Michael Grollman

When Brian Haig graduated from West Point in the mid-1970s and started his career in the U.S. Army, becoming a best-selling novelist was the furthest thing from his mind. Now, with the release of his third novel, The Kingmaker, he finds himself a successful writer, and the way he reached that goal is nearly as good a story as the plot of one of his international thrillers.

Haig is the son of former Army General and Secretary of State Alexander Haig. He spent 22 years in the Army, mainly as an infantry officer and military strategist. In the early and mid-1990s, Haig became special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John M. Shalikashvili, a role that gave him an insider's perspective on geopolitical affairs.

His military background served him well when he began writing fiction, a career decision arrived at almost by accident. When his wife informed him they were expecting their fourth child, "All of a sudden I realized there were big college bills looming in the future, which I wasn't going to be able to do on a military paycheck," Haig explained in a recent interview. It was time to look for opportunities outside the Army to support his growing family.

An offer came from AT&T to help build a global satellite network, with a salary two to three times his lieutenant colonel's pay. But AT&T needed him within a week. "I walked into my boss (Shalikashvili) and said Sir, I'm going to have to retire.' He told me he understood," Haig recalls, offering a dead-on imitation of General Shalikashvili's Polish accent. "When I told him [I needed to retire] tomorrow, he was very surprised, but he got it through." Before Haig could start his new job, however, a regime change at AT&T meant the company wasn't going into the satellite business after all. The job offer was off the table.

"I spent about six months trying to find a job. Because I was sitting around at home a lot, I decided to try reading some novels, which I hadn't really done before," Haig said. "Then I decided to try writing one, just to figure out the mechanics of it and see if I could do it." An opportunity to run an international helicopter company took him away from writing for a while, but when he left that job, Haig took a year off to devote himself to becoming a novelist. At the center of his work is protagonist Sean Drummond, a smart, sarcastic, but dedicated Army JAG lawyer. With a number of family members in the legal profession, including a brother who is a Washington, D.C., attorney, Haig saw the law as familiar territory.

Working each day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with breaks for meals and homework help for his kids Haig wrote three novels in that first year. A chance encounter in a New York restaurant with the wife of a literary agent ultimately led to Warner Books purchasing two of those novels, Secret Sanction and Mortal Allies. With his publisher soon contracting for an additional four Sean Drummond novels and Nicholas Cage's film production company optioning all of them, his writing career was secured.

"First-time readers often assume these are military books, but they're not. They're legal or international thrillers set inside that milieu," says Haig, who now seems as comfortable in front of a room full of book fans as he once was in the corridors of the Pentagon.

His latest novel, The Kingmaker, finds Sean Drummond defending an officer and former West Point classmate against charges of spying for present-day Russia. Dangerous political turf wars in both the U.S. and Russia threaten not just Drummond's ability to defend his client, but his life as well. Haig convincingly suggests that a shadowy group of oligarchs might have been the main force behind Russian President Vladimir Putin's rapid ascent to power. Seamless plotting sets Haig's work apart from his peers and makes The Kingmaker a compelling read.

 

Michael Grollman is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

When Brian Haig graduated from West Point in the mid-1970s and started his career in the U.S. Army, becoming a best-selling novelist was the furthest thing from his mind. Now, with the release of his third novel, The Kingmaker, he finds himself a successful writer, and the way he reached that goal is nearly as […]

Lee Child's improbable odyssey from British television executive to best-selling American novelist began in London in 1989. With businesses downsizing, he found himself at a cocktail party with colleagues from work discussing what they'd all do after the ax fell. Child told his friends, I'm going to write novels, but not while I'm working full-time. It was 1995 before he was finally fired, but by then Child was more than ready to move on. Seven years later, with the publication of his latest book, Without Fail, Lee Child finds himself well into a successful career as a novelist.

Without Fail is the sixth appearance for Child's appealing lead character, Jack Reacher, a downsized military police major. Reacher, a man in early middle age who grew up as a well-traveled Army brat and subsequently spent 18 years overseas in the military police, has a parochial view of the country he served. Now a rootless and reluctant civilian, he finds himself back in America, seeing his country for the first time with an immigrant's eye, much like his creator, who moved to the U.S. in 1998.

As a very young boy in England in the late 1950s, American popular culture consisted mainly of fragmentary artifacts left over from World War II, Child explains from his home in suburban Westchester County, New York.

Child's love affair with American popular culture continued and, by the time he went to work in British television in the mid-1970s, he was deeply immersed in it. He married an American woman and began devouring American mystery/suspense fiction and noticed a paradigm shift in the genre that disillusioned him. Except for the works of authors like Robert B. Parker and John D. MacDonald, the protagonists of many novels seemed to have figurative, if not literal, bullets near their hearts, Child says. Damaged people with a lot of self-doubt and even self-loathing. He was determined that any protagonist of his would not be one of those wounded souls.

At the same time Child committed himself to becoming a novelist, he was reading MacDonald's Travis McGee novels. He found McGee, a physically imposing man of action who never hesitated to do what he thought was right, tremendously appealing. Inspired by that model, Child created Jack Reacher, very much his own man of action, albeit one who has broad-based appeal to men and women alike.

According to the fan mail Child receives, many male readers admire the fact that Reacher isn't afraid to take drastic and sometimes deadly action, always on the side of the underdog and always for the right reason, while a significant number of female readers find his combination of physical strength and fundamental decency attractive. Men want to be him, and women want to be with him, Child explains. Reacher is heroic without being a caricature. I've often been asked to categorize Reacher, Child says. And I really can't call him a private investigator, because he doesn't have any real structure to his life. Child finally decided that Knight Errant, a wandering knight seeking adventure to prove his chivalry, was the only appropriate category for his character.

Without Fail finds Knight Errant Jack Reacher enlisted by the Secret Service to help its agents protect the vice president-elect against a credible threat on his life. Reacher assists the Secret Service in tightening up its protective tradecraft while seeking the identity of the potential assassins.

While the novel's many Secret Service personal protection details have an authentic feel to them, they aren't the result of agency cooperation, Child reveals. Anyone who says they've gotten official Secret Service cooperation regarding personal protection isn't being truthful. As its name implies the Secret Service doesn't divulge trade secrets. Finding no useful secondary sources to work with, Child decided the best way to create a believable setting for his novel was to accurately portray the institutional memory of the Secret Service. The thing that haunts the Secret Service is the JFK assassination, and virtually everything they do is predicated on making sure nothing like it ever happens again, Child says. Toward this end, he fabricated details of how they might go about protecting someone. Add the able assistance of Jack Reacher, and it all makes Without Fail a convincing and compelling read. British writer Lee Child features a uniquely American man of action in his Jack Reacher series.

Michael Grollman is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

Lee Child's improbable odyssey from British television executive to best-selling American novelist began in London in 1989. With businesses downsizing, he found himself at a cocktail party with colleagues from work discussing what they'd all do after the ax fell. Child told his friends, I'm going to write novels, but not while I'm working full-time. […]

ne of the most remarkable things about the latest entry in John Lescroart's series of legal thrillers featuring San Francisco attorney Dismas Hardy is the utter freshness of the material. Through a half dozen outings (The 13th Juror, The Mercy Rule), Lescroart has managed to keep his regular characters three-dimensional and consistently interesting. In The Hearing, the characters that have populated Lescroart's previous novels find new intrigue in the political and social worlds of San Francisco.

When a prominent black San Francisco attorney is found murdered, the key suspect is a homeless heroin addict found at the scene holding the gun and her jewelry. Because it is an election year, the politically ambitious and ruthless District Attorney Sharron Pratt decides to press for the death penalty to reverse her soft-on-crime image. The suspect's brother is a close friend of Lescroart's suave Irish lawyer, and against his better judgment, Dismas Hardy is persuaded to take the case.

As he digs into the evidence, trying to find a way to spare his client's life, Hardy finds the case has strange ties to other political and legal goings-on in the city. An almost incestuous relationship between business, the prosecutor's office and the murder victim has Hardy wondering, in spite of damning physical evidence, if his client actually had anything to do with the murder. The cop on the case, the black Jewish detective Abe Glitsky, who has reasons of his own for seeing the killer receive ultimate justice, also begins to have doubts about the guilt of the accused. Together, he and Hardy try to unravel the truth from a thicket of corruption and venality. Lescroart's story is enriched by a careful rendering of the city that gives his legal thrillers a special flair. Even with a sharply disapproving portrait of corruption in city politics, Lescroart's love of San Francisco comes through on every page.

With plenty of legal twists and turns, The Hearing will be an irresistible read for Lescroart's legion of fans and all those who appreciate a well-crafted courtroom drama.

Michael Grollman is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

ne of the most remarkable things about the latest entry in John Lescroart's series of legal thrillers featuring San Francisco attorney Dismas Hardy is the utter freshness of the material. Through a half dozen outings (The 13th Juror, The Mercy Rule), Lescroart has managed to keep his regular characters three-dimensional and consistently interesting. In The […]

As an assistant district attorney in the homicide bureau of the Brooklyn D.A.'s office, first-time author Rob Reuland certainly has the experience to turn out an adequate crime novel. But in the new thriller Hollowpoint, he does much more, taking the reader on a ride that few other lawyer-authors could match.

While keenly aware that his fictive turf is well trod, Reuland has taken a markedly different approach to his journey through it. There is a murder investigation; this is, after all, Reuland's field of expertise. But he has much more on his mind than a police/courtroom procedural. The characters of this novel are struggling to survive against the decay of modern society and their own personal demons. In Reuland's skilled hands, the normal trappings of the criminal justice system give way to a place where we can almost see the flyspecked walls and smell the stale odors of sweat and fear.

Consider Reuland's protagonist. Assistant District Attorney Andy Giobberti, known as Gio, is an emotionally devastated loner who has lost his young daughter in a tragic car accident for which he feels responsible. As the book begins, Gio is assigned to a murder case that is by all appearances a slam dunk. The police have a suspect in custody with a prior criminal record and a connection to the young girl who was shot to death.

Burnt-out and cynical, Gio is willing to push this case through the system, until an off-hand remark by the investigating detective compels him to re-examine the evidence. Gio discovers some uncomfortable parallels between the tragedy of the victim and his own travails. That knowledge offers Gio as well as those touched by the tragic murder an opportunity for redemption.

It isn't fair to pigeonhole this remarkable book as merely a thriller. While Hollowpoint succeeds quite admirably on that level, Reuland writes with enough insight and power to insure that his novel will be appreciated by readers searching for more than mere suspense.

Michael Grollman is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

As an assistant district attorney in the homicide bureau of the Brooklyn D.A.'s office, first-time author Rob Reuland certainly has the experience to turn out an adequate crime novel. But in the new thriller Hollowpoint, he does much more, taking the reader on a ride that few other lawyer-authors could match. While keenly aware that […]

The passage of time allows every era in history to be viewed through a revisionist prism, and the 1970s are no exception. Recent media portrayals of the decade represent it as a time with only rock and disco music and the coming of age of American teens on its collective mind. Nothing could be further from the truth.

John Searles' compulsively readable debut novel, Boy Still Missing, is also about the coming of age of an American teen in the 1970s. But Searles, the book editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, has much more on his mind than a stroll down memory lane. Boy Still Missing is a story about choices: the ones people had to make, and the ones society didn't allow them to. The 1970s of this novel the era of the Vietnam War, the women's liberation movement and abortion rights protests is decidedly not nostalgic. Abortion, in fact, plays a pivotal, but not polemic, role in the novel.

Dominick Pindle is the 15-year-old only son of a dysfunctional family in the small town of Holedo, Massachusetts. His father drinks and is a chronic womanizer. His mother, when not nursing great anger toward her wayward husband, daydreams about better times spent in New Mexico with the half-brother Dominick has never met. Dominick's mother finally decides to exact revenge on his father in the only way she knows how. That act of vengeance coupled with Dominick's chance encounter and ensuing relationship with his father's pregnant mistress sets off a chain of events that profoundly changes the lives of all the novel's major characters.

Searles renders the characters and the rural New England setting with accuracy and affection. These are clearly people and places that he knows well and understands implicitly. His ability to make their plights and their choices both believable and heartbreaking is testament to this first-time author's extraordinary skills.

I won't reveal the startling conclusion, but suffice it to say that John Searles' debut is an unqualified success. The reader will leave Boy Still Missing disturbed by, and thoughtful about, the turbulent times in Dominick Pindle's life and in the life of our nation.

Michael Grollman is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

The passage of time allows every era in history to be viewed through a revisionist prism, and the 1970s are no exception. Recent media portrayals of the decade represent it as a time with only rock and disco music and the coming of age of American teens on its collective mind. Nothing could be further […]

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