All posts by Lars Walker

The hersir’s new clothes

I mentioned a while back that we’re going to bring out another paperback edition of The Year of the Warrior. Baen Books continues to publish the e-book version, but we’ll be doing it in dead tree. Our talented friend Jeremiah Humphries has come up with a cover I’ve approved, and I’m over the moon with it.

The Year of the Warrior (paper)

We don’t have a definite date for the book release yet, but you can be sure we’ll let you know.

‘The Killing Season,’ by Mason Cross

The Killing Season

Carter Blake, the continuing hero of a thriller series authored by Mason Cross, is a sort of special investigative contractor. Even the FBI will call him in from time to time, because of his unique gifts. That’s what happens in The Killing Season, the first of the books.

Caleb Wardell is a convicted serial killer, nearing his execution date. He’s supposed to be under top security, but somehow a van transporting him gets hijacked by Russian gangsters. Wardell is not slow to take advantage of the situation. The Russians die and Wardell is in the wind.

Carter Blake has met Wardell briefly once, a long time ago. He has a gift for reading criminals, getting into their heads and anticipating their next moves. One moment was enough for him to know that his best move would be to kill Wardell before he could do any more harm, but he missed the opportunity. Now he’s determined to remedy that mistake.

He’s teamed up with a female FBI agent, Elaine Banner, an ambitious single mother. Then – for no reason they can understand – they are pulled from the case. But that doesn’t put them off the trail. Wardell has threatened people each of them care about, and they’re going to stop him – preferably with extreme prejudice.

The Killing Season is an exciting book. The writing was good and the characters intriguing – though I found Carter Blake’s skill set a little implausible. I also found the surprise final revelation unconvincing. And it hinted (to me) at political bias.

Still, an entertaining novel. Moderately recommended, with cautions for adult stuff, but not extreme.

The Good, the Bad, and the Danish

I don’t think I’ve shared this yet. Apparently the Danish National Symphony did a series of concerts earlier this year, performing the music of Ennio Morricone, who wrote all those great scores for Sergio Leone (and others).

This might seem like artistic slumming, but it isn’t. First of all, Ennio Morricone is in a class by himself. And it’s been suggested by people who know a lot more than I do that the only really good classical music being written today is being written for films.

Anyway, I think this is beyond great.

‘The Fractured,’ by Brett Battles

The Fractured

When I discovered there was a new entry in Brett Battles’ enjoyable Jonathan Quinn series, it was the work of but a moment for me to download it for my Kindle. The Fractured is an enjoyable thriller, like all its predecessors.

When The Fractured begins, our hero, Jonathan Quinn, and his wife Orlando are still recovering from the disaster that occurred in the last book – where an important member of their team died. Not only did they lose that person, but there was a rupture with Quinn’s old protégé, Nate, who has vanished.

But the bills need to be paid, and they’re delighted when they’re contacted by an old friend, who is trying to revitalize the secret semi-government office that used to employ them as “cleaners” (removers of evidence after “wet ops”). There’s a chance to get inside the compound of a white nationalist militia. This job gets done successfully.

But there’s a bonus. What they find in the compound gives them a chance to nail the money man who’s been funding the group. And not only can they get him, but they might also get a mysterious international arms merchant, a man who keeps his identity so secret that few have ever seen his face.

But one of the few who has is the missing Nate.

If they can locate Nate and persuade him to cooperate, they may be able to prevent an apocalyptic disaster in the United States.

The Jonathan Quinn novels are neither deep nor fancy. But they’re fun and they move fast. Recommended. Cautions for language and violence, but not as bad as many.

Hearing from Grandma

Grandma's hands
Photo credit: Cristian Newman

I had a moment of grace yesterday. No great miracle as miracles go, but it kind of moved me.

I’ve been using my grandmother’s old devotional book for my daily devotions this year. It’s an old book, in pretty bad shape, but I’ve found the meditations insightful. And anything connected with my grandma, who was perhaps the best person I ever knew, carries a measure of comfort. The book is Thy Kingdom Come, by Ludvig Hope. Hope was a leader of the lay evangelical movement in Norway, and along with several other church leaders (both conservative and liberal) he spent time in a concentration camp during World War II.

The book includes space for writing in important anniversaries at the bottom of each page. Grandma noted birthdays and weddings, and sometimes baptisms. Yesterday I noticed an unfamiliar name on an upcoming page. Most of the names in the book are familiar to me – family members and people from our church. But this name was unfamiliar. It was a woman’s name, and she would be a few years younger than me. I grew curious.

I went to Facebook and searched to see if she was listed under (assuming she was married) her maiden name. She was. I discovered that she is part of my own church body (which is not the one I grew up in), and her daughter is married to the son of one of the administrators at the Bible School where I work.

I contacted her, and found out she’s the granddaughter of Grandma’s sister. So I found a new cousin.

It was gratifying to find a lost relative. It was deeply satisfying to find one who believes as I do.

Grandma, I think, would be pleased.

My theory of Trump

Poker
Photo credit: Ines Ferreira

Did I post on Donald Trump before the 2016 election? I must have said something. The man appalled me. I thought a) he couldn’t be elected, and b) if elected, he’d be a disaster.

My attitude has changed. I still don’t like him. I don’t want to have lunch with him. He annoys me.

But I kind of like (most of) the things he does.

I’ve come up with a theory about President Trump. It’s probably inadequate, but I’m pretty sure it’s better than the theories held by his political opponents, who consistently underestimate him.

My theory concerns words.

I don’t think words mean the same things to Trump that they mean to, oh, to choose somebody at random – me.

For me words are conveyors of meaning. They’re related to the Biblical concept of “Logos,” carriers of truth, spiritual concepts to be handled with reverence and not misused.

For Donald Trump (I think) words are tools. I won’t say that he doesn’t recognize the meaning of words, or that everything he says is insincere. When he says he loves America, or his family, I’m sure he means what he says with all his heart.

But in his public life the man is primarily a game player. A deal maker. And words are the equipment of the game. Continue reading My theory of Trump

‘The Crooked Staircase,’ by Dean Koontz

The Crooked Staircase

…In this world of rapid change, there were few things to which you could hold fast. Wisdom acquired through centuries of experience, traditions, and beloved neighborhoods eroded and washed away and with them went the people who found solace and meaning in those things, who once would have been part of your life for most of your life. Now a rootless population, believing in nothing but the style and fashion of the moment, produced a culture of surface conformity under which the reality was a loveless realm in which soon everyone would live as a stranger in a strange land.

Oh man. I thought this one would kill me. Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk novels are tours de force in the thriller genre, and The Crooked Staircase just ups the stakes and speeds the pace.

This time out, Jane Hawk, former FBI agent and now a wanted fugitive, framed because she knows too much about a horrific conspiracy in high places, is hunting for the remaining top conspirator whose identity she knows. Finding him and “breaking” him are easy, compared to the fresh mysteries his information generates.

Meanwhile, an oddly matched, ruthless team of government agents are hunting for Jane’s son, whom she has hidden away with people who (she hopes) they can’t identify. But the agents have access to an infinite amount of information, and they are patient. And they’re getting closer.

The tension and suspense just never let up in The Crooked Staircase. Koontz’s skill in creating characters you really like and care about just makes it more nail-biting. Sometimes you’ll want to laugh, and sometimes you’ll want to cry. But you won’t be able to put it down.

Highly recommended. Cautions for language, violence, and adult themes, jolting in their effect but fairly mild by the standards of the genre.

Happy Lindsifarne Day!

Lindisfarne Raid, A. K. Rue
Painting of the Lindisfarne Raid by Anders Kvåle Rue. Mr. Rue did not illustrate Viking Legacy, but he works with Saga Bok, the publisher.

I was surprised today to find that fate, or Wyrd, or Providence, had provided me with a perfect excuse to further flog the book Viking Legacy, by Torgrim Titlestad (have I mentioned that I’m the translator?) It turns out that today is the 1,225th anniversary of the fabled Viking raid on the monastery at Lindisfarne, in northern England. Though there’s some dispute on the point, that raid is generally calculated as the kick-off of the Viking Age.

The cause of that raid is an issue Viking Legacy addresses. Professor Titlestad champions (though he doesn’t entirely insist on it) the theory that this raid may have been a preemptive strike, a demonstration meant to send a message to the Emperor Charlemagne. Charlemagne was in the process of brutally subduing the Saxon tribes of northern Germany at the time, and was employing force (including massacre and deportation) to compel them to adopt Christianity. The preemption theory suggests that the Scandinavians, who had good communications and well understood that they’d be next on the agenda for invasion, sacked Lindisfarne (the place where much of Charlemagne’s bureaucracy had been trained) to demonstrate that if Charlemagne wanted Holy War, they could play that game too. From the book:

At the same time, the Vikings plundered goods and gold – as was customary in wars of conquest in those days. By this means, consciously or not, they demonstrated to Charlemagne that an attack on Scandinavia would mean bleeding his own kingdom dry – from the maritime side. If any Norwegian chieftains in the 790s remained undecided whether to leap into this new contest of strength, the vulnerability of the Franks had now been revealed. There was no little glory to be gained in beating down the legendary military might of Charlemagne. Honour achieved in battle meant more to Scandinavians than goods and gold – though gold was nothing to sneeze at.

These violent onslaughts from the sea left Continental potentates in no doubt about the significance of sea power and navigation, something for which they were unprepared. Charlemagne had grounds to fear them. His armies were not trained for defensive war….

‘The Whispering Room,’ by Dean Koontz

The Whispering Room

Those chosen for elimination were on what the conspirators called “the Hamlet list,” a fact Jane had learned from one of the two men she’d killed in self-defense the previous week. With the self-righteous air of a politician justifying graft as a form of social justice, he had explained that if someone had killed Hamlet in the first act of Shakespeare’s play, more people would have been alive at the end. They seemed really to believe that this ignorant literary interpretation justified the murder of 8,400 people a year.

I haven’t made a secret of my dislike for “Rambette” stories, where tiny little women run around beating up big, bad guys in the manner of Sly Stallone. However, I’m willing to cut Dean Koontz some slack, because he’s Dean Koontz and his work delights me. I enjoyed the first book in the Jane Hawk series, The Silent Corner, and The Whispering Room is equally good.

In a Minnesota town, a sweet, beloved teacher of children with learning disabilities kills herself in a horrific act of terrorism. The town sheriff, Luther Tillman, grows suspicious when federal agents sweep in to handle the investigation and put out information he knows to be false. His decision to investigate further will put him – and his family – in mortal danger. And worse.

Meanwhile Jane Hawk, our heroine, a former FBI agent and now the FBI’s most wanted fugitive, continues her quest to find and unmask the leaders of a nation-wide conspiracy aiming to kill off people who might alter history in the “wrong” way, and to create an army of brain-controlled automatons. She must travel in disguise, deal with criminals, and keep on the move to retain her freedom and her hope – and to protect her son, who is in the conspiracy’s sights.

I can find nothing to criticize in the storytelling in The Whispering Room. The tension is almost unbearable, the action (generally) plausible, the characters interesting. I particularly love how author Koontz finds ways to remind us that, even in the most perilous times, there is still goodness in the world.

Cautions for violence and language. Highly recommended.

Meditation at an intersection

Stoplight
Photo credit: Tim Gouw

There’s a large intersection close to my house. I use it every time I drive to work.

It’s a long light. A long, long, long light. Interminable.

Tonight I pulled to a stop just as it turned red, and I thought I’d time that unbearable light.

It held me up for a whole one minute and forty-five seconds.

Years ago there was a line in a novel I read – I think it was by Donald E. Westlake – where the narrator noted that a particular awful stoplight delayed him an “excruciating” forty-five seconds.

We’re kind of spoiled, you know? I live in constant, low-level fear that Divine Justice will teach me a real lesson in patience someday.

How Erling Skjalgsson helped to protect England

Viking Legacy

The publishers of Viking Legacy (which, in case I forgot to mention it, I translated), are pleased with the sales results of my article at The American Spectator Online yesterday (see below). So I thought I’d share a snippet of the book tonight. I chose this excerpt pretty much at random, except that I made a point of finding one concerning Erling Skjalgsson. This one deals with an aspect of Erling’s relationship with King Olaf Trygvesson that never occurred to me when I wrote The Year of the Warrior. It starts by discussing Olaf’s treaty with King Ethelred the Unready of England, entered into before he left for Norway. This treaty is documented (you can read it in the book), and it involves, among other things, a promise by Olaf to restrain Norwegian raiding in England.

When Olav returned to Norway in 995, he lacked the necessary authority to convince the chieftains of western Norway to abandon their traditional plundering economy, based on raids in England. Plunder was an important source of income for the communities of western Norway. Only Erling Skjalgsson, as the foremost chieftain of the Gula Thing, had the power to enforce Olav’s agreement so far as the people of western Norway were concerned. Erling was thus the key to Olav’s hopes of maintaining a positive and enduring relationship with England. But Erling in his turn would have to make sure of the other chieftains’ support. It would have been no easy task for him to keep his followers on a leash in order to guarantee Olav’s English agreement. Breaking off the raids in England would deprive the great men of part of their economic and political base.

For that reason Olav had to have some means of substantially compensating the people of western Norway if he was to persuade them to leave England in peace. He had procured the economic means to do this – among other things tons of silver, including what he had plundered himself. It is nearly impossible to estimate what Olav’s entire fortune would have been worth in today’s money, but we can assume that Olav Tryggvason in 996 was the richest man in Norway. Olav would have used these financial resources to woo the chieftains – while expounding the terms of his agreement with King Ethelred….

It was in Olav’s interest to avoid war with the inhabitants of western Norway. The terrain was difficult to control, with numberless fjords and mountains. Olav was effectively a foreigner in Norway. The people of western Norway would have been capable of setting a number of traps to defend their region, and it goes without saying that Erling’s willing cooperation was crucial to Olav. With Erling at his side as a loyal ally, the nation-building project would be much simpler than if he were a hostile or half-hearted vassal. He could hardly hope for a more influential collaborator.

Prospects for trade with England may also have played a part in the debate. Nor could Olav have been stingy when it came to the question of his sister’s [Erling’s wife’s lw] dowry. Miserliness in this matter would have weakened his reputation as a trustworthy man, and so Astrid must have brought a tidy sum of English silver into the marriage. This would have increased Erling’s fortune, as well as his influence, considerably.

For your Spectation

I have another article in The American Spectator today. I was nervous about writing about Viking Legacy, the book I translated, but editor Wlady Pleszczynski took pity and me and stretched a point.

In time I was delighted to discover a Norwegian historian whose thinking ran very much along the same lines — Professor Torgrim Titlestad, now retired, but then on the faculty of the University of Stavanger. A local historian in Stavanger put me in contact with him, which led eventually to his hiring me to translate his Norwegian book, Norge i Vikingtid (Norway in the Viking Age)…

I heard from Prof. Titlestad’s son, who liked the article, but gave me an additional piece of information I wish I’d known. Prof. Titlestad didn’t retire from the University of Stavanger. He resigned in protest against changes made in the history curriculum. He now works full time with The Saga Heritage Foundation, which he founded to combat the current rush toward historical amnesia.

In-tents living

Lars Walker's Viking tent

Yesterday was Danish Day at the Danish-American Center in Minneapolis, and the Vikings were there. It was a sort of debut for the Viking tent I recently bought (and re-painted), pictured above. It’s actually been used before, at the Festival of Nations in St. Paul, but I just lent the tent for use and didn’t participate in that myself. I hadn’t seen it assembled and in its glory till yesterday. And I’m pleased. I suppose I’ve overdone the red and gold color scheme, but it’s eye-catching and our group needs to attract some attention. Besides, I like red and gold.

It was an intense day for me. There were strangers to meet and interact with, which is always a little stressing. I got to show group members Viking Legacy, the book I translated. I think some of them may have wondered if it actually exists, after all these years I’ve told them it was coming, but yesterday I was vindicated. And I did a little sword fighting.

The day before I’d commented on how well I was feeling, compared to a year ago. Which is true. I’ve gradually upped my exercise, and I’ve dropped a little weight. However, a day of playing Viking is a lot for an old man. Today I was stumbling around, bumping into things, dropping things, and knocking things over. I’d gotten plenty of sleep (in fact I overslept), but there’s only so much gas in the tank, these days.

Still. Pretty tent, isn’t it?

‘Wrongly Convicted,’ by P. F. Ford

Wrongly Accused

P. F. Ford’s Slater and Norman series has been reading candy for me for some time now. The books are not demanding, but they’re cheerful and likable. The previous book in the series showed signs of a rushed release. Wrongly Convicted was better.

Former police detective Dave Slater comes back to England from a vacation in Thailand and decides to join his friend Norman Norman in his private detective agency. Business isn’t quite booming, so they’re happy to be approached by a woman whose husband was convicted ten years before of murdering another woman. She is convinced he’s innocent, but her source of information is dead. Now she asks them to find the real murderer.

It’s a feature (or bug) of this series that secondary characters tend to change in serious ways between books. This time out, Slater’s girlfriend “Watson,” who went with him to Thailand, turns out to be something he never suspected. The police come to question him after the car he loaned her turns up demolished by a bomb.

Wrongly Convicted isn’t top-tier fiction, but I liked it and always enjoy a new release in the series. I thought the conclusion was a little artificial, but not enough to complain about in terms of the genre. Only minor cautions for adult themes.

Reading report: ‘Macbeth,’ by Jo Nesbo

Macbeth

My feelings about “Scandinavian Noir” are pretty well established. With rare exceptions, I dislike the genre. I find it nihilistic and depressing.

But I’ve read a couple of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole books all the way through. And when I saw that he’d written an updated version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, set in the police force of a fictional Scottish city, I thought it was an interesting concept, and bought the book.

Alas.

I’d only gotten a fifth of the way through when I noticed I was approaching my reading with dread. This was a journey I didn’t really want to take.

The pleasure of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play,” (as we “actors” call it), is largely in being able to hate Macbeth almost from the start. He’s pretty one-dimensional, and you look forward to seeing MacDuff lay on against him.

Macbeth here is the leader of a SWAT team when the book starts, a pretty admirable guy. He has a couple serious flaws, though, and it’s easy to see how he could be corrupted.

I felt like I knew what was going to happen, and I didn’t think there’d be much enjoyment in it. There was no pleasure here. No moments of lightness. So I put it aside.

It’s well written, and if this is your cup of tea, you’re likely to enjoy it. Cautions for adult material.