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Fraud!

Fraud; I love it. Fiction depends on it, and genre fiction elevates fraud to art. All best selling fiction is about fraud. Oh the thrill of the swindle, the tension of the false identity, the smug comfort of well laundered money! Conspiracies aren’t about conspiracy, they’re about FRAUD. Why conspire to break the law if there isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the plot? And, the bigger the pot of gold, the more fun it is. We all know there are people out there flaunting the law, gaming the system, cashing in on some cleaver shortcut, and we all want to know how they’re doing it. That’s my genre. I’ve been a passionate student of fraud for 35 years. I’ve studied the masters; Bernie Kornfeld, Robert Vesco, the Butcher Brothers, the Penn Square/Continental Illinois Bank failure, Marc Rich, Bernie Madoff, and dozens more. I mine the tiny details of smuggling, money laundering, stock manipulation, and class action litigation to find the stories, characters, and techniques that will keep readers up at night.

After fraud comes schadenfreude, the second essential element of fiction. Schadenfreude is the pleasure we feel when the bad guy gets it in the end. It’s a universal emotion; enjoying the suffering of others. Cheap genre fiction; that schlock that hack writers churn out, is nothing more than a heinous crime and a bad end for the perp. We writers should do more. Readers deserve to learn something, even in genre fiction. Not so they’ll do it, because good fraud is very hard to pull off, but because people enjoy knowing.

Today two of my books were at #2 and #3 on Amazon’s Top 100 Bestseller List in the financial thriller category. The Other Pilot and The Devil on Chardonnay are geopolitical action thrillers; but they’re basically telling a tale of FRAUD. The next book, The Mingrelian is about spies, money laundering, embargoes, and Iran’s nuclear weapons program. I’t will be finished soon.

Book Review: Pacific Glory: A Novel

P.T. Deutermann is a Naval Academy grad who commanded a destroyer and has written several successful thriller novels, so when he writes of the surface navy in the Pacific during World War II, you expect a lot. This is a thrilling story about three Annapolis grads from the Class of ’32, and Glory, the navy nurse they all loved. That may sound like the setup for a romance novel, and there is some personal drama, but this is war as real as you can get from the printed page.

Told as a flashback by a retired officer to his stepson, the tale begins with the changing of the Officer of the Deck at the beginning of the midwatch on a heavy cruiser off Guadalcanal in August, 1942. If you know your history you get goosebumps right there. Within minutes that ship is sinking, and our primary protagonist, Lieutenant Marsh Vincent barely escapes going down with her. The details, from a personal perspective, as Japanese cruisers and destroyers clobber the ship, and the sights and sounds of her sinking remain with me yet.

One of the friends, husband of Glory, the navy nurse, has gone down with the Arizona before the story starts. The third friend is a dive bomber pilot; brash, fearless, and flawed, who sinks a Japanese carrier at Midway. We live through Guadalcanal, Midway, and the savage but little known naval battle at Samar. Marsh and McCarty are there when the Yamato, the largest battleship ever built, attacks a group of small escort carriers providing air support for the American landing in the Philippines.

The tale jumps between action in the Pacific and recovery back at Pearl Harbor. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish the last 100 pages. You will too.

The Devil on Chardonnay published today!

DOC_Kindle_LayoutThe Devil on Chardonnay, the second novel in the Boyd Chailland series of geopolitical thrillers is published as a Kindle eBook on Amazon today!

Boyd Chailland evolved after his adventure in The Other Pilot. He took a beating in that tale, and he’s wary. Yet, he needs action; more action than just flying high performance fighters and training to be in the first wave in the next war. When General Ferguson shows up at Boyd’s wing commander’s office with a Top Secret assignment, he takes it without asking what it is. It’s an international thrill ride of bad actors and close calls.

Some people died on an isolated island in the Indian Ocean after developing a secret vaccine for the world’s most deadly virus; Ebola. Boyd is the team leader to find out who and why. What a team it is; Colonel Joe Smith, shy army pathologist and world expert on Ebola, Raybon Clive and Davann Goodman, disabled vets flying smuggled booze into Muslim Mombasa in an old seaplane, Pamela Prescott, lawyer and FBI agent with a drinking problem, and MacDonnald Wilde, paroled felon and con man.

The trail of death, betrayal, and bad intentions leads from jihadists in Africa to diamond brokers in Europe, to bankers in South Carolina, and finally to the century old sailing yacht Chardonnay and her owner, the notorious European merchant banker Michelle Meilland. Supported by Strategic Command’s Proliferation Security Initiative command center at Ft. Belvoir in suburban Washington, DC, Boyd is backed up by the authority and resources of the entire U.S. government, yet that’s not enough and when the chips are down, it’s just Boyd Chailland. The plot accelerates across the Atlantic in hurricane season as the forces of evil stay one jump ahead of America’s slow moving response to an action packed climax in the Azores.

This story has many heroes and villains; all well meaning, all flawed. But, there’s only one devil on Chardonnay.

Interview with Dr. John Prados, author of Islands of Destiny

INTERVIEW WITH DR. JOHN PRADOS

 

 

John Prados, PhD, is the author of Islands of Destiny:  The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun is a Senior Research Fellow at the National Security Archive at the George Washington University in Washington, DC.  He is author of over twenty books and has three times been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  He has graciously agreed to respond to questions today.

 

Please tell us about the National Security Archive and your work there.

 

We’re located in the Gelman Library of George Washington University here in DC. The National Security Archive is a private, non-profit organization which works to get secret U.S. government records declassified. Once they’re opened to the public we make them available to whomever wanted to use them. We also advocate for government accountability by recommending changes in regulations that control the classification of documents, hence secrecy. We may be the largest user of the Freedom of Information Act in the country. Probably 80 percent of the time, when you read in the newspaper of newly declassified U.S. documents changing our previous understanding of recent history, it’s based on papers the Archive has had a hand in bringing to the public. I’m a senior fellow at the Archive. I work on Vietnam, on intelligence issues, and on conflict, most recently Iraq and Afghanistan; plus the openness issues.

 

Explain what primary source documentation is and why it’s important.

 

Good question. Primary source documentation is material in which there is no intermediary between the source and the user/reader, and where the source is directly involved in events. It is the stuff of history—and most analysis too. Primary sources are fundamental and they are authentic. They contrast with “secondary sources,” which are works that compile and synthesize other material. Islands of Destiny is a secondary work, a history built upon primary source material. Government documents like the ones I was just talking about are primary sources but so are a lot of other things. People sometimes confuse “primary source” with “archival document” but that’s actually misleading. An interview is a primary source, for example. So is a memoir or a diary. A biography would be a secondary source. Sometimes a source can be primary and secondary at the same time. For example, a newspaper article would be a primary source for what the journal was reporting at that time but secondary for the content of the article. The best histories reach beyond secondary accounts to present new primary source material. Islands of Destiny does a lot of that.

 

As one who toils to release and archive government secrets, how do you feel  about Edward Snowden and his recent release of data about the National Security Agency (NSA)?

 

Islands of Destiny actually presents a story from the same world of communications intelligence in which Mr. Snowden worked. It’s an important historical account that shows the value of this very kind of information. I have a great appreciation for the NSA—and I have studied its work not only in World War II, but in Vietnam and the Cold War. I believe—and so does the Archive—that there are legitimate government secrets that need to be kept. But I will tell you that the strictures supposed to protect American citizens from NSA monitoring actually result from previous abuses—in the 1960s and 70s when the NSA was caught eavesdropping on Americans who opposed the Vietnam war. The regulations were not simply made up. In the period after the 9/11 attacks the regulations were thrown away in the heat of the counterterror war, and in a fashion that breaches the constitutional rights of citizens. In 2004 the entire top echelon of the Justice Department, including James Comey, recently nominated to be the next director of the FBI, were ready to resign over this program. It continued. Mr. Snowden reacted to that in the manner of a classic whistleblower. He felt that eavesdropping which threatens constitutional rights is not a legitimate secret. Efforts to demonize Snowden really represent attempts to “shoot the messenger” rather than to fix the problem. I think we need to deal with the problem, not paint a black hat on the leaker.

 

In your book Islands of Destiny you are dismissive of Army Air Corps efforts in the Solomons Campaign.  The interface between General MacArthur’s Area of Responsibility  and Admiral Nimitz’s was through the Coral Sea, yet the “Cactus Air Force” flew Navy, Marine and Army aircraft, and coordinated raids with long range bombers from Australia and New Guinea.  Was this an unusual example of “jointness” for that era?

 

I’d have to differ. I would say that Islands of Destiny is very appreciative of the Army Air Corps itself—especially in the Solomons. And, yes, I agree that the South Pacific Command represents a fine, early example of the advantages of “jointness.” I also think Army air was great over New Guinea. Where I would differ is at the command level. On the face of the evidence General George Kenney, leader of the Fifth Air Force, the aerial component of MacArthur’s theater, was inclined both to claim more than he actually achieved, and was less committed to inter-theater cooperation than he advertises. Islands focuses on the Solomons campaign, whose ultimate objective—MacArthur’s objective under the relevant JCS directives—was Rabaul. You don’t have to go much farther than to look at the level of Fifth Air Force bombing sorties aimed at Rabaul to see that Kenney was not doing that much to assist his comrades in the South Pacific theater. Now, he offers various reasons for this, and they can be debated, and his November 1943 effort against Rabaul was a real one, but the fact remains that between the August 1942 landing on Guadalcanal and the Fortress Rabaul battle, for fifteen months the Fifth Air Force was mostly a missing quantity in the South Pacific theater. Equally telling is the fact that after November 1943 the level of Fifth Air Force effort against Rabaul quickly trailed off to practically nothing.

 

I was surprised at the level of involvement of Emperor Hirohito.  I recall being taught that the emperor “didn’t know” of the aggressive plans of his army and navy.  Clearly, he did.  Was he just a tool, or was he the architect of Japan’s expansionist plans?

 

Hirohito’s involvement surprised me too. But the diary of his naval aide-de-camp makes clear his growing concern over the war situation. Nevertheless Emperor Hirohito was stymied by a governmental system, dating from Meiji days and even the Tokugawa shogunate, that sought to protect the emperor by divorcing him from actual decisions. This made military affairs the province of the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy commands and ministries. Hirohito could express preferences but, unlike Hitler, say; he could not issue orders. Islands of Destiny documents Hirohito’s preferences in some detail. I would not go so far as some historians—David Bergamini most prominently—and cast Hirohito as the architect of expansionism. I’d say my position is now somewhere between the view of Hirohito as figurehead and the emperor as mastermind.

 

Islands of Destiny is a beautifully crafted book; cover, maps, pictures, index, bibliography.  It’s a first class product.  What was it like working with Penguin on a big project like this?

 

It was very good to work with Penguin on Islands of Destiny. Our collaboration was smooth and very effective. On one piece of the book—the presentation of the carrier air strike on Rabaul in November 1943—I worked hard to meld the narrative with the photos plus a map in what I liked to think of as an “interactive” format. Editor Brent Howard at Penguin made a suggestion there which perfected our presentation. Before that we must have gone through half a dozen iterations trying to get it right. That’s just one example of our efficient functioning. This was a fine project and Islands of Destiny is a worthy book.

 

Fighter Pilot: A Book Review of the Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds

Every fighter pilot after Robin Olds is a wannabe. The game is changed. America only has a thousand fighters in operation, and the new ones cost $200 Million. They will fly themselves if the pilot asks them to. Olds came along when we lost more planes and pilots from mechanical failure, weather, or pilot error than combat.

Fighters are very hard to fly, and only a lucky SOB could have survived what Robin Olds survived. He bridged the gap from the World War II piston engine fighters through the jets of Viet Nam. His father was Lieutenant General Robert Olds, a WW I fighter pilot and friend of the greats of early aviation; Billy Mitchell, Hap Arnold, Tooey Spaatz, Ira Eaker, and Eddie Rickenbacker.

Robin Olds got some breaks. Family ties got him into West Point at the beginning of World War II, where his size and athletic ability allowed him to excel on the football field. His brash ways pissed off some people who would have derailed the average pilot into bombers or transports; contacts got him into fighters. He was a natural. He came into the European theater after most of the really tough German pilots were already gone. He became a double ace after the Normandy invasion. Olds was commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand during the early period of the Viet Nam war when Russian pilots flew the Migs protecting North Viet Nam. That was the last of the real dogfights; and Olds was the big dog. He was Commandant of the Air Force Academy; leaving a legacy that persists today.

The strength of this book is not Olds’ exploits, which are extraordinary, but his passionate descriptions of the conflicts of the times. He’s fighting something from his first application to West Point through his retirement, and it’s a journey through history, military life and culture. If you’re a fighter pilot wannabe, like me, or you’re just curious what it’s all about; this is the book.

This is a well written book, ostensibly written by his daughter Christina and a ghost writer, Ed Rasimus, but the narrator is Robin Olds; you can feel his passion. Christina gathered his memoirs and worked with Robin during his final months. He was adamant that he would tell his story, and he did.

Islands of Destiny, by John Prados: Book Review

This is a strong book. Written by an accomplished and experienced historian after exhaustive research of source material not available to previous authors on World War II in the Pacific, Islands of Destiny is an entertaining read; if you like history. If you’re looking for a summer beach book, this isn’t it. I bought it for research for a historical novel I might write one day, and I wanted someone else to read the volumes of memoirs and histories published in English since WW II, then wade through the recently translated diaries and journals of the Imperial Japanese Navy and their sailors and airmen, screen through the inflated after action reports each side produced after battles to count how many planes and ships were actually lost, lay out in reasonably concise terms the perspective of the various combatants, and tie it all together with maps, technical analysis of ships, planes, radar, secret codes and Japanese and American doctrine. Here it is. Other reviewers have criticized author Prados as providing excessive detail and not enough personal drama; get a romance novel, I say! This is the best chance we arm chair admirals will have to understand how it all went down.

The Solomons form the eastern edge of the Coral Sea, which borders Australia. At the beginning of WW II the Japanese took Rabaul, in the Bismarck Archipelago, which is just to the north of the Coral Sea. When they landed on Guadalcanal and began building an airfield, they threatened to encircle Australia and cut her supply route to the US. In July, 1942 American Marines landed on Guadalcanal. Thus begins this story of two mighty nations locked in mortal combat at the end of their supply chains. It went on for a year.

Every book review needs some quibbling. John Prados is positively toxic on the subject of General George Kenney and the Army Air Corps’ contribution to the Solomons Campaign. True, the Solomons was a Navy show, and the Navy did the bulk of the fighting and dying there, but the Army Air Corps held the eastern flank while protecting Australia from imminent invasion through New Guinea, and they did it on a shoestring compared with the firepower the Navy could muster. There are a lot of Japanese names in this book and I couldn’t keep them straight. The addition of their source material is critical to this document, but it made for some tough cross checking. Perhaps a graphic with the Japanese hierarchy could have been added.

Contrary to some reviewers, author Prados gives us many personal vignettes and human profiles drawn from diaries and published memoirs to personalize this tale. I don’t fault him a bit for being too dry. Insights I gained from this story include how our cracking of the Japanese code affected virtually every battle. It wasn’t just the strategic movements but the actual routes and timing of ship movements, and the fact that we maintained that secret until 1978! Both American and Japanese dive bomber pilots experienced 80% attrition during major battles; put yourself in that cockpit as the engine warms up.

This book, in its paper form for the maps, pictures, and reference materials, belongs in the library of all descendants, American and Japanese, of the brave men who fought The Solomons Campaign. They changed the world.  http://www.amazon.com/Islands-Destiny-Solomons-Campaign-Eclipse/dp/B00D9T9QA4

eBook of the Day! The Other Pilot featured on KindleNationDaily

The Other Pilot, the new action adventure by Ed Baldwin is the featured eBook of the day on KindleNationDaily.com.  KindleNationDaily is the blog for eBook readers that features reviews and commentary by authors and readers.  Go to http://bit.ly/1223RhA to see their reviews of The Other Pilot.

otherpilotslider

 

Book Expo America: Oh, The Irony!

I just got back from Book Expo America at the Javits Convention Center in New York.  It was a hectic, exhausting, revealing four days.  Twenty five years ago the Book Expo consisted mostly of the big publishing companies, I’ll call them Big P, pitching new books to buyers from independent and chain bookstores, and there is a lot of that going on still.  Huge banners with book covers on them hung all over the center.  Each of the Big P houses had a block of floor space with sales people pitching books.  The problem is, there aren’t many independent bookstores left.  Hell, there aren’t many bookstores left.  It’s going online, and Amazon has the lion’s share of that.  The discount they offer is the money that used to go to warehouse and distribute books and to cover the higher operating cost of small bookstores.  Books are cheaper.

One whole wall of the convention center was devoted to desks of authors giving away and signing their books.   Lines for some famous authors snaked clear across the building.  Most of those lined up were young women with shopping bags full of free books.  But, some of those famous authors are self published.  The Indie Press section covered about 20% of the floor space.  Another third was taken up by start-up companies offering publicity, marketing, formatting, printing, distributing, design, and editing for Indie presses and self-publishers.

Away from the exhibition hall there were lectures; a dozen going on at all times from 9:30 to 5:00 daily.  I went to the ones on promoting books using social media; Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+.  Big P offered up data they’ve gathered showing where the publishing business is going.  With a collective sigh of relief they revealed that paper book sales were flat from last year, after three years of decline.  Ebook sales are still increasing; 45% this year, but at least it wasn’t triple digits like last year.  One of their slides showed the sale of ebooks increased by $780 Million, while paper book sales remained flat.  But, that same slide showed textbooks in the K-12 market down $800 Million!  I asked what was happening and was told it was because of the the states are broke and they aren’t buying textbooks.  Not so!  The school my grandchildren will attend just announced they got a federal grant to equip all students with Ipads.  A whole industry; the K-12 textbook industry, is going to go digital.  College too.

Statistics were skewed by the new marketplace.  Fifty Shades of Grey (a Romance novel) and Hunger Games (a Young Adults novel) padded their genres making both look like big growth areas.  Many ebooks sold at $.99 or were given away free, so there were many more books acquired than the dollar figures would indicate.  Many of those cheap ebooks will never be read.  Romance novels comprise a gigantic market of voracious readers who are also active in social media and want to know everything about their favorite authors.  I don’t think that carries over into non-fiction or other genres. There is a growing number of readers who have become very sophisticated in finding just the kind of books they like to read,.  Blogs and web sites are catering to that market by offering book reviews, chats, and giveaways.  It’s a game millions of people are playing.

Publishers Weekly, the indispensable magazine of the industry was sold by a Big P conglomerate and is now enabling Indie presses and ebooks.  Oh, the irony!

Book Expo America: The Revolution!

Book Expo America is the premier convention in book publishing. It’s next week in New York City. In the past it was publishers pitching their new books to bookstore owners, but now there aren’t any independent bookstores any longer. Well, a few, and more power to them. The industry consolidated, and now it’s fragmenting again. Just when all the publishers were consolidated by a few multinational corporations and the booksellers all became big box stores, Amazon fostered the Indie movement and waves of Indie presses and self published books resulted. Publishing is about whose voice is heard, and it’s a free for all. The BEA this year has seminars on marketing with social media, panel discussions on how the ebook is changing publishing, and a whole day on how to self publish. There are hundreds of authors paying big bucks to autograph books for half an hour on the convention floor. Some of them are pillars of the novel, and some of them are first timers. There are vendors of all types catering to Indie publishers; marketing, formatting, art, public relations, printing, distribution. The little guy has a chance again.

I’ll be there from gavel to gavel; reveling in the revolution, savoring the panic as the big boys struggle to remain profitable when Indie presses can make money selling ebooks for a buck. These are exciting times. Stay tuned.

Book Review: City of Promises

A story about Mexico, written by an American who lives in Canada; odd, but interesting.  Let me explain.  D. Grant Fitter has studied and worked in Mexico long enough to know and understand that place, which is very different from the United States, as we will learn.  He says he thinks he must have been Mexican in another life.  In his tale Arturo Fuentes, a young businessman moves to Mexico City in 1943 and opens a glass bottle factory using sand from his native region.  In short order he falls in with a famous Mexican dancer and some shady characters from the totally corrupt government of that nation.  The story winds through the headlines of the 1940’s as Perez Prado becomes internationally popular and the rumba sweeps the nation’s dance floors.  In the meantime corrupt politicians deal themselves in on every business transaction of consequence, with Fuentes swept along and becoming wealthy in the process.

This story reads like Gabriel Garcia Marquez was given a stack of old newspapers from 1943-1948 and told to write a mystery/thriller.  It has dreamy descriptions of rich coffee and aged rum served up in restaurants and night clubs of the period, then business deals, the development of Mexico City bus service, the presidential election of Miguel  Aleman, and the development of Acapulco.  It’s told in linear, first person prose eliciting more curiosity than tension or suspense until the end when it finishes up tidy.

So, interesting but not literature.  It’s a primer in how government corruption infects every part of life, and it isn’t unique to Mexico.  It’s happening in Egypt as we speak, and it’s always trying to happen in the United States.  That’s why our two party political system has stood the test of time.  Mexico now has a two party political system, and they’re a better nation for it.