Guest Post by Jerry Amernic: “Thrillers that are big on historical fiction”

I got hooked on historical thrillers with Ken Follett’s first spy novel – Eye of the Needle. JAmernicIt was a suspense-packed, page turner about a Nazi agent and a lonely English woman, and how World War II depended on what they did. Talk about raising the stakes for the reader! A phenomenal best-seller, it was made into a motion picture.

Follett, one of the world’s most successful thriller writers, later turned to long epics that were full of history and not so much on suspense. They were books like The Pillars of the Earth, which is also a very good read.

As a history nut, I enjoy well-written books that focus on a particular time and place, or a particular place over a long length of time. A good example of the latter is The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, who just passed away, or any historical epic by James A. Michener. My favorite is The Source, which covers the fictional community of Makor in northern Israel over thousands of years. In a nutshell, it’s a history of the Jewish people.

Those novels aren’t thrillers, but it all depends on your preference. A reader who likes history opts for books about a time and place, while one who’s into thrillers goes for books with great pacing and suspense. Put them both together and you have the historical thriller.

But writing about history requires care. Unless it’s fantasy, the book should be more or less historically accurate. I say ‘more or less’ because authors approach this differently. I’m a stickler for accuracy since I don’t change the year something happened or where it happened just to make things convenient for a character. I choose to take a time and place, then have my characters and situations conform to historical fact. Other writers may be more loose with this.

In writing about the last living survivor of the Holocaust for The Last Witness, I did research that was crucial to the story. Like the Jewish Ghetto in the Polish city of Lodz. And the death camp of Auschwitz. These were important to my flashbacks because the central character is a little boy in those places, but he manages to survive.

Fast forward to the year 2039 when that little boy is 100 years old and the last living survivor of the Holocaust. However, he’s in a world woefully ignorant of the past century. This is where I write about how things may be, but even so, I like to portray a future that is credible. That explains why I recently made a video asking university students what they know about the Holocaust and World War II. It was readily apparent to me that they don’t know much. See for yourself –

So maybe my future world of ignorance and complacency isn’t such a stretch after all.

– Jerry Amernic

About Jerry’s latest book The Last Witness:

The year is 2039, and Jack Fisher is the last living survivor of the Holocaust. Set in a world that is abysmally ignorant and complacent about events of the last century, Jack is a 100-year-old man whose worst memories took place before he was 5. His story hearkens back to the Jewish ghetto of his birth and to Auschwitz where, as a little boy, he had to fend for himself to survive after losing all his family. Jack becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation when his granddaughter suddenly disappears. While assisting police, he finds himself in danger and must reach into the darkest corners of his memory to come out alive.

The Last Witness on Amazon:

About Jerry Amernic:
Jerry Amernic is a Toronto-based writer who has been a newspaper reporter and correspondent, newspaper columnist, feature contributor for magazines, and media consultant. He has taught writing and journalism at college, and is the author of several books.

His first book was Victims: The Orphans of Justice, a true story about a former police officer whose daughter was murdered. The man became a leading advocate for victims of crime. Jerry later wrote a column on the criminal justice system for The Toronto Sun, and has since been a contributor to many other newspapers. In 2007 he co-authored Duty – The Life of a Cop with Julian Fantino, the highest-profile police officer Canada has ever produced and currently a member of the country’s federal Cabinet.

Jerry’s first novel Gift of the Bambino (St. Martin’s Press, 2004) was widely praised by the likes of The Wall Street Journal in the U.S., and The Globe and Mail in Canada. His latest novel is the historical thriller The Last Witness, which is set in the year 2039 and is about the last living survivor of the Holocaust. The biblical-historical thriller Qumran will be released next. It’s about an archeologist who makes a dramatic discovery in the Holy Land.

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Pre-release review of Where Death is a Hunter by Christopher Stookey

Releasing Feb 2015 (I received a complimentary copy of the ebook from the author and what follows is an honest review)

The protagonist, unusually, is an anesthesiologist. And the story begins with a patient, the wife of another doctor in the same hospital, dying on the operation table before the first incision is made. Perfectly healthy woman in for a routine cosmetic surgery – perfectly healthy one minute and dead the next instant. Intrigued? You should be. “Where Death is a Hunter” is a superlative medical thriller that will keep you up all night because you just have to, have to know what happened to Debora Thein (the patient who dies).

The book is a first-person narrative by Dr.Hannah Fatier, our thirty-two year old protagonist. The death in the operating room is blamed on Hannah and there is irrefutable evidence to prove the mistake she committed. Forced to resign from her job, Hannah seeks comfort in her friend and ex-fiance who is a cardiologist. And just when she is picking up the pieces of her life and finds nirvana working at a clinic for the poor, comes the second blow – she gets sued for medical malpractice by the husband of the patient that she allegedly killed. The lawyer assigned to work her case promises to help her settle the case, until they find out something about the patient’s death is very amiss. Will Hannah be exonerated from the wrongful death of the patient? Was it really a mistake in the operating room or something far more sinister than that? The truth is unraveled in the rest of the story and ends brilliantly.

The author is a doctor himself and it shows in the details that have gone into the story. But at the same time, it is not stuffed with too much medical jargon to confuse the reader – it has just enough technical details to make the whole thing very real. I enjoyed reading this cleverly written thriller and am certain it will create ripples when it releases.

Who should read it: Anyone who enjoys a taut thriller – even if you are not overly fond of medical thrillers, you will enjoy this one thoroughly.

What it is not: No cliched cadaver-in-the-morgue scares or such in this one – it stays quite credible from cover to cover.

Overall rating: 5stars

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Review of Disconnect by Alistair Haddow

“We can’t live our life through a screen”

Disconnect is a quirky short story about a college .Disconnectstudent who romanticizes the idea of running out into the free world with the girl he loves. The author has tried to bring out an underlying theme of this generation’s addiction to electronic gadgets and so-called social media. Will, the protagonist and the narrator (the story is a first-person narration) feels bound and suffocated by the amount of time people spend on these tethers. He is hopelessly in love with his girlfriend, Nadia.

Will finally snaps when he and Nadia sit down to watch a movie and end up spending the entire time fixated on their electronic gadgets. He plans a break from everything including school and bounds out the door. He finds Nadia and pleads with her to leave with him. More of a realist, Nadia is reluctant but after some persuasion she relents and the two of them head out into the South African wilderness. They drive without a destination in mind – something that I am sure many people feel like doing in this madness that is the twenty-first century. They find a small Bed and Breakfast and enjoy the free-spirited adventure. But, how long can they keep that up? Doesn’t everyone eventually need money? Funny twist to the ending.

Who should read it: While it might appeal to young-adults and teens, it is a light enough read for anyone.

What it is not: Not your typical short story.

Overall rating: 3stars

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Review of Cry of the soul by Narendra Simone (Reviewed for

cryofthesoulCry of the soul is a quick and fun read that gives you a glimpse of the politician-poacher nexus and the horrendous corruption that plagues Africa. It gives a fleeting glimpse of the strange contrast of wild beauty and meaningless cruelty and conflict that defines the continent. The book does have some bit of a “whodunit” mystery to it in a very James-Hadley-Chase-esque kind of a way.
The story is about a CIA agent who is brutally murdered in the jungles of Africa and an FBI agent who sets out to find the killer. The book is a bit short on details, so all you get is a bird’s-eye-view of the great continent and its alluring jungles. Matt, the protagonist, plots to hunt down a notorious poacher who is the main suspect for the CIA agent’s slaying. Will he be able to bring down the poacher who is aided by powerful forces or is there a twist in the tale?

Who should read it: Anyone Looking for a quick and light read – perhaps on a short-haul flight?

What it is not: While a quick read can be fun, avid readers like the details.  Cry of the soul flies a bit on the surface and doesn’t go too deep into any aspects of the story, making it in some ways too simplistic for the sophisticated reader.  Also, while the author has done great research on Africa and its geo-political landscape – I am not sure the hero and his background is very convincing. For instance, since when do FBI agents carry out operations on foreign soil?

Overall rating: twonhalfstars

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Review of The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz

thelongwalkIt was about nine o’clock one bleak November day that the key rattled in the heavy lock of my cell in the Lubyanka prison and the two broad-shouldered guards marched purposefully in. I had been walking slowly round, left hand in the now characteristic prisoner’s attitude of supporting the top of the issue trousers, which Russian ingenuity supplied without buttons or even string on the quite reasonable assumption that a man preoccupied with keeping up his pants would be severely handicapped in attempting to escape.” That is how the book begins. What follows is an absolutely engrossing narration of a true story – Slavomir’s imprisonment and escape through the frozen tundras of Siberia, the severe Gobi desert, onto Tibet and finally freedom on reaching India. Serving as a Lieutenant in the Polish Cavalry of the Russian army in the 1930s, he is imprisoned after being accused of spying for the Polish. Removed from the Lubyanka, he is packed into a freight car on a train along with dozens of other prisoners. As the train sets off on its long and arduous journey, rumours abound about their destination – the worst case scenarios being The Kamchatka salt mines of Siberia or the Novaya Zemlya islands on the Barent sea. After a month of traveling in a train huddled like cattle, they arrive at a nondescript outpost from where they are made to trek for many weeks to a camp that is hundreds of miles from the North Siberian capital of Yakutsk.

Seven prisoners plan their escape from this freezing prison by crossing the Lena river. Enroute, they run into a seventeen year old girl called Kristina – a fugitive on the run. The bond that these seven men form with this girl – like fathers and guardians, is very poignant and each of them look out for her safety in their own way. The devastation they undergo when the girl dies, unable to take the harsh trek through the Gobi desert with absolutely no food or water, is gut-wrenching. That any human can survive such an impossible situation is amazing and a testament to human spirit and survival.

Only four of them make it to India in the end, where they meet up with the British army. The camaraderie amongst these men and the hardships that they survive makes this a truly fascinating read. Slavomir’s narration is simple and touches the right nerves. Gives a great glimpse into pre-WW II Russia and the paranoia that pervaded the world at the time.

Who should read it: If you enjoy gritty survival adventures (especially real ones), this is one of the best. When the escapees keep a pebble in their mouth and suck on it to substitute for food and water, you can feel the most basal of our survival instincts kick in.

What it is not: Though it is set in pre-WW II Russia and a lot of political battles were brewing, the book gives only a fleeting glimpse of that. So, if you are expecting heroic tales of war or pre-war espionage, this is not the book you want.

Overall rating: 4stars

Review of monkey-man by Usha K R (Penguin Books, India)

The synopsis on the back cover of this book is plain misleading. It sets an expectation that the book is about a strange creature unleashing chaos on an unsuspecting city, but in reality the creature is just a red herring (it does make the occasional cameo) and the story revolves aroumonkey-mannd a few characters in a city (Bengaluru) that is transforming from a quiet town to a bustling metropolis. Add to that, there is a radio-jockey whose show spins a thread across these myriad characters. There is no story or plot to speak of but a series of disjointed anecdotes in each of the character’s lives.
The characters themselves are very richly woven and for that, the author deserves her due.  There is Shrinivas Moorty, the typical Bengaluru Brahmin who works as a lecturer at a college and his self-indulgent wife. Another whimsical character is Neela Mary Rao, administrative assistant to a peculiar Dr.Subramanyam and her disdain for Pushpa Rani, the typist. I can go on, but I think I have made my point – characters, not story is the only highlight in the monkey-man. But that is simply not enough to make this book interesting.
And there is the not-so-subtle ersatz for well known parts of Bengaluru to old-time residents such as yours truly. Like Ammanagudi vis-a-vis Basavanagudi, National Trust College for National College and a few others. Quirkily nostalgic, especially for expatriates who miss the good ol’ garden city.
But again, not enough to make the book a worthwhile read. Nevertheless, I did read it cover-to-cover and a 2008 Hollywood satire’s title sums up the feeling I was left with : “What just happened?”

Who should read it: Tough one. If you love reading about complex characters and/or like reading about middle-class life in Bengaluru, this might be your pea soup.

What it’s not: Not a tale about a strange creature that seizes the imagination of a city. Talk about false advertising!

Overall Rating: twonhalfstars