Book Review - "I Let You Go" by Clare Mackintosh

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right sidebar.

9781101987490_p0_v2_s192x300I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh is a very powerful debut novel. She grabs the reader with an intense and sensitive storyline and never lets go. The themes of emotional and physical abuse, atonement and forgiveness are explored in a gripping way. Added to that very human story is a terrific mystery element.

The plot is presented with an alternate narrative between Jenna Gray and the police investigators of a hit and run accident where a five-year-old boy, Jacob, is killed. The two detectives are attempting to find out who was responsible for the boy’s death. They're determined to do right by Jacob's mother and honor his memory by leaving no stone unturned. But this is a difficult case to solve: it was rainy and dark, and no one was able to figure out what kind of car hit him or see any noteworthy characteristics of the driver, basically leaving the detectives without any clues to follow. The main character, Jenna, disappears, attempting to make a fresh start in a small town on the Welsh coast. But she is haunted by her fears, her grief, and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

As a former British police officer she was able to use her experiences to create the plot. She stated to, “Shortly after I joined the police there was the investigation of a real life hit and run accident. It stayed in my mind for years afterward. I found it very hard to understand how anyone could drive away from a dead child. That got me thinking, what were their reasons? Then about nine years ago one of my sons died of meningitis. He was a twin who was only five weeks old. I thought a lot about grief and the affect it has on someone’s life. It changes us and defines the choices we make within a relationship. Yet, I was very careful to make sure the story remained fictional.”

As Jenna attempts to move forward there is an abusive past pulling her back. Mackintosh writes these heart-wrenching scenes, allowing the reader to go through the same emotions as Jenna. What the author does beautifully during the first third of the book is to keep people guessing who Jenna is: the mother or the driver. She teases the reader with quotes, such as these:In a split second, Jenna Gray's world descends into a nightmare;” and “About running away because I couldn’t see any other way of surviving except starting over…screaming every night because I can never be free from what happened.”

The abuser, Ian, is pure evil and based on the many offenders Mackintosh dealt with while in the police force, “When I was in the police I was really affected by the many women who suffered abuse. The offenders had these alternate realities built for themselves. There are very few perpetrators who attempt to justify their behavior; yet, this odd behavior in abusers I found intriguing. What is frightening about domestic abuse is how slowly it builds. If you said to my character in hindsight, ‘you will be ostracized from your friends and family, will not be able to control your own money, and will be told what to wear,’ I don’t think she would go willingly into that relationship. What happens is that it creeps up so gradually and someone’s self esteem is broken down.”

It should come as no surprise that the story is very realistic with scenes about police activities. Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including time on CID, and as a public order commander. She has investigated serious assault cases, worked with towns about crime prevention, and managed large public demonstrations. Her inside knowledge helps to create a believable, informative, and gripping story.

She noted, “My work experience helped in creating an authentic world. I had much less research to do in relation to investigations and how to authenticate the work police environment. It is a familiar world to me. The sound of feet on concrete and metal doors being shut is so familiar. I hope it added atmosphere.”

I Let You Go is a psychological thriller that the reader will not want to put down. The compelling characters and many twists will hook people from the very first page.

Book Review - "Poisonous" by Allison Brennan

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

9781250066848_p0_v3_s192x300Poisonous by Allison Brennan is a very powerful story.  The novel delves into very relevant issues from cyber bullying to social media’s role within people’s lives. The author makes a good point about how social media makes it easier for someone to say mean things without any repercussions. This intense plot also focuses on psychological issues involving a mentally challenged character and how family dynamics play into divorce.

The plot has a cyber bully, Ivy, falling off a cliff; was she pushed or was it accidental?  Maxine Revere, an investigative reporter that works on cold cases, is asked to find the truth about the fall. A mentally challenged eighteen year old, stepbrother to Ivy, is suspected by her mother of being the murderer.  Max sees immediately he is a gentle giant who loved his sister in spite of her cruelty that caused a peer to commit suicide.  With a huge list of suspects, Max must pursue the truth and allow justice to prevail. 

Being a mother of five, Brennan realized “I did not grow up with social media.  In the 1970s and 80s I could make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. I knew the stupid thing I did was not going to be around forever or go viral.  Today it is on the Internet for everybody to remember forever.  It comes down to our kids never being able to say or do anything they might regret, with the possibility their lives might be ruined forever.  Teenagers always make mistakes, which is why I love writing about them or young adults. My family has a rule now because of what happened a few years ago.  We had gone out to dinner and all my five kids were either on video games or texting on their phones.  ‘I said that’s it.’  I told them ‘keep it in your pocket or I will put it in my purse.’ After that when we went out to dinner once a month we were actually able to have a conversation.”

Brennan has a way of writing characters that readers care about. She allows people to feel certain emotions from the printed words.  What is done beautifully is how she has the readers rooting for Max to solve the case.  Not for the victim Ivy, but for Tommy. Ivy is seen as a “mean girl” that took joy in exposing her peers secrets and flaws through a gossip website. Tommy, a sweet and kind boy, is genuine, honest, and hoping to get his old life back.  

She noted to, “Parents also make inappropriate comments or are always texting.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when people “unfriend” you because of the way you think or the way you vote.  We can’t agree on every single issue.  With social media people can say things or be offensive because they can distance themselves.  Children emulate their parents.  I decided to write about bullying because of a local tragic case of a young boy killing himself after being bullied online.” 

While Max is still brash, outspoken, intelligent, independent, and tenacious, she is less impulsive, more sensitive, and is learning to not always say what she thinks.  Through her eyes, readers see Tommy as a heart-wrenching personality and cheer Max on for caring and wanting to protect him.  An interesting point made was the similarities in personalities between Max and two of the characters: Tommy and his stepbrother Austin.  Both Tommy and Max found lies devastating, wanting only to be told the truth, while Austin was protective, and unforgiving for the circumstances his parents placed him in. 

Poisonous has a fast paced plot. This fascinating story about dysfunctional families and relevant issues of today makes for a great read.

Book Review - "Tied Up In Knots" by Andrea Tantaros

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

9780062351869_p0_v2_s192x300Tied Up in Knots by Andrea Tantaros is the 21st Century’s version of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Both are about understanding the opposite sex.  Tantaros argues relations between men and women in America have never been more dysfunctional while discussing the issues of intimacy, authenticity, kindness, respect, discretion, and above all commitment. Readers should know her as one of Fox News most informative commentators and a co-host of the show Outnumbered.

Both men and women need to read this book to get a fast check on relationships, how the sexes treat each other, and the responsibilities of society.  While reading the chapters people can relate to the author’s comments with current issues. had the privilege of interviewing her about her book and her opinions about today’s world.

Regarding the provocative cover, Tantaros said there has been no criticism and jokingly hopes that will continue.  “It is inspired by the Wonder Woman pose.  I hope people see how it symbolizes the modern female who is very powerful, but tied up in her own lasso of truth.”

It is not a “chicks book,” because men’s eyes will be opened about what is going on in the mind of a woman.  She noted, “I interviewed a lot of men and they kept talking about their frustration and confusion.  They can read this book and they will get a better understanding about how women think and issues important to the sexes. Even women do not understand the rules.  Are we capable, high functioning, responsible, women who can take care of ourselves and do not need special treatment? Or are we really the weaker sex, something women have fought against for decades. I give the early feminists credit in this book when they called for rightful equality.”

Where does rightful equality play into a woman’s role in the Special Forces Units?  Should the expectations be lowered for women to become SEALs or should they be allowed to try while keeping the current rules?  She predicted, “Just like the Rangers this administration will get women into the SEALs training and right before President Obama leaves office they will reveal a female in the graduating class.  The narrative will be they could do it even though the rules were changed.  I know a number of SEALs that say they will quit the brotherhood because of it.  Many people do not know that there are already women serving in the Special Forces, although not in combat.  These women are really upset with women’s rights groups who say we need women as SEALs, even though they are there, but in different roles.  These women feel forced to say ‘we are here and you just blew our cover to the world.’”

The book goes into a lot of detail about how women are sending mixed messages to men.  She writes of Girls actress Zosia Mamet comments in Marie Claire about the loss of romance and old-time dating rituals.  Mamet wrote, “Not that long ago a guy spent the night with me.  We went to breakfast the next day.  The check came.  I went to the bathroom, came back.  It was still there… Seeing my confusion, he said he didn’t want to offend me by paying on ‘my side of town’-So he’s thinking I’d be offended, and I’m thinking, if you’ve already Lewis-and-Clarked my body, maybe buy my oatmeal.”

Tantaros insists the struggles between the sexes are based on misconceptions. She pointed out to, “Liberal women knock stay at home moms and perpetuate single moms by insisting women do not need men.  I heard Jennifer Aniston say women don’t need men to have babies.  Ugh, technically I think we do.  There was also an article in the Washington Post written by a woman who said she was so tired of her helpful husband.  I thought, ‘are you kidding me.  Do you know how many women would kill to have a man around the house.’  I agree with Sheryl Sandberg who said in her book, Lean In, the most important thing a woman could do is to choose the right husband. Patti Stranger, the famous matchmaker, also echoes this thought when she said, ‘women, you cannot have your penis and eat it too.” The media completely ignored those messages because it was traditional and destroyed the theory of feminism, men are unnecessary.”

A very relevant issue she discussed in the book was the phrase, “playing like a girl,” considering the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays faced a backlash recently after saying players might have to “wear dresses” because umpires in a game enforced a new slide rule designed to take deliberate contact out of baseball. When asked about it, Tantaros noted, “I did not get offended.  We women do the same thing about men.  We need to lighten up.  I think playing like a girl should be embraced, and not to consider it a negative connotation.”

Tied Up in Knots is a shocking, funny, and honest narrative about today’s gender gaps.  It is insightful, informative, and relevant to what is happening currently in the world.  Anyone wanting a new relationship guide for the 21st Century should read this book.

Book Review - "Allegiance" by Kermit Roosevelt

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

9781941393307_p0_v1_s192x300Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt is part mystery and part historical fiction.  Best-selling author Jeffery Deaver once said, “A thriller asks what is going to happen and a mystery asks what happened.”

The plot begins with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Caswell “Cash” Harrison was all set to drop out of law school and join the army until he flunked the physical. Instead, he’s given the opportunity to serve as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. He and another clerk stumble onto a potentially huge conspiracy aimed at guiding the court’s interests. Then Cash’s colleague dies under mysterious circumstances, and the young, idealistic lawyer is determined to get at the truth.

Although the front cover displays pictures of Japanese American interned during WWII that places a very secondary role to the murder mystery.  Anyone picking up this book to learn more details about the shameful period in American history might be a bit disappointed.

What Roosevelt (Teddy’s great-great-grandson) does brilliantly is to allow the reader to understand what are the duties, attributions, and tribulations of a Supreme Court Justice. Being a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and having clerked for DC Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams and Supreme Court Justice David Souter he allows these experiences to contribute to the storyline. The gathering of facts, writing of briefs and oral arguments before the court are described in meticulous detail. The author has included an extensive note at the end of the book pointing out where fact ends and fiction begins for each of the supporting characters mentioned in the story. This coupled with his use of actual transcripts, makes for informative reading.

There are appearances by many historical characters including J. Edgar Hoover and his number two man, Clyde Tolson, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter of the Supreme Court, Attorney General Biddle, and various members of the Department of Justice and Department of War. Readers will feel as the story progresses that they can get a glimpse into the world of Supreme Court Justices, specifically those mentioned above.  Roosevelt commented to, “I learned as much as I could about Justice Black.  After doing the research I came to admire these men, but realized they also had flaws. For example, Black did have clerks over to his house, cooked dinner for them, and played tennis with them.  In fact, the tennis scene in the book is based on the time I played tennis with Justice Scalia.”

Allegiance is a good read for anyone who wants to understand the relationship between a Supreme Court Justice and his clerk.  Within that there is a mystery and resolution.

Book Review - "War Hawk" by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

9780062135278_p0_v2_s192x300War Hawk by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood is a thrilling novel.  This series is different than Rollins’ others in that it is more in the realm of complete believability and realism, with nothing far fetched.  In creating a realistic relationship the beloved characters of working dog Kane and his handler Tucker Wayne are brought back to life.

The plot begins when a former flame and army colleague, Jane Sabatello, asks Tucker for his help in finding those who want to kill her and have murdered her former co-workers.  Through his investigation he finds that an evil corporate CEO, Pruitt, is behind these killings and a global conspiracy.  He is using the knowledge of Alan Turing, the English code-breaker of the Nazis, to change the way modern warfare is fought.

Rollins noted to, “There is currently an arms race underway to develop new and improved robotic warriors, even those that can operate autonomously.  Basically, drones can be sent out to kill with little or no human involvement.  Will this mean that they make us more likely to go to war?  In the book Rex represents a drone that learns and can be beneficial.  But, what happens if it is able to go beyond our ability to control?”

Jane, a former Intelligence Analyst with the 75th Rangers, is now working for the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency).  She fits in perfectly with Tucker and Kane, where readers can regard them as “The Three Musketeers,” or as Jane refers to them, “the old gang is back together.”  She has a closeness to Kane and Tucker both personally and professionally.  They can be regarded as kindred spirits, all are tough, no nonsense, with a moral code; yet are also secretive and operate in the shadows. Through Jane and Tucker, Rollins explored the issue of “moral injury,” a new form of PTSD.  Both experienced serious inner conflicts because of a betrayal, which put them at odds with their ethical and moral beliefs. 

While working closely with USA Cares Rollins “first learned about ‘moral injury.’  It relates to the shattering of moral and ethical expectations.  Unfortunately, medication has no benefit and currently only therapy seems to work. It can manifest as shame, guilt, anxiety, and anger along with behavioral changes such as alienation, withdrawing, and possibly suicide.  I wanted the reader to have a better understanding of the causes and consequences of someone afflicted with this aspect of PTSD.”

Tucker’s betrayal, according to Rollins, is related to “his guilt about the war dog Abel.  He could have jumped off the helicopter and tried to rescue him, but did not.  He felt like he betrayed Able. He has been running away from these problems and has chosen not to face it.  Tucker has an old wound from losing his partner with the feeling that he had an arm cut off.  Both Jane and Tucker have been traumatized and these similar injuries help them find a way back to each other. I put more of this backstory in the book but cut it out.  I will probably put it in the next Tucker book.”

As with all Rollins’ books he explores the relationship between the partners, Kane, a Belgian Malinois, and Tucker.  It is evident that they are really best friends with a very special bond.  Both are willing to sacrifice their own life for each other.  Anyone who is a dog lover will relate to their relationship.  What makes it even more interesting is how Rollins writes what any dog owner does, putting thoughts of the canine into a humanistic form. 

The themes of the book are all centered around warfare. Using the springboard of Alan Turing’s work, the book explains how he laid the groundwork for the modern computer that led to drone warfare. Different aspects of warfare are examined, from insurrection to political coups, to the use of drones.  Will the new generation of battlefields be digital?  This information warfare, a digital house of cards, is three pronged: electronic jamming, infrastructure disruption through cyber attacks, and spreading misinformation by psychological operations. Beyond this is the consideration of who will control future drones, the military or corporations. 

Rollins noted, “We are now seeing the lines blurring between military forces and those armies being controlled by corporations. To save money and balance budgets, governments, are handing more and more military powers over to corporate boardrooms. I think this year as we see with Presidential candidates; we are seeing some pushback against that, which will hopefully continue.  If we shift our military responsibility to corporations there could be no interest to protect human life and their only concern is the bottom line of profitability.” 

War Hawk has a very intriguing story, including everything someone wants to know about drones, but was afraid to ask.  The relationships between characters are very well developed.  This is one of those novels that not only has a riveting plot, but is also informative and insightful with many different subject matters explored.

"No Survivors" - The Twenty-Second Anniversary of Eagle Flight

"They came to save us, and to give us dignity. Their sacrifice will remain in the minds of our children for the rest of their lives. We will teach their names to our children, and keep their names in our books of history as heroes who gave their lives for freedom." - Kurd Sheik Ahmet at the April 17th, 1994 memorial service in Zakhu, Iraq.

Today, is the 22nd anniversary of a dark day in our military history...while the inquiry results were weak, this was one incident in which many lessons were learned that later saved American and allied lives (true IFF came from this), and continued the long trek to freedom for one of the most deserving groups of human beings on this planet.

Let's start at what isn't quite the beginning but as good as any place to start this story...

In April, 1991, as part of U.N. Resolution 688, the National Command Authority commanded the US Armed Forces to conduct Operation Provide Comfort.  On the 8th of April 1991, the 1st Battalion (FWD) of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) from Bad Tolz, Germany, deployed to conduct humanitarian relief operations for over a half million Kurdish refugees.  Soon the 2nd and 3rd Battalions arrived from the states.

From the 10th Group's history page (emphasis is mine):

...Operation PROVIDE COMFORT was one of the largest relief operations in history. During the critical first three weeks, the 10th Special Forces Group directed and executed the overall ground relief and security efforts. In the words of General Galvin, the CINCEUR "...10th Special Forces Group saved half a million Kurds from extinction."

The conditions in the refugee camps shocked the world. Before 10th Group arrived, an average of 450 refugees perished daily, with 70 percent being children. In two weeks time the rate was approximately 15-­20 per day and of these, only 28 percent were children. 10th Group had made the difference.

The basic operation was divided into three phases. Phase one provided immediate emergency relief with food, water and shelter. The intent was to make an accurate assessment of the situation and to organize Kurdish leadership. Phase two provided basic services. The ODA and ODB detachments performed many tasks and missions: pipe water from the mountains, organize food distribution and camp sanitation, service drop zones and landing zones, and coordinate with the multi­national relief organizations. Additionally, they assisted in rendering medical treatment for the refugees. Phase three prepared and moved the refugees from their mountain camps into resettlement camps in Iraq or straight back to their own homes. Way­stations built by 10th SFG(A), provided food, water and fuel, and limited medical help enroute...

As the video below shows, it was really about saving the families and the children:

The mission was a tough one - to provide humanitarian aid to over one million Kurdish Refugees in northern Iraq. The mission began with airdrops (food, clothing, tents, blankets, medicine) and soon launched missions taking supplies directly to the Kurds.


A UH-60A Black Hawk (Blackhawk) helicopter flies over a small village in the Kurdish occupied security zone in northern Iraq. The helicopters and the crews from C Company 6/159th Aviation Regiment, Geibelstadt, Germany, are deployed to Diyarbakir, Turkey, in support of the operation Provide Comfort. (DoD photo by: SSGT. THEODORE J. KONIARES Date Shot: 1993-11-17).

To further stop Saddam from killing the Kurds, a northern No-Fly Zone was placed north of the 36th parallel. Any Iraqi aircraft would be shot down in the No-Fly Zone.

Iraq_no_fly_zones Photo from CIA Factbook

The No-Fly Zone was patrolled and kept "clean" by the USAF with fighters (F-15s) being supported by command and control aircraft (AWACS).

General John Shalikashvili, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this to say about the hard work of the Provide Comfort Soldiers and Airmen:

For over 1,000 days, the pilots and crews assigned to Operation Provide Comfort flew mission after mission, totalling over 50,000 hours...

The mission continued for 3 years until the first Commander was due to reliquish command...

On April 14th, 1994, two Blackhawk helicopters were ready for take-off from Diyarbakir, Turkey. COL Jerry Thompson - one of the most respected officers and commanders in Special Forces - was changing command (or co-command as "command" of Provide Comfort was shared with Turkey). He decided to show his replacement, COL Mulhern, the lay of the land. At 0730, COL Thompson assembled 26 people that comprised important (command group) roles for the mission. He included French, British, and Turkish commanders and liaisons, and also brought along Kurdish para-military personnel and linguists.

The two Blackhawks were designated Eagle-1 and Eagle-2. Their first destination was Irbil, Iraq, but they would have to make a stop in Zakhu, Iraq (where the military part of Provide Comfort operated). There were plans to visit several other areas as well.

At 8:22AM, Eagle Flight departed Diyarbakir. They were headed East-Southeast for a "gate" into the No-Fly Zone. Per Standard Operating Procedure, the command group was split between Eagle-1 and Eagle-2 to ensure continuity of command if one helicopter went down.

At 9:21AM, Eagle Flight called the AWACS (callsign "Cougar"). They requested and were granted permission to enter the "gate" into the the No-Fly Zone.

At 9:24AM, Eagle Flight lands at Zakhu, Iraq.

At 9:35AM, two USAF F-15 fighters launched from Incirlik, Turkey. They were designated Tiger-1 and Tiger-2. Tiger-1 was the lead fighter with Tiger-2 as the wingman. Tiger Flight was headed to patrol the No-Fly Zone.

At 9:54AM, Eagle Flight calls the AWACS to report departure from Zakhu, Iraq, with a destination of Irbil, Iraq.

At 10:12AM, Eagle Flight enters mountainous terrain. It's Identification Friend or Foe system (IFF) failed.

At 10:20AM Tiger Flight passes through "gate" into No-Fly Zone.

At 10:22AM Tiger Flight picks up radar contact at forty nautical miles. No IFF reading occurs. Tiger-1 reports, "Cougar, picked up helicopter tracking northwest bound." AWACS says the area should be "clean".

At 10:25 AWACS responds that there are "hits there" in the No-Fly Zone - confirming Tiger Flight's radar contact.

Tiger Flight makes visual contact with Eagle Flight at five nautical miles.

At 10:28 Tiger-1 conducts a visual identification (VID) pass of the helicopters. "Cougar, tally 2 HINDS."

HINDS are Soviet Helicopters used by the Iraqi Armed Forces.

AWACS replied, "Copy two HINDS".

Tiger-1 then instructed Tiger-2 to make a VID pass.

Thirty seconds later Tiger-2 confirms, "Tally 2."

Tiger-1 to Tiger-2, "Arm hot."

At 10:30AM on April 14, 1994, Tiger-1 fired an AIM 120 (medium range air-to-air missle) at Eagle-2. Tiger-2 fired an AIM 9 (Sidewinder air-to-air missle) at Eagle-1.

The missles hit Eagle Flight with deadly accuracy. Tiger-1 confirmed the hits to AWACS, "Splash two HINDS."

Of the 26 team members of Eagle Flight, there were no survivors...

In memoriam:

US Military:
SSG Paul Barclay (SF Commo NCO)
SPC Cornelius A. Bass (Eagle-1 Door Gunner)
SPC Jeffrey C. Colbert (Eagle-1 Crew Chief)
SPC Mark A. Ellner (Eagle-2 Door Gunner)
CW2 John W. Garrett, Jr. (Eagle-1 Pilot)
CW2 Michael A. Hall (Eagle-2 Pilot Command)
SFC Benjamin T. Hodge (Linguist)
CPT Patrick M. McKenna (Eagle-1 Pilot Command)
WO1 Erik S. Mounsey (Eagle-2 Pilot)
COL Richard A. Mulhern (Incoming Co-Commander)
1LT Laurie A. Piper (USAF, Intel Officer)
SGT Michael S. Robinson (Eagle-2 Crew Chief)
SSG Ricky L. Robinson (SF Medic)
Ms. Barbara L. Schell (State Dept. Political Advisor)
COL Jerald L. Thompson (Outgoing Co-Commander)

British Military:
MAJ Harry Shapland (Security/Intel Duty Officer)
LTC Jonathan C. Swann (Senior UK Officer)

French Military:
LTC Guy Demetz (Senior French Officer)

Turkish Army:
COL Hikmet Alp (Co-Commander)
LT Ceyhun Civas (Laison Officer)
LT Barlas Gultepe (Liason Officer)

Kurdish Partisans:
Abdulsatur Arab
Ghandi Hussein
Bader Mikho
Ahmad Mohammed
Salid Said (Linguist)


USAF Photo: U.S. Military personnel inspect the wreckage of a Black Hawk helicopter (Eagle 2) in the Northern Iraq No Fly Zone during Operation Provide Comfort, April 16, 1994.



DoD photo MSGT MICHAEL J. HAGGERTY: The remains of 26 people were flown in for transportation to the U.S. Army Mortuary Center, Frankfurt, Germany. The 26 were killed in an accidental downing of two U.S. Army UH-60A Black Hawk (Blackhawk) helicopters by U.S. AIr Force F-15C fighters in the northern Iraq "no fly zone". Standing in review was the Rhein-Main-Air Base color guard, they displayed the flags of the countries that mourn the loss of their citizens, the United States, Britain, France and Turkey.



I took this photo while visiting the Colonel (his story is an interesting one).  He's near Mary Todd Lincoln's tomb on a slight rise over looking a beautiful part of Arlington...You can visit him and Barclay, Hodge and Bass at Arlington.

Continue reading ""No Survivors" - The Twenty-Second Anniversary of Eagle Flight" »

Book Review - "Lost Among the Living" by Simone St. James

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right sidebar.

9780451476197_p0_v1_s192x300Lost Among The Living by Simone St. James is a haunting story.  As with her previous books the plot takes place in England during the 1920s and examines the challenges brought upon to those living in the post World War I era.  The novel is a great combination of many genres, a riveting historical fiction intertwined with a murder mystery and a touch of the paranormal. 

Both fans of gothic stories and non-fans can enjoy this book.  The plot has several factors that the gothic genre is known for, including a haunted house, a ghost with something to say, an independent, isolated heroine, and family secrets.  Yet, the gothic portion does not dominate, allowing the reader to delve into the mystery and characters without being hit over the head by the ghostly presence.  From the very first chapter people will be engaged with the characters and storyline.

The plot begins with Jo and Alex knowing from their first date it was love at first sight.  They had a blissful marriage until the outbreak of World War I.  Jo is notified that Alex is missing in action, leaving her status in limbo.  She is neither a married woman nor a widow and is not entitled to any benefits.  Her grief is compounded by having to put her insane mother in a private mental institution. In need of money she accepts Alex aunt’s proposal to be a traveling companion and later a secretary at Dottie’s Wych Elm House.  It is there that Jo feels the presence of Dotti’s daughter Fran who supposedly committed suicide.  Jo starts to believe that Fran might have been murdered as she unravels clues provided by an unknown force. 

Because World War I had such an impact, even with its aftermath, St. James commented to, “We have the image of the 1920s as everything being fun and everyone was partying, yet World War I was devastating to that generation.  I touch on the concept of mental illness in most of my books as a recurring theme.  This ties back to the gothic novel. Back then there were harsh reactions with no understanding of what people have gone through.  There was no desire to help them.  In my third book I wrote about an insane asylum where men who fought in World War I and had PTSD were put away.”

She also wants the reader to feel for those who have someone missing in action, noting, “I liked the quote, ‘trapped in amber,’ because she was not a widow or a married woman.  I also put in the quote, ‘Women don’t have a great many choices in such a situation.’  In those days a woman had very limited options.” 

The characters are well developed.  Jo’s situation as the wife of an MIA is explored brilliantly, reminding the reader how the family is affected by having someone disappear during combat.  Although living a hard life Jo never gives up.  She is courageous, brave, intelligent, and resourceful. Aunt Dottie, although grim, demanding and materialistic, is also practical, compassionate, and helpful.  Through flashbacks and memories Alex is seen as caring, smart, and heroic. 

Readers will not only enjoy the suspense of the story but will learn some facts of the times including how women were treated, the creation of of MI5, and society’s view of those who have gone “mad.”

If readers wonder about the British spy details, St. James told, “All true.  The MI5 archives were opened up in the last twenty years or so.  Since then, there have been several histories.  I read some books about the British spy agency and put that information into this book.  Before World War I there was a worry that the Germans would invade England.  They needed people to help spy for them and report back.  Since there was no training they were on their own and reported back by writing letters.” 

Lost Among The Living is a very interesting read that has the reader glued to the pages.  The blending of different genres makes the story even more interesting.


Book Review - "The Girl in the Glass" by James Hayman

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category in the right sidebar.

9780062435163_p0_v3_s192x300The Girl In The Glass by James Hayman is a mystery based on two time periods. These copycat murders take place in 1904 and 2012, creating an intriguing premise. The crimes are identical in every way with a time span of 108 years.

Because the book delves into the rich society, Hayman hopes the readers “understand this sense of privilege.  The attitude being, ‘whatever I want I can have, no matter who it hurts.’ Fitzgerald said, ‘The very rich is very different than you and I,’ and Hemingway joked about that statement, ‘yeah, they have more money.’ My modern day character is the ultimate bad rich girl who uses brains and beauty to get what she wants.”

The plot has two women stabbed to death, about a century apart, on the same remote island near Maine’s coastline, left for dead with the letter “A” carved into their chest.  Detectives Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage are assigned to bring the modern day killer quickly to justice. But the key to solving the murder appears to have been buried with her ancestor who was killed in a similar manner. Readers might think of the legendary novel, The Scarlett Letter, where a woman found guilty of adultery had an “A” pinned to her clothing.  However, that is where the similarities stop.  With this book, the cases have a number of suspects, each with their own motives. These two stories include a lot of broken marriages, complex families, and parental love where jealousy and sibling rivalry are the norm.

Hayman commented to, “McCabe is my alter ego.  We are both New Yorkers, city guys with our women talented artists.  We both have daughters who we love. We share the same values.  When I write him it is as if I am putting myself into whatever position he is in.  Anyone who has read all the books would know me very well if they understand the McCabe character. The people I spend the most time with are my imaginary friends.”

As with most of Hayman’s books he is able to masterfully portray the misty, coastal atmosphere of Maine.  The islands are described in such a way the readers can close their eyes and feel they are transported there with the rocky high cliffs surrounded by rough seas that have dangerous shorelines.  The Maine coast and Portland in particular with its maritime history provide a unique backdrop for a book like The Girl in the Glass. Hayman regards Portland Maine as “the perfect setting for a suspense thriller series.  It is a hip little city with a police department big enough to have specialties; yet, small enough so they know each other and can interact together.”

This latest McCabe/Savage thriller has a great setting and characters.  The setting blends into the mystery perfectly.

Book Review - "Time of Fog and Fire"

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right sidebar.

9781250052049_p0_v1_s192x300Time Of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen is a mystery that blends crime suspense within a very potent historical setting.  By using historical events and people in her books the plots become both believable and relatable.  In this novel the 1906 San Francisco earthquake almost becomes a secondary character, where it is featured prominently.  

Bowen commented to, “When I write a story I always look at what has happened during that time period.  For example, this book takes place in 1906.  When I write about that era I don’t want to tell people about it, but want to take people to 1906.  I consider myself a tour guide that has people feeling what is happening as well as being told what it was like.” 

As with all her books, Bowen allows the reader to feel that they have gone back in time.  In this book she gives a flavor for what it is like to be an Irish American, how corruptness was widespread, the ability to travel across country, and the effect of natural disasters upon the population.  Intertwined within that is a crime that must be solved. 

The two main characters, Molly Murphy Sullivan and her husband Daniel are struggling to maintain respectability while dark forces attempt to besmirch their name.  As a New York police captain who believes in honesty and integrity he is contemplating resigning from a corrupt force.  But an unexpected twist of fate allows him to take an assignment offered by the head of the secret service, to weed out corrupt officials in San Francisco.  Molly, a former private detective, feels completely in the dark until she receives a cryptic letter from him asking her to join him in California.  Embarking on a cross-country journey by train she is apprehensive of the dangers in store for her family.  It is there that she must use her detective skills to find out who is responsible for the attempt on her husband’s life and their ulterior motives. 

It is while doing the investigation that the earthquake hits, plummeting the city into chaos and despair. The earthquake adds to the suspense of the story as readers see the human side of natural disasters where there is a fine line between the good guys and the bad ones.  Daniel and Molly not only face danger from the earthquake and subsequent fire but from corrupted officials and unsavory people who have come out of the woodworks to take advantage of the vulnerable.  It becomes clear that Molly and Daniel’s personalities are very similar. Both are smart, savvy, self-sufficient, resourceful, and fearless with a sense of justice.

The author noted, “When I was doing the research I found there to be so many first hand accounts.  The one that struck me the most was the army’s instruction to shoot looters on site.  Here you had so many people escape from the earthquake only to be shot as they tried to retrieve some valuable heirloom of theirs.  I was also touched by the fact that those who were there had no way of getting in touch with anybody.  There were families disrupted.  This was one of the reasons I put in the scenes of Molly and Daniel’s young son, Liam, disappearing.”

What makes this novel a stand out is how the mystery is intertwined with the historical events.  The setting, dialogue, and characters, help to create an informative, suspenseful, and insightful plot. 

Book Review - "Clawback" by J.A. Jance

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.

9781501140952_p0_v1_s192x300Clawback by bestselling author J. A. Jance brings back the heroine Ali Reynolds.  The story brings to mind issues revealed in the movie The Big Short and the news events surrounding Bernie Madoff.  Where Jance is at her best is describing complicated issues and breaking them down into understandable terms within a gripping mystery. 

In this latest, Ali Reynolds must solve the murder of someone caught up in a Ponzi scheme that bankrupted hundreds of people.  Among those are her parents who lost their life retirement savings.  Because her dad wants answers he decides to confront his long time friend and financial advisor, only to find he and his wife dead.  In an effort to clear her father, seek justice for those who lost their savings, and find the hidden money she teams up with her husband B. Simpson, the executive of High Noon. 

Jance noted to that this story was highly personal. “My husband and I had our own Ponzi guy in Seattle.  He relieved us of $500,000 of our retirement funds.  That is why I put in the dedication, ‘For all the people who gave me 500,000 reasons for writing this book.  Whoever you are; you know who you are.’ Because it was in a retirement account we could not even claim the loss on our taxes.  We will never see any of that money again. It is sad to think that people who are in their 70’s, had retired, and planned on having this money for their golden years are all back at work.  My advice, ‘If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.’”

Furthermore, Jance wants readers to understand that she and her husband did their due diligence.  “We spoke with investment advisors from big management firms.  We even checked the audits.  What evidently happened is that whenever there was going to be an audit someone from that company would call and warn the Ponzi guy. This allowed him to move the money around and show everything was honkey dory.”

Although the story is very entertaining readers can also learn something.  Clawback refers to a law that assesses penalties on victims of Ponzi schemes by having the bankruptcy courts confiscating previous distributions.  The book quote explains, “So my parents get hit twice, first by the Ponzi scheme itself and then by the bankruptcy trustees-insult to injury.” Jance explains, “Proceeds from an investment that is found to be fraudulent are confiscated and then redistributed to all investors on a proportional basis. Since we had not started taking any funds out, Clawback did not affect us.  But since none of the money has been found, the characters in my book had a happier ending than those who were schemed along with me.  I wish I could have hired High Noon to trace the money since the government is not interested in helping find the money hidden by the bad guys.”

Jance also appears to be tech savvy.  She talks of “presence technology,” in which employees and their families of High Noon have all their electronic devices equipped with the latest technology.  Basically allowing the company to know where an individual is and follow their movements in real time.

One of the most interesting characters is Cami Lee, an employee of High Noon.  Coming from a world of accomplished parents, she was an over achiever who was shy, a bookworm, highly technical, and an expert in martial arts.  Jance commented that she based this character on “my two granddaughters who came from orphanages in China.  Both are very talented gymnasts. Those girls are no bigger than a minute but are surprisingly strong as can be.”

Clawback is a must read for anyone who wants to understand a complicated issue that can possibly have a personal effect.  With a rich cast of characters and a compelling story that is believable this is a must read.  

Book Review - "The Watcher in the Wall" by Owen Laukkanen

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.

9780399174544_p0_v1_s192x300The Watcher In The Wall by Owen Laukkanen is a novel with a very dark subject matter.  Known for his powerful and suspenseful stories Laukkanen continues this pattern with his latest book.  He has dealt with Internet targeted killings that prey on young veteran’s emotions, human trafficking of teenage girls, and now this, a predator that encourages teenagers to commit suicide on a web-cam.

Early in the book readers understand that a stalker of sorts attempts to find teenagers who are depressed and want to end their life. In fact, the book cover and title play into this scenario. Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere, partners in a joint BCA-FBI violent crimes task force stumble on this person.  Stevens’ daughter is devastated when a classmate commits suicide. She asks them to investigate this voice of death and doom.  What they find is an online suicide club of unhappy teenagers, presided over by an anonymous presence that seems to be encouraging them. Stevens and Windermere are driven to find this person and prevent him from convincing others to act on their feelings. 

Laukkanen based the book on “the real-life case of online predator William Melchert-Dinkel.  He is a Minnesota man who has counseled someone online and encouraged them to commit suicide.  He is suspected of entering into fake suicide pacts with at least five other victims.  All killed themselves at his instruction.  At the time I started to write this story the case was working its way through the courts.  I was stunned and frustrated with the justice system in that it appeared he would get away with it so I wrote this book about a similar predator. On appeal it was found that he could be retried for actively assisting in a victim’s suicide.  Ultimately he was convicted last fall and served just 360 days in jail.  Writing this story was therapeutic for me because I was so upset with the sentence of this real-life guy, so I decided to administer my own justice, which was more fitting.”

What makes the story more relatable are the backstories on Windermere and the Internet killer.  After being brutally abused by his alcoholic stepfather as a young man he decides to turn the tables on his stepsister, giving her constant emotional abuse.  She decides to take her life, and as she hangs herself she notices him watching her.  Unfortunately he gets a high from this and decides to set up a website where he can encourage others to die at their own hands as he watches.

Windermere also has dealt with suicide from bullying. As a teenager, she watched as someone she knew was taunted and bullied until they took their life. She did nothing to intervene and this has haunted her. This is probably one of the most potent parts of the book: the description of how so many students laugh along with the bullies, not because they want to be mean to the victim, but to fit in themselves, or out of a desire to not become a target of the bully themselves.

The author noted to, “We need to pay attention to what our friends/students/family members are feeling, whom they are talking to online, and what is bothering them. Parents need to play a role on monitoring what their children do on the Internet.  This story was very personal to me. I hope the story brought some awareness.  I was always someone who was an outsider.  There were times where I felt the whole world is against me.  Depression does things to you mentally that could be really paralyzing. While writing this book I was dealing with some mental health issues, mainly depression and suicidal thoughts of my own. When depressed you feel so alone. I channeled this by writing the book.  It became a release for me.  The mixture of talking to professionals, friends, and family as well as finding the right medication helped me.” 

The book is also very informative in that it describes the debate between calling coercion a crime versus freedom of speech. A quote from the story explains, “State law says it’s a felony to coerce or counsel someone into committing suicide,” but there is no federal law because of “his right to free speech to do what he’s doing.” Readers might be shocked to learn that predators like this fictional character may not even be breaking the law. 

The Watcher In The Wall is an informative mystery.  This chilling story is gut wrenching.  A word of warning make sure you have the time to read it because you will not want to put it down.

Author Interview - Jennifer Robson

The following author interview is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our author interviews and book reviews by clicking on the books category link on the right side bar.

Meet Jennifer Robson.  She is a historian, novelist, and a kindred spirit with those in the military.  All of her books are character driven with strong female and male heroes that are somewhat independent. They begin in a place of relative powerlessness while ending in a place of relative strength. Robson spoke with about the challenges, her writings, and influences. 

Her latest project was a chapter in the anthology Fall Of Poppies, entitled, All For The Love Of You. Through a heart warming plot she describes what an American Captain, Daniel Mancuso, had to endure when his cheekbones were shattered and right eye lost.  He was able to have a mask fitted by the American Red Cross Studio for Portrait Masks, a civilian based organization that allowed wounded warriors to get fulfillment, flickers of hope, and protection from those who might react negatively to the deformities. But it is also a love story, which emphasizes the importance of a person’s inner beauty, rather than their physical appearance.

Released early this year, Moonlight Over Paris is the last book in the World War I series. It is a follow up to After The War Is Over, and the first in the series, Somewhere in France. This latest emphasizes Paris during the 1920s, where the characters experience a new world after World War I. Just as the fictional characters come into contact with the “Lost Generation,” and its circle of American expatriates, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, so does the reader. It is a story of friendship, change, and choices. 

She commented to, “I hope readers are touched by what my heroes, Sam and Daniel, have suffered, and then make the connection to what our soldiers are going through today.  I have had heroes endure PTSD, being maimed, and have experienced terrible things.  Yet, they made a decision that it would not define their life. I do think the average person today does not have a connection to someone in the military; yet, should understand the implications of what it is like to serve, be injured, or lose a life.  It seems it is very easy to spend money to support wars, but very difficult to spend money to support the veterans afterward. When I served as a guide in France in 1989 at the National War Memorial I will never forget how I had a chance to thank those who fought in the Great World War, shake their hands, and listen to what they had to say.  It was an honor for me.  It was something that influenced me as I decided to write this series.”

Having been influenced by her family members and friends who have served she commented, “I worry about the generations dying out.  Will my children understand the sacrifices made by those who served?  My great grandfather was a soldier in WWI and my grandfather was an aviator in WWII.  I hope in a small way my novels capture the people, memories, and thoughts of veterans.  I want the periods to come alive as a way to honor the memory of those who fought.”

The chapter in the anthology insightfully shows how facial prosthetics gave wounded warriors confidence to venture outside without being thought of as oddities. She explained, “Facial deformities is something the human eye has difficulty processing.  In doing research I looked at a lot of pictures and was taken in by those people’s suffering.  I wrote this chapter to show what happens to soldiers when they survive with major injuries that can affect their lives.  My character made the point that a soldier could still live even after having a horrendous injury that maimed them.”

Besides feeling a bond with her characters, readers are also able to understand that those who worked in the studio for portrait masks took up the challenge of healing the emotional wounds as the doctors and nurses healed the physical wounds.  Robson stated, “No one who worked there made much money and it was not done for profit.  Through my research I read some of the letters written to Anna Coleman Ladd, a renowned American sculptor, who set up the studio.  The letters expressed such gratitude of being able to get even a part of their lives back.  They said how they were able to go home and not see disgust on the faces of their loved ones.  An interesting point I found out is that there are very few masks in existence today.  The superstition of most historians is that the masks were probably buried with the men.”

In reading these books people will feel they are actually a part of the story.  The best historical fiction novels allow people to understand what is happening and get swept up in the story.  They are able to see the world through the character’s eyes and hopefully relate it to today’s issues.  With Robson’s writings, readers can gain an understanding of the war, its aftermath, and how those on the front lines are able to connect in the new world.

Ian Malone - Irish Guard in Life, Uniter in Death

Sandstorms settled in the south
of that sour place,
and terror-men opened wide a mouth
etched in a hate-filled face.

The rifle-spit struck down Malone
and he in a moment gave
a life well-lived, alone,
to set men free of the grave.

In later days men drew down
statues from on high;
they struck Iraqi ground
so dust and cheer could fly.

What, one Irish fighting man
to free millions from cold chains?
Not noble words, not gracious plan
could make real such gains.

Or--Is our time so coy,
so wild and free a thing?
Not Harvey nor Kelly, boy
of Killarn, not the Brian King

Freedom bought at such a cost,
where glory's priced so steep:
Where the name of each good man lost
Can memory's Herald keep.
-Poem by Grim, April 10th, 2003, in honor of Ian Malone

LancecplianmaloneThis is an annual Someone You Should Know (St. Patrick's Day Edition) post to celebrate an Irish soldier's sacrifice.  Below is the story of Ian Malone - a young Irishman who bridged the divide between Ireland and England in life and death.

Ian died during the invasion of Iraq in April of 2003 doing what he wanted to do - Soldiering for his country.  Below is his story, told expertly by Philip Watson of the Telegraph:

Ian's death brought people together
By Philip Watson

Lance Corporal Ian Malone died in an ambush on the streets of Basra in April last year. Throughout a long, hot Sunday, he and his armoured brigade had been pushing through the southern suburbs of Iraq's second city, flushing out enemy soldiers. While most of the regular Iraqi Army had fled, the streets and houses contained pockets of determined Fedayeen fighters, paramilitaries who remained loyal to Saddam Hussein.

Having reached the edge of the old city and achieved their objective of securing a university campus, Ian Malone and his colleagues had left their Warrior armoured personnel carrier, and were regrouping. They had scoured the area and, in the dusty shade of dusk, all seemed safe.

In an instant, however, two Fedayeen in civilian clothes broke cover and sprayed the crew with automatic fire. Four soldiers were hit. Ian Malone took two bullets - one through the neck, the other in the head - and died instantly, becoming one of 55 British soldiers killed in Iraq in the past year.

What made the 28-year-old Lance Corporal remarkable, though, apart from the peerless qualities that all who knew him instantly recognised - he was a thinker and philosopher; courteous and religious; a talented chess player and musician; an exceptional soldier; and, as his school chaplain said at his funeral, not macho but manly - was that Ian Malone was an Irishman fighting for the British Army.

Many have found in Ian Malone's life and death something profoundly symbolic: the notion that he represents the continuing spirit of progress and reconciliation between Britain and Ireland...

Continue reading "Ian Malone - Irish Guard in Life, Uniter in Death" »

Book Review - "No One Knows" by JT Ellison

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

9781501118470_p0_v4_s192x300No One Knows by J. T. Ellison is part mystery, part psychological thriller, and part cautionary tale.  It is one of those stories that show fairy tales do not always come true.  The themes of trust, betrayal, and treachery are explored through the lives of the main character.   

Ellison noted, “People might compare it to Gone Girl, but I wrote it before that book ever came out, back in 2011.  It was based on a dream I had when my husband and I went to a wedding at the Opryland Hotel in Tennessee.  After sending me a drink he disappeared.  I was looking for him and as I rushed into the parking lot I saw the author Harlan Coben, who wanted to give me career advice.  Unfortunately I never got it because I woke up. I did not have it published then because Catherine Coulter popped up in 2012.  She wanted me to start writing with her so I shelved this book.  Of course Gone Girl came out a few months later. But now after numerous revisions I have published my first stand alone.” 

As the story unfolds readers will wonder which character they can truly trust and believe.  The main character, Aubrey Trenton Hamilton, thinks she has met her savior, a knight in shining armor who will love her unconditionally. She and Josh live in marital bliss until his disappearance.  Ellison breaks the storyline down into time periods based on Aubrey’s relationship with Josh, having spent the first seven years of her life not knowing him, the next 17 years of her life side by side with Josh as childhood sweethearts, and 5 years mourning his unexpected disappearance and possible death. In those five years she has known nothing but emptiness, solitude, and loneliness. With alternating past and present chapters, readers get a feeling of knowing the characters inside and out.

Aubrey is an unreliable narrator, a complex character who is put into an extraordinary circumstance.  She has had a harsh life, losing both her biological and adoptive parents.  This frail person just wants to be loved.  This becomes evident with not only Josh but someone she meets, Chase Boden. He has an uncanny resemblance to Josh, from his mannerisms to the way he walks, Readers go on the same journey as Aubrey wondering if she will ever be able to forge a life beyond Josh. 

The reason Ellison has the setting at the Opryland Hotel is for its monstrous landscape.  She explained, “It is so easy to get lost in.  I thought it a great setting to start off the book.  It is a metaphor for this story because anyone who visits there can get turned around and see different things at different times.”

Even after her husband, Josh, is declared legally dead Aubrey has a hard time moving on.  She is still obsessed with finding the answers behind his disappearance.  People will understand how someone can almost lose their sanity wanting answers.  It is a reminder how missing persons can sometimes be worse than knowing someone is dead, considering there is no closure. 

Although the plot is not based on this, Ellison tells of her own experience with a missing person. “I had a friend who went missing and never has been found.  In 1992 in South Carolina after a U2 Concert she just disappeared, and was never heard from again.  I know she didn’t run away to create a new world for herself.  It is horrifying to me to think what her family has to go through even to this day.”

No One Knows will have inevitable comparisons to Gone Girl, but this is a more realistic storyline. It will have readers guessing who can be believed and what are their ulterior motives.  Ellison messes with the character’s head as well as the readers with her many twists and turns.

Book Review - "Off the Grid" by CJ Box

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.

9780399176609_p0_v1_s192x300Off The Grid by C. J. Box brings back Nate Romanowski, the beloved rugged individualist.  This book delves into a number of themes, some of which Box has become known for: getting the Federal government to acquiesce to the States, a contemporary Western, a solid description of the western landscape, and the issues facing western states.  But, beyond that he explores the possibility of how terrorists can use technology to harm Americans, the vulnerability of the US communication systems, and the overzealous government surveillance.  It might seem that a lot of issues are covered in the novel, but Box has a knack for brilliantly intertwining everything.

The plot begins with Nate and his girlfriend, Liv, living in obscurity on a remote Wyoming ranch, enjoying hunting and his falcons. Some rogue Federal organization finds Nate, because Liv decides to telephone her ill mother.  A deal is made to destroy Nate’s criminal record for his help in locating a terror cell in Wyoming’s Red Desert.  Nate's master falconer skills are needed to give him an "in" with the Muslim, Ibby, who is also a master falconer. Meanwhile, game warden Joe Pickett is asked by the Wyoming Governor to stop the tracking of a grizzly bear and instead track down his friend Nate. Coincidentally the bear, Nate, and Joe converge at the Red Desert. Also there is Joe’s daughter Sheridan who has decided to go on a weekend camping trip.  All unite in an attempt to thwart the terrorists before they can destroy the US electrical infrastructure. 

The title, Off The Grid, is very apropos since it represents two plot lines. Literally, the terrorists are attempting to destroy the electrical grid that would incapacitate the US, and figuratively as Nate attempts to become a hermit, to be left alone in peace. He has been living “off the grid,” having no electronics, credit records, bank records, or tax records. Nate is content to live deep in the wild, flying his falcons and avoiding contact.

The idea for the story came to Box after hearing the FBI Director John Comey say there are terrorists being tracked in all fifty states.  Box stated,“After a homeland terrorist attack, national security comes to the forefront, but as time passes we put it on the back burner.  I think that a terrorist plot happening in far-flung Wyoming is not as crazy as it sounds.  I started to think about Wyoming, what could potentially happen here, and what would be the target.  Nobody in the US should feel immune. Attacks will not always happen in New York or Washington. I put a lot of the information in the book on how every electronic device can be killed by an EMP, if in the vicinity of the pulse. It would be a devastating attack.”

Anyone wishing for the return of Sheriff Matt Dillon will enjoy this storyline.  The gunfights with the terrorists are taken right out of any Western battle.  Even the weapon used is an “Apache” Helicopter.  One scene in the book has Nate shooting out the trucks, which represent horses being shot out from the villains.  Readers can vividly picture the gun battle as the shoot out occurs behind covered rocks.  Even Joe’s “cowboy” hat is affected by this gunfight, being ridden with bullets. 

As with all his novels Box is informative about western culture.  In this case he gives insight into the western setting, grizzly bears, and falcons.  His vivid descriptions of the harsh and remote, but beautiful environment, allow the reader to feel as if they are there.

Box noted to, “Nate was based on someone I grew up with.  This guy was a Falconer who went into a Special Forces Unit of our military. I made Nate part falcon because his qualities are similar to those birds.  He is definitely the ultimate Falconer.  He is described as a libertarian homicidal folk hero.  Based on his moral code, he will murder first and ask questions later.  In all of my books with Nate I put something about falcons.  In this one I had in the book how “Nate had the ability to go as still as one of his hooded falcons.” I also compared in the book how falcons identify, attack, and kill their target, to what Nate did with the terrorists.”

He also commented, “There is a theory that the more the grizzly is studied and thus, comes into contact with people, the more likely they will lose their fear of humans.  The number of grizzly bear attacks has grown.  I read about this one bear that traveled 1000s of miles and even slept in an elementary school playground.  I decided to put it in the book.  Also true, is that grizzlies have been known to actually track hunters.  Sometimes it appears the researchers tracking the bear seem more worried about the health and welfare of the bear than the hunter being tracked.”

Off The Grid is a warning of sorts in that it shows how US national security is vulnerable to a terrorist attack.  It is not only informative, but challenges peoples’ minds as they learn about western culture.  To date this might just be one of Box’s best.