Book Review: COVERT ACTION by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

Book Review: COVERT ACTION by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

Clear your schedule! Coming at you fast and low is a top-notch espionage military thriller with an eye-opening lesson in how China projects power around the world today.

Don Riley is the Deputy Director of Operations (DDO) at the CIA, in charge of all HUMINT operations. The DO is also the entity tasked with covert operations, which means that the role of the US government is not “apparent or acknowledged publicly.” Covert operations are only authorized by a Presidential Finding, which outlines scope and purpose. (true)

Don’s eye is on the former Soviet “stans” in Central Asia where China is completing a railroad as part of the huge infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road initiative.

The project is rocked by terror attacks, supposedly from a home-grown group. In Beijing, a military hero is tapped for a new assignment: Get the railroad finished on time or else.

Meanwhile, the new Russian president is shut out of economic exchanges with Central Asian leaders, one of Don’s officers is combing the region for a missing US contractor, and a charismatic doctor is becoming the face of a new Central Asia cultural unity movement.

Basically, he’s the Ghandi of the stans, boosted by a female journalist who sees a big story as well as a potential love interest.

Believing the doctor can be an effective counterweight to Chinese influence, a Presidential Finding establishes a covert operation to support him. The job falls to Don, who finds it almost too easy . . .

There are many moving parts and a full score of characters. But you never get confused because Bruns and Olson have a knack of telling a character’s backstory in a very short amount of literary real estate and making it unforgettable, too. The prose is crisp, fast-moving and despite the complexity, the storyline is easy to follow.

COVERT ACTION is Book 5 in the Command and Control series by Bruns and Olson but reads like a standalone.

Highly recommended.

P.S. I’m starting to think that Bruns and Olson are a bellwether of sorts. Their fiction is a harbinger of real developments in the military/espionage/global conflict space.

For example, they described smart drones on the battlefield before those infernal devices became news stories. Now they give us China’s influential construction projects in not-so-sexy parts of the world. Expect to see Belt and Road issues in the news starting . . . soon.

Book Review: THE SPY COAST by Tess Gerritsen

Book Review: THE SPY COAST by Tess Gerritsen

THE SPY COAST by Tess Gerritsen

This excellent thriller, with a cast of characters to root for and deft plotting, is one in a recent string of bestsellers built on the trope of retired spies called back into action because of an operation in the distant past that went sideways and must finally be put to rest in the present time.

Like SLOUGH HOUSE by Mick Herron and A LEGACY OF SPIES by John Le Carré to name the most well known, THE SPY COAST offers multiple points of view and timelines, as well as a hefty helping of authentic spycraft.

As a retired CIA officer myself, however, I’m happy that these tales are all fiction.

Now retired to Purity, Maine, Maggie Bird was a CIA operations officer who lived a nonofficial cover job as a logistics officer for a shipping company, specializing in textiles. Her off-the-radar life as a chicken farmer is disrupted when a woman appears at her door to ask for help finding a long-ago colleague named Diana Ward.

Maggie adamantly refuses—obviously there is bad blood between her and Diana. Shortly thereafter, the messenger’s dead body is dumped on Maggie’s driveway and a sniper narrowly misses Maggie as she feeds her chickens.

Acting chief of police Jo Thibideau is baffled by both crimes, as well as by the lack of background information on Maggie and her small circle of friends who have dubbed themselves the Martini Club.

Those friends are all Agency retirees, of course, with analytic and research skills and a global network that Jo will never have and there’s a great tug-of-war between the retirees and the cop, similar to the Richard Osmen THURSDAY MURDER CLUB books. Yet the real diamonds in this book are Maggie’s chapters in which she recounts Operation Cyrano, a murky CIA effort to capture a Russian mole inside the highest reaches of the British government by using Maggie’s unwitting husband.

Sixteen years ago, he was a doctor who worked for an upscale medical concierge service. His most important patient was a notorious British gunrunner and money launderer with epilepsy. Maggie’s assignment was to use her husband to gather intel on the man because the Russian mole was a business associate.

Diana Ward was Maggie’s control officer during the operation.

Now someone has stolen the Operation Cyrano files and is going after those involved.

Unlike so many spy novels featuring Russian evildoers, the plot did not take 12 sheets of graph paper charts to understand. The smooth yet brisk writing style made it a true page-turner.

THE SPY COAST is supposedly the start of a new series featuring Maggie and her circle of retired spies. I can’t wait for the next!

Find THE SPY COAST on Amazon

The season of loss

The season of loss

Spring has become the season of loss. Four years ago we lost my first cousin Celine. This year we lost Uncle Joe.

My mother’s younger brother, Joseph N. Sestito passed at age 91 after leading a “storied and adventurous life,” as my son so accurately phrased it.

A Catholic priest and a decorated Navy veteran, he inspired the priest in my political thriller, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, who tells Luz de Maria that he cannot give her absolution if she wishes to commit the same sin all over again.

My grandfather always called him “Sonny,” which led to the character of Sonny Zambrano in the Galliano Club historical fiction series. In REVENGE AT THE GALLIANO CLUB, Sonny recites “The Cask of Amontillado” for a speaking contest, the same as my uncle did in the real 1949 Slingerland Speaking Contest. 73 years later, he could still recite Poe’s classic from memory.

Uncle Joe was ordained a priest in 1959. It should have been earlier but, ever the jokester, he was booted out of his first seminary for rolling a bowling ball down the hall of his dorm and hitting a teacher’s door.

After a few years as a parish priest with the Ogdensburg diocese in upstate New York, he joined the US Navy as a chaplain. Uncle Joe served with the Marines in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star with V for valor. Among other duty stations, he served in the Aleutians and aboard the nuclear-powered USS Bainbridge.

After retiring, he resumed parish duties in upstate New York and jumped into high-end woodworking. We all have furniture, lamps and trays that he made. Everything is finished in the same mid-tone stain with quirks reflecting the maker’s impatience. For example, my gorgeous reeded buffet lamps have plugs but no switches.

Uncle Joe was a never-ending font of genuinely funny jokes, magic tricks, and tall tales. His vocabulary was prodigious, he was annoyed by sloppy diction, and he knew the basics of at least a dozen languages. He played the piano and the saxophone, delivered a mean sermon, and was a terrible driver who named all his cars.

He was the wonderful and funny Uncle Joe to me, my siblings and my cousins, and how rich our lives have been because of him.

Uncle Joe playing the piano with my son (who is now 31.)

The Perfect Library Made by the Perfectionists of Oneida, NY

The Perfect Library Made by the Perfectionists of Oneida, NY

If you are traveling to Oneida, NY, as I did last month, your choices for places to stay are fairly limited.

  1. The $$$$$ Turning Stone casino
  2. Chain hotels like the Hampton Inn
  3. A bed-and-breakfast situation at the Oneida Community Mansion House.

I chose option #3 because it was closest to the hospital nursing facility where my 95-year-old mother is now a full time resident.

That decision saved my sanity while keeping me on track to finish the WIP

The Oneida Story

Growing up 20 miles away in Rome, I knew that Oneida was the home of Oneida Limited, the silverware manufacturer. The company was famous for flatware, silver plated trays and tea services and of course the iconic Revere bowls.

In upstate New York, a gift of Oneida silver was the norm for every life milestone. Baptisms meant baby loving cups and rattles. Small Revere bowls made perfect hostess gifts. Sets of flatware, salt and pepper shakers, sugar and creamers, trays, and candy bowls were go-to wedding gifts.

I never knew that the manufacturer of these tableware essentials was the direct descendant of an 1800’s commune with usual sex practices.

The Oneida Community was a commune started in 1848 by Vermonter and disgraced Protestant pastor John Humphrey Noyes. He claimed to have achieved spiritual perfection and his followers called themselves Perfectionists. The commune rejected traditional marriage and roles for women. Committees were set up to keep things organized and encourage education for all ages.

What really set the commune apart, however, was that men and women were discouraged from pairing off at all. Adults lived separately in small rooms, while children lived in a separate children’s dormitory. A program of selective breeding was carried out for about 10 years which produced nearly 60 children. Noyes himself had 13 children by different women–a gallant effort to walk the talk.

Adults worked in the companies that supported the commune. They made traps for animals–at a time when wild animal pelts were in high demand–plus silk thread spun from imported raw silk, and flatware. The factories were so successful that the commune, which never numbered more than 300 people, became one of the biggest employers in the region.

But after 30 years, the locals had had enough of the commune’s scandalous practices. Noyes was run out of town. The commune couldn’t survive and eventually re-established itself as the joint-stock company Oneida Community Ltd.

The Mansion House

The nucleus of the commune was a sprawling Italianate house. Built in stages between 1861 and 1914, the Oneida Community Mansion House is now a National Historic Landmark. According to the brochure: “The 93,000 square foot, three-story brick structure houses a museum, 35 apartments, 9 guestrooms, a dining room, and a 300-seat theatre called the Big Hall.”

The place is so big it has its own mini post office inside a lounge the size of a football field.

My guest room had 20-foot ceilings, a Stickley king-sized bed, a leather wing back chair, original windows, and a huge modern en suite bathroom. I could explore the the museum and exhibits on my own, plus I enjoyed a free guided tour where I got the inside scoop on founder Noyes.

But what drew me every evening after stressful afternoons spent in the hospital’s extended care facility with my mother, who in 10 days only recognized me once, was the library.

A private oasis of books

The library at the Mansion House is full of treasures. The main room is lined with shelves painted pale blue and stocked with rare first editions, collections of authors from the turn of the last century, and even a few more modern volumes. A desk or two, comfortably worn upholstered seating, newspapers and magazines invite you to both sit and explore.

Every evening, two huge lamps on the central library table were turned on, their soft glow replacing the bright light from huge skylights that keeps the space full of natural light during the daytime.

I spent all my free time there, coming across incredibly rare first editions of memoirs of polar explorers and Russian novelists, as well as books on music theory, poetry and art, just to name a few. This was a library for serious thinkers, a collection designed to inform and educate rather than to entertain.

A corridor runs behind this large central library room which is lined with more blue shelves holding children’s books, including first editions of books by Louisa May Alcott and her contemporaries.

Beyond that is another library that reminded me of the Long Room at Trinity College in Dublin. This was more like a museum than a working library. Stunning wooden bookcases kept some books behind glass, while others were in large, deep niches. The commune’s original study table with a double slanted top for easy reading dominated the center of the room.

The gallery

As I said, I spent my free time in the library. In that quiet place, surrounded by rare books, I churned out about 20,000 worth of words, all longhand, seated in a corner next to stacks of atlases.

If you ever have the chance to go to the Oneida Community Mansion House, take it. Take the time to sit in the library and accept its gifts.

Main reading room

The main reading room has huge skylights and blue shelves.


View 2 main reading room

The blue shelves wrap around all 4 walls of the main reading room and are filled with books collected by the Perfectionists.


Collection of atlases

As a National Historic Landmark, the library’s collection continues to grow and there is a full-time librarian.


An example of the books in the main reading room

This series of Tolstoy novels features Cyrillic lettering but was published in the US.


Joseph Conrad books

More first editions–The collected works of Joseph Conrad.


The study room

The study room features bound periodicals from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, plus rare books and the original table used for adult education by the Perfectionists.


Glass cases for rare books

Rare books reside behind glass. There’s a partial numbering system at the top of some shelves, but no one knew what the Roman numerals represent.


Niche for bound periodicals

Deep niches are full of bound periodicals and reference books.


Children's section

The children’s section is full of treasures.


Louisa May Alcott books

First editions by Louisa May Alcott including Jo’s Boys, the sequel to Little Men, which is the sequel to Little Women.


Book Review: THE BONE RECORDS by Rich Zahradnik

Book Review: THE BONE RECORDS by Rich Zahradnik

THE BONE RECORDS by Rich Zahradnik is a wonderfully edgy “everyman” thriller but don’t expect a Clark Kent action story. THE BONE RECORDS gives us a down-on-his-luck drama with a compelling sense of place and villains who are still fighting the Cold War.

Raised by his father, Griff Orlov grew up surrounded by the Russian diaspora on the rim of New York City. As the book opens, his father is missing and no one can provide any clue as to what happened. Griff has no choice but to sell the house where he grew up.

In the house for the very last night, Griff is shocked to see his father make a surreptitious entrance. Rushed and agitated, the father advises Griff to seek out a former girlfriend before they are interrupted by a stranger.

Griff’s father flees. Griff gives chase over the rooftops, only to see the stranger murder his father and disappear into the night.

Talk about an inciting incident!

When no one else seems to care about his missing-now-murdered father, Griff sets out to find the truth for himself. There’s a whiff of The Fugitive here, although instead of being a doctor, Griff is a lowly government clerk with zero money, a boss who is cheating the system and an ex-girlfriend who doesn’t want anything to do with him.

But Griff has few options other than to keep digging, which lead him to “bone records.”

These are Cold War-era X-rays that have been etched with music banned in the Soviet Union. Under Stalin and Beria, comrades found with Western music could expect a one-way trip to the gulag. Finding albums on the black market was nearly impossible.

But it was possible to record songs on the film used to make X-rays, if anyone could get it, making images of broken bones and skull fractures the base material for new recordings. Single songs were etched onto these makeshift vinyl album blanks for underground Soviet music lovers who risked everything just to hear a Beatles tune.

His father’s disappearance is connected to those youthful listeners, many of whom made their way to the United States. There are more twists and turns in the book than you can count, with multiple shades of gray painted on every character. My heart stopped a few times, sure that Griff was going to become a different sort of bone record himself!

This is a standalone, but I’d love to see Griff make a comeback as he unravels more Cold War era mysteries.

Find THE BONE RECORDS on Amazon.

Large print edition of the Galliano Club historical fiction thriller series

Large print edition of the Galliano Club historical fiction thriller series


Large print has arrived at the Galliano Club, where trouble is always on tap.

Large print editions of all 4 of the Galliano Club historical fiction thrillers are now available for all 4 books in the series! I’m so pleased to be able to offer this additional format.

Sometimes it’s nice to have a paperback that is easy on the eye, especially when Murder, Blackmail and Revenge are going on!

Look for the red notice on the cover.

Large print edition of Murder at the Galliano Club historical fiction thriller

Find all large print paperback editions of the Galliano Club series on Amazon:





Book Review: THE SECRET HOURS by Mick Herron

Book Review: THE SECRET HOURS by Mick Herron

The Secret Hours by Mick Herron is a must-read spy vs spy thriller.

Like John le Carré’s A LEGACY OF SPIES, which tells the backstory of his iconic spy thriller THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, this tale of espionage cross and double-cross reveals past lives of those who populate Mick Herron’s Slough House series about misfit British spies.

Also like the le Carré thriller, the action swings between London and Berlin, with spy organizations looking to the past to solve today’s threats to their very existence.

Related review: A LEGACY OF SPIES

THE SECRET HOURS starts with heart-pounding action as Max, a retired academic living in the country, narrowly escapes a midnight home invasion. We get few clues about Max before the story moves to London.

There, a seemingly mundane government investigation called Monochrome. The purpose is to look at possible wrongdoing by the security service referred to as Regent’s Park, its address in London.

The two minimally successful civil servants assigned to run the admin side of Monochrome have little leverage and zero political power. The wily head of Regent’s Park maneuvers to keep official files out of Monochrome’s way.

This means that Monochrome is a paper exercise set up by the last Prime Minister that will stutter on until it can be closed down with a minimum of press coverage.

Except that an eye-popping stray file finds its way to Monochrome’s minders. A real witness is called to testify.

Through her testimony, we’re whisked to Berlin and tossed into a murky operation conducted by a larger-than-life British intel officer. After the fall of the wall, the witness, then a 20-something, was sent to the embassy in Berlin to keep an eye on him. She finds out that he is running an unauthorized operation to catch an East German Stasi officer who killed his agent, helped by her brother, a black market fixer.

The descriptions of a newly restored Berlin are fabulous. East meets West in the black market, seedy nightclubs, and crumbling buildings.

Besides the lush vocabulary and wry undertone, I really appreciated the sense of anticipation Herron creates; the certainty that you know something but you’re not sure what it is. The construction is flawless, including subtle verb tense changes to move the reader from the present into the past.

No one is who they say they are but if you’re read any of the Slough House books, go ahead and make an educated guess.

It’s what all the best spies do.


New Audiobook! Listen to LISTMAKER

New Audiobook! Listen to LISTMAKER

The audiobook version of the Detective Emilia Cruz novella, THE LISTMAKER OF ACAPULCO was just released on Audible. This is a “Virtual Voice” audiobook from Amazon.

It sounds surprisingly lifelike but the voice is not a human narrator.

If you have listened to any of the Detective Emilia Cruz audiobooks narrated by Johanna Parker that are available on Audible through Tantor Media (CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, DIABLO NIGHTS, KING PESO) you may be able to tell the difference.

An Audie and Earphone Award winner, Johanna has also narrated the young adult Mediator series by Meg Cabot, Jana DeLeon’s Ghost-in-Law series, and Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire books.

LISTMAKER is a standalone novella that takes place after the events in NARCO NOIR, the most recent novel in the series.

A notebook full of lists of names appears to be a record of bribes paid to dirty cops, but only a cartel killer Emilia put in the hospital knows the truth. When Emilia finds out, the notebook becomes her key to take down a ruthless gang leader. If only she could do the same to the head of the police union, who once again is threatening to upend her personal life.

4.7/5 stars! Reviewer Bruce U. wrote “Her smarts, fortitude, and compassion all come through in this story — and the big reveal took me by surprise, too.”

If you give the new audiobook a listen, I’d love to hear if you think this technology should be made available for more audiobooks.

The Listmaker of Acapulco novella

Find the Kindle and Audible audiobook editions on Amazon

Book review: The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose

Book review: The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose

Molly Gray is the crime-solving Head Maid at London’s Regency Grand Hotel in THE MYSTERY GUEST the second book in the adorable and bestselling Molly the Maid series. Socially challenged, Molly has an eye for details that others miss.

The Regency Grand is thrilled to host famous mystery author J. D. Grimthorpe for a Big Announcement about his bestselling novels, many of which feature poisons. Reporters and mystery fans pack the hotel’s new Tea Room in anticipation. But before he can finish his speech and share the big reveal, Grimthorpe keels over dead.

Suddenly, Molly and her quiet maid-in-training are suspected of murder. The trainee was the last person to give Grimthorpe a cup of tea. Soon it’s revealed that the hot beverage was laced with car antifreeze.

Moreover, we soon learn that Molly met Grimthorpe years ago under difficult circumstances.

Molly narrates both her backstory and current events. The dual timelines are easy to follow, with backstory chapters starting with “Before.” Those intervals reveal how Molly’s mother was a drug addict—possibly accounting for Molly’s peculiarities–and left her child to be raised by her own mother.

Molly’s “Gran” was a maid working for the Grimthorpe family. When Molly is held back a grade because of her socially awkward ways, Gran takes her out of school and brings her to work at the mansion, where Molly meets Grimthorpe’s gorgon of a wife. The child is allowed to polish the silver and access the vast library next to her husband’s office.

All is fine for a few weeks, until Grimthorpe presses himself on Gran and Molly contrives to get her grandmother fired.

Once we know the backstory between Molly and the dead writer, the murder investigation takes on heightened tension. Suspicion is thrown on the hotel doorman, Grimthorpe’s fans, his personal assistant and other quirky characters. But it’s Molly, with her way of noticing what no one else does, who ultimately breaks the case wide open.

I absolutely loved Molly’s narration, from her way of referring to her boyfriend as “beloved Juan Manuel” to her clever rhyming cleaning mantras. Some might call this a cozy mystery but I’d say that the Molly the Maid books are in a class of their own.

Highly Recommended.


Writing advice from a balky mule and a train derailment

Writing advice from a balky mule and a train derailment

Readers often connect with me over the deep point of view style of the Detective Emilia Cruz series.

Writer and podcaster Patrick Greenwood specifically asked about this while taping an episode of his Writers on Espresso podcast, which you can find here:


The full answer to Patrick’s question has two parts.

Lessons from a balky mule

Remember that scene in Gone with the Wind when Rhett Butler abandons Scarlett O’Hara on the road to Tara? Sherman’s troops are burning Atlanta and he’s leaving her on a deserted road in the middle of the night with her frenemy Melanie about to give birth in a cart and the fires of Altanta licking at her skirts.

Scarlett’s mind jumps about, trying to remember what her father called balky mules so she can deliver the ultimate insult.

Reading that scene as a 5th grader, I was INSIDE Scarlett’s head, groping for the worst thing she can say that will sting Rhett Butler to the core. But all she can think of is to slap him and call him a cad.

I wanted to be able to write from inside the character’s head like that.

Channeling a train derailment

Like most writers, I use my own experiences, too.

This includes being in a train derailment in France during college.

One weekend my best friend and I took the overnight train from Paris to Italy. (Thank you, Eurorail pass.)

In the middle of the night, the train began to judder up and down. The sound was a terrifying boom boom boom boom. Luggage rained down from the overhead racks. We were tossed around the cramped compartment. People screamed and panicked.

The boom boom boom was deafening.

Screeching iron and sparks, the train car tilted over. We were flung helplessly against the side. Finally, canted at about a 40 degree angle, the car came to a screeching stop. We scrambled out of the windows into the utter darkness of the French countryside.

Later, we found out that a vehicle had fallen from an overpass onto the tracks right in front of the speeding train. As the engine chewed up metal and rubber, the first half of the train jumped the tracks. The boom boom boom was train wheels bouncing on the wooden ties. The first few cars fell over completely. Several people were killed.

In the inky darkness, we followed the tracks about two miles to the next station, a tiny country stop. A different train eventually came and collected us and we made it to Italy after all.

Years later, I can channel the adrenaline rush and heightened sense of awareness of that event. Those memories help me create the emotional perspective of Detective Emilia Cruz, from a fistfight in CLIFF DIVER, Book 1, to a panicked turn as a stand-in for a famous movie star in NARCO NOIR, Book 8.

And I do it to give each and every reader a deeper experience of what it’s like to be in Emilia’s shoes.

Cliff Diver book birthday

CLIFF Diver, the first book in the series, just turned 11. Although not my first published book, it’s the one that launched my career, paving the way for audiobook and film deals and a guest spot on NPR.

More importantly, CLIFF DIVER introduced me to an amazing community of readers who embrace Emilia in all she stands for: strength when times are tough, hope of better things, holding on when the tide wants to sweep you away, and finding love when you least expect it. They have been truly amazing, sticking with her (and me) through thick and thin over the past 11 years.

Thank you to each and every one of you!


Cover of Cliff Diver A Detective Emilia Cruz Novel

Cliff Diver is available everywhere. Click the cover to see it on Amazon.

The Forgotten Masters of World War II Thrillers

The Forgotten Masters of World War II Thrillers

In the aftermath of World War II and horror of the Holocaust, the now-forgotten masters of World War II thrillers including Herman Wouk, Ken Follett, and Leon Uris wrote sweeping sagas of lives torn apart by war for an audience that had lived through the violence and uncertainty of it.

I discovered these authors when I was in high school. Their fiction taught me more about the war than any teacher.

As AI churns out recycled fiction and attention spans shrink, it’s worth re-reading these Big Novels. Elegant sweeping sagas, they were written before authors discovered the 3-act formula popularized by television and movie pacing.

Through these classic wartime thrillers, re-learn the hard lessons of WWII at a time when the world seems determined to repeat the mistakes of the past. These masterful authors deliver an experience that lingers long after the last page is turned.

Note: Affiliate links go to author’s page on Amazon.


Now best known for his hefty cathedral series, this British author first gained international acclaim for his riveting WWII spy novels.

Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett

Key to Rebecca

A British intelligence officer in Cairo hunts for a wily German spy who is able to blend in with the locals as Rommel pushes inexorably across Northern Africa. The book has everything—urgency of battle, lives hanging in the balance, cat-and-mouse action, love among the ruins, a critical code to transmit instructions to Rommel and a breathlessly gripping climax. Possibly my favorite thriller of all time and the role model for my first thriller, The Hidden light of Mexico City.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Eye of the Needle

A German spy ends up on a tiny British island with a mission to signal German ships, but first he has to neutralize the dysfunctional family that lives there and maintains the lighthouse. The daughter becomes his unwitting foe as she slowly realizes who he is and what is at stake. There’s a scene in which she shoves a screwdriver into a light socket to cut his signaling capability that is so shocking (pun intended) that I’ve remembered it for decades.



Books by the prolific Leon Uris became iconic movies (Battle Cry starring gravel-voiced heartthrob Aldo Ray, Exodus starring Paul Newman and Sal Mineo.) His WWII novels exposed Nazi atrocities with unflinching courage.

Mila 18 by Leon Uris

Mila 18

An American woman and a Polish cavalry officer are star-crossed lovers in Warsaw as the German juggernaut rolls into Poland. A Jew, he is banished to the Warsaw ghetto where he’ll eventually lead the uprising, a last desperate stand. Seen through the eyes of a reporter who is determined to get the story out, the book is a tour de force. I’ll always remember the vivid scene in which a drunk explains what is going to happen to Poland, trapped between Germany and Russia, by sawing a ham steak in two. Exactly what happened IRL.

QB VII by Leon Uris


The title stands for Queens Bench VII, a courtroom in which a British character modeled on Nazi doctor Josef Mengele is on trial for crimes against humanity. After his political beliefs land him in a Nazi concentration camp, the doctor earned privileges by performing inhumane operations on Jewish prisoners. Years later, back in Britain with a new name, he’s exposed and ends up on trial. Mengele’s real experiments become his in the book, so this is not for the faint of heart. But so much is taken from what came out after the war that the book fairly vibrates with the truth. It became an award-winning mini-series, too.



Truly a writer of enduring classics, Wouk created unforgettable characters who are embedded in the collective memory of a certain generation.

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

The Caine Mutiny

The iconic saga of the USS Caine, a rusty minesweeper, is seen through the eyes of Willie Keith, a rich boy idling his life away playing piano in a dive bar. Willie joins the Navy, heads to the Pacific aboard the Caine. Captain Queeg of the Caine slowly becomes unhinged. Willie and other officers are tormented by his actions even while wracked by their own rivalries (and the Japanese). When the dam breaks and one of them relieves Queeg of command, he’s charged with mutiny. More comes out at the trial than expected. I saw Charleton Heston give an amazing performance as Queeg on stage at the Kennedy Center years ago, but Humphrey Bogart triumphed in the movie.

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk

The Winds of War & War and Remembrance

An American family is caught up in the war, starting in 1939 when the father is the US naval attaché in Berlin. He is close to President Roosevelt and in the thick of diplomatic maneuverings as world slides towards war before commanding a battleship after Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, his grown children are each caught up in wartime drama, especially one son who is a civilian in Poland.

Both books became an award-winning mini-series. Over 140 million watched The Winds of War in 1983, a record audience at that time. Who can forget Jane Seymour getting an apple as the cattle car in which she is imprisoned snakes through a village? The first food she’s had in days, Jane eats the apple in a near trance of hunger, core and all.

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

I think of you

I think of you

This week, the Rome Arts Hall of Fame from my hometown sent out their annual call for nominations to previous inductees, including me (Hall of Fame Class of 2019.)

The letter came from Maria Rich, who scribbled a note in the margin of the letter: “I think of you every time I drive down East Dominick.”

Handwritten note from Maria Rich

She didn’t need to say more for us to share a moment across the miles. (Also it feels amazing when a reader really gets it.) East Dominick Street in Rome, NY, was the inspiration for Hamilton Street in the Galliano Club thrillers (affiliate link).

I was thrilled to think that the imaginary world of the historical fiction Galliano Club thriller books is alive on the real street.

street sign Rome NY

For those who have never traveled to Upstate New York, the area was a bastion of Italian immigration in the early part of the 20th century. Italian immigrants like my grandfather who was also a deputy sheriff of Oneida County, sweated in the mills and factories that built so much of America’s industrial infrastructure. For decades, 10% of all copper used in American manufacturing came from Rome, much of it processed in the Revere Copper and Brass Rolling Mill on Dominick St.

Related: From New York to Mexico and back again

Copper City sign

100 years later, Italian names still prevail. Don’t get me started about the fantastic Italian food to be found upstate

The InWoodOut blog has done an ACTUAL TOUR through upstate New York via the Galliano Club books! I’ve never read anything like it.

Enjoy the tour here:

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