Danger, glamour, and a family: Is being a war correspondent a way to have it all? #bookreview

Dirty Wars and Polished Silver

The Life and Times of a War Correspondent Turned Ambassatrix

Lynda Schuster

Melville House, hardcover, Kindle

Lynda Schuster grew up in Detroit wanting to not repeat her mother’s safe-at-home-with-family lifestyle. So, she did the exact opposite. She left home and ended up in Israel during the Yom Kippur War. This sharpened her appetite for adventure, so she soon became a war correspondent in gritty, dangerous places: primarily Central America, South America, the Middle East, and Southern Africa, writing for the Wall Street Journal and later the Christian Science Monitor.

Her new book, Dirty Wars and Polished Silver: The Life and Times of a War Correspondent Turned Ambassatrix, is a well-written memoir that intimately describes three major chapters of her life: How she worked as a reporter in dangerous war zones; how she became the wife (while still reporting) of a Los Angeles Times correspondent who was killed 10 months later in Honduras; and how her life again changed dramatically after she married a U.S. diplomat who became Ambassador to Liberia and then Peru. For her, it was quite a transition, from dodging bullets and meeting deadlines to being sure the proper silverware was set out for posh embassy dinners.

In her book, she tells many funny stories and anecdotes from within the worlds of journalism and diplomacy. But she does not hide her sadness and disgust over the senseless violence and destruction that wars bring to helpless civilians.

For anyone who has ever dreamed of reporting from the frontlines of war or trying to do good works for humanity in isolated, faraway places, Lynda Schuster’s Dirty Wars and Polished Silver can be eye-opening, informative, entertaining–and definitely sobering.

— Si Dunn

‘Raining Fire’ is a fast-paced steampunk sci-fi action thriller

Raining Fire

Rajan Khanna

Pyr Books

I’ll be honest. I’ve thought I’m a bit too old to read steampunk novels. But Rajan Khanna’s Raining Fire has opened my eyes and widened my horizons a bit. It is a fast-paced sci-fi action-thriller where the steampunk hero goes into battles armed with an old Smith & Wesson revolver and can fly airships when he can get aboard one.

Raining Fire is set amid a dark, post-apocalyptic Earth that is being hammered by two deadly forces. One is the Ferals. These are disease-ridden, zombie-like humans can infect other humans and turn them into Ferals, as well. The other baddies are the twisted, evil scientists who live aboard a large floating city known as Valhalla. They keep spreading terrifying diseases so that raiders from Valhalla can plunder, kill and further add to the misery in what’s left of Earth’s civilization.

Ben Gold, the book’s central character, is a former airship pilot who now has lost his friends and the woman he loves, as well as his own airship. What he has left, essentially, are a thirst for revenge, a strong desire to set things right, and his father’s old but high-caliber six-shot revolver.

Raining Fire moves at a fast clip, and Ben gets into many hair-raising and life-threatening scrapes as he charges from fisticuffs to firefights to battles, and beyond.

Author Rajan Khanna emphasizes in his acknowledgements that Raining Fire “is largely about finding your will to fight, and about trying to defeat the bad guys.” Ben repeatedly has to find his will to fight and stay alive. And he encounters some surprising “bad guys.”

Raining Fire happens to be the final book in this three-book series. While it does work well as standalone reading, you might wish to consider starting with the first two books, Falling Sky and Rising Tide, to keep the chronology straight.

Incidentally, (and no spoilers here), a pathway is left open to future adventures for some of the characters.

Si Dunn

Want some enlightening escapism? Try this ninja detective thriller set in 16th-century Japan

Betrayal at Iga

A Hiro Hattori Novel

Susan Spann

Seventh Street Books, paperback

In this fifth novel in Susan Spann’s Hiro Hattori series, danger starts on page one and doesn’t let up until almost the very end.

Set in 16th-century Japan, the series focuses on Hiro Hattori, a master ninja from the Iga province who once refused a commander’s orders and is now serving what is supposed to be a long, humiliating punishment. Hiro is tasked with protecting a Portuguese Jesuit priest named Father Mateo, who, at first, speaks insufficient Japanese and doesn’t understand how easily he could be hurt or killed for inadvertently blundering over an important local custom or taboo.

During the four previous books of the series, Hiro grudgingly has been helping Father Mateo get a better grip on feudal Japan, its rulers, its warlords and its strict and unforgiving social order. Along the way, the ninja and the priest also have been thrust into situations where they have had to work together to solve some murders.

In Betrayal at Iga, Father Mateo now is more knowledgeable and comfortable with being in Japan, speaking its language and reaching a few Christian converts. And Hiro has recognized that the foreign priest is an honorable man in his own way. Hiro now admits that he and Father Mateo have become friends. But it is a time of trouble, so he and the Portuguese Jesuit have had to take refuge among Hiro’s clan. And, in their “safety,” they soon discover they are sheltering in a village where many people are trained assassins.

Indeed, when an ambassador from a neighboring clan appears and tries to negotiate a peace agreement with Iga, he is poisoned during a welcoming dinner and dies right in front of Hiro and Father Mateo.

If the killer is not found soon, war may break out between the ninjas of each clan. Or Hiro and Father Mateo themselves may be killed. No pressure at all on the two investigators!

The author, Susan Spann, has a degree in Asian history and has maintained a lifelong fascination with Japanese history and culture. She has an excellent eye for detail and creates believable settings and scenes without bogging down her smooth writing. She also has her characters speak with straightforward, accessible dialogue.

Betrayal at Iga is fine escapism: a 16th-century ninja detective procedural. The story also offers subtle and absorbing lessons in Japanese history, geography, customs, warfare, love, honor and friendship.

It’s five-star reading and definitely recommended if you are looking for something well beyond an ordinary detective thriller.

Si Dunn