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The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945
Rick Atkinson

Amazon Countdown for EMPTY PLACES May 15-17

Empty Places - Martin Roy Hill

Mark your calendars! The 3-day countdown starts May 15 - EMPTY PLACES only .99c. Save $3!  Grab the mystery thriller critics call "crime writing at its best" and an "immediately riveting...powerful and memorable thriller."

Available in the US and UK at http:// tiny.cc/EmptyPlaces

Video trailer for Martin Roy Hill's  latest mystery thriller EMPTY PLACES.

Killers lurk beneath the waves of the western Pacific Ocean. The USS Encinitas, the first attack submarine crewed by both men and women, stalks the Crescent Moon, a renegade Iranian sub armed with nuclear-tipped missiles. But another predator hides aboard the American sub, a murderer who has already left a trail of dead women behind on shore. While the crew of the Encinitas plays a deadly game of hide-and-seek with the Crescent Moon, NCIS agent Linus Schag must discover the killer’s identity before his – or her – blood lust leads to the submarine’s total destruction.
 
Find it at Amazon.com. Click here.
 
 
Named a finalist for the San Diego Book Awards Sisters In Crime Mystery Award.
 
* Named a Top Recommendation by Close the Book Reviews.

* Named a Pitch Perfect Pick by Underground Book Review.

The year is 1987. America is clawing its way out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Washington pursues illegal and unpopular wars in Central America. In the wealthy desert playground of Palm Springs, storefronts that once catered to the rich sit empty and shuttered. Crowds of bored rich teenagers in designer clothing entertain themselves with expensive cars and cheap drugs, while those less fortunate haunt darkened street corners, offering themselves for sale.

 

This is the country to which war correspondent Peter Brandt returns. Physically and mentally scarred by the horrors he’s covered, Peter comes home to bury his ex-wife, TV reporter Robin Anderson, only to discover she had been brutally murdered. With the local police unwilling to investigate her death, Peter sets out with retired cop Matt Banyon to expose Robin’s killer. They uncover a shadowy world of anti-communists, drug smugglers, and corrupt politicians, and lay bare old wounds—including Peter’s deep guilt over his failed marriage. In a final, cliff-hanging struggle, Peter faces his own fears—and death in a dark and empty place.

 

Find it here.

Zero Day

Zero Day - David Baldacci
In David Baldacci's Zero Day, a mailman in the small West Virginia coal mining town of Drake stumbles onto the scene of a mass murder. Killed are a family of four – father, mother, daughter, and son. Moreover, the father was an Army colonel and a member of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Enter John Puller, former Army Ranger turned special agent for the Army's Criminal Investigative Division. Sent to investigate the murders, Puller is immediately suspicious of his superiors because contrary to SOP, he is sent alone with no investigative team and no forensics support. Puller teams up with local cop Samantha Cole and as the number of bodies starts piling up, Puller realizes there is something more to little Drake than meets the eye.

Zero Day has a good plot and good characterizations of the small town and its people. I was initially put off by the character of John Puller. He seemed to be a mixture of Nelson DeMille's John Brenner (without the wise cracks) and Lee Child's Jack Reacher (with a softer side). By the end of the book, however, I began to warm to him.

There are a number of errors in the book that may make many veterans cringe, and at times there are detailed passages that sound like entries from Wikipedia. Nevertheless, the plot and the characters make Zero Day an entertaining and enjoyable read.

Murder as a Fine Art

Murder as a Fine Art - David Morrell With the publication of his novel, First Blood, author David Morrell was hailed as the father of the modern thriller novel. In his latest work, Murder as a Fine Art, Morrell reinvents the 19th century suspense novel. Using an omniscient narrative rarely seen today, Morrell immerses the reader in the fog-bound streets and alleys of mid-1800s Victorian London while he tells the fictional story of the hunt for a serial killer who is imitating the real life Ratcliff Highway Murders that terrified Londoners decades earlier. Caught in the web of the manhunt is another historical figure, Thomas De Quincey, author of an infamous memoir called Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Another of De Quincey’s writings, "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." is being used as the blueprint for the latter day mass killings.

Morrell is known for the detail, both historical and technical, he puts into his novels. He once learned to fly private airplanes just so he could write authentic flight scenes for his novel Shimmer. He applies the same microscopic eye to Murder, from the sounds and smell of Victorian London streets, to the slang of the poor, to the overindulgence of the wealthy. Also thrown in is a goodly amount of Dicksonian outrage over the oligarchic social structure of 19th century Britain. Never, however, does the detail take away from the movement or suspense of the plot.

Whether you are a fan of historical fiction or a fan of modern thrillers, you won’t be disappointed in Murder as a Fine Art.

The Turkish Gambit (Erast Fandorin Mysteries)

The Turkish Gambit - Boris Akunin, Andrew Bromfield The Turkish Gambit is the second novel in Russian author Boris Ankunin's series featuring military detective Erast Fandorin. Set in 1877 during the Russian war with the Ottoman Empire, Fandorin must discover the culprit responsible for sabotaging the Russian Army's battle plans even before they can launch an attack. Fandorin's investigation is further complicated by his rescue of the beautiful revolutionary (or at least she thinks so)Varya Suvorova, and whose fiance is the only suspect in the case.

This is historical fiction at its finest. Like Patrick Obrien's Jack Aubrey series, Ankunin writes in the omniscient third person, a form of narration not used much by contemporary writers but which is perfect for this period setting. Ankunin maintains mystery and suspense with red herrings, duels over honor, and good characterization. Credit must also be given to Andrew Bromfield who translated The Turkish Gambit from the original Russian to English.

If you're a fan of Patrick Obrien, as I am, you'll enjoy The Turkish Gambit.

In the Shadow of Shakespeare

In the Shadow of Shakespeare - Ellen   Wilson Alice Petrovka is a school teacher by day; at night she writes and produces plays in her own theater. She is also a Marlovian, someone who believes the works of William Shakespeare were actually written by Elizabethan playwright and sometime spy Christopher Marlowe.

Alice also questions her marriage and, sometimes, her own sanity. When she suddenly finds herself waking up in Renaissance London, Alice isn't sure whether she fell through a tear in the fabric of time or is suffering a psychotic break. Reality or unreality, Alice is caught up in the intrigue that surrounded Marlowe’s life and his mysterious death. In the process, she discovers a truth that many in her own time will kill to protect.

Author Ellen Wilson has done a masterful job with In the Shadow of Shakespeare, her second novel. She ingeniously weaves a plot between two worlds, Alice's contemporary United States and Marlowe's 16th century England, with well-developed characters and an amazing knack for Olde English dialog. The book encompasses multiple genres—part romance, part science fiction, part historical fiction, part spy novel. You don't have to be an admirer of The Bard or a Marlovian to enjoy this book. You've just got to pick it up.

The Quiller Memorandum (Otto Penzler Presents...)

The Quiller Memorandum (Otto Penzler Presents...) - Adam Hall Quiller Memorandum


Twenty years after the fall of the Third Reich, West Berlin remains infested with ex-Nazis. Quiller, an undercover Nazi hunter for British intelligence, reluctantly accepts an assignment to uncover a Nazi organization called Phoenix and learn their plans for starting a non-nuclear World War III that would bring the Reich back to power. Two fellow agents have already died trying to accomplish this objective, and Quiller's superiors are quite certain he will be the third.

This is the plot to the 1965 espionage novel, The Quiller Memorandum (originally published as The Berlin Memorandum). In it, author Elleston Trevor writing as Adam Hall creates a spy hero unlike any others, devoid of the swashbuckle of a James Bond or the bureaucratese of a George Smiley. Having served as a spy behind enemy lines during the war, Quiller is now middle-aged and has grown tired of his job, but realizes it is the only thing that makes him feel alive. He also has a personal reason for accepting what appears to be suicide mission: one of the Phoenix crowd is said to be a long missing Nazi whom Quiller had personally witnessed execute dozens of Jews.

The Quiller Memorandum is more a psychological thriller than an action thriller. The first person narrative spends more time discussing the psychology of espionage -- such as how to out think a pursuer, or the mental attributes needed to withstand interrogation and torture -- than it does describing shoot outs or fist fights. An entire section of the book describes the mental acrobatics needed to break a cipher code.

That may not sound exciting if you enjoy your spy novels full of bomb blasts and car chases, but Quiller is an intensely gripping read if you like more realistic espionage stories. And if you like historical settings, Quiller has it -- though at the time of its writing, the settings were all contemporary.

SAVAGE PAYBACK

SAVAGE PAYBACK - Seumas Gallacher Savage Payback, Seumas Gallacher's third entry in his Jack Calder series, sees the former SAS officer thrown up against the international drug trade and a renegade former special ops operator with a thirst for revenge against Calder's specialist security firm, International Security Partners.

Coordinated attacks are made against some of London's most elite jewelry merchants— many of them ISP clients. The subsequent murders of ISP employees in Europe and Asia soon makes it clear both the jewelry heists and murders are part of a planned program of revenge aimed at ISP for its earlier interference in a major drug operation. But when the revenge attacks hit too close to home, the victims become the avengers. From the U.S./Mexico border frontier to Turkey to Bosnia, Calder and his team of extreme measures experts burn a path of savage revenge through the drug cartels and their mercenary henchmen.

Savage Payback is an explosive ride through the shadowy world of the international drug trade. A word of advice—expect the unexpected.

Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein In the year 2075, the moon has become a penal colony for a federated earth. The denizens of the moon, called Loonies, are required to grow crops for shipment to an overcrowded and hungry earth. Tired of lives of servitude to an earth to which they hold no allegiance, a small group of Loonies and a sentient computer called Mike, plot to liberate the moon. So is the plot to Robert Heinlein’s novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, considered by many to be his most ambitious work.

Social revolt and liberation are common themes for Heinlein’s book. A libertarian, Heinlein believed the best government is no government. In Mistress, his Loonies have established a live-and-let-live existence in which common survival and common sense are the only laws. The also uses Mistress to explore new form of family and sexual relationships between men and women, another recurring theme in his books.

Heinlein’s plotting and character development – especially that of the computer Mike – are masterful. So, too, is his detailed analysis of the revolution, from the secret cells which stimulated the revolt through quiet propaganda to the carrot-and-the-stick diplomacy that eventually wins Luna’s freedom.

The theme of the book, however, seems trite from this viewpoint in history. Written in 1966, Heinlein hadn’t seen the real results of a lawless country that today we see in such places as Somalia. The author seems to harbor a belief that the American Old West was a land without law or regulations; in fact, the American West was extremely regulated. There were more and stricter gun control laws in the Old West, for instance, than there are in the U.S. today.

Nevertheless, Heinlein seems to recognize the futility of his theme by the end of Mistress. The narrator, Manuel Garcia “Mannie” O’Kelly-Davis, finds himself disappointed in the results of the revolution and begins thinking of immigrating to the asteroid fields – by then the Wild West of the late 21st century, without government and without laws.

Heinlein was, and remains, a master of science fiction.

Up Country

Up Country - Nelson DeMille War never leaves you. Once exposed to it, it lives on in the dark recesses of your memory, surfacing every now and then in the form of nightmares or, sometimes, nostalgia. In Up Country, author Nelson DeMille brings back Paul Brenner, the smart-mouth Army criminal investigator from his earlier novel, The General’s Daughter, and together they take the reader on a trek through some of the bloodiest battlefields of the Vietnam War. For both Brenner and DeMille, it is a walk through the memories of their youth.

Brenner, now retired from the Army, is recalled to service by his former Criminal Investigative Division boss and sent on an “unofficial” mission to Vietnam. A letter taken from a dead North Vietnamese soldier 30 years before and only recently translated describes the murder of an American Army lieutenant by his senior officer, a murder the letter writer witnessed while hiding from the Americans during the Tet Offensive. Brenner’s job is to return to Vietnam as a tourist and try to determine if the witness is still alive. It soon becomes apparent to Brenner that if the witness is still alive, someone wants him dead.

DeMille, like his character Brenner, was an infantryman in Vietnam. Like Brenner, DeMille saw heavy combat during the 1968 Tet Offensive. It was, in fact, DeMille’s return to Vietnam with a group of veterans thirty years after the war that inspired Up Country. As Brenner makes his way from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) up to the north country around Quang Tri and Hue, he visits several battlefields where both men fought—Brenner in fiction, DeMille in real life. The firefights Brenner describes in the book are the actual firefights DeMille took part in.

While Brenner was an Army warrant officer, DeMille was a commissioned officer, a responsibility which, like his hero, he obviously took very seriously. As with its predecessor, one of Up Country’s themes can be summed up in Gen. Douglas MacArthur words: Duty, Honor, Country. Both of DeMille’s Paul Brenner books, I believe, can stand up to classics with similar themes, such as Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle, and Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny.

The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898

The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 - Evan Thomas During the Iraq war, political pundits often compared the quagmire there to the war in Vietnam. The better comparison, however, was the Spanish-American War of 1898.

In the lead up to that war, a cabal of wealthy oligarchs espoused the need for a war to bolster America’s image and begin the country’s empire building. In the Iraq war, a cabal of wealthy oligarchs – in this case the Project for a New American Century ­which provided most of President George W. Bush’s cabinet – urged a war with Iraq to promote an American “hegemony” over the Middle East.

In both conflicts, false intelligence played a major role in stirring up war fever. In 1898, Americans were fed stories of Spanish atrocities (mostly false) and were told the USS Maine was blown up by Spanish terrorists (she was actually destroyed by an internal fire that ignited a powder magazine). In 2003, Americans were fed stories about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (already wiped out by Operation Desert Crossing during the Clinton administration) and that Saddam Hussein was tied in with Osama Bin Laden (false).

Both conflicts, after quick initial victories, resulted in the U.S. being bogged down in long-term insurgencies. (When the U.S. decided to annex the Philippines as a colony after liberating it from the Spanish, the Filipino “insurrectos” rose up in arms. The resulting conflict lasted well into the new 20th century, cost both sides thousands of lives, and became very unpopular with the American people.)

It is no wonder then that reading Evan Thomas’ The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 seemed more like reading recent history than reading about a war that was fought more than 100 years ago.

Thomas’ well-researched book delves into the lives of the men most responsible for leading the country to war: Theodore Roosevelt, whose only concept of war were tales of glory from the Civil War; Henry Cabot Lodge, who saw the United States as an emerging empire; and William Randolph Hearst, the yellow journalism kingpin and dandy who saw war as a way to sell more newspapers and buff up his own manhood.

Thomas avoids many of the mistakes common among historians. His writing is clear, concise, entertaining, and easily digestible. The reader comes to know the men behind the history not as some distant historical figures but as real individuals, with all their flaws and deceits, and in the end, their sense of failure.

There is only one hero in this book, and he did not charge up a hill in Cuba. He is Thomas reed, the politically powerful Speaker of the House who tried desperately to prevent the war, sacrificing his political career in the process.

Night Fall

Night Fall - Nelson DeMille As of this writing, it has been 17 years since TWA Flight 800 exploded in mid-air and fell into the ocean off the coast of New York, killing all 230 passengers and crew aboard. A large-scale government investigation determined a stray spark in an empty mid-section fuel tank ignited fumes, resulting in a blast that tore the airliner in two. Despite that conclusion and the passage of years, the fate of the TWA 747-100 jumbo jet is still debated. Just this past July, a documentary film was released alleging the government’s conclusion was a conspiracy to cover-up the fact the jet was brought down by a missile fired by terrorists.

I’ve never been part of the TWA 800 conspiracy crowd, but after reading Night Fall, author Nelson DeMille’s fictional though well-researched account of the disaster, I can’t help developing my own doubts about the government’s findings.

It’s 2001, five years after the airliner’s lost. DeMille’s wise-cracking New York cop turned FBI anti-terrorist contract agent, John Corey, tries to reopen the investigation into the tragedy at the urging of his FBI agent wife, Kate Mayfield, who worked on the crash investigation. Like many of those who worked on the case, Kate was never satisfied with the government’s conclusion. There were, after all, more than 200 eye witnesses who swore they saw a missile streak toward the aircraft just before it exploded.

Corey pursues a rumor that an adulterous couple videotaping their beach side love-making may have captured moment of the explosion. FBI agents have been warned to not pursue any more leads in the cause of the disaster, but Corey is not known for following orders. The bureaucratic hornet’s nest stirred up by his quest raises the specter of a massive, criminal cover-up. As he draws closer to finding the couple who made the videotape, it becomes obvious Corey has few people he can trust in federal law enforcement, so he turns to his NYPD buddies for help. Night Fall builds to a taut and ultimately heart-wrenching conclusion.

In writing Night Fall, DeMille had to walk an emotional tight rope. A lesser writer might have sensationalized this story. Instead, DeMille developed a plot line that stayed as close to the actual facts as possible, while still developing a story rich in tension, humor, and heartbreak. You will be thinking about this novel long after you finish reading it.

The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects

The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects - Edward J. Ruppelt
This is a most unusual book.

Originally published in 1956 by the former director of Project Bluebook, the U.S. Air Force’s controversial investigation into Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO), the first seventeen chapters make the case that the Air Force too easily dismissed UFO reports and that many sightings could not be so easily debunked. The last three chapters, written four years later for a second printing, then dismisses the UFO phenomena as little more than popular myth.

The author, Edward J. Ruppelt, was a decorated WWII bombardier who was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. Attached to Air Force technical intelligence, he was assigned to Project Grudge, a predecessor to Bluebook. He took over the “You-Fo” desk when the Air Force was forced to pay better attention to the phenomena. During his time as Bluebook director, Ruppelt said he was frustrated that the Air Force publicly dismissed most UFO sightings as weather balloons, misidentified aircraft or clouds, or hoaxes while behind closed doors there was serious concern that the UFOs might actually be interplanetary spacecraft.

As much as 20 percent of UFO sightings remained “unknown” during Ruppelt’s time on Bluebook, and some had incredible evidence. More than once military jets engaged in high speed dogfights with UFOs, twisting and turning through the sky (weather balloons can’t maneuver). Ruppelt led many well-known scientists in research projects into the phenomena. One study looking at UFO maneuvers determined the craft were intelligently controlled – by whom they couldn’t determine – but no high-ranking Air Force officer would sign his name to the report, so it never saw daylight. Ruppelt also criticized the news media for being too eager to accept Air Force explanations for sightings.

Ruppelt never made a claim as to what the “unknown” sightings were or if they were manned by aliens from another planet. He concluded the first edition by saying “only time will tell” what the answer is.

Four years later, however, he added three more chapters to the book that appeared to take a less open-minded view. Whereas in the earlier chapters, Ruppelt championed “trained observers” – military and commercial pilots, radar operators, and scientists – who came forward to report UFO sightings, in the later chapters he dismissed the idea that such people should be called trained observers. Ruppelt essentially concluded that all UFO sightings could be identified, using as an example a sighting of his own—which he never mentioned in the first edition of the book. In conclusion, Ruppelt dismisses UFOs as a “Space Age Myth.”

What makes this book even more unusual is that the second edition, published in 1960, retained the 1956 publication date and copyright, as if trying to make readers think the last three chapters were always part of the book (even though Ruppelt admits in Chapter 18 that four years have passed.) Ufologists suggest Ruppelt was forced by the Air Force to add the last three chapters, but we will never know because shortly after the 1960 publication Ruppelt was dead of a heart attack at age 37.

You couldn’t find a better plot twist than that on an episode of The X-files.

Resolute Action

Resolute Action - Liam Saville Royal Australian Navy special operations diver Nathan MacDonald, moonlighting as a nightclub bouncer, is viciously gunned down by a biker gang in Sidney’s Kings Cross. Since the biker gang is involved in the drug trade, the local police assume MacDonald was also peddling drugs. Australian Army Captain Sam Ryan, however, finds it hard to believe that a member of Australia’s equivalent of a U.S. Navy SEAL team would be involved with drug dealing.

Ryan, an investigator with the Australian Defense Force Investigative Service, begins a parallel investigation into MacDonald’s death which leads to the discovery of a packet of evidence the sailor had collected against two Navy officers he suspected of being involved in the smuggling of Indonesian refugees. Ryan’s probe takes him uncover, first aboard a Navy patrol boat in the middle of smuggling waters, then to Indonesia to hunt down the former Indonesian army officer who ordered MacDonald’s murder.

I was a great fan of author Liam Saville’s first Sam Ryan novella, Predator Strike! I am no less enthused about Resolute Action. Saville, a former Australian Army officer and police officer, brings great realism to his mystery work. His writing style is straightforward and accessible, á la Dasheill Hammet. Sam Ryan is a true military officer, dedicated to his work and to Australia’s service members. He also believes in justice, even when it can’t be obtained in the normal way. Likable and approachable, Ryan also harbors a sharp edge which sometimes makes him step over the line to get the job done.

Anyone who is a fan of Nelson Demille’s Army investigator Paul Brenner series will enjoy Resolute Action.