Last week, Dr. Frank Felsenstein recommended a series of books dealing with the Holocaust. In part two, he reviews John Gilstrap’s High Treason, and describes a fascinating close encounter with the author. He also reviews two titles by William Boyd.

John Gilstrap’s High Treason

Just before the end of semester, I was invited to a Ball State “Town And Gown” dinner, and, over a delicious meal, found myself sitting next to John Gilstrap, a well known thriller and screen writer, who was to be the after dinner speaker. In lively conversation, Mr. Gilstrap showed an uncanny knowledge of guns and armory.

He made the point that in so many Hollywood movies the hero is wounded by a bullet to, say, the chest or leg but gets up and finishes the job in hand, nearly always prevailing over the villains. In his illustrated after dinner talk, Mr. Gilstrap demonstrated that to be shot by a modern weapon, the bullets from which travel faster than the speed of sound, would not leave even a wounded James Bond capable of continuing the chase without major hospitalization and reparative surgery.

He also showed that the bullet, once fired, would hit its mark before the sound of the shot reached its victim, whereas in movies you hear the shot first.

At the end of his very fascinating talk, I bought a copy of Mr. Gilstrap’s latest novel, High Treason (2013), which he generously inscribed for me. His hero, Jonathan Grave (who, perhaps by vicarious coincidence, shares the same initials as the author) and his side kick “Big Guy” Boxers specialize in freeing kidnap victims. In High Treason, the kidnapped is the Russian-born wife of Tony Darmond, a fictitious President of the United States. Through the power of their extraordinary armory of assault weapons, Grave and Boxers — seemingly untouchables — shoot their way to releasing various captured individuals, two of whom are held on a Canadian island just across from the U.S. border.

After his talk, as he was signing the book, I questioned Mr. Gilstrap whether his novels give the wrong signal by celebrating the power of weaponry, but he insisted that this was the American way! High Treason makes a good page turner if not necessarily to my taste, with too much vicarious killing.

William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise

After the semester had ended, I had a long car journey ahead of me, and took advantage of Bracken’s Educational Resources Library to borrow an audiobook. My choice was William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise (2013), which was excellently read by Roger May. Boyd was one of those very many authors that I had always intended to read but had never got round to.

In Waiting for Sunrise, he tells a cracker of a story about a young English actor, Lysander Rief, who becomes embroiled in a sexual relationship with Hettie Bull, a predatory English women whom he meets in a psychiatrist’s office in pre-World War 1 Vienna. With the start of the war, Rief finds himself almost against his will recruited by the British secret service, and smuggled behind enemy lines. The story that Boyd tells is very well researched in terms of its historical context, and the strength and eloquence of his writing leaves in limbo all the other fiction writers whose works I have recently read.

The excitement and plot twists to the novel have strong echoes of John Buchan, author of The Thirty Nine Steps and Greenmantle, classics that I first read as a teenager. Buchan’s hero, Richard Hannay, would fit right in to Boyd’s world. I felt here that I had discovered a modern-day literary master, and I was not surprised to learn that one of Boyd’s novels had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I highly recommend Waiting for Sunrise, a great read or “listen to,” intelligent and absorbing.

William Boyd’s An Ice-Cream War

My audiobook experience led me to An Ice-Cream War (1999), the shortlisted Booker prize novel by Boyd, which I have just started reading.

I am already absorbed by the opening chapter, which begins with a dream sequence in which big game hunter and former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (yes, the real President!) asks his son Kermit, “What do you think would happen if I shot an elephant in the balls?”

Read the novel to discover an answer to that and many other questions in a fiction that also has a Great War context, and, in this case, a setting in colonial East Africa.

Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure

Finally, I am re-loading my list of books that I plan to read, and, high up there is Ayelet Waldman’s new novel, Love and Treasure (2014), which tells the story of a Hungarian Gold Train at the end of the Second World War.

Until writing this blog post made me pause to consider, I didn’t realize how much my recent thinking and literary imagination have been impacted by twentieth-century wars.

Reading List

Boyd, William. An Ice-Cream war. New York: Morrow, 1999. Print.

Boyd, William. Waiting for sunrise: a novel. New York, NY: Harper, 2012. Print.

Buchan, John. The thirty nine steps. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg. Print.

Buchan, John. Greenmantle. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg. Print.

Gilstrap, John. High treason. New York: Pinnacle Books, 2013. Print.

Waldman, Ayelet. Love and treasure: a novel. New York, NY: Knopf, 2014. Print.