Book Review - "What Remains of Me" by Alison Gaylin

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.

9780062369857_p0_v1_s192x300 (1)What Remains Of Me by Alison Gaylin is a captivating story.  The bestselling author Jeffery Deaver once said, “A thriller asks what is going to happen and a mystery asks what happened.”  In this spellbinding story, Gaylin does both through her character Kelly Lund, portraying her as a teenager and a woman in her forties.  There are multiple themes explored including the effect of secrets, how money and power corrupt, as well as how the media frenzy attempts to put a persona on a celebrity. These are all wonderfully intertwined throughout this story about the world of Hollywood.

The plot alternates between two murders, with the suspect being the same person, Kelly Lund.  In 1980, as a seventeen year old, she is found guilty of killing director John McFadden. Released after twenty-five years, she attempts to maintain a low profile until five years later when she is again suspected of murdering her father-in-law, a legendary actor, Sterling Marshall.

Readers are shown the circus surrounding the coverage of a famous murderer, and are reminded of the O.J. Simpson and Charles Manson cases. In this story, the media casts Kelly in a role that becomes reality to the outsiders. As one of the characters in the book says, "It's not what you've done that matters, it's what people think you've done." As the plot progresses people are able to understand the dark secrets, lies, and betrayals caused by power and money.

The power of the press is explored because Gaylin wants readers to understand, “The press can be as unreliable as anyone else.  It is impossible to get to know someone from an article.  A sense of that person is colored by the writer’s perception of that person.  Facts as they are presented are many times different than facts as they are.  This distortion is definitely true in high profile trials.  We can never truly know our public figures. Just look at Marcia Clark, the Simpson prosecutor.  She became well known in a murder case where a young actress was shot by an obsessed fan.  She helped establish the anti-stalking laws.  But after the O.J. case she became known as the lady with funny hair who botched the case. A lot of the Hollywood aspect is larger than life. BTW:  Clark is now a terrific mystery writer.  On the other side is Amanda Knox.  The press created a persona of her because she didn’t act according to some prescribed script. That story inspired me. If your exterior isn't viewed as likable, or if you don't seem as contrite as people think you ought to be, a narrative builds up around you, and you become a 'monster.'”

Even though all the characters are dysfunctional, Gaylin does a good job of showing the reasons behind their faults and personalities.  Kelly and her friend Bellamy Marshall become more likeable as the story progresses.  In many ways they both had rough lives, having faced some very bad knocks.  They attempt to hide their true feelings, and become almost compartmentalized with their emotions.  In understanding these two characters the fairy tale The Prince and The Pauper comes to mind.  Both Kelly and Bellamy envy what the other supposedly has. Kelly searches to replace her twin sister Catherine who died and Bellamy wants her to be the sibling sister she never had.  Each looked upon the other’s life and thought how that life could be better than their own.  

Regarding her character Kelly, Gaylin commented to, “Writing young and middle age Kelly was like writing two different characters.  I try to figure out how every character justifies their actions. She was affected by her twenty-five years in prison, and the loss of her twin sister.  I think it stunted her and hardened her.  I hope readers will develop some understanding of her.  She as well as the other characters went down the wrong path. I wanted to write a story about someone very young and somewhat naïve who was accused of committing a murder.  She was definitely convicted in the court of public opinion with people misconstruing what she said and how she acted.”

The only character that seems to have some semblance of being grounded is known as Rocky Three. He becomes Kelly’s confidant and someone she can believe in, a friend who offers tenderness, compassion, and truthfulness. The direct opposite of Rocky is the narcissist John McFadden, a truly evil person who uses his power to prey on young girls. This is brought home with the powerful quote, “You ever wish you were a little kid again…too little to understand how the world works?”  Readers begin to understand that many children in the Hollywood scene grow up way too fast, and begin to realize that the world is not always a nice place.

Anyone fascinated with Hollywood and true crimes needs to read What Remains Of Me. Gaylin uses her journalistic credentials to have the plot and the characters come alive.  This emotional, dark, and distinctive tale of revenge and betrayal, presumed guilt and innocence lost, will have the readers quickly turning the pages.

Book Review "Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror" and Interview with General (Ret) Michael Hayden, former Director of the N.S.A. and C.I.A.

The following book review and interview 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.

9781594206566_p0_v4_s192x300Playing To The Edge, written by former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, offers insight into many of the programs under his responsibility. He discusses NSA’s data collection, the enhanced interrogation program, relations with Congress and the media. It also delves into the political, legal, defense, technical and budget restrictions he faced during his tenure as a director of the NSA and CIA

Hayden told he wrote the book “to pull back the veil to give Americans a better understanding of what the intelligence community does for American security.  Despite its great importance, it is highly misunderstood.” The book highlights NSA data collection, and Hayden makes a very good point, that much of the fear is rooted in misunderstanding. He clearly explains how Stellarwind, the Metadata program, became an enormously useful way to track who foreign terrorists are talking to in the United States without sacrificing any significant measure of privacy. Readers will understand that those in the intelligence community and the Bush Administration were not focused on world domination, and had no interest in listening to a person’s phone calls, unless they were speaking with a terrorist.

It becomes evident after reading the book and talking with General Hayden that intelligence operates in a universal gray area, where there is a need to balance freedom and security.  He explained, “We put together with Stellarwind a massive file of the history of American phone calls.  But the files were accessed only with strict and limited circumstances.  For example, if you pick up a phone never seen before, associated with terrorism, you can ask the database if the phone’s history has ever been in contact with anyone in the US.  The database is accessed by an intelligence professional that thinks they have a reasonable suspicion that a particular phone number is connected with terrorism.  In order for John Doe to be triggered he would have to be in touch with either, directly or indirectly, a phone number overseas that is believed to be terrorist related.”

Hayden basically agrees with John Brennan, the current CIA Director, who said in an interview, “individuals are liberally giving up their privacy, you know, sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly as they give information to companies or to sales reps. Or they go out on Facebook or the various social media. They don't realize though that they are then making themselves vulnerable to exploitation.”

But more importantly what Hayden wants to focus upon is that America should be “capturing terrorists and detaining them for interrogation.  How we get to that point is to elect another president.  This President grabs someone only if he can put them in an article III court, instead of treating them as enemy combatants.”

Congress and this administration have shown a betrayal of trust where the CIA is concerned; yet, has done nothing regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails.  Hayden noted, “I have not seen the emails.  But, once you set up a private server it can’t go to a happy place because it is unprotected.  As a former Director of the NSA if a potential adversary of the US had done this I would have moved heaven and earth to see the information.  It was imprudent and I cannot understand why the folks at the State Department did not say to her she could not do it.  The explanation she gives is incoherent for anyone who was in government.”

The book further explains the Hayden Doctrine. When asked about it, he directly commented to, “Balancing openness with the need for secrecy is a condition to be managed, not a problem to be solved.  We should lean forward as far as possible in telling our story.  If we do not do this other people will, without being as accurate or as favorable.  We need to communicate to the broader society what we do and the reasons behind it.  Because too much information is classified this breeds carelessness in protecting what is really secret. But we have to be open internally as well.  I created a program, ‘Email The Director.’  Something seemed to be working because by 2008 we were only in the press because of Congress.”

In Playing To The Edge Michael Hayden shows how important intelligence is to America’s security.  People might not always agree with him, but one thing is for certain he believes in the Constitution, is a patriot, and his only agenda is to protect his fellow citizens. Americans should thank him for his service and consider him a true American hero who stepped up to the plate to defend the homeland.

Book Review - "The Steel Kiss" by Jeffery Deaver

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.

9781455536344_p0_v2_s192x300The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver is a gripping Lincoln Rhyme’s thriller.  The plot feeds right into people’s fears.  Although technology today plays a large role in everyday life, after reading this, readers will never look on devices the same way. If his goal is to scare the heck out of readers he succeeded beyond comprehension with this novel. 

The plot begins with New York City detective Amelia Sachs chasing a suspect through a busy mall.  As she is about to apprehend him an escalator malfunctions with horrendous consequences, someone is mangled to death. It becomes evident that a person is hacking into consumer products to kill people, and appears to enjoy watching the suffering, either physically or emotionally. Amelia enlists the help of her boyfriend, famous forensic scientist Lincoln Rhyme to assist in solving the crime. They must race against the clock to catch the perpetrator before he hacks into more appliances and the victim count becomes greater.

The author commented, “I do like to create a world where the killers appear somewhat sympathetic and are complicated characters that have interesting elements; yet are despicable.  I chose to show the terror of these consumer products, such as microwaves, baby monitors, and escalators.  Who is at fault, the consumer or manufacturer? For example, if someone misuses a car there are consequences. That is different from someone hacking into the control system of a car to cause an accident.  I thought about all this and realized how wonderful and what a great way to terrify readers.”

There are many sub-plots in this book.  Fans of this series will wonder where the Sachs/Rhyme relationship is headed.  Her ex-boyfriend, Nick Carelli has been released from prison and he asks Amelia for help in clearing his name. Another sub-plot involves Officer Ron Pulaski who goes undercover in an attempt to prove Lincoln was not responsible for someone’s murder.  This allows Deaver to present readers with a new fascinating character, Juliette Archer, an intern, who is also a quadriplegic.  She is vibrant and uses her knowledge of riddles to lighten the mood while everyone attempts to solve the crime.  An example of one of her riddles, “Two sons and two fathers go fishing.  Each one catches a fish.  They return from the trip with only three fish.  How can that be?”

Deaver told, “I put in the riddles to give Juliette some quirkiness.  I decided to give Lincoln someone he can help and mentor.  She is quite charming, interesting, and self-confident. The reason I made Lincoln a quadriplegic is to have a character that only has their intellect as a weapon, having Sherlock Holmes skills.  This became the book the Bone Collector.  Lincoln had to use his mind and intuitive skills, because as a quadriplegic he had no other resources.  I had no idea he would be so popular.  At first, he was paralyzed from the shoulders down, but after some surgeries he regained certain movements of his right arm and fingers.” 

Book Review - "Overwatch" by Matthew Betley

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.

9781476799216_p0_v4_s192x300Overwatch by Matthew Betley has an action plot with non-stop shootouts, exploding bombs, home invasions, drug cartels, and terrorists.  Having served in Iraq Betley uses his experiences to create a gripping plot.

He commented to, “As a Marine junior officer I commanded a scout sniper platoon.  Although I had a lot of tactical training my deployments were in a staff support function. Unfortunately, mortars and rockets don’t care about what capacity someone is in.  When I was in Iraq US forces took the most missile fire during the war. The locations, settings, military units, and certain narrative components are all very real, but the overall story is completely my own. I decided to write this story because I read some bestsellers that bored me.  I wanted to write something I would personally want to read, an action packed thriller.  I created a modern day action hero who had some issues going back to the origins set in Iraq.”

The story begins when former Marine Recon Commander Logan West attempts to get his life back on track and reconnect with his wife before the divorce is finalized.  As a relapsing alcoholic and someone suffering from PTSD he must deal with his demons. West has nightmares about the ambush that his Force Recon unit suffered in Iraq during an insurgent attack on a compound in Fallujah in 2004.  But that is all put on hold when someone tries to kill him and his wife.  After answering the dead killer’s phone West begins to connect the dots, realizing that a terrorist attack is imminent.  The key appears to be an Iraqi flag that is currently owned by his friend and fellow Marine, John Quick.  The FBI hires both ex-Marines as consultants to help thwart the attack that will draw the US into a war with Iran.  It becomes clear they must battle ex-US military, now hired as mercenaries, by Calin Frost, a private security consultant out for revenge. 

Readers might be a bit skeptical how West can conduct himself while still having re-occurring blackouts and alcoholic binges.  West’s withdrawal symptoms could have created problems even if he seems to have a superhuman ability to lock into the mission.

Because Betley is a recovering alcoholic, sober for seven years, he told, he made those scenes very realistic.  He noted, “I was a highly functioning weekend alcoholic.  I would get hammered on the weekends.  I thought about what would happen if I were in a bender.  I basically would not stop drinking until I was hammered.”

Overwatch has the action taking place all over the globe, from Mexico, to America, specifically the Alamo, to the war torn Iraq Al-Anbar province.  This debut novel has non-stop action that has readers feeling the realities of combat.


Book Review - "Hard Cold Winter" by Glen Erik Hamilton

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.

9780062344588_p0_v2_s192x300Hard Cold Winter by Glen Erik Hamilton combines a mysterious plot with very powerful characters. Featured is Van Shaw, a former Army Ranger who must come to grips with making the transition from military to civilian life.

The major theme is trust. Hamilton explores how someone needs to depend on their friends and have confidence in their own choices. The plot begins with Van helping one of his late grandfather’s associates search for his high school acquaintance, Elana Call, in Seattle’s Olympic Mountains. What he finds instead is a brutal murder scene, including a victim from one of Seattle’s most influential families. He is caught in the middle of a confrontation between a billionaire and a drug cartel. On a mission to find the truth behind Elana’s disappearance, Van must trust his instincts to find a resolution.

Van’s life is a number of transitions, including trying to avoid joining the criminal world of his grandfather, and becoming a civilian after his Afghanistan deployments. He also wrestles with his own reemerging symptoms of PTSD caused during his combat days. A new character also suffers, former Army Ranger Leo Pak. The author explores the issue through the camaraderie they face, with each expressing their feelings, experiences, symptoms, and therapy.

The plot skillfully handles the real impact PTSD has on some veterans. Hamilton commented, “I did my homework. In addition to a lot of reading on the subject, including David Finkel’s excellent Thank You For Your Service, I talked to Army vets and former Rangers about their own tours, how they thought about combat stress while active, and how that has changed since they’ve become civilians. Some of those soldiers were very open and honest about their issues and frustrations, and I owe them a great deal. There are no pat answers. As I mention in the book, there may be dozens of options for medical or psychological help, but navigating the system can be overwhelming. Some make it through and find what they need. Others don’t, or can’t.”

While there are similarities between Van and Leo, Hamilton contrasts Van and his girlfriend Luce Boylan. Both came from criminal families, but Luce chose the straight and narrow path, practically raising herself. On the other hand, Van relied on the military to keep him focused, but always seems to be drawn in with the criminal element.

Hamilton told, “Van is working on the transition between the life he wants and the life he now has. The next book will continue this storyline. He is trying to figure out his life without the military structure. He does not think of himself as a ‘war junkie’ but realizes he is not the type to sit at a desk forty hours a week. In the next book he tries to reconcile a balance between the criminal life of his past and his moral center.”

In Hard Cold Winter readers will learn more about what makes Van tick through an interesting backstory. This plot has likeable characters, a good mystery, and is informative about what combat veterans must face.

Marine Raiders Film at Indiegogo

Kat Croft befriended a Marine Raider.  After his death, she was witness to the way his brothers in arms welcomed him home from war and honored his memory.  She has decided she would like to try to capture the story on film, and is seeking a very modest budget of $15,000 for production.  She has raised more than a third of this money already.

If any of you would like to support her efforts, please follow the link above. 

Book Review - "The Good Liar" by Nicholas Searle

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.

9780062407498_p0_v3_s192x300The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle is a fascinating thriller.  The plot is intense with the main characters seen as either very likeable or having no redeeming qualities.

Although the first few chapters are slow and readers will question where the plot is going they should realize that as the book progresses the storyline will grab their attention.

This thought-provoking plot has many twists.  Roy, a conman, now in his eighties, thinks he has an easy mark after an online meeting with Betty, a wealthy widow.  Soon, they fall into a platonic relationship, with Roy moving into Betty’s cottage. He does this to grab the unsuspecting widow’s money, thinking of her as the perfect mark.  Yet, as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that there is a cat and mouse game going on between the characters. 

The author told, “I based it upon a relative of mine.  While in her seventies she met someone, finding him on the Internet.  She wanted a companion and thought this man was an utterly charming person.  By the time we met him he had moved in with her.  Within ten seconds of meeting him I knew there was something odd about this person.  The rest was a voyage of discovery.  I found out he lied about absolutely everything including his age, what he did for a living, and his relationships.  He actually moved in with other women even though he was married.  I became fascinated with him.  Just like my character Roy he was imposing:  tall, strong, broad shouldered, with piercing blue eyes.  I wrote the backward sequencing because in my mind I started wondering what both Roy and the real life person were like twenty years ago, then thirty years ago, and so on.”

The two main characters are as divergent as they come.  Roy’s personality alternates between being charming and manipulative.  Those he has schemed in the past are dead to him both figuratively and literally.  He is malevolent, hateful, cunning, selfish, and a borderline psychotic.  Contrast that with Betty, who is highly intelligent, attractive, and articulate. 

Searle noted, “Roy never feels a shred of guilt and has no conscience.  He does not care about anyone. People can draw optimism from Betty.  She is a survivor, petite, intelligent, and has an indomitable spirit.” 

Readers get to understand the characters through flashbacks into their lives that appear in reverse chronological order.  The time periods alternate between the present and past, from August 1998, September 1973, March 1963, August 1957, May 1946 and finally to December 1938. As the book progresses, readers are able to start connecting the dots, realizing where the mystery is headed.

The Good Liar is also a con job for readers allowing them to think the story is headed in one direction, but soon realizing that the twists take them on a completely different turn.  This debut novel has a very ingenious ending.  It will keep people guessing and on the edge of their seats.


Book Review - "No Shred of Evidence" by Charles Todd

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.

9780062386182_p0_v3_s192x300No Shred Of Evidence by Charles Todd is a story centered around Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge.  This story is definitely plot driven plunging Rutledge into the world of upper class societal families.  With vivid depictions of England during the 1920’s readers will feel as if they are taken back in time.

The basic premise of the plot has the entire “murder case” resting upon one eyewitness statement.  It becomes a “he said, she said” story when Bradford Trevose accuses four women of murder.  They vehemently deny the accusation, insisting that they attempted to rescue a man who called for help as his boat started to sink.  Rutledge is called in to investigate while navigating the concerns and influence of the families of the women, all drawn from England's upper class, including Kate Gordon. She is someone from his past, last seen six years earlier, who was in love with him. The Todd’s noted, “Ian is not the bachelor type and wants to be married.  We suggest things and he sometimes look at us like we are crazy.  We will just have to wait and see what happens.”

The second half of the novel spins a sub-plot in the story.  Trying to remain neutral he must untangle this mystery and find the real killer.  But his job is made more complicated since it appears there is no shred of evidence to clear the accused. But after a second assault, Rutledge’s inquiry takes an unexpected turn. This nameless killer seems to be invisible to both the local police and townspeople.  With slim clues his investigation begins to go in a different direction. 

The Todd’s commented to, “We’ve always liked to write about a period when a policeman had to detect, to actively work at finding the truth, rather than looking to the lab to support his suspicions.  This is harder work for us, but more challenging too. Rutledge has been very good at realizing that an inquiry going nowhere might actually mean that there is another possibility that isn’t obvious enough on the surface to be explored.”

Readers are able to understand the time period compared to modern times.  The authors explore how perception and someone’s personal agenda can influence their eyewitness story.  A very interesting part of the story is how Detective Rutledge must use his skills to sort out the facts without the benefit of the DNA tools of today.  

Another emphasis of the time period is how women were regarded.  Was the eye- witness’ story believed over the four women because he was a male?  It appears women were supposed to be seen, but not heard.  They had to follow certain rules and never protest. 

As with all their books there are a few scenes about the War.  These descriptions allows for a comparison between today’s wounded warriors and those in World War I.  The thought-provoking quote tells the story of the wounded, “Shattered bodies, burned or broken or gassed, bloody bandages, so much pain.” 

No Shred Of Evidence tells how an act of mercy turns into a disaster for the four women who tried to be heroes. All of Rutledge’s detective skills are needed to solve the mystery behind a man’s death.  Readers are given clues throughout the book as they attempt to put the pieces together with Rutledge.


Book Review - "Fall of Poppies" edited by Heather Webb

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.

9780062418548_p0_v3_s192x300Fall Of Poppies is an anthology that has settings and writings related to World War I.  These historical fiction stories delve into unique experiences that are told from both the female and male point of views.  Nine authors share stories of hope, strength, and renewal.  The plots are insightful and interesting.  Readers get a glimpse in understanding what the civilian and military population had to endure.

Heather Webb, the editor and brainchild behind this anthology described the process she went through.  “As a former teacher it was a natural skill for me to keep people on tab.  It started out with a brainstorm about Armistice Day, the idea that tied all the stories together.  The guidelines were any country touched by WWI with the time period either beginning on Armistice Day or ending on it.  I contacted authors I knew who either wrote about this era or were interested in it, and they joyfully came on board.  Anyone who loves history will find this time period perfect to explore.”

One of the most gripping stories is All For The Love Of You by Jennifer Robson.  Through a heart warming plot she describes what an American Captain 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.

Another wonderful story that also shows how facial prosthetics gave a wounded warrior confidence to venture outside again is The Record Set Straight by Lauren Willig. Inspired by the pioneering aviator, Denys Finch-Hatton, Willig writes the character, Nicholas Frobisher, an “Aviator with the Iran Mask.” This story examines how two brothers react to losing a part of themselves, Nicholas his face, and Edward his leg. With the help of his friend, who became his wife, Nicholas was able to realize his worth and regain a sense of purpose. The theme emphasizes how peoples’ personal life is tested during war, and the realities they must live with as peace arrives.

Willig commented to, “The tin masks were designed for the maimed soldiers so they would not have to go out in the world and be thought of as freaks.  For me, this was the birth of organizations that pioneered reconstructive technologies. I thought how today’s society is isolated from this current war and compared that to England during WWI where most everyone was touched in some way.  Many of us have less understanding of our soldiers because we are removed and do not comprehend the day to day challenges those fighting must face.”

Readers will also be drawn to the Gone With The Wind comparisons. Willig took that story and beautifully applied it to the World War I time period. There are many of the same elements: an epic war, soldier casualties, and a love triangle where the female lead is in love with one person, but marries someone else.  It also has the Carrington house that becomes a central theme to the plot as the classic book does with Tara.

Another notable chapter, An American Airman In Paris, by Beatriz Williams, brings to life an American pilot, Octavian. Her fans should appreciate how she delved into writing a story that takes place during wartime.  Through her characters, people come to understand the effect World War I had on those who fought it. Readers get into the pilot’s mindset and can relate to his struggles. As with all of her books, Williams explores the historical significance of the era showing how this war, unlike WWII, did not have stand out heroes or villains amongst the leadership.  In addition, she always centers the plot around an object, in this case, a photograph.  This story highlights how the effect of WWI brought about the loss of innocence. 

According to Williams, the photograph represents “Octavian’s childhood, his emotional purity and naivety.  Just as he loses that photograph, all of this is lost in the war, when his ideals were crushed. This included the romantic notion that the war could enable someone rather than debase them, when in actuality it was just the opposite.”

One of the most relatable stories to today’s world is Hour of the Bells by Heather Webb. There are a lot of time metaphors as this author plays off the famous quote, “On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month...November 11, 1918.”  But more powerful is how she speaks for the military families and the effect the war had on one in particular.  Having lost a husband and a son to the brutality of the Germans Beatrix Joubert allows her grief to turn into a desire for revenge.  This story has a woman seeking retaliation against the Germans who she sees as having no moral backbone.  She decides to become a suicide bomber to blow up those that killed her family.

Webb noted to, “I hoped to communicate how warfare in the past does relate to the present. I wanted to tap into and draw a parallel between something that happened a hundred years ago and what is happening today within an intense story.  I wanted to focus on a woman who was completely devastated, but instead of becoming down trodden, she turns her emotions of grief into anger.”

Fall Of Poppies has riveting stories related to World War I.  This anthology of historical short stories allows readers to gain an understanding of the war, its aftermath, and how those on the front lines along with the civilians in harms way deal with loss, hope, and reconnecting in what appeared to be a new world.

Book Review and Author Interview - "Back Blast: A Gray Man Novel" by Mark Greaney

The following book review and interview 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.

9780425282793_p0_v4_s192x300Back Blast by Mark Greaney brings back the Gray Man, a former paramilitary officer with an agenda.  Anyone looking for characters and plotlines in the fashion of Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series should read this book.  It discusses intelligence organizational politics, technology possibilities, and has a main character whose job it is to assassinate bad guys.  The plot is spellbinding and riveting with non-stop action.

The Gray Man, Court Gentry, has been away from the US for five years.  He has returned to find out why his former agency, the CIA, has turned on him, putting a “kill on sight order.”  Realizing he can trust no one he must stay one step ahead of those targeting him.  As bodies pile up Court is blamed for all the deaths, even those he is not responsible for; yet, the Gray Man has the ability to outthink and outgun those hunting for him. 

The characters are captivating.  Court Gentry morally does not wear the black or white hat.  But readers root for him, knowing that all his missions were necessary to keep Americans safe.  This book gives insight into the personality of Court.  Layers of his past are revealed, which allows the readers to understand this very complex character. Over the years he has matured and has become wiser, less trusting, and more fatalistic.  At times he is the hunter searching for his prey, but soon he becomes the hunted.  What makes this character so fascinating is his ability to take the offense when he should be on the run.

Contrast that with Denney Carmichael, the Director of the National Clandestine Service.  His attitude learned, from his Vietnam days, is kill or be killed.  Wanting to climb the ladder in the Agency, his ambitions dictated his desire to eliminate anything construed as negative, including Court.  By creating this elaborate frame up of the Gray Man Carmichael is able to deflect criticism off of himself, and protect what he construes as national security.

An interesting character brought in to make the story more realistic is the reporter Catherine King.  Readers will be reminded of Sharyl Attkisson.  Someone who searches for the truth while uncovering a story, that has no agenda other than finding the facts and the reasons behind why events unfold.  These days there are not many reporters whom people can respect, but King fits into that mold.

Back Blast is one of those books where readers will not want to put it down.  Many of the details are very realistic and the thrilling action will keep people glued to the pages.  Anyone interested in an espionage spy novel should read this book.

Q/A with author below for

Elise Cooper:  How did the Gray Man series come about?

Mark Greaney:  I submitted the plot to my agent who told me that the sub-plot should be what the book is about.  He said it is much more interesting to have the hunter being chased.  This cat and mouse chase turned into the Gray Man series. My agent also helped me with the name of the series, changing it from the Goon Squad to this series title.  The Gray Man name came out of the Special Ops community, which is how they refer to maintaining a low profile.

EC:  Did you base Denny Carmichael on anyone?

MG:  I do hope readers’ dislike this character. It is less about the real world and more about the world the writer created.  But readers can think of people like J. Edgar Hoover. Carmichael thought of himself as a good guy.  He felt Court’s life was a small price to pay to get information that would help the US, that the end justifies the means.  He saw it as a win-win. 

EC:  Why the reporter Catherine King?

MG:  She was based on some real national security reporters.  What the Gray Man had done all over the world is now happening in Washington DC. I thought it would be interesting to have reporters trying to figure out what is going on and how the press would deal with it.  I think Catherine has a lot of integrity.  My father was in TV news, head of the NBC affiliate in Tennessee.  Because of his experience I felt a deep understanding of the media since I have been around it.

EC:  What about the firearms scenes?

MG:  I do own a lot of weapons the characters use in my books. In researching this book I did a lot of firearms training with the leading arms instructor for naval special warfare.  I also trained with a bunch of SWAT guys who had me be a part of the opposition force.  The SWAT team came into a dark house with their flashlights to shoot me with paint balls. I was sore for weeks. Friends of mine are tactical officers whose brains I picked for a free breakfast. 

EC:  What about the drone used to help Court in one of his escapes?

MG:  It is based on Robert Fulton’s Skyhook that the CIA came up with in the 1950s, used to rescue people from behind enemy lines.  This is a modern version I created. The technology is a million times better today so who knows if there could be something like this, but I do not think I would get a patent recognition.

EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next books?

MG:  I will be writing another Clancy book out in December and then another Gray Man will be out next February.  The setting for that book will be Southeast Asia.  I think this next Court book will be less of a spy novel and more of a big action piece.  I want to bring in some new characters. In future books all the previous characters like Catherine will come and go as the plot dictates.