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 blackfive.net, “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 blackfive.net, 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 blackfive.net, “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 blackfive.net, “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 blackfive.net, “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 blackfive.net, “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 blackfive.net, “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 blackfive.net:

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.

THANK YOU!!


Book Review - "Violent Crimes" by Phillip Margolin

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.

9780062266576_p0_v6_s192x300Violent Crimes by Phillip Margolin brings back the “take no prisoner” defense attorney Amanda Jaffe.  In this fifth book of the series she has two clients suspected of the same murder, one accused while the other confesses.  Beyond that readers get an interesting glimpse into the court process given Margolin’s ability to use his experiences of being a former top-notch defense attorney.

He talked about his style of writing, which is plot driven. “Everything starts with some idea.  After that I try to figure out what characters would fit into the story.  Take for example Ties That Bind, I had no intention of putting Amanda and Frank Jaffe in it, but after thinking about it, I knew these characters would fit perfectly.  With Violent Crimes it was a combination of wanting to bring Amanda back, but making sure it did not seemed forced.” 

The plot begins when Amanda is asked to defend Tom Beatty, a former Special Forces Warrior, who has PTSD, and is accused of using excessive force in a bar fight.  Although the charges were dismissed Tom’s troubles are only beginning after he is suspected of murdering his co-worker and dealing drugs.  Shortly after getting him out on bail another lawyer, Dale Materson, is found dead, also beaten to death.  While investigating the case Amanda finds that Materson’s business practices are suspect.  The case gets more complicated when his son, Brandon, a radical activist determined to martyr himself for his cause, claims he killed his father. Amanda now has to defend two clients, trying to prove both innocent.

The contrast between defendants makes for an interesting read.  Tom is someone everyone will root for, while Brandon is as dislikeable as they come.  Margolin explores how sometimes a person’s background can influence how he is regarded.  Because Tom was a former Warrior and now has PTSD he is seen as dangerous, but Margolin does a wonderful job of showing him as loyal, bright, and caring.  On the other hand, Brandon is seen as an obsessed eco-warrior who resents his father for representing the interests of oil and coal companies.  Being Dale’s son it becomes evident that the apple does not fall far from the tree considering Brandon is an egomaniac and thoroughly unpleasant. 

Hopefully no one will ever be put into Tom’s position because Margolin points out in the book “Defending a murder case is expensive… two hundred and fifty thousand to start.”  The plot explains how a death penalty case is unlike any other criminal case including a regular murder trial.  In death cases the same jury decides not only the person’s guilt, but also a day or two later if they should receive the death sentence. 

Margolin commented to blackfive.net, “I have been involved with twelve death penalty cases.  I might be the only legal thriller writer who has actually worked on death cases.  What you see in my books are things I have actually done in real life.  In every other criminal case there is about a month between the conviction and the sentencing, not with death cases.  It becomes really complicated so a lawyer has to hire many experts and investigators.”

Violent Crimes allows the readers to understand what defense lawyers are up against.  Even seasoned pros like Amanda Jaffe must make hard ethical and moral decisions.  Violent Crimes is a captivating legal thriller.


Book Review - "Youngblood" by Matt Gallagher

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.

9781501105746_p0_v3_s192x300Youngblood by Matt Gallagher shows the daily life of a soldier fighting in Iraq just before the troop withdrawal in 2011.  It is a fictional journal that depicts the complexities of war with very vivid descriptions.  Gallagher follows up on his successful first book, the memoir Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War (2010), with this Iraq War novel that speaks to the perspective of a US soldier and the Iraqi people.

The narrator of the book is Lieutenant Jack Porter, who is leading a platoon of men in the last stages of the war. America is nearing the end of its involvement in Iraq with the new Iraqi Army being trained to takeover. Porter’s war deals with the internal power struggles of the town surrounding his outpost, paying off local men and appeasing those whose lives have been affected by the ongoing violence in their country. It is his job to keep a lid on the fragile peace that has been etched out by those who have come before him, including his older brother. He is assisted by Sergeant Dan Chambers who is determined to get all his men home. Porter also has become obsessed with a Romeo and Juliet type of love affair between an American soldier and a local sheikh’s daughter, Rana. 

Gallagher commented to blackfive.net, “In many ways Jack and I are quite different.  When in Iraq I was hot tempered and thought in the moment.  Jack takes his time in making decisions.  Chambers is the one who gets things done, an attribute I admire in people.  He focuses on the task of accomplishing the mission, almost Machiavellian. I think I put pieces of myself in all my characters.”

Porter is portrayed as a newly minted lieutenant struggling to accept the brutality around him while at the same time attempting to be sensitive to the Iraqi culture.  Assigned to his company is Chambers, an aggressive soldier who wants to make sure the rules of engagement do not cost any of his men their lives.  The scene involving the fight between a scorpion and a camel spider can best explain their attitudes.  As the spider gnawed on the scorpion’s head the scorpion rammed its stinger right into the spider’s eye. As Chambers comments to the men, “That’s what happens when you hesitate… Don’t be that camel spider.  Be the scorpion.” 

The author stated he wrote this scene to emphasize how Chambers had a “noble purpose to get his men home.  They needed to stay aggressive and stop being lackadaisical.  The stage is set for the rest of the novel where the attitude was to do what is necessary to stay alive within the moral code.”

Youngblood allows the reader to feel they are in Iraq with the soldiers. They experience the deployment, the camaraderie, fear, exhaustion, and boredom.  This is a story of men and women trying to do their jobs, survive, and to return home in one piece.


Book Review - "Casualties" by Elizabeth Marro

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.

9780425283462_p0_v2_s192x300Casualties by Elizabeth Marro is a very powerful and heart wrenching novel. With war at the core of the theme it is a reminder how those serving and their families have sacrificed. There are also other themes of abandonment, prioritizing, loss, and recovery. Although this is her first book the well-developed story and characters make it appear that Marro is a seasoned author.

Considering herself, just a “civilian,” she told blackfive.net, “I am one of 99% of Americans relying on 1% of my fellow citizens to defend this country. I felt my biggest responsibility is to portray Robbie, a Marine who commits suicide, accurately. I did a lot of research and was humbled by the stories of veterans and families who struggled and continue to struggle with the aftermath of our most recent wars. It mattered a great deal for me to try to understand all the emotional aspects.”

Shortly after the book begins the main character, Ruth Nolan, experiences a terrible loss, a parent’s worse nightmare, having a child die. But the loss is even more impactful because her son commits suicide while she is handling an emergency at work. Trying to escape the guilt Ruth packs up his ashes and decides to leave her past demons behind. She is helped with facing up to her past choices by a former soldier, Casey MacInerney, whom she meets under dubious circumstances. They agree to go on a cross-country journey together, both figuratively and literally. Their emotional survival depends on trusting each other, helping each other soul search as they attempt to make amends.

Marro noted, “I knew that Ruth needed someone to help her find her way, and it couldn’t be anyone from her past world. Casey arrived unexpectedly. They both examine what would happen if they altered just one of their decisions. If you go on that road and damage has been done, how do you pick up, get back on your feet, and keep on going. They both struggle to take responsibility for their actions. I wanted this story to be driven by the characters. If I know whom these people are I can figure out where the plot needs to go so it does not appear artificial. This is definitely a character driven plot.”

In many ways Casey and Ruth are kindred spirits. Both are lonely, feel isolated, are affected by war, and must learn how to deal with grief. They let down those close to them and realize what their priorities should have been after the fact. The question of when does work come before family and how should both be balanced are themes throughout the book.

Although Casualties is not a happily-ever-after story, it is very thought provoking. It examines such important societal issues as when to prioritize family over career, war veterans having suicidal thoughts, PTSD, and how to manage and overcome guilt to move on with one’s life. As the story progresses readers will sympathize and root with these realistic characters.