Saturday, April 6, 2019

Randy Overbeck

Randy Overbeck is a writer, educator, researcher and speaker in much demand. During his three plus decades of educational experience, he has performed many of the roles depicted in his writing with responsibilities ranging from coach and yearbook advisor to principal and superintendent. His new ghost story/mystery is Blood on the Chesapeake. As the title suggests, the novel is set on the famous Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, home to endless shorelines, incredible sunsets and some of the best sailing in the world. Blood is first in a new series of paranormal mysteries, The Haunted Shores Mysteries.

Recently I asked Overbeck about what he was reading. His reply:
Although my own writing now seldom veers out of the lane of mystery and thriller, I find my reading interests and tastes are more eclectic, reading everything from history to science fiction to, of course, mystery and thriller. In fact, I’m a sucker for a really good story and the well-turned phrase, regardless of the genre.

I’ve been a fan of thriller writer Zoe Sharp for years, especially the Charlie Fox series. In Fox Hunter, the twelfth entry, Charlie Fox is sent on a mission to rescue—or apprehend—her old mentor and lover, Sean Meyer, who may have gone off the reservation and tortured and killed a man from their mutual past. A man Charlie has every reason to be glad is dead. Her search takes her from the scorched landscapes of the Iraqi desert and up to the snowy mountains of Bulgaria. Along the way she encounters a Russian hit squad, an Iraqi teen raped and then disfigured and abandoned by her own family, black market antiquities smugglers and a former client, a major crime boss. One aspect that makes Ms. Sharp’s writing so sterling is her ability to transport the reader vividly to the settings of her narratives. In Fox Hunter, the scenes of the desert are real, I swear I could feel the hot sun and the grit of the sand in my face (and it was in the middle of a freezing January). Of course, my teeth practically chattered when I was riding alongside Charlie atop a snowmobile up the frozen slopes to a mountain fortress.

Did I mention that Charlie Fox is one tough broad? There’s a reason why Lee Child calls Charlie Fox a female Jack Reacher. If you’ve not yet had a chance to discover this brilliant British writer, you’ve been missing some really great rides.

The Devouring is the latest (no. 12) in the “Billy Boyle” World War II mystery series. From the great first sentences (“Light is faster than sound. Strange the things you think about when you’re about to die.”) to a breathtaking first chapter and beyond, James R. Benn takes us on one of the darkest journeys yet into the horrors of this devastating war. Billy Boyle, the young detective from Boston on loan to General Eisenhower, and his partner Kaz are faced with another whodunit, and on the way, must survive a plane crash, cross enemy-occupied France, rescue a near psychotic Gypsy, best German enforcers and SS thugs, and avoid getting entangled in the lies and duplicity of the OSS spy network. But, like the other novels in this series, the beauty and power of this story is how well Benn is able to bring to life the sights, sounds, and realities of his incredible wartime setting, this time in “neutral” Switzerland. As much fun as the chase for the money and the solving of the murder is, what sets Benn’s tales apart is his ability to transform the reader into the world of war in all its excitement, thrills and ugliness. The author’s attention to historical and geographical detail is impressive and powerful. One example: his description of Boyle’s accidental encounter with a slave train of Jews heading for “the camps,” peered only through the copse of trees and the desperate cries of those trapped inside heard echoing off a waterfall, is an incredibly harrowing scene. This passage alone is reason enough to add this newest entry in the series to your reading list.

Even though Sulfur Springs is a sharp departure from William Kent Krueger's remarkable portraits of his Minnesota homeland, I found his tale of a family crisis on our southern border equally vivid and compelling. Responding to a desperate cry for help from his stepson, Cork O'Connor and his wife, Remy, travel the southern border to be thrust into the middle of the conflict there. In his fine narrative style, Krueger introduces his readers to a wide cast of characters, including those crossing the border desperate to find a better life, those hunting down the immigrants (both within the law and outside, some with the best of motives and some with far more selfish intents) as well as those who are working to save the lives of these desperate immigrants. And he does it all with such remarkable clarity that readers will feel they both know and understand all the players. Within the novel, Krueger renders the complicated issue of "the fight at the border" with such believability and insight, this novel should be required reading for all legislators making decisions about immigration. Although I have truly loved many of Krueger's tales of the great northern country, I think this novel has risen to the top of my favorite books.

Sci-Fi is not usually first on my preferred reading list, so I was surprised when a colleague recommended Jeremy Finley's The Darkest Time of Night. His novel, set mostly in Nashville, wraps a spellbinding mystery inside a “quick-turn-the page” science fiction thriller. There is much to love in this debut novel—an engaging setting, fully-fleshed, credible characters and a compelling plot with enough twists and turns to keep you up all night. But, what I loved the most was Finley's deft handling of his first person narrator, a sixty-something grandmother and matriarch of the powerful Rosworth family. His choice of such an unusual POV was striking, unusual and, because it is so credible, worth the read alone. If your tastes run toward thrillers or mysteries or credible science fiction, you will likely not be disappointed with The Darkest Time of Night.

My most recent history read is an intriguing book by accomplished historian, Nathaniel Philbrick, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution. Philbrick brings to life the story of these two Revolutionary War heroes, whose paths took them to very different places. The author’s attention to historical detail is absolutely remarkable, revealing facts and realities about this most essential war I’ve never heard or read in my thirty plus years of education. Little did I know that Benedict Arnold was a protégé of Washington, a fearless leader in battle, an excellent strategist and, early on, had considerably more success than his mentor. Arnold is even portrayed here in a realistic, almost sympathetic vein—until his own arrogance and bloated self-worth betrays him. Rather than the sanitized version of the American Revolution most of us were fed in school, Philbrick’s narrative paints a picture of duplicity, squabbles and turf battles between newly formed “civil governments” in colonial America and the soldiers fighting the war, as well as the horrors of the conflict and ruthlessness of the British commanders. Philbrick’s rendering of the twists and turns of the conflict are revealed with such historical clarity, and no group is spared or whitewashed.

If you are a fan of history and especially history of the founding of our country, then Valiant Ambition should be on your “to read” list.
Follow Randy Overbeck on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and check out his webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue