Archives For John Pearce

If you’re a fan of Italy, mysteries, or well-drawn characters, don’t miss David Downie’s new novel Red Riviera. It sits on my virtual bookshelf right next to Commissario Brunetti (Donna Leon) and Inspector Gamache (Louise Penny), paragons of the genre
Like the best of mysteries, Red Riviera has deep roots in the tumultuous past, World War II. The war was not kind to Italy, which had fallen under the spell of a bombastic leader who ended his war shot by partisans, his corpse hung by its heels next to his mistress.
Some of the people and much of the philosophy lived on. This book is the story of a talented police commissioner from Genoa, a woman rising toward the pinnacle of the police establishment at the same time she fears approaching spinsterhood, and her efforts to learn why a retired American spy, a native of Genoa, disappeared at the same time Canadair water bombers were trying to extinguish fires in the forests and brush overlooking the Ligurian Coast.
That’s not the only problem she has. HER vice questor is a couple of notches more diabolical than the one Guido Brunetti must deal with in Venice and he’s not convinced modern Italy is ready for democracy.
Daria Vinci is the headline character but the propulsive force of the story comes from two old men. The first Daria’s godfather Willem Bremach, born to wealth in Genoa, a Spitfire pilot turned Dutch diplomat, cold warrior, and best friend of Daria’s late father, an American.
The other is Joseph Gary, hedonist, former American spy and a man whose past, in Churchill’s words, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. After a long absence he has returned to the wealthy town of Rapallo, up the Italian Riviera from Genoa. For a couple of guys several years past their ninetieth birthdays they are bursting with energy — physical in Gary’s case, mental in Bremach’s while he is out of action from a tennis injury but not completely idle—watch for it.
I have admired David Downie’s books since I first found them a decade ago for their lively and realistic character development. His previous novel, The Gardener of Eden, was set on a broad stage peopled with varied and captivating characters, also with a historical element. The skill extends to his non-fiction books, of which there have been many. My favorite is Paris, Paris, which I still view as the best guide to Paris I have ever read, and I refer back to it frequently.
Red Riviera is set on the Ligurian Coast of Italy between France and Tuscany, part of which is known to tourists as the Cinque Terre (or “Sink-we Terry,” as Willem Bremach parodies the flocks of anglophone tourists who roost there during the tourist season). Some are barely tolerated guests of his wife in the elegant old house overlooking “the ancient olive trees and blackish-green flame cypresses planted by his grandfather on the terraces below.”
It is from this house that Willem, recovering from a tennis injury and confined to a wheelchair, spots Joseph Gary’s elegant antique speedboat moored in the sea below, as it is every day at the same time. But there’s no Joseph to be found, even after Daria starts her investigation, and it is in unwinding that mystery that Downie skilfully illuminates Italian society, politics, and the dark authoritarian strain that has hidden just below the surface of Italian life and government since Willem’s Spitfire was shot down along the same coastline in 1945.
I first saw Genoa in 2005, at the end of a repositioning cruise from Florida. I saw then, and you will as you read Red Riviera, that it’s a very old place. At one point when Daria is on the lam from police trackers she passes Christopher Columbus’s house—accepted history is that he was born in the area, and as our cruise pulled into the expansive port one of the guides pointed out a building which he said had been Columbus’s workplace before his voyages.
An old Italian city is full of old Italian churches, some better maintained than others but all worth a visit. I will never forget the first day we went church-hopping and it became clear to me where the gold from the New World went. It was on the walls of the churches.
David Downie is a native of San Francisco who now lives in Paris and Italy with his wife Alison Harris, a noted photographer. Together they operate Paris, Paris Tours. My sister and a group of friends visited Paris while we were there a few years ago and she allowed us to tag along on a couple of their tours, which were excellent and filled with Paris history.

Red Riviera, by David Downie. Alan Squire Publishing (June 25, 2021). 300 pages. Amazon editions: Kindle ($9.49), trade paperback ($19.99). (This review is based on a galley proof I received from the publisher. I buy all books I review and have pre-ordered Red Riviera.)
Reviewed on PartTimeParisian.com June 19, 2021

Copyright © 2021 Alesia Press LLC

How I Found Pegasus

John Pearce  —  October 27, 2019

When I started to write my third novel, Finding Pegasus, I was looking for some specific plot points — I wanted a strong woman as at least one of the protagonists, and I wanted her to be a techie, and involved in the plot I had already partially designed, at least mentally.

That plot was: Build a small but very advanced submarine, have some bad guys steal it, combine them with a corrupt Silicon Valley bazillionnaire, a paranoid Navy admiral, the CIA, and Eddie Grant.

Eddie had been so popular among readers of Treasure of Saint-Lazare and its sequel, Last Stop: Paris that he had to feature prominently in the story.

And Paris, of course. Paris is really the center of everything I write.

Kate and Mark: a standout combination

The result was the standout combination of Kate Hall and Mark McGinley. Kate, the former Navy officer who was pushed out of her career by the paranoid admiral, who was also her husband. And Mark, the ex-Navy petty officer who conceived the autonomous sub Pegasus and its tiny drone payload, Icarus.

Kate is, by any standards, a strong protagonist. She’s a naval marine engineer accustomed to rooting around in the engine rooms of nuclear submarines, and she’s a skilled knife fighter who saves her and Mark’s bacon early in the book, when the nasties blow up their sailboat on Biscayne Bay.

Readers have responded to the story. Sales of all three of my books add up to the tens of thousands and lots of nice words. To quote one reviewer, “Finding Pegasus is the story of an international criminal network marching in lockstep with the neo-Nazi autocrats of Eastern Europe; a paranoid, egocentric American Navy admiral; an old and bitter Silicon Valley billionaire; and a retired Hungarian spy who moved to Paris because the food was better.”

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. In fact, I liked Kate so much that she will be a main feature of an upcoming book — not the next one, which will be set in New York (plus Paris, of course) but in the following one, which as of now will be an entirely Paris novel.

Stay tuned. Keep watch on my blog Part-Time Parisian, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have questions or would like to suggest a plot idea.

You can reach me at jmp@parttimeparisian.com

My novels are available in paperback (regular and large print), Kindle, and audiobook editions. You can see all of them at my Amazon author page.

 

Peter Steiner’s The Good Cop is a pitch-perfect aria in the chaotic opera that was Weimar. It illustrates the corruption of the politicians and police, the violence of the extremist freikorps ruffians, and the general fear and loathing that led to Hitler.

In recent years, Steiner has burnished his reputation as author of the Louis Morgon whodunits, set around a former U.S. CIA agent who moved to rural France after he was cashiered for political reasons. I’m glad to see him branch off into the new Willi Geismeier Mysteries series, which is filled with potential.

The story opens in the trenches of the Western Front as World War I ends and the defeated and depressed German soldiers are sent home, where they will face still more defeat and depression. If you’ve read much of the history of the Weimar Republic you will be familiar with its chaos, including the political assassinations, the corruption, the fear, and the ever-present poverty. All of that is fully represented in Steiner’s book, whose only fault in my eyes is that it is too short.

The new government is weak and useless; leaders change; police and courts are corrupt (nothing like the Third Reich, but corrupt nevertheless). Fascists and Communists alike think they should rule the country. The time is ripe for the Austrian corporal to attempt a putsch in a Munich beer hall.

But instead of winning the government, he gets jail. By then many of the police and other officials have come to believe he may be the wave of the future, so his sentence is shortened, from years to months, but it was still long enough to write Mein Kampf. And when he got out, he was already a legend. There was nowhere to go but up.

Five stars. Highly recommended. My only quibble is its length, 192 pages. I would happily have read another hundred.

Before Peter Steiner started writing novels he was a cartoonist for The New Yorker, well known for a large body of work but perhaps best for the 1993 cartoon showing one dog sitting at a desktop computer, paw on the keyboard, telling another, “On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” It’s a classic. 

He also paints, and had a show in June in Connecticut. In October, he will have a show in the Cartoon Museum in Krems, Austria

The Good Cop (Willi Geismeier Mysteries), by Peter Steiner. Severn House Publishers, July 1, 2019. I read a PDF proof the publisher furnished, then bought and reviewed the Kindle edition.

Useful links:
Peter Steiner’s site
BBC Guide to Weimar

Highly recommended for Francophiles and WWII history buffs
5/5

Anyone who has followed the tragedy of the German occupation has heard of the young bicycle couriers who fearlessly bluffed their way past checkpoints while carrying secret messages for the Resistance. The girls, especially, brought flirtation and coquetry to bear on the Occupation soldiers who were sometimes only a few years older.

Time compresses as it fades. From early in the occupation we remember the couriers and other parts of the soft Resistance. Then came the brave publishers of underground newsletters, then newspapers, and finally the occasional assassination of a German soldier, which always brought heavy penalties. Hitler pushed the occupation forces to more and more intense retribution, so that an assassination brought the execution of 50 hostages — and anyone unlucky enough to be picked up for violating the curfew became a hostage. In 1944 came extensive sabotage in support of D-Day.

Ronald C. Rosbottom’s fascinating new book Sudden Courage follows the deepening involvement of the youth of France after the German invasion of 1940. Rosbottom establishes clearly how betrayed they felt when the pride of the old military establishment, the Maginot Line, proved hopeless as a defense against an invading power with enough creative energy to simply bypass it. One by one, they determined to do their part to reverse the tide.

Preparing for the last war

It was proof of the old aphorism that soldiers prepare for the last war, not the next one, and the feckless French government did exactly that, to the extent of naming the hero of World War I, Petain, to head the new État Français, the collaborationist government the Germans established in Vichy.

When the Germans dissolved Vichy and occupied the south later in the war, the Resistance became more serious there, but the acts that spawned dozens of postwar films — railroads sabotaged, bridges blown up — were mainly acts in cooperation with the Allied governments in preparation for the Normandy landings of 1944.

In any discussion of the Resistance, the elephant in the corner is communism. The Resistance was in many ways started by the communists, who dominated many trade unions and thus could bring their existing organization to bear quickly. They always had a fraught relationship with the government in exile, which like Degaulle himself leaned on the tradition-bound ideas of Old France, which was Catholic, conservative, and patriarchal. In other words, the essence of anti-communism.

In fact, it struck me as odd that so many French parents would tolerate, much less support, their daughters’ work for the Resistance. They were nervous about it, as Rosbottom makes clear, but they saw past the straitjacket of the old mores to the absolute need to combat the Nazi threat to their existence.

Sudden Courage is a masterful followup to When Paris Went Dark. I hope a third one is in the works.

RONALD C. ROSBOTTOM is the Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities and a professor of French, European Studies, and Architectural Studies at Amherst College. Previously he was the dean of faculty at Amherst. His previous book, When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944, was long listed for the National Book Award in Nonfiction.

SUDDEN COURAGE: Youth in France Confront the Germans, 1940-1945. Custom House, an imprint of William Morrow. Publication Aug. 13, 2019. Available in ebook, hard cover, and audio editions. Buy it on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2KrnLzl

PICTURES of young maquisards and the cover courtesy of the publisher, which provided an advance copy for review. 

Once a month, Adrian Leeds holds a two-hour book presentation and social gathering upstairs at a café near her home in the Marais, in Paris. I went this week because I wanted to hear Timothy J. Smith talk about his new novel The Fourth Courier. I liked what I heard and plan to read the book.

Another reason I went is that I’m the program for next month and wanted to get a feel for the room. I’ll be talking about all three of my current books, Treasure of Saint-Lazare, Last Stop: Paris, and Finding Pegasus, plus the new one that’s in the works right now.

If you’re in Paris on Tuesday, June 11, come by the Café de la Mairie (you’ll find the address on her web site, which you should read anyway. It’s here – click on “things to do.”) It’s all done in English.

Adrian, if by some chance you don’t know about her, is a long-time American leader in Paris real estate and frequently appears on House Hunters International.

The place was packed — I counted 60, not including some who were out of sight around a corner. Here’s a picture I made just to give the flavor. Tim Smith is at the round table listening to a question from the gallery to his left. In the rear, a hand is up for the next question.

This picture shows maybe a third of the crowd, which was jammed into every corner of the old room. It was a lot of fun, and an opportunity to meet kindred spirits.

Tim Smith at Adrian Leeds's Après-Midi May 14 in Paris

Five stars – beautifully written, imaginative, a delight to read

This book will appeal to three kinds of readers: those who admire good writing, those who love baseball and want to see more of it from the inside, and fans of Neil Gaiman.

Arthur Hittner’s two novels, as well as his multiple non-fiction books, encompass two of his main passions: baseball and art. The first, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse, I reviewed in mid-2018. In pre-retirement life he was a corporate lawyer in Boston but now has time to follow his muse — much like Singer, his four-fingered lefty. The shortage of one finger on his pitching hand is a big part of the story.

His non-fiction has covered baseball (Honus Wagner), art (Harold J. Rabinovitz, the model for his first novel), and cross-country travel, which he does frequently between his two bases in Massachusetts and Arizona.

Jake Singer is a lawyer in Cambridge having a drink or three with his buddies when he meets Kate, “A little wisp of a girl in a starched white blouse and a short black skirt,” who arrived to take his order. In one short paragraph he sums up her first day on the job and a page or two later — goaded by his drinking buddies — he’s asked her out. He starts out, as he narrates in one of the alternating first-person chapters, looking like a clerk in a Brooks Brothers store but Kate redirects him toward his more casual side. Along the way she rekindles his interest the promising baseball career that fizzled with the loss of his finger.

They marry, try and fail to conceive, which brings serious strains between them, and Kate dies, victim of a hit-and-run just at the time she’s preparing to leave him. Except that she doesn’t really leave, and it’s her role as the late wife that guides him to a reinvigorated if short baseball career.

This is the part that reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 opus American Gods. In that classic work the protagonist Shadow is released from prison a few days early because Laura, the wife he’s spent his entire sentence anticipating, is killed in an auto accident. Except that she, like Kate, hangs around, much to Shadow’s benefit.

Hittner is a good writer, so I expected an easy-to-read novel. But I was surprised at the pure skill displayed in the first chapter. Read it and you’ll read the rest.

Four-Finger Singer and His Late Wife, Kate: A Novel of Life, Death & Baseball. Arthur D. Hittner. Apple Ridge Press, Oro Valley, AZ, May 15, 2019. $6.99 Kindle, $16.95 paperback (Amazon Prime). I read an advance PDF and have ordered the Kindle edition.

My review of his first novel is here

Anyone who has lived in a small town may have seen Carverville, Downie’s fictional Cannery Row, which is now an economic desert whose salmon fishery and lumber industries were sacrificed to clearcutting and environmental plunder.

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30-SECOND BOOK REVIEWS

John Pearce  —  November 21, 2018

Updated Nov. 20, 2018, with these new books:

ON TYRANNY: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder (non-fiction)

FLY BY NIGHT (Jammer Davis Thriller Book 2), by Ward Larsen (thriller)

THE FIFTH RISK, by Michael Lewis (non-fiction)

If you’d like to suggest a book for review, use the “Contact Me” link in the menu above.                        John Pearce

ON TYRANNY, by Timothy Snyder (non-fiction)

When I was looking for background on Hungary for my latest novel, Finding Pegasus, I turned to Timothy D. Snyder, a Yale historian with the sort of sparkling resumé most academics can only aspire to.

He is a scholar of Central and Eastern Europe and the Holocaust. He can speak, write, or read eleven languages, and has been quoted as saying that if you can’t read Russian you can’t really do much research in that part of the world.

His works are not turgid academic volumes, especially the little book that is his most recent, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. It’s more of a cookbook of ways to foil tyranny.

Here’s a sample, from his first rule: Do Not Obey In Advance:

  • “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.”

He recalls that when the Austrian chancellor gave in to Hitler, the local Nazis, acting on their own, took the steps that decided the fate of Austria’s Jews. “The anticipatory obedience of Austrians in March 1938 taught the high Nazi leadership what was possible,” he writes.

And from his Rule #5, Remember Professional Ethics:

  • “When political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more important. It is hard to subvert a rule-of-law state without lawyers, or to hold show trials without judges. Authoritarians need obedient civil servants, and concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor.”

Please read the whole thing. It’s a little heavy on Hitler examples, but he was the mold for all modern authoritarians. The entire book is only 128 pages, so it won’t take long. You’ll have time to read it twice.

Recommended without reservation

Tim Duggan Books (Penguin Random House), 2017. I read the Kindle edition, which I purchased.

Nov 15, 2018

FLY BY NIGHT, by Ward Larsen (thriller)

Fly by Night is my first Jammer Davis book, and won’t be my last. I found it on one of Amazon’s promotional emails (which almost always offer a wealth of good books) and read it in two evenings.

Frank (Jammer) Davis is an ex-F16 jock, now on leave of absence as an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the government department that investigates transport accidents of all sorts but is most visible when an airplane goes down.

He’s a widower and his only daughter is spending several months with friends in Norway, so he’s receptive when his old boss Larry Green meets him after a rugby match and asks him to go check out a crash in Sudan. It’s not just any crash – it’s a highly secret CIA drone called Blackstar, which has disappeared somewhere in the desert near the Red Sea.

The CIA had decided it crashed into the sea, but recently got word that it was hidden in a hangar outside Khartoum. The hangar is owned by a sketchy charter airline that flies around Africa carrying cargo that may or may not be legal.

Jammer takes the job and hops a plane for Khartoum. Larsen does a nice job of developing a stable of interesting characters: a fellow fighter pilot he was instrumental in having cashiered from the Air Force; a mysterious imam connected somehow to the Sudanese military; various young men fluttering around the imam and Islam like moths around a flame; and Dr. Regina Antonelli, an Italian doctor volunteering in a desert clinic with whom Jammer comes close to having an affair.

No spoilers here, but the plot is plausible, which is important to me. A tinpot general with designs on becoming president of his country is willing to kill a bunch of people in a way that would cause maximum international political upheaval.

The depth of his aviation knowledge is impressive, no surprise since he’s done many of the jobs he has Jammer doing, including fly high-performance fighters and investigate air crashes.

Jammer comes through in the end, but Larsen misses no opportunity to write another cliffhanger. He knows how to do it.

Recommended.

Oceanview Publishing, 2018. I read the Kindle edition, which I purchased.

Nov 19, 2018

THE FIFTH RISK, by Michael Lewis (non-fiction)

When Barack Obama was inaugurated, he and the thousands of new officials who came into government found that George Bush had gone out of his way to make their transition easier. They had prepared binder after binder of background information, set up desks for the Obama transition team, and generally worked to make everything go smoothly. Obama appreciated it and determined long before the election he would do at least as much for his successor, Democrat or Republican.

So on the morning after the election, Obama appointees sat ready for the advance guard of Trump appointees they were certain would arrive, asking questions, trying to learn the business, preparing themselves to run the country. The Obama transition team had sent thirty to forty people into the Energy Department alone, so that was the demand they planned for.

They waited, and they waited. At last some transition-team members appeared, but they showed an extraordinary resistance to learning anything from the old guard — Rick Perry spent less than an hour with Ernest Moniz, the outgoing Secretary of Energy. In a strange twist, he would up running the Energy Department after saying during the Republican primary debates that Energy was one of the three departments he would eliminate, except he couldn’t remember the name.

Lewis recounted the transition story in several departments, but he focused on Energy because, despite its pacific-sounding name, is one of the most important of the cabinet agencies. Half of its budget is devoted to the care and feeding of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. In eight years its National Nuclear Security Administration collected enough material to make 160 nuclear bombs, Lewis writes.

“Across the federal government the Trump people weren’t anywhere to be found,” Lewis writes. “The few places they did turn up, they appeared confused and unprepared.”

THE BOOK’S TITLE comes from an interview Lewis did with John MacWilliams, who ended his time at Energy as Chief Risk Officer. Lewis asked him to name the issues that, in his view, were the five most significant risks.

At the top, of course, is an accident with nuclear weapons. There have been close calls but no completely misplaced H-bombs.

After that, McWilliams said, would come North Korea. Iran would be in the top five, as would the national electrical grid, the outdated system that distributes electricity around the country.

The fifth risk? Project management. In other words, failure to run the department — and by extension the entire U.S. government — correctly.

 

This is one of the clearest outlines of why the government had the problems it had in the early days, and still struggles with Puerto Rico in the hurricane’s aftermath. It’s worth reading if for no other reason than to be reminded that when an important organization has poor leadership it will have poor results, and when its role is mission-critical, the side effects of those results are likely to be serious for a lot of people.

 

Highly recommended.

W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. I read the Kindle edition, which I purchased.

Nov 19, 2018

 

 

TAILSPIN, by Steven Brill (nonfiction)

Steven Brill launches his monumental work Tailspin with a question that goes to the core of Americans’ self-regard: Is the world’s greatest democracy and economy broken. But the metrics we normally depend on to measure the health of the body politic all seem to point in the wrong direction. Public engagement, satisfaction, confidence, voter turnout and the touchstone of the future, parents’ confidence that their children’s lives will be better than theirs — none of them is on the uptick. What went wrong?

A lot of things, but the one Brill holds most responsible is the broad move of the 1960s and later to consciously widen the base of the American upper class. Not the historic upper class based on inherited money or social rank, but the new upper class based on merit. Even now, when we see the results of our efforts to seek out and educate the smartest of our young citizens, we seldom (until now) hear the downside. The new rich are confident they got that way on their own, and they have very little interest in passing the fruits of their success on to those less fortunate. They have risen to the top and pulled up the ladder.

Brill, who points out willingly that he is one of the beneficiaries of the merit system, spends 400 pages detailing what happened, who did it, and offering his prescriptions for correcting the situation.

This is a must-read book.

BROWN LORD OF THE MOUNTAIN, by Walter Macken (novel)

One of the great duties of literature is to hold a mirror up to change, whether it is change in the characters, change in the land, change in society as it is wrenched out of one epoch into the next. This book does that, and held my interest from the night Donn Donnshleibhe left the mountain, bailing out of his own wedding feast to escape his guiltless but pregnant bride, his domineering and merciless father, and most of all, to escape the Mountain, the village on the West Coast of Ireland where 1939 could just as well have been 1839.

He returned sixteen years later to find nothing changed, except the beautiful teen-aged girl he met weaving daisy chains on the side of the road, and learned in short order that she had the mind of a young child and was the daughter he had never met. He returned to stand briefly at his father’s death bed and to meet the wife he’d abandoned to go off to war, from which he returned with a pocketful of medals and the scars of a machine-gun bullet and a knife on his chest.

Young Donn, now no longer young, found a village of abandoned cottages, which the people he’d known had left for America. Against his will, he took up his father’s mantle as Lord of the Mountain and brought electricity and running water, against the resistance of the old-timers, and dances to entertain and keep the young, against the resistance of the priests.

The story is a complex look at a society hangs together, but just barely, always at the risk of crumbling when the strong central figure faces his own personal tragedy and may not be able to overcome it. Read the book and figure out whether Donn succeeded.

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (nonfiction)

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been a force in American journalism for almost twenty years, gaining exposure steadily with his articles in well-known journals, but he jumped instantly into the front ranks with his long 2014 cover story in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.” From that time on he became more than just another good journalist translating one segment of American to another, but in my view the preeminent interpreter of what it’s like to be black in the country today. That issue has taken on considerably more heft since November 2016.

This book has been on my to-read list for a long time. I put off starting it mainly because epistolary family stories are low on my priorities list, but I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago and found I couldn’t put it down. It’s a short book, a 155-page letter from an anguished black father to his young son, so I finished it in one night. I missed something importat by waiting so long.

If you are concerned about the direction race relations are taking in the United States, when there are “some very fine people on both sides” — and those on one side are showing the swastika and its predecessor, the Othala Rune, plus many versions of the Stars and Bars — then I suggest you read this book. Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, it will help you understand the unfortunate and continuing fallout of America’s original sin.

CENTENNIAL, by James Michener (novel)

I have been a fan of James Michener for as long as I can remember. He of the long, graceful sentences, the deep and wide historical perspective — and the long, long books, of which Centennial is one, at 1,100 pages. And the Kindle edition I bought last month throws in a preview of Hawaii for good measure. My iPad’s Kindle app estimates the reading time at 14 hours. It didn’t take me that long, but reading Michener, or even re-reading it after a couple of decades, is nobody’s one-day job.

This is a novel, as Michener points out in the author’s note, but it reads like history. But some of it goes back before the days of written records, and much of it presents Michener’s research, which led him to characters like Lame Beaver, the Arapaho warrior he invented to illustrate the state of constant war among the tribes. Winston Churchill’s mother Jennie Jerome makes an appearance, as do Fort Laramie and the South Platte River, both important parts of the development of the western territories.

Centennial is a fictional Colorado town, but it will seem familiar to anyone who grew up in the Western United States at a certain time in the Twentieth Century. Read the book. Enjoy it. And plan on a review soon of Caravans, Michener’s timeless story of timeless Afghanistan, a topic of considerable current interest these days. I thought it was even more interesting than Centennial, but that may be because I knew less about Afghanistan than the development of the American West.

If you’re a fan of Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone novels you’ll have a special interest in reading Berry’s introduction.

My most indelible memory of the holiday we Americans call Veterans Day happened 46 years ago when Jan and I passed through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. We were journalists in Frankfurt at the time but had business in Berlin and decided to take in the sights on Saturday, Nov. 11, 1972.

This was eleven years after the Berlin wall. Checkpoint Charlie wasn’t much more than a shed in the middle of the road, with a prominent sign to the side that warned you were leaving the American sector of Berlin.

Across the border in East Berlin, however, security was a different story. There was a building much like passport control at the airports of the day — a narrow corridor you had to pass, with scowling immigration officers along the way. Think back to one of its earliest film depictions, in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

It was there that we had the experience that made Veterans Day stand out. A young VoPo (for Volkspolizei) officer with bad dental work was asking all the Americans who came through about the holiday they were observing that day. He was suspicious that it was a triumphal World War II victory celebration, but he spoke no English and the people he’d asked spoke no German, so he’d learned nothing.

His attitude softened considerably when we explained that it was a holiday in honor of all American military veterans. That made him smile but didn’t stop him from rifling my wallet in search of contraband.

If we hadn’t been alert he might have found some. A friend who lived in our apartment building in Frankfurt had family in East Berlin and asked us to take them some West German marks, if we could do it safely. But whatever you do, she warned, memorize the name and address. Don’t carry it through the checkpoint. It was good advice.

There’s a sidelight to the story. Our landlady in Frankfurt, who did a thriving business renting apartments to Americans, was Frau Wetzmuller,  a name you’ll recognize if you read Treasure of Saint-Lazare closely.

The unmissable warning at Checkpoint Charlie.

For the last few months I’ve been casting about for some way to answer the question I’ve heard from a dozen or so readers of the Eddie Grant Series. “Where did the idea for Treasure of Saint-Lazare come from?”

I put off creating this post until Finding Pegasus was published, but now that it’s selling well I thought I’d try to answer the question in several ways.

First, some time ago I wrote a short story about Eddie Grant’s early years, especially the four years he spent as a college student in Texas before going into the US Army, like his father and grandfather before him.

Second, I wrote a blog post covering the background of the entire series.

Third, I’ve published them together as one short story, Lauren, which I’m offering as a free introduction on Amazon. (You can find the other books here.)

Simply click this link to start the process of downloading Lauren. I hope you enjoy it.

(A note: Amazon has been a little slow setting the price to free for its customers outside the United States. Go ahead and try, but if the book page asks for money, just cancel out and email me. I’ll send you the Kindle file by return email.

(If you received this message directly you’re already a subscriber to the mailing list, so you can ignore that part of the signup sheet, but you do need to enter your email address to receive the book.)

Thanks for your support

John Pearce

Nov. 4, 2018