by Terrance Mc Arthur
& Kent Anderson
This week we have a review of a thriller by B. Kent Anderson, a guest post by Kent on setting, and a chance to win a copy of the book-details at the end of this post.
Silver Cross by Kent Anderson
Review by Terrance Mc Arthur
When talking about thrillers, complex often means “I have no idea what is going on.” Political thriller means “Never trust a politician.” Breakneck pace means “Don’t these guys ever stop to reload?”
Now, after all that, when I say that B. Kent Anderson’s Silver Cross is a complex political thriller with a breakneck pace, I’m actually paying it a compliment.
Silver Cross is a follow-up to Anderson’s Cold Glory, where a minor deputy director/bureaucrat/one-time concert pianist teamed up with a history professor to uncover a conspiracy that stretched from Grant and Lee meeting at Appomattox Court House to sign the Confederate surrender to an attempted coup that would decapitate all branches of the Federal government. This time, Federal agent Meg Tolman and Civil-War-expert Dr. Nick Journey are back, propelled by a supposed accident in the Carolinas that claimed the life of one of Meg’s musical friends, in a wild chase that involves a chess-mom hitman with a conscience, the drowning of a seductive Confederate spy less than 100 yards from shore (and the woman actually existed!), three dead siblings, Napoleon the Third, an apologetic kidnapper, riches beyond belief, a puppet master-like company that has been pulling strings in the government for more than 100 years, and (this is the most unbelievable element in the whole web of intrigue) an honest President.
Besides being involved in life-or-death struggles, characters in Silver Cross have a lot of problems. The professor has an adolescent, autistic son who acts out aggressively and keeps dad busy with bandages and clipping the boy’s nails…and a girlfriend who teaches literature and wonders why the man she cares for keeps getting into situations where people are shooting at him. The lady hitman can’t stand the use of profanity. The baddie lost three fingers in Vietnam. A techno-whiz has agoraphobia and lives his life within easy reach of his computer (Actually, a lot of people I know are like that!). Dr. Journey’s ex-wife is a banking executive who is always on the go…to somewhere her former family is not. In her lectures and concerts, Meg refuses to play anything by Franz Liszt (She thinks he was a show-off.). There are many quirks out there, yet they definitely give a realistic aspect to the cast, as outrageous as they might be.
Silver Cross keeps you wondering what side people are on, and which side should you be wanting to succeed. It’s a combination of mystery and history that will send you on the search for the books Anderson used for his research. If you like conspiracies, hunting through the past, and more oddness than you’d find in a convention full of Trekkies, this is a book for you.
By B. Kent Anderson
It hangs at the southern tip of Cape Fear, where North Carolina ends. The narrow, curving rock seawall runs for six miles, separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Cape Fear River. Before I set foot onto the rocks, I had no thought to using the wall itself as a setting in Silver Cross. I knew part of the story would be set on the Carolina coast, thanks to the historical event that drives the story. But the seawall itself played no part in it–until I saw it.
There is no substitute for being there, for walking the steps my characters walk. It’s not always possible, thanks to things like kids, day jobs, budgets, etc. But my visit to North Carolina led directly to a critical scene early in the book, a scene that takes place at a setting I didn’t know existed prior to seeing it–the seawall.
Travel in researching novels is a study in careful planning, punctuated by bursts of the unexpected. It is no coincidence that one of my series characters is named Journey. I strive for a strong sense of place in all my writing, turning the setting into another character. It is that crucial to me. My trip to North Carolina (and my first view of the Atlantic, since I am a landlocked Oklahoman) yielded two different stories, yet they merged into one: the view I expected and imagined from Fort Fisher, juxtaposed with the one I discovered from the seawall a few miles away–the place where Meg Tolman’s friend Dana Cable is murdered, her body arranged in the center of the wall. That is the gift of travel, and the gift of on-site research.
When I speak to people who have read Silver Cross, I am also asked about the setting of the silver mine in the Texas Panhandle, and if I had a particular place in mind when writing the book.
Nope. I had to search for it. I knew I wanted to put my fictional silver mine on the high Panhandle plains, with its brutal, stark and dramatic landscape. With only the slightest notion of what I wanted, I spent a Sunday driving the back roads of the Panhandle, meandering aimlessly. I would know the spot when I saw it.
Indeed I did. When I rounded a bend and crossed a bridge in Hall County, Texas, I knew I was seeing the spot where Nick Journey and Meg Tolman and Darrell Sharp and Ann Gray would meet. The crumbling wall of the bridge, the play of the shadows, the look downward to the dry river bed with a barbed wire fence running through it…all details that worked their way into the story.
“But what about the mine itself?” readers have asked. “There are no silver mines in west Texas. How did you know…”
I was able to indulge in a bit of geographic (and geologic?) creativity here. True, the closest working silver mines to my Oklahoma home are in Nevada. Couldn’t make it there, but my research told me that modern mining processes are very similar for gold and silver. So I struck gold–by visiting the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine in Colorado…a much easier drive. Combining a vacation with my sons (“Really, guys, a gold mine will be much more fascinating than the arcade!”) with research was just what I needed. I simply transferred my mine from the Colorado mountains to the Texas plains.
The intersection of fiction and real life is the novelist’s trade. But in crafting a contemporary thriller with historic roots, I found the settings to be not only critical to telling the story, but in gaining personal insight as well. There is nothing compared to being there, using all five senses to understand a place, to bring it to life, to make the fiction real. It helps me to reconnect with the reasons I write. And that is worth any price.
To enter to win a copy of Silver Cross, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Silver”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 23, 2013. U.S. residents only.