A story that twists like the Rio Grande



Review of Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III

One of the most satisfying literary discoveries is a truly unique story. This is particularly rare in the mystery-thriller genre. Many thrillers seem to be emulating another derivative book, trying to ride a bandwagon to market success. Far too many read as if the author were trying to write an episode of his or her favourite TV show.

So when I opened Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III, I was prepared for disappointment. But what I found were realistic characters, solid writing and a satisfying, completely original story.

The plot twists and turns, but holds the road.

Place of Skulls is the fourth in Pirtle’s Ambrose Lincoln series, a spy-thriller set during the Second World War. A lot of authors give their main characters a huge character flaw—alcoholism, a history of abuse, a physical disability—and Lincoln has what seems to me to be the most debilitating for a spy: amnesia. Ambrose Lincoln has no memory of his past, and cannot remember why he knows the things he does and cannot account for certain skills he has, such as the ability to pick a lock with a hair pin.

But he does have ghosts—at least one. He’s followed by a dead man only he can see, and only at night, the ghost of a man he killed in a military engagement that he cannot remember.

A rich Dallas oilman named Eliot Bergner hires Lincoln to find whoever killed his brother, Danny. “Danny B.” is a DEA officer who was investigating the smuggling of drugs from Mexico into the U.S., carried by poor, desperate migrant workers. One night, his mutilated body arrives in Texas in an empty boxcar. But not before he sends a message to his brother, Eliot—an observant Jew—that he has found incontrovertible proof of Christ’s appearance in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest in 1492.

Drugs and religion: that would seem to be enough for one book, but then the author adds the idea that Nazi Germany is lacing the cocaine and heroine the migrants are smuggling with Thallium, a potent and undetectable poison. Their idea is to addict as many Americans as possible, and then kill them.

As if that’s not complex enough, shady U.S. government operatives are about to launch an invasion of Mexico to stop the influx of addictive poison, but because Mexico is a sovereign nation that, at the time the story is set, has not yet declared which side of the war it’s on (which would have to make it between December 7, 1941 and May 22, 1942, when Mexico declared war on Germany), they have to keep it secret, even from the President.

No, it’s not impossible to make this story plausible.

If any author had come to a publisher with an idea for a novel about a detective finding incontestable proof that Jesus Christ came to Mexico before 1492, and getting caught up in a US government plot to invade Mexico to throttle the drug trade, mixing in Nazi spies, he probably would have been advised to pick an easier mystery to pen. But Pirtle handles the challenge well, giving the readers just enough information as the plot builds to keep us readers turning pages.

There were a few places where I was afraid the novel would become excessively Christian, where a plot point could only be explained by a miracle or an answer to true faith, but thankfully, Pirtle avoided that. Everything made sense, and while there is a definite religious motif to this book, it makes sense.

The characters ring true.

Author Caleb Pirtle III

Pirtle gives us a wide range of believable characters, all with strengths, weaknesses and flaws. I loved some of them, and detested others, but I reacted to each one. All their actions and reactions logically proceeded from their situations and personalities, with no unbelievable transformations. Eliot Bergner’s agonized family relationships add some surprising depth to the story. I suspected the femme fatale at first, but Pirtle’s iron-tight plot made her completely believable.

The author  gives us a satisfying closing.

Pirtle also avoids a facile story arc. Lincoln struggles against drug cartels, traitors, cowards and ghosts, all of whom leave scars. At no point do we know for sure who’s going to survive the next battle, and it’s never certain who’s going to win.

Pirtle doesn’t cut corners. The book has been produced professionally, meeting or exceeding the standards of commercial fiction. In fact, this book was much better than the commercially published stuff I have read lately.

5*

Visit Caleb Pirtle III’s website for links to buy this and other books.

Walking Out of War cover wins 1st place



I’m thrilled to announce that the cover of the third book in the Eastern Front trilogy, Walking Out of War, has won first place in the East Texas Writers Guild 2017 Blue Ribbon Book Cover Contest for Nonfiction/Memoir.

The contest drew entries from across the U.S.A., as well as from the U.K, Australia and Canada.

A team of artists and designers from the Dallas, Texas area judged the entries in five categories:

  • romance
  • mystery/thriller
  • science fiction/fantasy
  • historical fiction
  • nonfiction/memoir.

You can find all the winning entries on Caleb & Linda Pirtle’s blog, Here Comes a Mystery.

Walking Out of War’s cover won first place in the nonfiction/memoir category. It tells the story of my father-in-law’s experiences from 1944 to 1947, as he fought in the Soviet Red Army across the Baltic States, Poland and Germany, finally at the Battle of Berlin.

This award-winning cover was designed by David C. Cassidy, who also created the covers of the previous books in the Eastern Front trilogy, Army of Worn Soles and Under the Nazi Heel.

It depicts a Red Army soldier, walking calmly away from conflict and toward a brighter future. Meanwhile, the shadow of the Soviet Union reaches for him from behind. It’s an image that perfectly captures the main theme of the book.

 

David has also done covers for most of my other books, as well, including One Shade of Red, Torn Roots, Jet: Stealth, Palm Trees & Snowflakes, Dead Man Lying, Echoes and The Wife Line.

You can see all the covers on the Books by Scott Bury page.

David, of course, also designs covers and websites for a lot of authors and companies. He is also the author of excellent and truly scary horror novels, such as Velvet Rain and The Dark. Check out his work at his website.

I would like to thank David for his excellent work, and the East Texas Writers Guild for holding the contest that helps promote so many excellent authors and designers.

Photo from World War II: A soldier returns home



Maurice-soldier-1941-smallerForWebMy wife and I found this picture from World War II—it’s 75 years old! I wish I had found this photo years ago, before I published the first edition of Army of Worn Soles.

This is a picture of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury, on the day he returned to his village of Nastaciv, Ukraine, after escaping from the German POW camp in late 1941. The woman beside him is his cousin, Tekla, who was named after her aunt, Maurice’s mother. Tekla was the first family member who met Maurice on his return home.

Here’s the story as told by Maurice, years ago

Even though it was wartime, the market bustled as farmers sold the last of their harvests: corn, wheat, parsley, apples, pears, onions and beets. Townspeople pressed through the stalls, haggling over vegetables, chickens and animal feed. Behind a stall selling eggs stood a slim woman whose dark brown hair threatened to burst the knot in her kerchief.

Maurice tapped her on the shoulder. “Hello, Tekla.”

The woman spun to face him, expecting trouble. She glared at him for several seconds before her eyes widened. “Maurice? My god, I cannot believe it.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight. She had to lean over her table of eggs, but she held on. Maurice hugged back, wary of knocking eggs down. When she let him go, she looked at him as if she were afraid he was about to vanish again. “What are you doing here?”

Tekla was his cousin, daughter of Myhailo Kuritsa, his mother’s brother. She had been named after her aunt.

“I’m coming home. Can you give me a ride?” he asked.

She threw her arms around him again. “Of course, Maurice, of course. Oh, I can’t believe it. We heard you’d been…been killed.” She held him at arm’s length. “You’re so thin. You must have been starving.” She called to the woman in the stand next to hers, who had been staring at them. “Hanyah, please, sell the eggs for me.”

“Of course, dear. Take the young man home and give him something to eat. Right away,” Hanyah said. She was older than Maurice’s mother, and Maurice did not know her, but she smiled at him as if he were a grandchild she had not seen for a year.

Tekla re-tied her scarf and pulled on her gloves, took Maurice by the hand and led him out of the market. “My wagon is over here,” she said, then stopped. “You know what we should do, Maurice? Let’s get a picture together.”

“Can’t we…”

Army of Worn Soles cover

Army of Worn Soles

But Tekla interrupted, took his hand and led him through the market to a small shop, where she paid a few rubles for a picture. The photographer had Maurice sit on a stool in front of a cloth draped against the wall, and posed Tekla standing next to him. Tekla could not stop smiling, nor babbling.

“I can’t wait to see Auntie’s face when she sees you standing on her doorstep. Oh, and my father, too. It’s too bad your father is not here, Maurice. He would be so relieved, so happy to know you’re home safe. Are you sure this is my better side?” She asked the photographer as he adjusted the camera. He smiled, nodded and calmly pressed the shutter.

“The print will be ready on Thursday,” the photographer said and handed Tekla a ticket. “Welcome back, friend,” he said to Maurice.

The print promised for that Thursday, 75 years ago, is the one at the top of this post, and we found it in a box of Maurice’s old things in our basement last week.

I am thinking of incorporating it in a new edition of Army of Worn Soles, or maybe I’ll use it as part of the cover design for an Eastern Front trilogy boxed set.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Walking Out of War wraps up the trilogy



The long-awaited final volume in the trilogy recounting the wartime experiences of my father-in-law launches in e-book form on Wednesday,  February 22. You can pre-order it now from Amazon at a special discounted price.
Cover-WOOW-500x800 (1)

Walking Out of War follows up on Army of Worn Soles (2014) and Under the Nazi Heel (2016).

What’s it about?

Ukraine, 1944: After the Soviets burned the Ukrainian city of Ternopyl to the ground to crush the stubborn Nazi occupiers, they rounded up every remaining Ukrainian man around for the Red Army’s final push on Germany. Maurice Bury, Canadian citizen, Ukrainian resistance fighter and intelligence officer, is thrust once again into the death struggle between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR.

Fighting across the Baltics in the autumn of 1944 is tough and bloody. Then the Red Army enters Germany, where they’re no longer liberators—they’re the long-feared Communist horde, bent on destruction, rape and revenge. The Communists are determined to wipe Nazism from the face of the earth. And the soldiers want revenge for Germany’s brutal invasion and occupation.

Maurice has determined his only way out of this hell is to survive until Nazi Germany dies, and then move home to Canada. But to do that, he’ll have to not only walk out of war, but elude Stalin’s dreaded secret police.

Pre-order for less

Walking Out of War will officially be available on Amazon on February 22 for just $2.99 for the Kindle edition. But if you order before midnight at the end of February 21, you’ll be able to get it for just $1.99.

Get it for free

If you’re willing to write an honest review (tell the world exactly what you think—no influence from me), I’ll send you an advance review copy (ARC). Just email contact@writtenword.ca and put “Walking Out of War – ARC” in the subject line, and I’ll fire back a copy as soon as I can. The only thing I ask is that you post your review on Amazon as soon as possible, and if you have a chance, post the same review on the Goodreads page.

 

Getting back to writing



Writing the first paragraph of anything is always difficult, because there’s so much pressure. That first paragraph, even more so, the first sentence, has to do so much: set the scene, get the story moving and grab the reader’s attention.
 
But I took a lot of pleasure from that pressure last week and wrote an opening for my next book, after a long period of spending my writing time doing other things. Things that are rewarding and worthwhile, but aren’t writing.
 

What have I been doing?

  • editing three excellent and very different books for colleagues, including David C. Cassidy, author of Velvet Rain and the upcoming The Dark
  • traveling with my lovely and very tolerant wife to France (well, that was just a week, but still)
  • finalizing the print version of my latest book, Army of Worn Soles—print is much less tolerant of mistakes than e-books are
  • working on revamping my website, which sad to say, still isn’t done.
 
In fact, my attempts to improve my website have so far had the opposite effect: they’ve rendered it unviewable by any browser. Oh, I still have the files, but I’ve done something in the coding that creates a looping redirect. So for the past couple of weeks, my spare home-office time has been taken up with researching cheap or free, yet easy-to-use HTML editors for the Mac.
 
Now, there are some excellent inexpensive programs, but I found one that’s free, and that does (or purports to do) all the things I want to have in my website. There’s something in me that just won’t let me shell out 80 buck US for something when I can almost the same thing for free. The downside is that I had to start all over again to rebuild the site.
 
Anyway, the revamped site is close to being done, and when it is, this blog will look very different.
 

This is a blog about writing, not about being a cheapskate

Clio by Pierre Mignard.
Source: Wikipedia
Thank you, muse of writing. 
 
The writing. Well, last week, I pushed the website and the book formatting aside for a while to return to writing. I know that I said in June that I would have the sequel to Army of Worn Soles out by December, and we all know that’s not going to happen.
 
I have had this nagging feeling that comes from knowing that I have been putting off finishing the story of Maurice Bury, my late father-in-law, and his experiences in the Second World War. Now, I feel so much better that I have started to make progress again.
 
This is a very early draft, but here’s an opening:

Ukraine, January 1942Wind blew the snow smooth, polishing surface of the lake to a dull sheen under the full moon, and pushing drifts higher than a man along a rough fence that shielded the railway. Beyond the rails, more snow weighed down the boughs of close-growing fir trees and covered their trunks more than six feet high.

The moonlight made steam sparkle as a train emerged from the forest to puff and groan slowly along the edge of the frozen lake. The engineer squinted through the small forward window, which gave only an obstructed view. Periodically, he would lean out the side window to peer at the track ahead, but he could only bear the frigid air, the wind from the train’s forward motion, and the smoke and cinders from the engine, for less than a minute before he had to come back inside.

He kept the train’s speed low and one hand on the brake lever, despite the commands of the Wehrmachtofficers in the cars behind him. He knew the risks of going too fast in this country. Besides snowdrifts over the tracks that could derail the train despite the plows welded onto the front of the engine, the men he knew hid under the dark boughs posed worse threats.

Army of Worn Soleschronicled Maurice’s drafting into the Red Army, his service as an officer as the army retreated across Ukraine and his capture along with half a million other men, his imprisonment and his escape along with the men in his command from the POW camp. The second story is about his experiences after that:
  • fighting in the underground resistance against Nazi Germany
  • being re-drafted by the Red Army
  • fighting across the Baltic states and then eastern Germany, up to Berlin in May, 1945
  • and finally, his narrow escape from the Red Army and Stalin’s NKVD to return home to Canada, where he was born.
I think I’ve got it all mapped out now, and about 80 percent of it is written. But I am having one problem, dear readers: the title. So I’m turning to you. In the Comments section below, tell me which of the following possible titles you think is the most grabbing:
 
  • Walking Out of War
  • Walking Away from War
  • Slipping Through Stalin’s Net
  • The Four-Sided War
  • Worn Soles Home
I’m looking forward to your comments!

It’s launch day today



Image courtesy SpaceX
Army of Worn Soles, my third book, launches officially today.
It’s exclusively on Amazon, at least for three months, allowing me to take advantage of the marketing and promotional tools available through the Kindle Select program.
Go to Amazon right now for a look inside (or to buy it if you can’t wait)
And in celebration of the launch, I’m putting my previous books, The Bones of the Earth and One Shade of Red, on sale for just 99 cents each on all channels, all week long:

What’s it about?

Ukraine, 1941
A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?

Follow the tour and win a signed paperback

Sixteen awesome bloggers are supporting the launch of Army of Worn Soles by posting excerpts. Coming up:
Monday, June 23: Rebekah Lynn’s Books blog
Tuesday, June 24: Michael Lorde’s M.E. Author blog
Wednesday, June 25: BestSelling Reads’ Win-a-Book Wednesday—two chances to win!
Thursday, June 26: Wodke Hawkinson’s Find a Good Book to Read blog
Friday, June 27: Seb Kirby’s New Words for New Times
Saturday, June 28: Michelle Chiapetta’s Chipper Muse
Sunday, June 29: Gae-Lynn Woods’ The Big Heat
Monday, June 30: Back to Written Words for the wrap-up.
Read each blog on its day and collect the clue. Put all the clues together and unscramble them for a chance to win a signed paperback copy.
And if you enter the clue into the comments field in the respective blog, you’re eligible to win a free e-copy. Don’t delay—enter now!
You still have a chance to go back to the previous blogs. For a list, visit my blog post from the start of the tour.

Why June 22?

June 22 is the anniversary of a key event in the book and the life of its protagonist, Maurice Bury. What is it? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Get it from Amazon today!

First look: My new novel, Army of Worn Soles



A Red Army anti-tank squad in World War II
Photo source: WWII in color http://www.ww2incolor.com/soviet-union/sovietatsquad.html

I’m very excited because my third book is getting closer to publishing! 

I’ve settled on a title: Army of Worn Soles. Thanks to my good friend Martin Champoux for suggestions that led me to this.

I’ve just received the second editing pass by my editor, none other than the renowned Rebecca Tsaros-Dickson. So while this may be a little premature, I think the first chapter is pretty close to being done. So, here it is. Let me know what you think in the Comments.

Chapter 1: Prisoner of War

Kharkiv, October 1941

Maurice sat on the ground, put the bottle beside him and took off his shirt. Spreading the officers uniform on the smoothest piece of ground he could find, he lay the bottle near the collar then pushed down and rolled it over the shirt. The lice cracked under the glass. He rolled the bottle back and forth, feeling a dull satisfaction at his first pathetic victory in more than half a year.
Crunch, crunch.
The effort was exhausting. He stopped. His stomach ached and his throat burned with thirst.
He slumped back until he leaned against the barracks. Men in grey uniforms stood or walked across the cobbled courtyard of the ancient castle. One came toward him, a slim man with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He stopped in front of Maurice and leaned down.
Maurice? Is it you? he said.
Breathing required effort. So did looking up. Maurice had not eaten in days, but he still trusted his sight. He knew the man with the light-brown hair and hazel eyes, even in a Wehrmacht uniform. 
Maurice?” the young man said again. “What are you doing here?
He couldnt swallow. His mouth held no moisture. Dying. Im starving to death, Bohdan. Maurice closed his eyes and hung his head.
Bohdan crouched beside him. You got drafted?
Maurice made the effort to look up again at his old friend. The Red Army made me a lieutenant. What the hell are you doing here in a German uniform, Bohdan?
The Germans kicked the Russians out, something we couldnt do. Why shouldnt I join the winning side? And it’s Daniel now, not Bohdan. He looked around to make sure no one noticed him, a Wehrmacht officer, talking to a prisoner of war. Im glad you survived, that you were captured instead of killed. The Germans killed a lot of Red soldiers.
I know. I was there.
Bohdan looked around again to make sure no officers were watching him talk with a prisoner. “How did you get here?
Like you said, we were captured, the whole army, outside Kharkiv. They brought us here.
Bohdan shook his head. Are you all right? Ill see if I can bring you anything, but I have to be careful.
Maurice looked into his friends eyes. Get me out of here.
Set a prisoner free? Are you crazy?
Bohdansorry, Daniel, youre my best friend. Or you were. If I ever meant anything to you, get me out.
DanielBohdan, looked left and right again. I cannot let Red soldiers go, he whispered.
Maurice took a dry breath. His strength was almost gone. Daniel, youre an officer in a victorious army. You have the power. You can get me out, me and my boys. You have the power to get us out of here.


Daniel shook his head and stood. Stalin’s going to surrender within six months, and then all the prisoners will be freed. Hitler has promised freedom for all nations. Well all be free. Ukraine will be free.
Maurice looked at the ground between his splayed legs. He could no longer lift his head. I cant wait six months. I cant wait two days. If you wait, youll find a corpse. Well all be dead. You have to get us out now.
Daniel, the Ukrainian man in a German uniform, hesitated. He looked around the camp again, but no one paid attention. So the Reds made you an officer, did they? Where are your men? All dead?
Somewhere, Maurice found the strength to stand up again. He staggered to the barracks door, went in and called his odalenye, the unit he commanded. Step over here, boys.
Daniel followed Maurice inside, and Maurice wondered if he wasnt breaking some regulation by entering prisoners quarters unaccompanied by at least one guard. Maurice scanned the room, taking in the injured, starving and defeated men. He realized when they saw Daniel, they saw their captor. 
Daniel stepped out of the barracks and waited for his friend outside the door. Ill see what I can do, Maurice. But youre on the wrong fucking side. He left.
Maurice picked up the bottle on the ground beside him and returned to crushing the lice out of his uniform shirt. It was the only thing he could do to reduce his misery.
He thought about the last time he had seen Bohdan, before he was Daniel. It was in the gymnasium, the pre-university school in Peremyshl. What used to be Poland.

Wikimedia Commons


Watch for Army of Worn Soles on June 1!