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October 2015

Book Review - "PT 109" by William Doyle

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.

9780062346582_p0_v6_s192x300PT 109 by William Doyle highlights the combat incident that influenced John F. Kennedy for the rest of his life. This book written about fifty years after the best-selling book by Robert Donavan charted the event, Kennedy’s leadership skills, and how it shaped Kennedy’s attitude.

The book recounts how the mission assigned to Kennedy and other PT boat commanders was doomed from the start. On August 2, 1943 while patrolling the Solomon Islands the Japanese destroyer Amagiri barreled through thick fog and struck the U.S. Navy's motor torpedo boat PT 109, splitting the craft nearly in half and killing two American sailors instantly. The other eleven survivors swam through flame and shark-infested waters to reach an island that was surrounded by the Japanese. Kennedy was set up for failure because the black darkened waters made it difficult to stay in the convoy, there was no radar on board the boat so communication among the convoy was inhibited, the torpedoes fired inaccurately, and the overall commander, Warfield, refused to take questions or input from his subordinates.

Doyle noted to blackfive.net, “I believe Kennedy had proven to himself and to others that he was capable of leadership and command, and possessed of considerable courage under fire. Kennedy could have avoided harms way by using the influence of his father, instead he demanded to be on the front lines of combat.”

Readers will also learn that during this time period Kennedy became a respected leader. Interestingly not one of his crewmembers ever faulted him and in fact many admitted to admiring him. It is said that circumstances create heroes, and the case can be made that in the aftermath of the sinking he was courageous and daring. Kennedy became a hero that night by choosing to risk his life for his men. He swam in shark-infested waters all night trying to get help. Doyle points out that after being rescued Kennedy did not return home, “showing how important was his sense of duty, bravery, and patriotism,” but took command of another PT boat, and that remarkably two of his former crewmembers chose to once again serve under him.”

The book also conveys how Kennedy was furious because his superior, Commander Warfield, believing that all crew members had been killed during the sinking, decided not to send out a search mission that might jeopardize the lives of other PT rescuers. The PT 109 crew survived those six days despite broken bones, burns, no medical supplies, radio, water, food, and arms. Doyle recalls in the book Kennedy’s bitterness since his feelings were that his comrades should have looked “for us and would fight to save us beyond reasonable expectation… The tragedy was that the comrades of the 109 did not go back to look for survivors.”

Yet, JFK also did not whitewash his responsibility in the PT 109 disaster. One quality of a good leader is being able to admit mistakes. He candidly blamed the collision on his decision to patrol with one engine, and have too many of his exhausted men asleep. Doyle remarked that Kennedy’s honesty seems to be something of the past considering “most politicians today think we are idiots and that we will believe whatever they say, never admitting to their mistakes. Yet, JFK was perfectly comfortable admitting mistakes and trying to learn from them.”

A powerful quote in the book summarized Kennedy’s feelings about his experience during WWII, “The war made us. It was and is our single greatest moment. The memory of the war is key to our characters… No school or parent could have shaped us the way that fight shaped us. No other experience could have brought forth in us the same fortitude and resilience.” Today’s candidates should read this account of PT 109 to learn from Kennedy’s leadership skills, honesty, and a desire to protect those willing to fight for America’s values.

Book Review - "Depraved Hearts" by Patricia Cornwell

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.

Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell combines suspense with modern day forensics to make a riveting story. This is the 25th anniversary of the hugely popular Dr. Kay Scarpetta series. People forget that Cornwell was on the forefront, one of the people most credited for launching the interest in forensic research, about a decade before the CSI TV Show.

Cornwell noted to blackfive.net, “I would say it is very interesting to have a series out this long. You start to create a biography of the character. With each new book you want to tell readers something about Scarpetta that defines her better. You start creating scenes that happened long before you even started the series, such as what happened to her when she was a little girl. Slowly but surely I am flushing her personal side out. With each book we get to know her better. She has matured and is now more comfortable with herself. She was a woman in a man’s world and had to prove herself a lot in the earlier books. Currently, she has more humor and has become more philosophical.”

Having worked in a Medical Examiner’s office Cornwell is able to create an informative and realistic story. In her latest novel she not only explores a murder, but also examines government overreach, the influence of technology, and data fiction. In today’s world the term coined by the author, data fiction, examines how digital data including texts, posts, images, and videos, can generate a new fictional reality, similar to Star Trek’s Holograms.

Readers have heard of the “CSI effect,” and Cornwell commented she feels a little guilty because “I made that world as accessible as I did with the advent of the Scarpetta series. It opened the door for the CSI Shows that caused the CSI effect. Many times it is harmful to law enforcement. For example, five or six years ago while riding with a Florida crime scene investigator when we got there the victim had already collected and bagged the evidence. This one woman told me, ‘I watched the shows on TV and know fingerprints don’t matter anymore.’ I thought to myself, ‘I hope I am not a little bit to blame.’”

This psychological thriller ramps up the suspense from the very first page. The plot starts two months after the last book, Flesh and Blood, ended. Dr. Kay Scarpetta realizes that the body found in a house is not an accidental death. While working this investigation she receives a mysterious text, supposedly from the cell of her niece, Lucy Farinelli, with a video link showing Lucy’s FBI dorm room almost twenty years earlier. Through these videos readers learn more about Lucy’s backstory, her time at the FBI Academy. Because the links are sent by Carrie Grethen, Dr. Kay’s nemesis, and they contain potentially incriminating material, Scarpetta races to Lucy’s house to get answers, only to find more questions. The FBI is there, with a search and seizure order, turning Lucy and Dr. Kay’s life upside down. It is up to Kay to find answers before Lucy is arrested.

A powerful quote in the book shows how people are dependent on technology, but that it sometimes can be used for devious purposes, including taking away someone’s privacy. The whole essence of this story warns that every detail of a person’s life and business can be compromised, and that people will lose the ability to communicate because of the fear of who can be trusted. In the novel, Scarpetta comments, “Technology made everything better for a while and now it seems life is circling back around to the dark ages… I miss paper and pen. I miss face-to-face conversations.”

She also gave a shout out to the book American Sniper, explaining “It was my tipping my hat to him even though I never met him. I read American Sniper and thought what an unbelievable look at what it is really like over there. I marveled over his ability. It was a book I recommend to people. Because I do a lot of my firearm research out in the Austin area I have a lot of friends in Texas, specifically law enforcement. This was a terrible blow to them. It is so tragic and maddening beyond belief that this could happen to someone who was trying to be helpful. I care about those in the military, especially since my brother is retired from the Air Force. They have faced a lot of trauma along with first responders. Both have seen very bad people who have done very wicked things.”

Although readers might want to read the previous book, after a few pages into this book, Depraved Heart, they will be mesmerized with the plot and captivating characters. The story is full of twists and turns creating a page-turner that the reader will not want to put down.

Book Review - "The Spy House" by Matthew Dunn

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.

9780062309495_p0_v3_s192x300The Spy House by Matthew Dunn brings back the character Will Cochrane.  Having been an MI6 operative himself Dunn is able to write realistic scenarios. With his background in intelligence collection, agent running, debriefing, deep cover deployments, surveillance, and covert actions he is able to apply that to his characters and plots. 

In addition to being a thriller this fifth novel is also a mystery. Will must figure out how four international agents from the US, England, Israel, and France, working on a super-secret mission, died in a safe house in Beirut. They were trying to find out if a terrorist organization was behind the killing of the Israeli ambassador to France.  The investigation leads to the American Agent Roger Koenig killing the other agents.  Cochrane, no longer with MI6 is tasked with finding out the truth behind all five killings.  But he is being thwarted by a mysterious and shadowy figure that seems to know his every move. 

A great character introduced in this novel is Danny Weiss, a Mossad agent who is also investigating the killings.  He teams up with Will as the two agents use their skills to find out what really happened.  Like Will, Danny strives to protect his fellow citizens and will do what is necessary.  He is ruthless, professional, and honorable.  Unfortunately, Dunn does not know when Danny will come back in another story, stating, “It has to be natural to bring any character back.”

It appears that the next book will continue where this book left off.  Dunn will take Will into a completely new direction where he will be even more of a loner than he already is, almost like a fugitive on the run.  The author told blackfive.net, “I will be writing mainstream thriller novels instead of spy novels.  Will is going to be put in testy situations where he may well break the law but he is going to make the right decision.  The next novel focuses on someone out for revenge against Will, framing him for murder.”

Fans of Will Cochrane need to stay tuned to see what direction Dunn will move him. Will he be more like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, or Brad Taylor’s Pike Logan? 

The Milwaukie Bomber

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Art Lacey & his crew of filling station attendants at the Bomber Gas Station; Milwaukie, Oregon

Art Lacey was a crazy sumbitch. You have to understand that from the beginning or this story will make no sense, not that it will anyway. Still, it's something you should know.

Art was celebrating his birthday in 1947, had knocked back a few, and, from out of nowhere, proclaimed he was going to slap a B-17 bomber on top of his gas station. A friend of his told him he was crazy, which, of course, was true but made no never mind and was all the provocation Art needed to prove him wrong.

Continue reading "The Milwaukie Bomber" »

Photo - One Helluva Maintenance Shop


Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class J. Magsipoc performs maintenance on an F/A-18E Super Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Atlantic Ocean, Sept. 25, 2015. The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is training to prepare for a future deployment. Magsipoc is assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 25. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman L. A. Preston

Photo - Above the Reagan


U.S. Navy sailors conduct an insertion and extraction exercise aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in Iwo To, Japan, Sept. 29, 2015. The ship, and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing 5, provide a combat-ready force to protect the collective maritime interests of the United States and its partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The sailors are assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Paolo Bayas 

Photo - Airborne Operations Over Italy

150930-A-JM436-695Paratroopers conduct an airborne operation from a 12th Combat Aviation Brigade CH-47 Chinook helicopter at Juliet Drop Zone in Pordenone, Italy, Sept. 30, 2015. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projective forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Command areas of responsibility within 18 hours. The paratroopers are assigned to the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade. U.S. Army photo by Paolo Bovo 

Book Review - "The Saturn Run" by John Sanford and Ctein

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.

9780147542700_p0_v1_s192x300Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein can best be described as a thriller that takes place in space.  It is obvious the authors strove to make this story realistic. Some may put it in the science fiction genre but that is only because there are real scientific concepts in a plausible fictional thriller story.

The authors commented they met through a photography website, the Online Photography and became friends.  Because Sandford wanted to venture into the science fiction world he decided to consult Ctein who has a dual degree in English and Physics from Caltech.  He obviously wrote the science parts and the two collaborated on the rest of the book.  But, Sandford wrote in the character, Fiorella, an L. A. Times reporter, to explain science to the reader as she explains it to her audience on the ground. This was a real way to say what the engineer, Captain, photographer Sandy, and scientists were doing.

Portions of the book have a very detailed explanation of the technology and science used.  For some who are bogged down with too much content, they can skip over those details since they are clustered together. Others will enjoy the particulars of how the spacecrafts and their engines are built.  In the author’s note at the end of the book is a description of the science behind the story.  This includes the authors' philosophy regarding the science and technology, along with pertinent reference points for those who want to know more, an explanation of the actual science behind the fiction. Another way the authors made the science and technology more understandable is through the character Cassandra Fiorella’s eyes.  She is an on board space journalist that sends back reports to Earth, explaining in layman terms the science and technology. 

The plot begins fifty years into the future when a Caltech employee notices an anomaly from a space telescope.  Officials come to an inescapable conclusion; a space ship is headed for Saturn.  A race begins between the US and China to see which country will get to Saturn first to discover the alien technology.  A quickly assembled crew is chosen for the adventure of traveling to that planet and confronting the unknown extraterrestrial.  The conflict arises when the Chinese are not content to allow the Americans to gain the advantage and put themselves at a disadvantage.  This is where the action intensifies as the authors explore the questions:  Should the Earth nations work as a community or work for their own benefit, and should space law take the same rules from Maritime law?

Sandford explained to blackfive.net the “target audience is people who read authors like Michael Crichton.  He wrote dinosaur books, but was really talking of a way of using DNA to recreate animals, the ability to create a whole new species.  Then there is John Grisham who has nailed down the lawyer market.  I hope we get readers from the fields of computer programmers, engineers, and scientists that are interested in science fiction but want realism.  But we also want to appeal to thriller fans.  I think the closest novel like this book is The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy.  The technology of the submarine is advanced but very possible.  It is about the struggle between countries and what must be done to return home.” 

The authors are hoping readers will not know who wrote what scenes and which characters.  Obviously, Ctein wrote the science parts because he is an expert who wrote articles on computer and space technology.  However, Sandford, a photography enthusiast, wrote many of the scenes involving the description of cameras and their abilities. 

The characters are a potpourri of personalities and professions.  The main character is Sandy, a super rich, good looking ladies man, a patriot, and a surfer dude.  He is the direct opposite of Crow, the security chief who is unfriendly and tends to look at everything as a threat.  Dr. Rebecca Johansson, who readers will know as Becca, is the one readers will most identify with.  The Captain of the ship is Naomi Fang-Castro, whom the authors refer to by her last name throughout most of the story.  She is very formal, makes it clear she is in a position of command, and believes in absolute discipline. 

The authors commented on their desire to travel to space.  Sandford told blackfive.net, it does not “appeal to me, being confined in what I see as a giant cigar tube.  I had an experience as a reporter when I went on this airplane that flew back and forth between Cuba and the US.  They were looking for drug planes and any incursion aircraft from Cuba.  We were stuffed in for eight hours and there were no windows. I realized I wanted to be able to go outside.  The danger would not bother me since I landed in tight areas in Iraq on a Black Hawk helicopter.” On the other hand, Ctein would go up in a minute.

Saturn Run is a tale of courage, treachery, and takes readers on a ride through space.  The best parts are the descriptions of how the crew finds their strength and wits against formidable adversaries. An added bonus is the cool cover of the book that is almost in 3-D and seems to be a photographic representation of the technology developed, “the ribbons,” used to help power the spaceship.

Book Review - Vince Flynn's "The Survivor", a Mitch Rapp novel by Kyle Mills

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.

9781476783475_p0_v3_s192x300The Survivor, a Mitch Rapp novel, by Kyle Mills, brings back the beloved Vince Flynn characters.  All Flynn books are based upon action, suspense, and very strong character development.  It appears that at least with this book the torch has been passed to Mills while the light still shines on Mitch and Dr. Irene Kennedy. 

Mills has the mannerisms of the characters down pat.  Although fans might spot some transition in that Mitch uses more psychology than enhanced interrogation to get the terrorists to talk and Irene is referred to as a “bitch” instead of a manipulator and controller.   Many readers might try to spot where Vince left off and Kyle’s writing begins.  But that is an attempt in futility since Vince only wrote three pages of this novel.

The characters can be seen as role models since Irene is described as “unemotional in public and would allow people to see what she wanted them to. She would not bow down to anyone.  As described in the book, she was seen as an icy intellectual who made decisions not based on her gut, but her head.  She believed in getting the job done.” Mitch is seen as “having no discernible physical or mental weaknesses with uncanny instincts and no remorse.  He’s a survivor.” 

The Survivor picks up where Vince’s last book, The Last Man left off.  In the previous novel, Joseph “Rick” Rickman staged his own kidnapping and beating, to make it look as though Islamic terrorists tortured him. A video of the staged event was later posted on the Internet and featured what appeared to be Rickman breaking at the hands of his tormentors to reveal secrets. To cover his tracks, he conjured up a plan to kill Mitch Rapp, the one person he feared. But Mitch and Irene figured out Rickman’s scheme and thought they could permanently plug the leak of information by having Mitch kill him. Unfortunately even from the grave Rickman is imposing his revenge by releasing tidbits of information that include top secret CIA intelligence of classified operations and assets.  Kennedy, the CIA Director, uses her skills to connect the dots while using Rapp’s skills to find those tasked with leaking the information.  Mitch finds himself up against Ahmed Taj, the power hungry Pakistani ISI Director, who wants to bring down the CIA, specifically his nemesis Dr. Kennedy. Mitch must also work briefly with his adversary, Louis Gould, who has his own plans for Rapp’s demise.

Mills told blackfive.net, “My father was an FBI agent most of his life who went on to become the Director of Interpol.  He was a good friend with the head of the FBI and MI6.  I guess I am pretty well connected in that world and found it very interesting.  When I decided to write my own novels I decided to write about what I knew, the CIA, FBI, and MI6. The CIA has to work within certain parameters.  In the Mitch Rapp universe they are broader than in the real world.  Because I grew up in that world I did not want to take that storyline farther.  I did not want it to feel unrealistic.  I did some soul searching when I started because Mitch is always doing something above the law. In the books there was always a great benefit that came out of torturing without any costs.  But I do not think torture is a super effective way to get information.  My father has done a lot of interrogation work at the FBI and said torture doesn’t work.  In The Survivor I used a more sophisticated technique similar to what the FBI will do.  Having Mitch torture is not something I will strive for.”

One of the reasons readers loved Vince Flynn books is that his main characters always had one goal in mind, the safety of Americans.  He was able to break down this complicated world into good guys and bad guys where in the end the good guys win.  It was very satisfying to read how the bad guys get their just punishments, which many times includes death.  Kyle Mills does a good job in continuing this style of writing. Now that Mills has taken over the storyline it is gratifying to know that Vince will live on through his characters Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy as he rests in peace.