Five Dark Riders – A novel rich with history, intrigue, action & romance – #fiction #bookreview

Five Dark Riders
Bill Sloan
(Zipp City Press, paperback, Kindle)

Bill Sloan is an acclaimed historian and veteran newspaper journalist previously nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also is one of America’s best writers of World War II Pacific-theater combat narratives. (His latest, Undefeated: America’s Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor, was published in April.)

With Five Dark Riders, his new “fact-based novel,” Sloan demonstrates that he can write engrossing, entertaining historical thrillers, as well.

Drawing upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s real-life 1936 trip to Dallas, Texas, Sloan has concocted an absorbing tale built around American domestic political intrigue, international espionage and an unfolding assassination plot.

In Sloan’s novel, Nazi agents have infiltrated a rural area of Texas where German immigrants first arrived in the 19th century, and pro-German culture and sympathies remain strong as Adolph Hitler continues to gain power. The agents’ goal is to assassinate FDR in Dallas, so Vice President John Nance Garner, an avowed isolationist, will take over the White House and keep the United States from going to war with Germany.

The only people who can stop the plot are two South Texans who don’t seem to stand much of a chance: Adam Wagner, a mildly disabled World War I combat veteran who now tends to his father’s sheep and goat farm in South Texas, and Elena Velasco, the beautiful and Anglo-distrusting daughter of an Hispanic family that operates a drugstore in a small Texas town.

Adam and Elena decipher the plot while trying to figure out who killed Elena’s cousin, Julio, who Adam had known since Julio was a baby. The local sheriff, an Anglo of German descent, has done little to investigate the young Mexican’s death, and now he has been duped by a close friend who secretly is at the center of the assassination plot. The sheriff has come to believe Adam may be Julio’s killer and may be involved in other crimes, as well. In reality, one of the Nazi agents killed Julio, and Adam and Elena have figured out how and why.

No one in authority, however, will listen to, nor believe, Adam and Elena and relay what they have discovered to the Secret Service. So, in desperation and with very few resources, the two South Texans begin a journey to Dallas to try to stop the plot themselves.

It’s a dangerous gamble. The Nazis want them dead. And the Secret Service has become aware that there may be some kind of plot against FDR and is trying to maintain very tight security in Texas. Meanwhile, the president’s protectors also are having trouble keeping track of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who keeps slipping away from them. And now they have been alerted to the movements of a suspicious, dangerous couple – Adam and Elena – who seem to keep trying to get close to the president, most likely to harm him.

It’s an excellent setup for a thrill-ride finish that’s full of history, intrigue, action, and romance.

Si Dunn

Finish Forty and Home: The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific – #bookreview #in

Finish Forty and Home: The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific
By Phil Scearce
(University of North Texas, hardback, list price $29.95)

This excellent work of military history focuses on the B-24 Liberator’s role in the Pacific theater of World War II and on the combat experiences of the heavy bomber’s young crewmen, including the author’s father.

Unlike their counterparts flying B-24s and B-17s in Europe, B-24 crews in the Pacific had to survive 40 missions, not 30, to get rotated home.

And having targets in Japan or Japanese-held territories meant they had to fly over thousands of miles of ocean, with no place to bail out–and no fighter escorts for their four-engine bombers, which were built in massive numbers and difficult to fly even in normal circumstances.

The book includes a good selection of black-and-white photographs showing B-24s, airfields, air crews, and their primitive encampments on Pacific islands. 

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available soon in paperback. He also is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal

 Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
By James D. Hornfischer
(Bantam Books, $30.00)
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/giTclq
Kindle Link: http://amzn.to/fKzayj

Guadalcanal typically is remembered as a small Pacific island where U.S. Marines stayed locked in savage combat for months with tenacious, desperate Japanese defenders during World War II. U.S. Army troops, however, also fought heroically in the battle for Guadalcanal, which stretched from Aug. 7, 1942, to Feb. 9, 1943.

But as military historian James D. Hornfischer makes starkly clear in his new book Neptune’s Inferno, the U.S. Navy actually bore the biggest brunt of the fighting. The Navy also made the greatest sacrifices during the protracted campaign that is now remembered as a turning point in the Pacific theater of the war. 

“When it was all said and done at Guadalcanal,” Hornfischer notes in his book, “three sailors would die at sea for every infantryman who fell ashore.”

Much of the fighting focused on Guadalcanal’s airfield, which could be used to threaten or protect key sea lanes between the United States, Australia and New Zealand. U.S. Marines seized the airfield and part of the island in a surprise landing that drove Japanese defenders inland.

During the next six months, seven major sea battles ensued as the Imperial Japanese Navy attempted to destroy American planes and reinforce Guadalcanal’s Japanese troops, so they could retake the airfield.

Five of the encounters were fearsome, grinding night clashes. And, more than once, American ships blasted each other, as well as enemy warships, in the chaotic darkness. In the two daylight battles, carrier-based and land-based aircraft ultimately won the day for the Allies.

The toll of ships, men and aircraft was horrific on both sides. As Hornfischer makes grimly clear, torpedoes and shells ripped through hulls and thick armor plates and ended dozens or even hundreds of lives in an instant. The U.S. Navy lost 25 major warships, including two aircraft carriers and several cruisers and destroyers, as well as numerous smaller vessels. Australia’s losses included its heavy cruiser Canberra. Japanese ship losses included an aircraft carrier, two battleships, several cruisers and other vessels, including six submarines.

Thousands of Allied and Japanese sailors and officers died, and hundreds of planes were shot down. Meanwhile, Guadalcanal’s Japanese defenders never retook the airfield. Instead, their counterattacks were repulsed, and they suffered massive casualties from air assaults, naval gunfire and Marine and Army ground attacks.

Much of Hornfischer’s book focuses on officers and crews of individual battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers, recounting how they veered into combat, absorbed savage hits and valiantly kept fighting and struggling to stay afloat. But he also zeroes in on the strategies, indecisions, failures and heroics of task force commanders and ship captains.

“The campaign,” he writes, “featured tight interdependence among warriors of the air, land, and sea.” Yet that interdependence was tenuous and troubled at best. Lives and ships were lost because of inter-service rivalries, jealousies and stubborn attitudes among key admirals and generals.

Some American warship captains made efficient use of a new technology, radar, while others failed to embrace its early-warning capabilities, with fatal consequences.

Another vital technology, radio, also was not used effectively. Ships, aircraft and ground units frequently could not communicate with each other. And important alerts often were delayed, misrouted or ignored.

Neptune’s Inferno is well written, rich with scene-setting details and very clearly the product of extensive research, as well as interviews with some of the battle’s now-aged survivors.

The author’s two previous WWII books, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, brought him into the major leagues of American military history writers. Neptune’s Inferno is solid proof that he deserves to be there.

Si Dunn

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