due to the smoke from thousands…

Author looks to classic thrillers for inspiration
Feature story / March 8, 2016

Robert Bidinotto is an accomplished thriller writer, but it’s his own story of success with independent publishing that many writers find thrilling. Having lost his job as a magazine editor, and entering his sixties, things were looking bleak financially. That’s when, with the encouragement of his wife, he finally wrote a novel. The result was Hunter, a self-published Amazon super bestseller. The author has been a tireless supporter of other writers with his “how to” advice on his popular website http://www.bidinotto.com/. For self-published writers, Bidinotto stressed the importance of writing the best books possible by using advance readers, volunteer editors to stop every typo in its tracks, and great cover design. Bidinotto offers tips for thriller writers and readers, starting with classic examples of great thrillers, including Peter Benchley’s Jaws and Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean and Wilbur Smith’s Hungry as the Sea.  He also noted the thriller elements of classic films like High Noon. As Bidinotto points out, thrillers come in all shapes and settings, but they have a common thread of often larger-than-life characters who overcome impossible odds, whether it is stopping a killer shark or the gang of killers due to arrive in town on the…

A whale of a thriller: The North Water
Feature story / March 1, 2016

Life on a nineteenth whaling ship was surely challenging enough. The hours were grueling, the food was poor, and the rendering of whale oil was a dangerous and dirty business. Now add a killer to the mix, and you have the plot for Ian McGuire’s captivating historical thriller. Part of what makes this novel so intriguing is the setting in the Arctic Circle, which made for very rich whale hunting. Of course, the Arctic was fraught with dangers, not the least of which included being trapped in the ice and stranded, much like the real-life Shackleton excursion. This novel will be especially appealing to those who enjoyed Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea or who always meant to read Moby Dick but couldn’t quite get too many pages beyond “Call me Ishmael.” The North Water promises all of the gritty historical setting of Moby Dick, along with a healthy dose of excitement and a more readable page-turning experience.     Title: The North Water Author: Ian McGuire Genre: Fiction Publisher: Macmillan Release Date: March 15, 2016 Pages: 272 A nineteenth-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp, and highly original…

One Man’s Flag mixes love and war in the WWI era
Feature story , World War I / February 24, 2016

One might wonder what World War I, Irish independence, India, and German communists have in common. Plenty, as it turns out, if you happen to be a journalist—or an agent of His Majesty’s government. In One Man’s Flag, David Downing has painted an extraordinary tapestry of the early days of World War I. The year is 1916, well before the entry of the United States into the war. That doesn’t mean Americans aren’t interested in the events in Europe. Assigned to cover these events is Caitlin Hanley, an Irish-American journalist. In the opening pages, she is awaiting the execution of her brother at the Tower of London for his role in blowing up bridges on behalf of Irish rebels. She is also torn about her recently ended love affair with Jack McColl, a British agent who helped catch those Irish rebels. Caitlin’s answer is to throw herself into her work by reporting on the Irish movement, the communists, and life in the battlefield trenches. All of these stories are well received by her readers in America, making her something of a celebrity. Meanwhile, Jack is in India, dealing with revolutionaries there who want to toss off the yoke of British…

Review of The Hunting Trip by William E. Butterworth III
Feature story / February 15, 2016

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but that may not be the case for The Hunting Trip: A Novel of Love and War by William E. Butterworth III. Sure, the bare-legged cover is a little racy, but like the story itself, it stops short of being raunchy. Better known as W.E.B. Griffin, this bestselling author has written dozens of military and political thrillers in the Brotherhood of War, Honor Bound, and Presidential Agent series, among others. His novels provide insights into the inner workings of the military culture, use World War II and other 20th century conflicts as a backdrop, and feature irreverent but realistic portrayals. This new novel takes a different direction from the back rooms of the White House and the insider’s view of special ops, unless one considers a trip to Scotland by the ladies of The Tuesday Luncheon Club in Muddiebay, Mississippi, to be a clandestine operation. Of course, by the end of the novel, you may change your mind about that. The novel purports to be a semi-autobiographical account of the adventures of a young man who is booted from boarding school for running a young woman’s undergarments up a flag…

Rebellion within rebellion during the Civil War

  The film Free State of Jones is based on a true story of a rebellion within a rebellion, telling the tale of a former Confederate soldier who leads a small faction against the Confederate government to declare independence in his corner of Mississippi. In the trailer, it appears that Jones leads a force made up in large part by former enslaved Americans and disenchanted Confederate veterans. While the film itself seems to be based on a screenplay rather than a novel, the story of the rebellious Newton Knight is told in Tap Roots, a 525-page doorstopper written in the 1940s by James H. Street, a Mississippi native and journalist for the Associated Press and the author of several popular novels about the Civil War era set in the South. Street died all too young at the age of 50, but he had an impressive literary output. All of his books, fortunately, are now available as ebooks. The upcoming movie also puts us in mind of the classic William Styron novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner. Again based on a true story, Styron imagined the life of Nat Turner and the real-life rebellion that he led in the 1840s. The…

Read The Revenant before you see the movie

There’s something about The Revenant that sticks with you. This novel by Michael Punke is one in which images stay with you—such as Hugh Glass fighting a pack of wolves for a scrap of meat. What’s interesting about this rather thin (in length) novel is that it harkens back to stories that were more popular in the 1950s and early 1960s. There used to be a notion that the frontier was something to be conquered and exploited, and this novel echoes that tradition. As a society we have come to the realization that this thinking is what brought us to decimating both the natural resources and the Native Americans of 19th century America. However, Hugh Glass is more concerned about his own survival than self reflection. Facing an angry grizzly bear tends to give life a certain amount of focus, particularly in those seconds before the jaws come clamping down. The novel is based on the real-life adventures of Hugh Glass, a genuine mountain man. Mauled by a bear during a trapping expedition in the early 1800s, he is left for dead by his companions. (This is where the title of The Revenant comes into play; the word is defined…