Book Reviews

Reviews of books by MWSA members. Reviews appear in reverse chronological order, with the most recent review posted appearing first.
Note: Some older reviews are being reposted to this site and those will appear out of order.

Nero's Concert

Title: Nero's Concert
Author: Don Westenhaver
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
Reviewer: E. Franklin Evans

ISBN (links go to the MWSA Amazon store): 1441501096

In 64 AD, the heart of Rome burned to the ground while Emperor Nero famously performed a concert. For 2,000 years, historians have accused him of setting the fire himself and making Christians the scapegoats. To punish them, he embarked on a persecution that was to last for three centuries. But the real Nero was more complex. The story is told by Nero's fictional best friend, Rusticus, a famous gladiator who saves the young emperor's life in a chariot race and goes on to become a top minister in the imperial court. Guided by the distinguished philosopher Seneca, Nero stabilizes the Roman Empire. He downplays military conquest and barbaric displays of violence, opting instead for diplomacy, dependable food supplies, and the rule of law.

Nero and Rusticus personally lead thousands of firefighters and policemen to control the fire for over a week, after which the Emperor asks Rusticus to investigate how the fire began. With the aid of a beautiful nurse, Camilia, he soon discovers three murdered senators, their faces covered by masks. The masks portray three other murder victims who died years earlier: Nero's mother, step-father, and half-brother. While setting his empire on a steady course, Nero has himself become unstable. He is furious that Rusticus cannot find any evidence that the Christians are to blame for the fire and he orders him out of Rome. Rusticus takes the opportunity to go to Pompeii so he can follow two leads in the murder investigation. He is accompanied by Camilia and their eight-year-old daughters, who have become constant companions. By the time they return to Rome, Rusticus has fresh clues about the murders, and he has fallen deeply in love with Camilia.

Rusticus plans to ask for her hand in marriage, but he discovers she is a secret follower of Christ. She has not only concealed this from him, but has introduced his daughter to the forbidden cult. Furious, he walks out on her as she weeps desperately. He quickly discovers two more murders, and this time they are close friends. Rusticus is being hounded by another of Nero's advisers, Tigellinus, and he now knows it was Tigellinus that killed his wife two years earlier. Rusticus and his daughter are forced into hiding. The first group of Christians are rounded up and thrown in prison. Fearing for the safety of Camilia and her family, Rusticus realizes he cannot live without her. Reunited, they are captured and imprisoned, where he meets the head of the new religion, Peter, before they are all led off to the arena to die.

The heavily researched novel takes place in the devastated city of Rome under an emperor who is growing increasingly psychotic. Characters include the evil Tigellinus, Nero's selfish new wife Poppaea, and a witch who seems to read minds. There is a fanatical Christian named Gladius who agitates the Romans by claiming that Christ is coming to smite the unbelievers with fire. Gladius is also the son of the Good Thief, and his life changed 30 years earlier when he witnessed his father die on the cross, pardoned by Jesus.

The tone of Nero's Concert is similar to Robert Harris' best-seller Pompeii, and the recent HBO series, "Rome", in that it merges actual historical figures with fictional characters and does so in a way that brings the action to the level of the street, showing daily life not just as it was for the rich and famous, but also for the common people.

Author(s) Mentioned: 
Westenhaver, Don

Red Turtle Project, The

Title: The Red Turtle Project
Author: Don Westenhaver
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
Reviewer: David Tschanz

ISBN (links go to the MWSA Amazon store): 0738866482

The Red Turtle Project is an international thriller set primarily in Vietnam in the 1990's. Liang Weber is a beautiful Eurasian woman who inherits $500 million from her recently murdered father, Sing Han, a Singapore billionaire whose fortune is based on smuggling weapons and drugs.

She and her husband Sam learn that Sing Han has been assassinated by a ruthless secret society called the Mandarins. Led by a group of seven Chinese tycoons, the Mandarins have become incredibly wealthy and powerful using murder, kidnapping and theft on a global scale. They are furious when they find out that much of Sing Han's fortune was transferred to Liang just before they killed him.

After a worldwide manhunt for Sam and Liang, the Mandarins discover them in Vietnam, where she has donated her inheritance to the communist country, one of the poorest on earth, to transform it into a capitalist powerhouse, the newest "Asian Tiger". This grand economic experiment is dubbed the Red Turtle Project.

Five years later, the Red Turtle corporate logo, a smiling cartoon turtle, has become the symbol of the country's rapid improvement in the standard of living, an icon of nationalistic pride. Behind the scenes, however, the Mandarins gradually infiltrate the Red Turtle Corporation and are robbing the company through smuggling, stock manipulation, and other illegal activity. A reign of terror spreads, and anyone who protests against the crime and violence is immediately eliminated.

Finally the Mandarins' real plan is revealed. They're not merely taking over the Red Turtle Corporation, but the entire country of Vietnam. On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong, the bastion of capitalism and the home of the Mandarins, is reverting to the control of Communist China. The secret society is moving its base to Vietnam, to be feudal lords of the newly rich country.

Author(s) Mentioned: 
Westenhaver, Don

Soul of American Warriors

Title: Soul of American Warriors
Author: Elizabeth Kilbride
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Reviewer: Richard Barone

ISBN (links go to the MWSA Amazon store): 0982498268

A deeply moving story of a writer's journey that shares a rare inside look into the protected world of our military. From the humble beginnings of growing up in a town built for returning war veterans in New York, during the Vietnam War; to her first deployment as an embedded writer with the United States Marine Corps in Iraq -- this story is an experience that will certainly change your view of America and our military.

Author(s) Mentioned: 
Kilbride, Elizabeth

In Due Time

Title: In Due Time
Author: J. Keith Jones
Genre: Fiction, Sci Fi, Thriller
Reviewer: John Cathcart

ISBN (links go to the MWSA Amazon store): 1453788360

In 2036, America has just shaken off the shackles of a one world government. Led by a modern day George Washington named Alexander Birch, our country is rising from the ashes; but Birch has a problem. Prompted by a mysterious stranger he reaches out to a famous writer and patriot named Howard Spence.

The stranger is a time traveler named Joshua Lance who has sacrificed a life of favor serving his international masters to save the one man who could bring America back from the ashes; Birch. Spence tells how Lance had traded the security and wealth he had carefully crafted for a larger cause and more importantly why.

In Due Time has the flavor of Vince Flynn meets Harry Turtledove. It is one man’s journey of discovery into his own heart then back through time for his last great adventure.

Author(s) Mentioned: 
Jones, J. Keith