Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Margaret Coel part 1

Margaret Coel part 1, the non-fiction of a noted mystery author
by Steven Williams

A color photograph of Margaret Coel circa 2005Margaret Coel is a fourth generation native Coloradan noted for her series of mysteries, the Wind River mysteries. She has always been interested in all kinds of history, but particularly the history of the American West. Coel attended Marquette University and initially began her professional writing career writing non-fiction. Much of this early work was magazine articles. The venues they have appeared in include the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Creativity! as well as many other periodicals.

black and white photo of Left Hand 28-Sep-1864The most notable of her five non-fiction books is Chief Left Hand: Southern Arapaho, a biography of an important Arapaho chief as well as a history of the Arapahos in Colorado and the terrible Sand Creek Massacre. This book's reputation has led to it being placed on the list of 100 best books on Colorado history by the Colorado Historical Society as well as receiving a Best Non-Fiction Book Award from the National Association of Press Women.

black and white photo of Tony HillermanCoel has wanted to be a writer from an early age. Though she started writing non-fiction her intention had always been to eventually write fiction. She decided to write mysteries because she enjoyed reading them and she felt that the old addage "write what you read" made a lot of sense to her. Her family's long history in Colorado and her personal interest in the history of the American west had given her some background to build on but she initially had no clear vision on where to go. It was an inspirational presentation by Tony Hillerman, noted for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels, that made her realize that she had the beginnings of her own series about people and the place they lived that she really cared about. Her research for Chief Left Hand had already given her a deep exposure to Arapaho history and culture and she used this local and people for her first novel.

color photograph of the flag of the Arapaho NationCoel's Arapaho Wind River mysteries take place among the Arapahos on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. The main recurring characters are a Jesuit Priest, John O'Malley, originally from Boston and an Arapaho attorney, Vicky Holden. This series has been successful as bestsellers and critically well received. This critical recognition includes the Frank Waters Award, six Colorado Book Awards, and the Willa Cather Award for Best Novel of the West for 'The Spirit Woman'.

map of the Wind River ReservationCoel's novels are notable for the ways in which actions in the past, sometimes even the distant past, factor into events in the present. It has also been a very concious decision by her to choose two amateur sleuths who are intimately associated with the Wind River Reservation but who straddle the two worlds of Arapaho and mainstream America. Without this bridge and the internal conflicts and challenges this dichotomy represents for O'Malley and Holden, the complexity of the characters would never be convincing enough to flesh out the social context of the stories. Coel is certainly a believer in the fiction writer's creed of "character, character, character."

Northern Arapaho Tribe logoOne of the more notable benefits of this approach is that Coel structures her novels around presenting her main characters with murderous events and then following their lead in constructing the plot. The realistic complexity of O'Malley and Holden have transformed them into essentially living people, though Coel is quick to note that neither character is based on a real person. The realism of these characters is supported by a texturally rich realism of the land and social interactions of reservation life. She also takes advantage of recurring characters and allow herself and her readers to watch Father O'Malley and Holden change and grow as they face tough challenges and become stronger because of them.

black and white photo of the St. Stephen's Mission on the Wind River ReservationCoel generally spends at least two weeks a year in the Wind River Reservation area in order to keep a very visceral feel for the place. Of course, over the years, because of her work as a writer, she has developed lasting friendships and her visits are an important part of her personal life also. She enjoys being with the Arapaho people, going to their powwows and other celebrations, and driving the roads and visiting the places that she writes about. She always stays at St. Stephen's Mission, the actual mission upon which she bases O'Malley's fictional mission.

color photo of the front cover of "Chief Left Hand, Southern Arapaho" by Margaret CoelChief Left Hand, Southern Arapaho (1981)
A biography of Chief Left Hand aka Chief Niwot aka Left Hand the elder (1825-1864). Chief Niwot was noted for his nuanced ability to speak English as well as his realization that the whites were going to be permanent residents in the west. Because of this, he worked for peace with the whites feeling the maintenance was the only way for his people to survive. While well-respected by settlers of good will, he was avoided and excluded by other anglos bent on the extermination and/or expulsion of the Indian. Coel's book, notable for its use careful research and use of primary documentation, tells the story of Left Hand the Southern Arapahos during the years of the Colorado Gold Strike that lead up to the Sand Creek Massacre. Coel presents also presents a strong argument, based on documentary evidence, for the true fate of Chief Left Hand the elder and clarifies the confusion with the later, younger, non-English speaking Chief Left Hand (1840-1911). In her book Coel also traces the careers of Territorial Governor John Evans and Colonel Chivington as well as describing the subsequent Congressional investigation of the Sand Creek Massacre.

black and white photo of John EvansThe Colorado Gold Rush aka Pike's Peak Gold Rush began in 1858, while the area was still part of the Kansas Territory, and it led to a series of confrontations and pressure from gold prospectors. The Southern Arapaho people lived along the Colorado Front Range often wintering in Boulder Valley. Their experience of continuing and increasing encroachment by gold hunters onto Arapaho land increased tensions dramatically. By 1864, the situation had degenerated to the point where Territorial Governor Evans decided the Indians in Colorado Territory needed to be eliminated.

black and white photo of John ChivingtonThe Arapaho and Cheyenne led by chiefs determined to maintain peace with the anglos were ordered by Governor Evans to relocate to a remote part of eastern Colorado. A Colorado calvary unit lead by Army Colonel Chivington of the Colorado Volunteers, a former minister and close friend of Governor Evans who was appointed by Evans to his command, attacked the peaceful Indians near Sand Creek on November 29, 1864. This event became notorious as the Sand Creek Massacre. Chief Niwot was severly wounded in this attack and died a few days later. The Massacre was widely recognized at the time as an atrocity so awful that President Abraham Lincoln called a Congressional investigaiton that resulted in the removal of Govenor Evans from office, the placing of Colorado Territory under martial law, and the censuring of Colonel Chivington. The Sand Creek Massacre is also considered to be the event that precipitated the preceeding thirty years of Indian Wars in the West.

color photo of the front cover of the hard cover edition of "Goin" Railroading"Goin' Railroading: A Century on the Colorado High Iron (1985)
by Margaret Coel as told by Sam Speas, Jr.
The trade paperback edition was published with the sub-title Two Generations of Colorado Stories. Sam Speas, Sr. came to Colorado from Missouri in 1883 attracted to the romantic life of the railroad engineer. This book, based on the recollections of his son contains the story of the father as well as the son's experiences and those of four other members of the Speas family while working on Colorado railroads beginning with the period of open cabbed narrow-gauge engines, primarily in relation to the Colorado and Southern Railway. The stories in this book tell of the The timeline of these stories ranges from the the 'golden era' of narrow-gauge railroading in South Park on into the final days of locomotive steam power on the Front Range and beginning of the transition to diesel powered engines. These are stories of long hours, backbreaking labor, bitter temperatures, faulty brakes and unbelievable hazards that tested the determination and skills of railway engineers as no other region in the United States did. This book tells about a significant and unique component of early Colorado history.

black and white Colorado and Southern trademarkThe Colorado and Southern Railway included significant narrow-gauge routes build for the restricted widths and difficult transportation requirements of the Colorado mountains. The Colorado and Southern Railway (reporting marks C&S and CS) operated independently from 1898 to 1908, as part of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad from 1908 to 1981 when it was finally absorbed into the Burlington Northern Railroad. Narrow-gauge railroads are defined as any railroad whose tracks are less than the standard gauge with most narrow-gauge railroads being about 3 feet 6 inches or less. Narrower-gauge railroads are signinficantly cheaper to build and operate and the rolling stock is also cheaper to purchase. Almost all narrow gauge railways have been constructed in association with specific industries. These uses have included and continue to include mining, logging, construction, tunnelling, quarrying and the movement of agricultural products. Most of the narrow-gauge routes in Colorado were abandonded or torn out by the late 1930s.

color photo of the front cover of "Under the Golden Dome"Under the Golden Dome: Colorado's State Capitol (July, 1985)
co-authored with Gladys Doty and Karen Gilleland
This book covers the high points of the history of Colorado's capitol as well as much trivia about the building itself and it is one of two titles written by Margaret Coel as part of the Discovering Historic Colorado series. The series is modeled after the 22 booklets on Colorado regional history written and published by Caroline Bancroft (1900-1985), commonly known as the Bancroft series. The subject of this book was chosen because there existed no guide to the Colorado capitol at that time. Even though this book was researched, written and published in only two months, the authors placed a special emphasis on producing a guide that was well written and interesting to read. It is also well-illustrated with black and white photographs throughout.

color photo of the front cover of "The Tivoli"The Tivoli: Bavaria in the Rockies (September, 1985)
co-authored with Jane Barker and Karen Gilleland
This is a one of two titles written by Margaret Coel as part of the Discovering Historic Colorado series. This book is about the Tivoli building and the Tivoli Brewery in Denver, Colorado and its central in the ethnic German community of early Denver. The Tivoli building refers directly to the seven-story mansard roofed tower building that was built in 1890 based on a design by Frederick C. Eberley, one of Denver's most noted architects. It was constructed in Denver's oldest neighborhood, Auraria. This title is the second in the series by Coel written as part of the Discovering Historic Colorado series. Like the first title, it is modeled after the Bancroft series of booklets on Colorado regional history. This title is especially significant in that it was produced at just about the same time that the Tivoli Brewery reopened as a shopping and entertainment complex. 'The Tivoli' is also notable for being a well-written and interesting guide book and it is similarly well-illustrated with black and white photographs throughout.

color photo of the front cover of "A New Westminster: 1977-1986"A New Westminster: 1977-1986 (1987)
This book was written in part as a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the village of Westminster in what eventually became the Denver metropolitan area. Westminster was initially just a village but beginning in the 1950s the population grew dramatically as developers began building ranch house subdivisions in the area. In 1958 Westminster became a Colorado home-rule city in an effort to deal with this growth spurt. In 1976, Westminster finally became a full-service city with water service, wastewater treatment, neighborhood parks and recreation programs, and modern police and fire departments. In the 1970s Westminster had been experiencing the highest growth rate in the Denver metropolitan area. Margaret Coel's book tells the story of Westminster from 1977 to 1986, a critical period when the town successfully met the tought challenges of rapid growth and stabilized as a successful component town in the Denver metropolitan area.

black and white photo of the Tivoli brewery circa late 1970sAbout the Tivoli Brewery
The Tivoli was actually part of a complex of buildings begun in 1870 that made up a brewery that would operate under various names and which had been founded by Mortiz Sigi in 1866, originally in a nearby but different location in Denver. In that same year, Sigi's brewery became the meeting place for a German gymnastics society, the Turnverein. Germans were the single largest foreign-born group in the city of Denver before World War I.

composite black and white and color photos of the Tivoli from the front of the TurnhalleIn 1875 after Sigi's death, Max Melsheimer, bought Sigi's brewery buildings and named the new business the Milwaukee Brewery. In 1882, Melsheimer built the Vorkwaert’s Turnhalle (aka West Denver Turnhalle aka Turnhalle Opera House aka Turn Halle Opera House) on part of the sight. The building was designed by another prominent Denver architect, Harold W. Baerresen. The Vorkwaert was build as a German opera house and was very popular with the local community. The building was incorporated into the Melsheimer's overall brewery complex of buildings with the completion of the Tivoli building in 1890.

color photo of the 1874 entrance to the Tivoli Gardens in CopenhagenIn 1900 John Good, a one-time owner of the Rocky Mountain Brewery, foreclosed on his loan to Melsheimer after Melshimer had suffered various personal and economic mishaps and became unable to pay either the principal or the interest on the loan. Good renamed the brewery the Tivoli Brewing Company, naming it after the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, a well-known and very popular public amusement park and gardens.

color print of Vauxhall Gardens London circa 1751Originally called the Tivoli and Vauxhall when it was opened in 1843, the Tivoli Gardens aka Tivoli in Copenhagen had acquired its name as allusion to the well known and highly popular public gardens, the Jardin de Tivoli in Paris (closed about 1825) and Voxhall Gardens in London (closed about 1859). The Jardin de Tivoli had itself been named after the gardens of the Villa d'Este in Tivoli near Rome, a popular 18th and 19th century resort spa area. The Tivoli in Copenhagen is one the oldest two amusement parks in the world that have survived intact.

color photo of the 1874 entrance to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen

Margaret Coel's author website

Tony Hillerman
Tony Hillerman at Fantastic Fiction
Tony Hillerman obituary

Chief Niwot (1825-1864) aka Left Hand the elder
The Arapaho at Wikipedia
Pike's Peak Gold Rush
Description of the 1859 Collier and Cleveland lithograph
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division lithograph source
Sand Creek massacre
John Evans
John Milton Chivington

Colorado and Southern Railway
Como and the CS Como Roundhouse

History of the Tivoli Brewery history
The Auraria section of Denver
History of the Tivoli Brewery
Tivoli-Union Brewery late 1970s photos

Tivoli Gardens Copenhagen
Tivoli Gardens Copehnagen photo gallery
Tivoli Gardens Copenhagen 1843 images

Vauxhall Gardens
Vauxhall Gardens 1661-1859, A Brief History

Villa d'Este, Tivoli, Italy
Tivoli, Italy

Newer Article: Newer Article Pending
Older Article: Don Winslow, Gripping Thrillers and Good Writing

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Don Winslow

Don Winslow, gripping thrillers and good writing
by Steven Williams

A black and white photo of Don Winslow circa 2010.Don Winslow was born in New York on Halloween in 1953 but grew up in Rhode Island. In describing his life and the influences that lead him to writing, he ascribes to his parents his greatest influences because. His mother was a librarian and his father was a Naval officer and both he and his friends in the service were great storytellers. Winslow attended the University of Nebraska where he majored in African History.

A cast photo of UC: Undercover.Winslow moved back to New York City in the late 1970s. His professional career is varied including managing a chain of movie theaters and including acting and directing in film, television, and the stage (including UC: Undercover, In World's Unknown, Full Ride and Close To Home). His work as a private investigator in movie theaters in the Times Square part of the city and later as a consulting private investigator in arson cases provided him with much of the experiences that enliven his mysteries. After various other unusual jobs, Winslow returned to school and earned his master's degree in Military History. After graduate school, he continued to take on uncommon jobs including leading safaris in Kenya and trekking tours in China.

Winslow wrote his first novel while he was still working as a safari guide and recovering from a bad case of dysentery. He says that he had been thinking about writing for some time and it seemed like a good time to start doing it. This first novel featured a private investigator named Neil Carey. Winslow has gone on to write fourteen novels in total. The five that use his Neil Carey character are A Cool Breeze on the Underground, The Trail to Buddha's Mirror, Way Down on the High Lonely, A Long Walk Up the Water Slide and While Drowning in the Desert and all of them are written with a humorous twist.

The front cover of the 'Bobby Z' DVD.Winslow has also had some experience writing screenplays for Alexander Hamilton: In Worlds Unknown and The Full Ride. One of his novels, The Death and Life of Bobby Z is the only one so far that has been adapted to a feature film. It was released in 2007 as Bobby Z and starred Laurence Fishburne, Paul Walker and Keith Carradine. Winslow did not adapt his own novel into the screenplay.

A color photo of the front cover of 'A Cool Breeze On the Underground'.Winslow has developed his career as a writer to the point where he has received some critical recognition. His first novel, 'A Cool Breeze On the Underground' was nominated for an Edgar Award. This has lead in turn to his nomination for both an Edgar Award and a Macavity Award. He has won a Shamus Award for 'California Fire and Life'. He currently lives on an old ranch in southern California and has spent his last twenty-four summers or so in Britain.

Winslow is noted for writing that focuses on character over plot. This is not the most frequently used approach used by mystery writers, but it does result in fiction that is more engaging and thoughtful. He generally prefers to confront his characters with conflicts that are both external and internal with the expectation that these experiences with change them in the course of the story. Much of his writing time is spent in developing a complete character, usually even before he begins writing the book.

A black and white photo of Raymond Chandler.It is no surprise that Winslow has received critical acclaim for his mysteries. He consciously focuses on producing good writing with strong characters. His current list of favorite authors to read reflect this awarness. They include Raymond Chandler, John D. Macdonald, James Lee Burke, Jeff Parker, Michael Robotham, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, John Harvey and Cormac McCarthy.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Savages' by Don Winslow.Savages: A Novel (July, 2010)
Winslow's newest crime novel is set in Laguna Beach, Califronia. It features two marijuana growers who seem to be on the road to success but then they receive an threatening e-mail from a Mexican cartel. There is a photograph attached to the email and it is of the headless bodies of some other independent drug dealers. Though it is not explicitely stated, the cartel is clearly telling the two to sell the cartel's marijuana instead of their own home-grown primo weed. The two independents try to put off the cartel's threat but things become very serious very quickly when the girlfriend of one of the two independents is kidnapped by the cartel who want a one million dollar ransom. The two independents devise various schemes to resist the cartel include using everything from improvised explosive devices to Letterman and Leno masks. In parallel, Winslow also introduces the female leader of the Mexican cartel. The novel details how she deals with rival gangs as well as internal threats. As an alternative to the the million dollars ransom, the two Laguna Beach independents propose a trade that the cartel leader cannot pass up. This novel is notable for Winslow's use of an encyclopedic knowledge of the border drug trade.

A color photo of the front cover of 'The Gentlemen's Hour' by Don Winslow.The Gentlemen's Hour (2009)
This book is Winslow's sequel his book The Dawn Patrol' and it also features the same recurring character, Boone Daniels, introduced in that first novel. Daniels is a surfer private eye. The story is set again in Daniel's world of the San Diego surfing community. A surfing idol is found brutally and seemingly senselessly murdered. Daniels goes to work for the attorney who is defending the man who confessed to the murder. The supposed murderer is a spoiled rich kid gangbanger wanna-be. Taking on this job alienates Daniels from all of his surfing buddies, except for the one who hires him to follow his wife who he suspects is cheating on him. Daniels soon is caught up in the intricacies of both cases and in the process finds himself hip deep in the seamier side of the California Dream. In the process of his investigations, he ends up exposing secrets that a lot of people are absolutely determined should not see the light of day.

A color photo of the front cover of 'The Dawn Patrol' by Don Winslow.The Dawn Patrol (2008)
In this novel, Winslow introduces San Diego surfer-cum-private investigator Boone Daniels who is typical of the local surfing scene in that he is so laid back that he would rather surf than work. He and his band of surfers are collectively called the Dawn Patrol. They all have real jobs but they all share the same indifference to 'real' life and a craving for beach life. Daniels finds himself in need of some work and takes on a missing person job for a beautiful lawyer. The missing person is a stripper who has shown up missing after having been scheduled to testify in an insurance case. Thing quickly turn sinister when the missing stripper's friend is found dead. Though the death is declared a suicide, Daniels is certain that it is not and that this is death is no coincidence. Following a series of leads, Daniels finds himself among a bevy of shady characters including pedopohiles, plastic surgeons, and Samoan thugs.

A color photo of the front cover of 'The Winter of Frankie Machine' by Don Winslow.The Winter of Frankie Machine (2006)
In this novel, Winslow's main character is an Vietnam vet retired mob hit man also known as Frankie Machine in recognition of his murderous accuracy. As the story begins, Frankie is living a tranquil life in San Diego after having put his 'professional' past behind him. He is happily running a bait shack, legitimately managing three other businesses, and surfing every chance he gets. Frankie comes out of semi-retirement at the request of head of the Los Angeles syndicate. He is asked to help resolve a dispute with the Detroit mob. The situation soon deteriorates to the point where Frankis finds out the story used to draw him back into the 'business' was only a setup and he is the target of a mob hit. He finds himself following a trail of bodies as he tries to figure out which of his past killings has lead to his current predicament. Thanks to his survival skills and street smarts, he manages to evade his killers while pursuing his leads to the source of his dilemma. The world Frankie moves within is one of drugs, dirty politics, and organized crime.

A color photo of the front cover of 'The Power of the Dog' by Don Winslow.The Power of the Dog (2005)
In this narco-thriller novel, Winslow describes three decades of the international drug trade through the lives of four characters, and some interesting extras, as they off and on cross paths. One main character is a brilliant DEA agent who has a reputation for breaking the rules if he feels it is necessary. His nemesis is an urban but viciously brutal drug dealer. The third is a high-class call girl with a heart of gold. The fourth member of the quartet is a stone-cold mob hit man who wants out of the life. The story begins in 1970s Mesico when the rookie DEA agent first encounters the drug dealer and makes a fatal mistake by his developing a friendship with drug dealer and his brother before he discovers that their uncle is both a member of the Mexican state police and a cartel leader. The resulting vendetta winds its way through the story until the final showdown on the border in 1999.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Looking for a Hero' by Don Winslow with Peter Maslowski.Looking for a Hero: Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper and the Vietnam War (2004)
with Peter Maslowski
A book about the tragic, short life of Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper. He was the most decorated soldier of the Vietnam War. Maslowski and Winslo describe Hooper's life beginning with his working-class childhood, his somewhat aggressive enthusiasm for athletics, and his decision to join the army because of his uncertain prospects. Hooper ended up in Vietnam in the 101st Airborne and appears to have been born to be an infantryman. They go on to describe Hooper's effectiveness both as an individual and later as a leader in a variety of combat situations. There has been some controversy about Hoopers achievements with some suspicion that the Army may have inflated some of them to cast some a hero's shine onto a hugely unpopular war. The authors provide considerable time and effort to the examination of the controversies regarding Hooper's achievements. The story includes Hooper's postwar life, his bouts with post-traumatic stress and the almost inevitible alcoholism, including his death from alcohol-related causes and burial in Arlington Cemetery. Though considerable criticism is made of the Army's exploitation of Hooper's successes, the story is justifiably shown to be about a hero.

A color photo of the front cover of 'California Fire and Life' by Don Winslow.California Fire and Life (1999)
Winslow's fifteen years as an arson investigator give this novel a rich realism. The story is about a surfer-cum-ace arson investigator named Jack Wade. The story begins with Wade sifting through the ashes of a mansion in Orange County. He works for an insurance company and this case is especially gruesome because a young wife and mother was burned to death in the fire. The local, sloppy and possibly corrupt, sheriff's department fire investigator declares that the fire was an accident claiming that the woman was drunk and the fire started from a dropped cigarette. Wade is sceptical of this after meeting the dead-woman's ex-husband, a slick Russian 'entrepreneur' aka mafia head. The woman had a multimillion-dollar life insurance policy. Wade's old girlfriend, a policewoman who was the dead woman's half-sister, finds a link between the Russian mob and a local Vietnamese gang. Things become particularly suspicious when Wade's insurance firm begins to pressure him to settle the insurance claim in favor of the widower. This is despite Wade's finding out that there was no smoke in the dead woman's lungs, that the smoke from the fire was blood red instead of the usual yellow or orange, and that the dog just happened to be outside.

A color photo of the front cover of 'The Death and Life of Bobby Z' by Don Winslow.The Death and Life of Bobby Z (1997)
A notorious Laguna Beach surfer-turned-drug dealer Bobby Zacharias aka Bobby Z has not been seen for years. A federal agent decides to take advantage of this to pass off a lookalike to Bobby Z in a hostage switch with a Mexican cartel leader. The Bobby Z double is a career screw-up who is willing to take the deal because it will get him out of prison. The Hell's Angels are after him there and he is desperate. The hostage switch is initially successful and the Bobby Z impersonator finds himself enjoying the fear and respect his false identity gives him. Things completely backfire though because there are a lot of people who want Bobby Z dead. Unable and unwilling to give up his false identity, the imposter finds himself running for his life. Soon it seems like everyone in the world is after the fake Bobby Z and he finds himself on the lamb with the real Bobby's six-year-old son.

A color photo of tThe front cover of 'Isle of Joy' by Don Winslow.Isle of Joy (1996)
This novel is set in late 1950s New York City and the main character is a somewhat tired man who has given the best years of his life to service in the CIA. He has spent his career setting honeytraps and then reeling in the victims. Having just taken early retirement and returned to New York, his hometown, and what he expects to be an easier and safer life as a private investigator. His first job is to act as bodyguard as the girlfriend of a young US Senator who happens to also be a presidential. It seems to be a simple enough job but the young woman is found dead the morning following his first day on the job. This implicates the ex-CIA PI as the prime subject and he is soon taking on the CIA as J. Edgar Hoover's FBI in an effort to clear his name. Of course, the agencies are determined to have the ex-agent take the fall and provide them with an open and shut case. As Withers squirms and works to extricate himself he discovers that he is just another disposable victim in a trap that is rapidly closing in on the young Senator.

A color photo of the front cover of 'While Drowning in the Desert' by Don Winslow.While Drowning in the Desert (1995)
This is another of Winslow's slapstick mystery novels featuring his recurring character, the street-wise New Yorker Neal Carey. Carey is taking a driving trip across Nevada with an aging, legendary comedian. The old man is perfectly happy to have the opportunity to perform his vaudeville shtick nonstop during the entire trip. The drive is a favor for the Mob and is being made to return the old man to his California condo. Other than the fact that the old vaudevillian is, at times, a little annoying, what with his seeming to never shut up as well as his occassional disappearances to get laid, the trip seems uneventful. It turns out that he has witnessed an arson and knows the arsonist is waiting for him back home, hence the various diversions he creates to prevent a direct trip home. Then a couple of thugs turn out to be trailing them. The reader knows why but the vaudevillian but he refuses to tell Carey why. One of the trailing thugs is a money-launderer and the other is his dumb Lebanese sidekick. In the midst of all this, Carey is finding himself having to deal with his girlfiriend's ticking biological clock. She wants marriage and motherhood and she wants it now. An additional twist is provided by their pursuit by one of the vaudevillian's old flames. Carey is just about to leave the old man to his own devices when everyone converges for a big dramatic showdown where the women are almost predictably threatened by the unpleasent money launderer and where the old man plays a few cards that no one but he knows about.

A color photo of the front cover of 'A Long Walk Up the Water Slide' by Don Winslow.A Long Walk Up the Water Slide (1994)
This is another of Winslow's comic crime novels featuring street-wise New Yorker Neal Carey. The story begins with Carey having agreed to hide a Brooklyn woman from the media after. She is prepared to publicly accuse her former boss and lover, a family-TV personality and majority shareholder of the highly successful Family Cable Network, of rape. Carey has taken on this job at the request of the 'Friends of the Family' mob organization that he has some loose ties to and occasionally does work for. The Friends have asked Carey, in addition to keeping the woman out of limelight, to enlist his girlfriend's help in smoothing off some of the Brooklyn woman's rough edges before she reenters the public eye. In the mean time, the TV personality, his wife and their own investors are planning to build on the TV star's reputation to expand into a family-friendly theme park and they are worried that any bad publicity will kill the park's chances of success. In order to remove this variable from the equation. Their investigator, a former government agent, is only one of a group people looking for the Brooklyn woman. In addition, there is a magazine looking for her to offer her a high-profile, high-pay centerfold contract as well as a dangerously cool hired gun whose paymaster is unknown. As chance would have it, everyone converges at Carey's childhood home in Austin, Texas. By this time, the Brooklyn woman has lost the support of the Family because the New Orleans mob is moving in on the TV personality's empire.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Way Down on the High Lonely' by Don Winslow.Way Down on the High Lonely (1993)
Another of Winslow's comic crime novels featuring street-wise New Yorker Neal Carey. As the story begins, Cary has just returned from a forced stint in a Chinese monastery. Carey and his stepfather work for a discreet, private investigative agency, Friends of the Family, and his boss has asked Carey to bring back a two-year-old boy who has been snatched by his divorced father. The two are in hiding in the wild backcountry of Nevada. As a side job, Carey has also been asked to find out some details, hopefully criminally prosecutable, on the vicious white supremacist organization that the boy's father belongs to. Carey goes undercover, signing on as a cowboy at the ranch of one of the racist locals. Carey ingratiates himself with the sect by representing himself as a fundraiser for the ranch owner. All is not work though and Carey soon finds himself seduced by Nevada ranch life as well as a local teacher. He finds himself hesitant to wind things up and return home. Carey's impatient superiors at the bank rig up a number of scams that go terribly wrong culminating in a grand western-style gunfight.

A color photo of the front cover of 'The Trail to Buddha's Mirror' by Don Winslow.The Trail to Buddha's Mirror (1992)
Another of Winslow's comic crime novels featuring street-wise New Yorker Neal Carey. Carey is on a sabbatical in Yorkshire, England from his job as an private investigator for the Friends of the Family. He is visited by his mentor who has a favor to ask. He wants Carey to find a scientist. The story is that the scientist is brilliant but lovesick and who has given up his work for love. He disappeared during a conference in San Francisco after falling head over heals for a beautiful Chinese woman. Carey tracks down the couple but is attacked by an unknown assailant and while the couple flees. The near death experience causes Carey to realize that there is more to this than the scientist's work with fertilizers. He follows some leads all the way to China where he discovers the connections to political issues and pursues everything to its surprising conclusion.

A color photo of the front cover of 'A Cool Breeze on the Underground' by Don Winslow.A Cool Breeze on the Underground (1991)
Winslow's first novel introduces his recurring character, the street-wise New Yorker Neal Carey. The year is 1976 and Carey is a young graduate student studying 18th-century literature. Carey works on the side for a discreet, private investigative agency, Friends of the Family (i.e., the Mob). The story begins with Carey being given the job assignment of finding a teenage, drug-addicted daughter of a US senator and presidential hopeful. She is known to be somewhere in England but she needs to be back in the US before the Democratic Convention begins and that is only nine weeks away. Carey is able to find the girl but finds getting her home a little tricky. Odd events cause him to suspect that someone from the agency is trying to have him killed. The story is set in late 1970s punk London and it is full of colorful characters, a trait that has become a trademark of Winslow's writing.

Don Winslow's author website
Don Winslow at Wikipedia
Don Winslow at IMDB
UC: Undercover at IMDB

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Brad Thor

Brad Thor, Creator of Bestselling, Fantastic Antiterrorism Thrillers
by Steven Williams

A color photo of Brad Thor.Brad is a graduate of the University of Southern California where he studied creative writing under author T. C. Boyle. After graduation Brad traveled and worked in television, most notably as creator, producer, writer, and co-host of the national public television series Traveling Lite, a travel show that emphasized how to travel well on a budget.

His first novel, The Lions of Lucerne, was released in 2002 and became a New York Times runaway bestseller. He has gone on to become a very popular writer of thriller fiction. Brad's eighth book, The Last Patriot, was nominated for Best Thriller of the Year by the International Thriller Writers Association. All nine of Brad's novels feature Navy SEAL turned covert counterterrorism operative, Scot Harvath.

The front cover of 'Foreign Influence' by Brad Thor.Foreign Influence (June, 2010)
Brad's ninth Scot Harvath thriller. The story begins with Harvath having lost his job with the the Apex Project, a Department of Homeland Security secret antiterrorist program. Apex has been disbanded under a new presidential administration. Harvath recovers though when he is offered a job with the Carlton Group, a covertly funded Department of Defense antiterrorist program with the same mission of the former Apex Project. The plot picks up speed when a bus full of Americans are killed by a bomb in Rome. Harvath is sent to Europe to track down the man implicated in the bombing. At the same Harvath is pursuing his man in Europe, a Chicago cop who moonlights as an attorney, is trying to find a Middle Eastern–looking man who ran down a woman with his cab. This leads to his discovery of a plot against civilian targets in Chicago. The plot thickens when the events behind the bombing in Rome and the hit-and-run in Chicago come together.

The front cover of 'The Apostle' by Brad Thor.The Apostle (2009)
At the start of Thor's eighth Scot Harvath thriller a new and relatively naïve president has just taken office after a landslide victory. This success has been due mainly to the assistance of a gifted media consultant. When the media consultant's daughter, a doctor who has been working in Afghanistan, is kidnapped, he comes to the new president for help. Harvath, the former Navy SEAL and counterterrorist operative working in the the Apex Project. The kidnappers have demanded that one of Osama bin Laden's lieutenants be released in exchange for the doctor. For political reasons, the new president cannot be seen to be negotiating with terrorist. Because of the need to maintain this public distance by the administration, Harvath has to complete this tricky assignment without any official sanction or even acknowledgment. Meanwhile a Secret Service agent has overheard a fragment of conversation that seems to imply that the media consultant may have information that allows him to apply pressure on the new president. Because of this, the agent launches an off-the-books inquiry into the pre-election accidental death of an attractive aide to the new president.

The front cover of 'The Last Patriot' by Brad Thor.The Last Patriot (2008)
Thor's seventh thriller featuring former Navy SEAL Scot Horvath begins with Horvath having left the Homeland Security Apex counterterrorism program. He wants another life far away from the world of mass murdering terrorists driven by religious fanaticism. Besides his desire for a more normal life Hogarth feels that he is getting a little too old for this type of work. This and the fact that his girlfriend, a former Naval Explosive Ordinance Technician lost an eye and almost lost her life because of an assassin's attack. This couple, now retired, are talking at a Paris café when Horvath spots an Arab setting off an IED. The intended victim of the attack is a US college professor who turns out to be a lot more than just a highly regarded historian. The couple's unofficial investsigation leads to their discovery of a seventh century version of the Koran containing one final devine revelation by the Prophet Mohammed. If this version of the Koran is disseminated then most of the support that jihadist terrorists receive would end almost immediately. Because of this powerful forces are arrayed against the exposure of this early Koran and its additional devine revelation. As the couple dig futher into the mystery and Muslim extremists work to stop them, Horvath and and his former boss are forced by events to end their estrangement caused by the incidents in portrayed in Thor's previous book, 'The First Commandment.

The front cover of 'The First Commandment' by Brad Thor.The First Commandment (2007)
Brad Thor's sixth thriller begins with his recurring charaqcter, ex-Navy SEAL turned counterterrorism agent Scot Harvath, standing vigil at the hospital bedside of his girlfriend. She is in a deep coma after having been badly wounded at the end of Thor's previous novel, 'Takedown'. In the meantime the work of counterterrorism heats up again when five known terrorists are released from the Guantánamo Bay prison. This has been part of a secret hostage deal that the President feels he has no other choice than to go along with. One of the recently freed terrorists then begins targeting Harvath's friends and family. When he begins digging into the attacks, Harvath finds out about the prisoner release and that the President will also not allow the killer to be hunted down. The result is that Harvath ends up being pursued by his own government at the same time that he is trying to track down this killer.

The front cover of 'Takedown' by Brad Thor.Takedown (2006)
This fifth Scot Harvath thriller begins with Harvath abducting an Algerian bomb-maker out of Montreal while another counterterrorism team is in Somalia capturing the head of al-Qaeda's weapons of mass destruction committee. The al-Qaeda detainee is sequestered in a secret facility in New York City. An Al-Qaeda operative with support from by a three-foot-tall freelance intelligence agent known as "the Troll," goes to New York to rescue the al-Qaeda detainee. The al-Qaeda rescue attempt wrecks major damage on the city and in the process the President's daughter is seriously injured and thousands of civilians are killed. Harvath and his team find themselves chasing a attacker through the devastated streets and subways. Back in Washington the President is badgered by cowardly bureaucrats. Typical of Thor's thrillers, the action is fast paced, the technology sophisticated and intricately described, and Harvath saves the day.

The front cover of 'Blowback' by Brad Thor.Blowback (2005)
In Thor's fourth Scot Harvath thriller, a mysterious new weapon threatens to tip the balance against American and Allied forces stationed in the Middle East. In desperation the President is forced to call for help from Harvath who has just recently been fired from his job as a covert Homeland Security operative. Harvath had been caught live on Al Jazeera news while involved in an off-the-books antiterrorism operation. A senator with presidential aspirations has used this to force the President to discard and publicly discredit Harvath. Setting off on this new mission while ducking a congressional subpoena, Harvath travels to Cyprus. There he uncovers details about the new weapon, known as The Sword of Allah. It turns out that terrorists have a plan to use it to push all Westerners out of Muslim countries. As Harvath pursues his leads, he discovers that the threat is even greater than he initially thought. The threat turns out to be to the United States itself, not just its forces in the Middle East. This novel is typical of Thor's thrillers with its quick pacing, high-voltage action, international settings, and sophisiticated military technology.

The front cover of 'State of the Union' by Brad Thor.State of the Union (2004)
Thor's third Scot Harvath antiterrorism thriller has Harvath living up to his previously established almost superhuman abilities and fantastic luck as a former SEAL, former Secret Service agent and special agent with the Office of International Investigative Assistance. In this story Thor uses Russia as the source of post-Cold War danger in the form of nineteen suitcase atomic bombs hidden in various locations around the US twenty years earlier by Soviet agents. The New Russians use their leverage based on this existing resource in order to order the US President to withdraw America into a forced new international isolationism. The Russians do this by holding out the threat of using sleeper agents to trigger the hidden bombs in order to force such an almost unthinkable change on America. Harvath is given the job of thwarting this plan but he has only has seven days. Thor provides Harvath with the assistance of previously introduced characters, various elite military and other government agencies. Using a variety of incredible and technically advanced tools, they set out to avert disaster. As the deadline approaches, Harvath finds himself hopscotching around the world in a rapid-fire pursuit of leads.

title=Path of the Assassin (2003)
Brad's second novel is, if anything, even more packeed with action than his first. Brad's recurring character, Secret Service agent Scot Harvath, finds himself battling both religious extremists and incompetent CIA agents in an effort to avert World War III. The key player among the villains is The Hand of God, which superficially appears to be a Israeli terrorist group. This group has begun blowing up mosques in Saudi Arabia, assassinating Arab leaders and hijacking airplanes of Arab airlines. It soon becomes clear that these actions are all part of a deliberate attempt to provoke the Arab countries to form a united front and declare war on Israel. Scott sets out to attempt to disrupt the plot. He is also pursuing a hidden agenda to avenge the killings of some of his friends and fellow agents portrayed in 'The Lions of Lucerne'. Scott finds an ally in Meg Cassidy, a beautiful Chicago public relations expert, who is the only one alive who can identify the leader of the Israeli terrorist group. Scott sets out in a round-the-world pursuit of two men, the terrorist leader and a mysterious assassin determined to stop Scott and kill Meg. The novel is full of action colored with a little romance and the depiction of unusual turf battles between the CIA, FBI, Delta Force, and Scott. Scott's professionalism and insightful interpretation of events and the course of action he needs him to take allow him to overcome some vicious and very dangerous villains.

The front cover of 'The Lions of Lucerne' by Brad Thor.The Lions of Lucerne (2002)
This is Brad's first novel and it is here that he introduces his main recurring character, Scot Harvath. The novel begins on some ski slopes near Park City, Utah. Scott is Secret Service Agent and because of him terrorists have just killed thirty agents and kidnapped the President while he was skiing. Though Hogarth is disgraced, he goes ahead and picks up the threads of the case while the Secret Service, the FBI, the CIA and the suspiciously inept and indecisive vice-president fumble around in shock. Scott sets out on the trail left from a few flimsy leads and begins what becomes a one-man mission to find and rescue the President. In the mean time, the terrorists publish a public demand for half a billion dollars in ransom while privately also insisting that an anti-fossil fuel making its way through the Congress be immediately stopped. When the government hesitates to meet these demands, one of the President's fingers is sent to the White House as proof of how serious these demands are. Scott has made it to Switzerland by this time. He has gone to Europe in pursuit of a lead about a cell of mercenaries located there calling themselves the Lions of Lucerne. Scott grinds away at the case revealing his characteristic traits in Brad's series, strong determination and a knack for evading assassination attempts. There is a final showdown at the terrorists' lair camouflaged high up under the ice of a frozen mountain in the Alps.

Newer Article: Don Winslow, Gripping Thrillers and Good Writing
Older Article: Mincemeat Recipes and Mincemeat History

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