Books

Book Review - "Nemesis" by Catherine Coulter

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.

9780399171277_p0_v1_s192x300Catherine Coulter's 19th FBI thriller, NEMESIS, keeps the reader turning the pages between two fast-paced and complex plots. This is the first thriller where husband and wife team Sherlock and Savich are separated, each working their own case.

Coulter wanted to explore “how each would react when they are not together, including the fear, and helplessness of being kept in the dark.” 

The most interesting and realistic of the two storylines involves FBI Agent Lacey Sherlock.  While in a security line at JFK Airport a man pulls out a grenade and captures a hostage.  His plan is foiled when Sherlock is able to take out this jihad terrorist.  But this was only a diversion for the real terrorist attack that is occurring at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  It is a cat and mouse game played between the terrorist leader, known as the Strategist, and Sherlock, who is irritating him, because a woman is able to thwart his plans. 

 The secondary subplot has FBI Agent Dillon Savitch, with the help of Agent Griffin Hammersmith, trying to solve murders where the perpetrators have no recollection of committing the crimes.  Savitch must use his psychic abilities to stop a master manipulator, Stefan Dalco, who evades his dreams, tries to kill him, and seeks revenge killings on others.  This story is based on the real Wicca religion, which believes in Witchcraft and supernatural abilities.

Coulter stated to blackfive.net, “I did a crash course on ‘Wicca for dummies. It was a lot of fun to work with.  But readers should remember this storyline is fiction.  If I can scare the reader silly with the psychic dream attacks, then I've succeeded. I also scared myself writing them.” 

Coulter always introduces new characters, in this case, FBI Agents Kelly Giusti and Callum (Cal) McLain.  They are admirable, likeable, and someone readers root for.  With the terrorist plot, women are front and center with Giusti, the interrogator, Sherlock, the Agent who connects the dots, and the terrorist’s wife, a ferocious, independent, who stands up to Islamists.  From the very first page of Nemesis the action ratchets up.

Unfortunately, Coulter will not have these new characters return because “I like bringing in new and different characters in every book.  If I were to bring them back they must be able to move the story forward and not stop the plot.”

Coulter's third thriller in her new series, A BRIT in the FBI, THE END GAME, comes out in September.  Nicholas Drummond and Mike (Michaela) Caine find themselves involved in an extraordinary plot by terrorists committed to the destruction of the West. The plot is very timely considering the situation in the Middle East today.

Coulter always enjoys hearing from her readers. Send her an email note at ReadMoi@gmail.com or post her at Facebook.com/catherinecoulterbooks. She posts every morning and replies to all comments.


Book Review - "The Hunters" by Tom Young

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.

9780399166891_p0_v1_s192x300The Hunters by Tom Young is a mystery novel for airplane enthusiasts.  It takes readers back to the days when pilots had to use many of their own skills and instincts to fly.  Because he served in the Air National Guard he incorporates this knowledge into the stories. 

Young noted to blackfive.net, “ I have had a life long interest in the DC-3.  I got the idea for this story when I was personally approached in the 1990s to fly a relief mission.  It did not involve a DC-3, but rather my favorite plane, a C-130 Hercules.  Unfortunately, this project never got off the ground. I wondered if this group had settled for a less expensive plane, the DC-3, maybe it could have been realized.” 

This is more of a Colombo type mystery where readers know almost from the very beginning the outcome of the struggle.  What makes the pages turn is trying to figure out how the protagonists will escape.  The story begins with Colonel Michael Parson, convinced by his good friend Sophia Gold, into using his leave from the Air Force to fly relief supplies into Somalia in an antique DC-3 cargo plane.  They come up against an al-Shabaab leader, The Sheikh, who recruits young boys to become Jihadists for food and violently kills anyone working with the aid group. 

Young noted to blackfive.net, “Parsons has grown over the years.  In rank he has been promoted from Major to Colonel and has become a commander.  He sees himself as wanting to use his skills to make the world a better place.”

The theme of the book is something people have struggled with throughout history; does one good deed overcome all the other horrific acts?  Although Young attempted to draw sympathy for the teenage Jihadist Hussein it fell short.  His actions were not just violent but horrifying be-headings.  How could someone become redeemable, and should they, after committing these acts?

 

The Hunters has a very violent plot so anyone squeamish might have trouble with the storyline.  Others will find it a fast-paced, action packed plot.


Exclusive Interview - Former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren

The following interview and 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 on the right side bar.

Former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s latest book Ally is a riveting description of the relationship between Israel and the United States.  Readers get a behind the scenes look at how the Obama Administration has a one sided point of view. Through his numerous notes and direct insight he tells of the struggles Israel has had with the Obama Administration, especially regarding the Iranian nuclear deal.  He warns that Israel is in existential danger, that his only agenda is a reality check regarding this administration’s policies toward Israel. Blackfive.net interviewed him about his book and the Iranian nuclear deal.

He gave an exclusive to Blackfive.net, stating that he only tells those people “who come to work with me about this clip.  I ask them to watch it so that they will understand me.”  The clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImtrifoxW4c) is about the Battle of the Bulge with interviews from participants including Oren’s father, Lester Bornstein, a US Army Corps Engineer whose duty was to clear roads and build bridges during World War II.  Yet, in the Ardennes Forest in France on December 16, 1944, Lester along with his friend Jimmy Hill became infantrymen to help fend off the German advance, which had taken the American military off guard.  He and his friend bravely disabled the first German tank in line, forcing a halt in the advance. 

Oren, born in America, feels a kinship with America’s culture, principles, and spirit.  He remembers his father telling the family war stories and during his first combat mission in the war, Operation Peace for the Galilee, thought of his father’s experience, wondering “how I would conduct myself under fire.”

Throughout the book Oren emphasizes the closeness he feels with both America and Israel.  Yet, some in the media like Newsweek’s Jonathan Broder attempt to discredit him by writing, “The American-born Oren, who renounced his U.S. citizenship and now serves as a lawmaker in Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, transforms from a measured historian into a breathless polemicist.” This is anything but the truth. Oren noted, “By Federal law any American who officially served a foreign county had to renounce their US Citizenship. My loyalties to the United States and the Jewish State are mutually validating.”

He wrote in the book how his love for America is filled with gratitude. “From the time that all four of my grandparents arrived on Ellis Island, through the Great Depression, in which they raised my parents, and the farm-bound community in which I grew up, America held out the chance to excel. True, prejudice was prevalent, but so, too, was our ability to fight it. Unreservedly, I referred to Americans as ‘we.’ The United States and Israel, are both democracies, both freedom-loving, and similarly determined to defend their independence. One could be — in fact, should be — a Zionist as well as a patriotic American, because the two countries stood for identical ideals.” Except now Israel is being thrown under the bus with the Iranian nuclear deal.

Why do some in the press want to discredit Oren’s roots?  Possibly because the Ambassador is publicly warning that the Obama Administration is setting a dangerous precedent concerning the Iranian nuclear deal.  As Daniel Silva profoundly wrote in his latest book, The English Spy, “Now the president’s confronted with a world gone mad, and he doesn’t have a clue as to what to do about it.”

Oren noted to blackfive.net about another irrational period in history and compared it to the current situation; “Lets remember one infamous example, when the Nazis pursued their insane ends.  Even during the last days of World War II, as the Allied armies liberated Europe, they diverted precious military resources to exterminating Jews.  The Israeli position is that this Iranian regime is irrational. Unlike Israel, which is in Iran’s backyard, the US is not threatened by the proximity of national annihilation. This is about our survival as a people. It’s about our children and grandchildren. What may look like an academic debate here in America is for us in Israel a matter of life and death.”

Asked if he agrees with the quote from former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who said of Iran, “the enemy of our enemy is still our enemy,” Oren told blackfive.net, that Americans should not forget that Iran “wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, something they have been calling for the last thirty years.  Let’s not forget they also attempted to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC and assassinate the Saudi Ambassador. Iran and its terrorist groups have killed more Americans than any other terrorist group outside of Al Qaeda.  This does not even include those in the American military who were killed by Iran during the Iraq War.  They are not friends.”

But a true friend, an ally, is defined by Oren as assisting “in saving American lives on and off the battlefield. On an ideological level, an ally is a country that shares America’s values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people’s beliefs. And an ally stimulates the U.S. economy through trade, technological innovation, and job creation. The two countries I love need to unite on issues vital to both and yet they remain separated ideologically and even strategically. However, on issues of security, anybody in the Israeli military, in the intelligence community, will tell you that security relations between Israel and the United States are better now than probably any other time in the past.”

In the Middle East Israel is America’s staunchest ally. Even though the Obama Administration appears not to recognize this, Americans do. A recent Gallup Poll shows that two out of three Americans sympathize with Israel, with support for Israel in the United States rising, not declining.

Ambassador Oren wrote this book, Ally, to send a clear message, “A friend who stands by his friends on some issues but not others is, in Middle Eastern eyes, not really a friend. In a region famous for its unforgiving sun, any daylight is searing.” Ally is a must read, because it alerts people that Israel faces the greatest challenge they have faced since World War II.


Book Review - "Brutality" by Ingrid Thoft

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.

9780399171185_p0_v2_s192x300Brutality by Ingrid Thoft is a captivating crime novel.  Besides the mystery of a “who done it murder,” the author raises questions about sports brain injuries.  This plot explores the theoretical and practical, the balance between loving the sport, in this case, soccer, and the compelling evidence of the dangers involved in playing it. 

The story has soccer mom Liz Barone attacked in her kitchen, where she eventually dies from her injuries.  Private investigator Fina Ludlow is hired by Liz’s mother to find the attacker. Through her investigation Ludlow finds out that Liz is suing her alma mater for a mild cognitive impairment head injury incurred while she was a player for New England University. Carl Ludlow, Fina’s father, decides to take the civil case as Fina tries to narrow the list of suspects: Liz’s research boss, her husband who has a hidden secret, other members of the soccer team, and a sleezy booster.  In addition to the mystery the family plotline continues with her abusive older brother, a niece wondering about her actual family, and Fina’s relationship with her police friend.

The author writes what interests her.  “I remember reading accounts of NFL football players suffering from cognitive impairment and other brain issues. I changed it from football to soccer.  People assume its only in football and hockey but in reality the lower contact sports have a high incidence of concussions.  Also, people historically think that girls do not play as hard as men so they don’t suffer from these injuries. I see it as involving the intersection of money, entertainment, identity, and what it means to be macho in our culture. I thought it had many interesting facets, making it porous on many levels.”

Fina is a great character that is independent, sarcastically humorous, tough, tenacious, and quick thinking.  The only daughter in a family of three sons, and the only one not to attend law school, she stands out in the family dynamics.  Her parents are dysfunctional, the mother more than the father. 

Thoft told blackfive.net that she came up with the idea for the character while attending a course at the University of Washington. “I learned that defense attorneys, insurance companies, and some citizens use them.  The two women who taught the class were investigators, one civil and the other criminal.  It gave a terrific overview.  We reviewed police reports and had a whole range of guest speakers. I also made contact with some in the Seattle Police Department since it is not unusual for a retired police officer to become a PI.  They let me do a ride along.  It was really interesting since there were a huge variety of calls: a possible bank robbery, a detox, and someone who threw a hamburger at someone else.  It gave me a real appreciation for the work a patrol officer must do. They are social workers, mediators, and have to work with a varied and difficult population.  I saw the other side of the police that is rarely seen on the news today.”

The author is excited that ABC is teaming up with producer Mark Gordon to adapt the first two books into a TV series.  The pilot is possibly being filmed this fall season, about a family drama set around the Ludlow family business, a high-powered personal injury law firm.

Brutality balances real-life themes with an exciting story.  The protagonist is a well-developed character whose dry narration enhances the action. The sub-plot regarding the complex family dynamics is very well written.


Book Review - "Target Utopia" by Jim DeFelice and Dale Brown

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.

9780062122872_p0_v1_s192x300Target Utopia, a Dreamland thriller, by Jim DeFelice and Dale Brown is an exciting read.  As with the earlier Dreamland books there is a return to the action-packed scenes of air fights, and the character interaction is strewn with tension.  At the forefront of all the action is the main character, Breanna Stockard.

Although she is not among those who are directly fighting on the front lines, Breanna is the focal point.  As the Whiplash Director of the Department of Defense Office of Special Technology she must decide the mission and the fate of those she sends into harm’s way.  In addition, her relationships with her husband, Senator Zen Stockard, her father, Tecumseh Bastian, and one of Whiplash’s pilot, Captain Turk Mako is explored; yet, there is not any resolution in this book. 

In an action-packed plot, Breanna sends a Whiplash team headed by Colonel Danny Freah into Malaysia to investigate Muslim extremists who have found a UAV.  Along with pilot Turk Mako and newcomer pilot, Torbin Van Garetn (Cowboy) they discover a conspiracy that involves a former member of the taskforce team, Lloyd Braxton. They are in a desperate race to recover the aircraft and capture those responsible before actions will set off World War III.

An interesting point explored is how commanders must decide which is more important the mission or those who they must command.  DeFelice noted to blackfive.net, “I wanted to explore the balance between accomplishing the mission and risking people’s lives.  Commanders must deal with the practical and philosophical issues.” 

Besides Breanna other interesting characters include President Mary Christine Todd who is someone any American would want as the first woman President.  She is willing to listen to all points of view, including those who disagree with her, is always willing to make the hard decision, understands her goals, and has a realistic point of view.  Another noteworthy character is the villain, Braxton.  He is very intelligent, a science nerd, self-absorbed, socially stunted, and narcissistic, inotherwords a psychopath.  He believes in Kallipolis, the psychopathic take on Plato, that philosopher kings would run the world. 

DeFelice also gave a heads up about a future book.  He will be writing a new series with Dale Brown, a spy thriller involving robotics.  This techno-thriller is based on technology just released and is written closer to the present time than the Dreamland novels.

Whether writing a fiction or non-fiction book, DeFelice has an inspirational story where the backdrop is real world events.


Book Review - "What Lies Behind" by J.T. Ellison

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.

9780778316503_p0_v2_s192x300What Lies Behind by J. T. Ellison is a realistic, frightening novel about bio-terrorism.  Because the plot takes place in one harrowing day the action never seems to stop.  It can be seen as a warning for a terrorist threat that seems to have fallen under the radar. 

The main character, Dr. Samantha (Sam) Owens, is no longer a medical examiner and is now teaching and working with the FBI. Samantha is awakened by a police investigation in her Georgetown neighborhood.  Her friend, homicide detective Darren (Fletch) Fletcher, asks her to look over the evidence and help solve the murder/suicide case. Instead, she discovers hidden toxic substances, which turns the case upside down.  As they try to figure out what is happening Fletch and Sam are summoned to the State Department. In typical Washington DC fashion, they find themselves up against red tape, smoke and mirrors, and a one-sided discussion.  Sam and Fletch must navigate between the different agencies to thwart the terrorists and find the killers.

Ellison noted to blackfive.net, “After reading this story on hemorrhagic fevers I became fascinated with the subject.  I talked to a virologist, Eric Mossel, PH.D who was instrumental in helping me develop the story and finding the right path between fiction and reality. Since I wanted to make the plot realistic I had him guide me through everything I was planning.  He gave me the details on the creation of vaccines.  I found out that it is not hard to taint them. I started the story about four months before the Ebola outbreak.  I remember having to change things because I wanted to stay away from the headlines.  It seemed every day something captured what I had written. “

The other storyline involves Sam’s fiancée, former Army Ranger, Xander Whitefield, who recently started a personal protection company.  He and his partner are protecting a British industrialist from an assassination attempt.  Ellison skillfully merges this storyline with the bio-terrorism plot to make for a riveting and suspenseful novel.

A small sub-plot presented in the middle of the book has Sam investigating a series of unsolved murders that have spanned twenty years.  Bringing this in during the intense main plot presented some distraction.  However, at the end of the storyline she does a good job of foreshadowing with this plotline the next Sam book.

All the characters are very well developed, especially the newly created Robin Souleyret.  She is reminiscent of a female Mitch Rapp, the famous Vince Flynn CIA operative.  While investigating her sister’s murder and the connection to bio-terrorism, she must decide what moral lines to cross.  Having to overcome a severe head injury from an IED she sets out to prove she is capable of making the correct decisions. 

The author feels Robin is an “awesome, incredible character.  She completely takes over the story and resonates with readers.  After disappointing her sister in the worst way she is attempting to redeem herself.  Robin is a compelling character because she is a moral person doing immoral things for the greater good, killing people who need to be killed.”

What Lies Behind has an explosive storyline that is all too realistic.  The plot is a compelling mystery with a lot of action and terror. 


Book Review - "The Breaking Point" by Jefferson Bass

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.

9780062262332_p0_v3_s192x300The Breaking Point by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, known professionally as Jefferson Bass, realistically uses forensics to solve crimes.  Jefferson is a writer and documentary filmmaker while Dr. Bass is a forensic anthropologist and founder of the renowned research facility, the Body Farm. With all of their fictional books they intertwine a powerful crime mystery with details about forensic science.

The plot opens with the FBI working at the Body Farm, taking a course on evidence response.  They learn how to handle the location and identification of skeletal remains.  Shortly thereafter, there is a devastating plane crash resulting in fragmenting body parts, making it difficult to identify the victims. Working closely with the FBI the main character, Dr. Bill Brockton, is asked to help find the remains of a maverick millionaire who was supposedly killed in the fiery plane crash.  Brockton has made a reputation for himself as a prominent forensic anthropologist while doing research and teaching at the University of Tennessee, home to the Body Farm. Brockton must determine if the philanthropist is a diabolical killer and has faked his own death or has really died in the crash. 

What makes this story very powerful and a tearjerker is that Brockton suffers one crisis after another.  The parallels with the prophet Job are evident, considering Brockton is a good person who is beset with horrendous disasters that take away all he holds dear. He is seen as drowning, with his life spinning out of control.  First his identification of the crash victim(s) is called into question.  Then he receives a threatening message from the serial killer who attempted to kill his family.  Because this a prequel the next line might be a spoiler alert for those who did not read previous books:  his beloved wife Kathleen, a soul mate and the source of his security, tells him she is dying of cancer. 

The comparison to Job was done, according to Jefferson, because “I wanted to explore suffering.  Dr. Brockton is a decent man who is caught up in personal and professional problems.  We want to bring in something new in every book and not do retreads.  Like Job, he is a man pushed to his limits, but unlike Job not everything turns out fine for him regarding his personal life.  I think that is more realistic.”

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the discussion of veteran issues.  A shout out is given to the Vietnam veterans, in the quote, “Our conflicted feelings-our national shame-had created an unwritten but undeniable tragic domestic policy: a policy of pretending that Vietnam had never happened, and of turning a blind, indifferent eye to Vietnam vets and their postwar troubles.”  Yet, there is also a scene in the book where the research of the Body Farm, studying time of death, is called into question, since some of the subjects were corpses of veterans. 

Dr. Bass explained to blackfive.net, “The scene in the book about the complaint regarding the veteran’s bodies is true, although we took artistic license.  A major challenge to the Body Farm occurred when the Tennessee Department of Veteran Affairs discovered some of the research subjects were veterans.  These were unclaimed bodies and the city/county did not want to incur the expense of a burial so they gave me the bodies.  I did not know that some of the corpses were veterans.  After I found out I sent the six bodies back.  I am very sympathetic because I am a Korean War vet.  They wanted to shut down the Body Farm but I prevailed since it is obvious that the research is valuable and helps to solve cases.”

Jon Jefferson regards “our country’s treatment of Vietnam vets as shameful.  Returning Vietnam vets have paid the price for this national ambivalence, which I think is dreadful.  I was lucky since I had a high lottery number drawn so I was not called.  I put in the book a quote about how Dr. Brockton was able to stay out of the war.”

Although the story of The Breaking Point is fictional the science is all too real.  What makes the plot fascinating is that readers will have a hard time separating fact from fiction.  This novel has all the elements of a page-turner: mystery, danger, and suspense.  Yet, it also tugs at people’s emotions as grief and loss are explored, something that can resonate with everyone.


Book Review - "The Insider Threat" by Brad Taylor

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.

9780698190856_p0_v3_s192x300The Insider Threat by Brad Taylor is a realistic thriller.  As a retired Lt. Colonel and a veteran of the US Special Forces he writes from his experiences and insights, creating a great premise.  Although this story is fiction it is also a chilling reminder regarding the serious threat of ISIS. 

The plot has Pike Logan, the head of Taskforce, a covert terrorist unit, working with his team to thwart terrorist attacks.  From Kenya to Jordan to Europe and possibly here in America they must find and stop ISIS recruits who are Americans with passports that allow them to move freely throughout the world.

Taylor told blackfive.net, “Libya is terrorist central, and I wanted to show the linkage with terrorism.  That is why in the beginning of the book I put the quotes from them and allow readers to see how their words are dangerous.  These people going to the Islamic State have a love for killing.  By and large their policy is to be archaic and do disgusting acts.  There is no negotiating with ISIS, since it only values killing people who they see as Infidels.  They speak in ‘556,’ that is their language.  Since ‘556’ is a military round of an army rifle, it becomes obvious there is no reasoning with them.”

All of the protagonists are strong, independent, and complicated individuals whose sole passion is protecting what is right and good in this world.  Israeli agents Aaron and Shoshana are fascinating characters that are brought back from the previous story.  The interactions of all these characters make for good and humorous banter. Readers will root for these characters with Shoshana seen as a female Pike.

Taylor noted, “I wanted to find a way to bring the Israeli agents back for this book.  I found out how to do it when I discovered through research that the beheaded journalist, Steven Sotloff, actually had dual Israeli-American citizenship.  The interaction between these characters makes for an interesting story.  Shoshana is a victim of her own violent circumstances, which makes her different than Jennifer who still sees the world through rose colored glasses.  Pike likes Shoshana because she is similar to him: not politically correct and will bend the rules as far as she can go, unless given a direct order.”

On the other hand, the antagonists are pure evil. They are based on the 1987 movie The Lost Boys, where a gang of vampires recruits teenage boys.  Taylor labels his terrorist group, The Lost Boys, who are young American men that have gone to the dark side by working with ISIS.  They are blond haired, blue-eyed with no social media presence, who can slip easily into the US, falling under the radar.  Another interesting fact is that a main terrorist is named Ringo, while others are called the Beatles, named after the legendary rock group because of their English accents.

A theme evident in all of Taylor’s books is the how commanders must play Monday morning quarterback.  Based on his own experiences, Taylor “wants to show if you make a decision in combat it may not necessarily be the correct one.  Sometimes you make a decision and bad things happen, which you must live with and try to learn from.” 

The Insider Threat has nonstop action, and a very realistic plot.  As with Tom Clancy novels he is able to write about serious dangers in a very suspenseful and intense way.  Through well-defined characters and dialogue this novel is a page-turner that is a must read.


Book Review - "Secrets of State" by Matthew Palmer

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 on the right side bar.

9780399165719_p0_v2_s260x420Secrets of State by Matthew Palmer is a spy thriller that has diplomats instead of operatives.  With Matthew venturing into the thriller writer world, it became an all in the family affair since his late father, Michael Palmer, and his brother Daniel also are authors.  While Michael Palmer concentrated on hospitals and doctors to set the story, Matthew uses the world as a backdrop. 

He commented to blackfive.net, about his dad who was a best-selling author, “I learned how to write a novel from my dad as we sat around the dinner table.  He would explain how to tell a story, construct a character, shape a story arc, and keep readers engaged. My brother and I learned from pop to create tension by taking an ordinary person and putting them in extraordinary circumstances.  But it is hard to do that with the same guy twice, which is why my brother and I write stand-alones instead of a series.”

He went on to say, “My dad was tremendously helpful and supportive.  He got a huge kick from his kids writing.  One of the great tragedies is that he passed away before the publication date of my first book.  One of the most rewarding days of my life was the debut of my first book, American Mission. I walked into a Barnes & Noble and saw on the 'new-release' shelf, my father's final book, my book, and my brother's book, all lined up alphabetically alongside each other. This was a great moment.”

As a State Department employee for the last 24 years that included working in its think tank and at the National Security Council he is able to use his experiences to write interesting plots.  In this stand-alone Sam Trainor, the former top South Asia expert in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, has found a job in the private sector.  He now works as an analyst for the consulting firm of Argus Systems where he stumbles upon an intelligence anomaly.  He realizes that this transcript of a phone conversation about upending the political balance between India and Pakistan is misinformation that could cause an all out war between these nuclear countries.  Sam must race against a ticking clock and find the terrorists who have stolen a Pakistani nuclear warhead to detonate in Mumbai, India. 

Although fiction, readers learn about the complex Indian caste system between the elite and the slums.  They are also exposed to a modern day Machiavellian scenario: does the end justify the means. The book has a quote from Stalin, “the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of a hundred thousand is a statistic.” The protagonist, Sam must answer the question throughout the book, should one person be sacrificed to save many? 

The book also explores the affect of outsourcing America’s national security to private corporations.  The villains see themselves as Patriots willing to do anything to keep America safe.  Viewing the US President as misguided and not willing to make the hard choices they plan on stripping Pakistan of its nuclear weapons by setting one off in India and creating a new war.  Palmer brings to the forefront the issue of how secure are nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue nations.

What Palmer wants the reader to get out his books, “I hope people see this threat and to think of the morality and ethical issues including how far should we go to prevent terrorists from gaining access to Pakistan’s nuclear program.  I also want to change how diplomats are viewed.  Diplomats are frustrated for getting the short end of the stick in popular culture.  We are never heroes and are cast as unsympathetic bureaucrats.  I hope Americans see that diplomats have gotten a bum rap over the years.  It is a dangerous job for the most junior officer to the most senior.  If you walk into the State Department you will see on both sides of the wall engraved names of US diplomats who lost their lives in the line of duty. It is a long list.”

He also gave a heads up about his next book, The Wolf of Sarajevo Set in the Balkans, where Palmer spent many years as a diplomat, the hero must try to figure out who is pushing for a new conflict in the area and why.

His books do not have shootouts and the protagonist is not a super hero. The plot is moved along more by the characters words than their actions.  The intrigue of Secrets of State is the details of how diplomats must maneuver through international and domestic politics, sometimes risking their own life in doing so. 


Book Review - "Tiny Little Thing" by Beatriz Williams

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.

9780399171307_p0_v2_s260x420Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams is a superb read.  It combines politics, mystery and romance within a historical background. It is a character driven storyline driven by the issues of the mid-1960s, including political intrigue, the controversy of the Vietnam veterans, and the treatment of women. 

The story alternates between the years 1964 and 1966.  The reader becomes engrossed in the family dynamics.  The narration switches between the main female character, Christina (Tiny) Hardcastle’s 1966 perspective and Major Caspian (Cap) Harrison’s 1964 outlook. The plot begins with Tiny’s husband, Frank, attending the Medal of Honor Ceremony for his cousin Caspian.  Frank sees this as a valued photo-op, which will help his run for Congress in Massachusetts.  Intertwined in the political plotline is a mystery involving a photograph sent to Tiny and a car found in the Cape Cod shed of her husband’s family.  Throughout the rest of the book readers become part of the character’s lives, being transported into the 1960’s era, as they try to solve the secrets along with the characters. 

Beatriz stated to blackfive.net, “I wanted to write a compelling story of a political dynasty with the patriarch pushing behind the scenes for this to happen.  I always loved history from childhood.  In college I majored in Anthropology that included the study of history and human nature.  I was able to incorporate my studies into my writings, where history becomes the scenery, weaved into the plot.  I think of myself as a historical novelist. The 1960s presented the friction between the traditional and the modern, which included intense social, political, economic, and artistic change.”

One of the most fascinating characters is Major Caspian, who is modeled after John Wayne: strong, silent, a hero, masculine, and honest.  He becomes Tiny’s savior who is trying to escape living the perfect façade.  Initially she has no say in her marriage, expected to be the perfect political wife.  Together with her husband they are seen as the ultimate power couple: intelligent, rich, and attractive.  They must both live-up to their parent’s expectations. But with the help of her sister Pepper Schuyler, she gains strength and fights for her independence. 

A supporting character, Tom, plays the antagonist to Caspian’s protagonist.  Explored in depth is the issue about how US soldiers were treated when they returned home from Vietnam. Tom is constantly putting Cap down for enlisting and fighting in Vietnam.  Throughout the book he makes disgusting references to the Major, “I can’t sit here and eat dinner with these people.  You fat, satisfied pigs who give medals to fucking murderers.” Yet, it is the major that grabs reader’s sympathies.

She noted to blackfive.net, “I did a crash course in the Vietnam War.  I want the readers who were against the war to recognize they were blaming the wrong people.  I deliberately portrayed one character, Tom, as obnoxious toward the Major.  He is someone who enjoys privilege without recognizing the sacrifice of those serving.  He would certainly never make that sacrifice himself.  My grandfather was a torpedo bomber in the Pacific during World War II.  I understand the sacrifices made by soldiers.  That is why I had Caspian lose a leg in the war.  I wanted to emphasize people change in a fundamental way either physically or mentally.”

There is also a shout out to wounded warriors in the dedication and through Caspian, a paraplegic who lost a leg during the war.  William’s writes, “To all those who return from war not quite whole and to the people who love them.” The story allows the reader to understand the sacrifices those serving have made for their country.  

Tiny Little Thing is a fascinating look at wealth, love, power, ambition, and to what length family members will go to protect each other.  The historical events in the book are intertwined perfectly within the lives of the characters that make for a realistic and gripping story.