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The Castro Directive is an energetic thriller that will appeal to readers of Ken Follett and Jack Higgins.

Cuba. 1961. An armed force of 1500 Cubans—trained, equipped and supported covertly by the CIA under direct White House sanction—is about to launch a massive military strike with the objective of overthrowing Fidel Castro. In Vietnam, Sergeant Graveyard Morgan is yanked from a Special Forces firebase and sent straight into the Cuban action to identify and eliminate a Castro spy. It’s a race against time that stretches from the Oval Office of President John F. Kennedy to the bloody hell battlefield that was The Bay of Pigs.

A rich evocation of time and place, The Castro Directive offers a provocative blend of fact and fiction, of mystery, romance and suspense.

 

Review:

 

A BUTT-KICKING HISTORY LESSON!

 

For me, the best way to study history is to read a novel. Stephen Mertz' new eBook, THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE, is a case in point. When it comes to a subject like the Bay of Pigs disaster, my ignorance knows no bounds. I've always had the niggling suspicion it would make for interesting study, but not interesting enough to wade into a dry, stuffy history book. Then along came THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE, an action-adventure novel that makes the event come alive. I'll never think of the Bay of Pigs as dry and stuffy again. Heck, there's even a good chance I might read a history book about it. The official hero of this novel is Sergeant "Graveyard" Morgan, a fearless Ranger-Commando who always gets the job done, and doesn't care whose toes he steps on to do it. Morgan is a fairly typical adventure hero, and if the story focused exclusively on him, THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE would be a fairly typical adventure novel.

Instead, Morgan is used sparingly, and we meet a large cast of interesting characters. Some of those are also heroes, and some are villains, but most are just people, warts and all, who get caught up in extraordinary events.

Among those with warts are JFK and his brother Bobby, and Fidel Castro and his pal Che Guevara. It's clear Mr. Mertz had fun using these guys as characters, and that fun comes through to the reader. JFK is particularly interesting. We see him working hard, but he also plays hard - pursuing his Playboy lifestyle - and relaxes inbetween with a James Bond novel.

We also see events through the eyes of a lot of little people on both sides of the conflict. In Cuba, we meet revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, freedom fighters and hapless villagers. In the U.S., we have cops, CIA operatives, spies, Cuban resistance leaders, reporters, and hapless family members.

Through all those points of view, the big picture emerges. We get a feel for what pre-Castro Cuba was like under the oppressive Batista regime, and how Castro's revolution victimized many of people it was intended to liberate. We see Kennedy struggling to do the right thing, but hampered by CIA bungling and his own fears of public and world opinion. And we see the freedom fighters, betrayed and sacrificed for political expediency.

And along the way, of course, we get to see Graveyard Morgan kick a little butt. So while the whole operation was a Lose-Lose for everyone except Fidel and Che, it's a Win-Win for us readers: An entertaining history lesson—and butt kicking too.

– Evan Lewis, Amazon.com

 

 

 

In steamy Shreveport, Louisiana, two musical legends-in-the-making come together: a whiskey-soaked country singer named Hank Williams and blues artist Muddy Waters. What they've got in common over several hectic days of drinking, singing and whoring is an interest in staying alive despite local mobsters, bent cops, and a truckload of Ku Klux Klansmen. Then there's the bank robber’s daughter . . .

 

 

A HANK & MUDDY Interview with author Stephen Mertz

By Evan Lewis

Hank & Muddy, an amazing novel just published by Perfect Crime Books, recounts a fictional meeting in July, 1952 between legendary bluesman Muddy Waters and Country music icon Hank Williams. This is GREAT book, capturing the spirits of both men and throwing them together in a hair-raising adventure in Shreveport, Louisiana.

 

ME: First off, I’m insanely jealous of the very idea of this book. I wish I’d thought of it myself. What inspired you to bring these two guys together in a novel?


STEVE: I’m glad you liked it.  If I knew where good ideas came from, I’d order up more of them! For me, this is one of those books that turned out pretty much the way I wanted it to while I was writing it. That’s a good feeling for a writer. 

ME: Did you find any evidence that these ever really met?

STEVE: No but if they didn’t, they damn well should have. They were both around Shreveport at the same time. Hank was trying to salvage what was left of his career and get back on the radio. The Opry had let him go and he finally made it back onto the Louisiana Hayride out of Shreveport. Hank & Muddy takes place just before that. Muddy was touring Louisiana in July of that year. The story of Little Walter walking on the band in the middle of the tour is accurate. 

ME: You must have done an amazing amount of research into their characters. Are there biographies you would particularly recommend?

STEVE: Actually, most of the “research” amounted to a lifetime of compulsively reading album liner notes and everything else I could find related to those two, and of course with the internet everything’s out there.  Chet Flippo’s book on Hank is exhaustive and well written, as is the Sandra B. Tooze book on Muddy. 

ME: Though I’m a longtime fan of both these singers, I knew absolutely nothing about their private lives. I’m impressed that you’ve pulled no punches here, delving into the dark side of each man’s character. Were you at all hesitant about taking us so far beyond their public personas?

STEVE: No, because that was my intention. 

ME: I know that the members of Muddy’s band portrayed here (Little Walter, Elgin Evans and Jimmy Rogers) were real guys, and it was cool to see a brief appearance by John Lee Hooker. Were there any other real people in the book?

STEVE: A few. Tee Tot, the black street musician who taught a young Hank how to play guitar, is really one of the most unsung figures in American music. Tee Tot teaches this country boy how to play the blues, and years later those two strains come together in Elvis and the first generation of rockers. Hank’s mother and Audrey, his ex-wife and muse, are portrayed as realistically as I could render them from what I’d read. That also applies to a few cameos in the book like Billie Jean, Hank’s next and last wife, and Leonard Chess, who produced and recorded Muddy. 

ME: Your handling of both Muddy and Hank is so masterful that I feel like I got to know - and like - the real men behind the songs. I’d love to see you write historical fiction about either or both. I’m thinking that would appeal to a whole different audience beyond the mystery field. Any chance of that?

STEVE: Thank you, Evan. I hope the critics are half as kind.  I believe Hank & Muddy is the book that does reach beyond the mystery field.  Earlier you referred to it as “a mystery novel,” and I certainly won’t object to it being so classified with so many of my colleagues in the mystery field. I’m pleased to be grouped with them, and I’m grateful to Perfect Crime Books for publishing the book.  But Hank & Muddy is sub-titled “a novel.”  Yes, there’s definitely a strong noir/whodunit vibe. I love that stuff.  But at its heart Hank & Muddy is a character study of these men and their world, or worlds, and with this novel I’ve pretty much had my say on the subject. I hate writing the same book twice. 

ME: I thought it was especially ballsy of you to tackle both men in first person, with alternating points of view. That had to be intimidating, but you pulled it off perfectly, and obviously had fun doing it. Was that a tough decision to make?

STEVE: I wanted Hank & Muddy to convey the cultural divide that separated them. The first person approach seemed the most even-handed way of showing that. And you’re right, it was fun doing my best to portray the rhythms of speech and thought that contrasted an urban bluesman with a down-home country boy. Actually, I met Muddy several times, backstage at gigs in the 1970s, which allowed me to at least get a sense of the man. As I was typing I was usually speaking the words aloud to myself in what I hoped was an approximation of what they sounded like.

ME: Would you care to list some of your favorite songs, albums, or CD collections by these guys?

STEVE: Hoo boy, that’s a tall order!  The Complete Muddy Waters 1947-1967. It’s hard to find unless you want to download it but that’s the most comprehensive collection of Muddy, an out of print boxed set that a U.K. outfit called Charly did about 20 years ago. Hank’s career burned bright and ended much too soon, and nearly all of his recordings are readily available in a variety of collections. The work of both men from that period epitomizes the roots of what became rock & roll.  I listen to that stuff all the time. 

THANKS STEVE!

 

 

Beijing, China, August 2008. The world, and hundreds of thousands of attendees, are riveted by the epic grandeur of the Summer Olympics. But just beneath the surface of the pageantry and athletic competition pulsates a drama of terror in this latest thriller from Stephen Mertz. Dan Price is a top-leveled officer in one of the private firms providing security at the Olympics. But Price is really an amoral killer. He has assembled a paramilitary strike force that is about to unleash a bloodbath that will destabilize the world powers with a single act of unthinkable, cataclysmic violence. Tag McCall, a low-level security guard assigned to Price's unit, may well have reached the last stop in the downward spiral of his career and his life. He is haunted by personal demons: his dismissal in disgrace from the Secret Service, his subsequent bout with alcohol and substance abuse, divorce...although his biggest secret, and fear, is the irregular heartbeat and chest pains that are becoming more frequent. He hasn't told anyone. When McCall picks up a thread, a hint of what Price is up to, he's thrust into a shadowy maze of deception, seduction and murder involving a defecting Chinese general and a missing teenage gymnast. And as if that weren't enough, McCall has two strong-willed women vying for his heart, a heart that could give out at any moment.

 

 Reviews:

 

The world has descended on China for one of the most spectacular public relations campaigns in modern history. The Summer Olympics mark China's celebration, and notice to the world, that it has arrived as a major world power, and it is of the utmost importance that nothing go wrong. A small group of private foreign security agents are hired to help protect the influx of both Western athletes and tourists.

The novel begins with the opening ceremonies in the behemoth stadium coined "the bird's nest" with an unexpected and very violent operation involving both the private security firm and Chinese Special Forces. A group of what the Chinese believe to be terrorists are captured in the delivery access area of the stadium. It is a quick and violent operation that isn't noticed by anyone, including the media, but leads the protagonist, Tag McCall, into a dark and dangerous mission that will cost him more than he can fathom.

DRAGON GAMES is a throwback in the thriller racket. It is more adventure and less bombast. The writing is tight and literate, and the plot is streamlined into an action packed story that is more believable, and therefore more suspenseful, than the common variety 21st Century thriller.

The prose is strong and shifts from a rich and almost poetic cadence to a stark and pounding hardboiled style that is reminiscent of the suspense novels of the 1970s and 80s. It is, however, not a rehash of anything old or new. The story is original and the style is all Stephen Mertz. It is a modern adventure novel that it is better than most in its category.

The characters, particularly the hero, are built around the story, but they have a certain reality that gives them a flesh and blood feel.

– Gravetapping

 

 

I've never been a big fan of the Olympics, but this new thriller by Stephen Mertz showed me the Olympic games that really count - the behind-the-scenes, life-and-death struggles between rival security forces.

In this case, at the 2008 games in Beijing, the battle is three-sided. In one corner we have our chief protagonist, ex-secret serviceman Tag McCall, a man loyal to his country, his lover and his ideals. In another - Tag's boss Dan Price, who has his own secret and deadly agenda. And opposing them both is the extremely astute and extremely ruthless Major Yang of the Chinese Internal Security Bureau.

When Price's plan is nearly exposed, he's forced to murder one of his own operatives, along with two of Yang's officers, beginning a chain of events that pits Yang and Tag McCall against him - and against each other.

Amidst all the intrigue, we meet a cast of intriguing characters, including two American gymnasts and their feuding coaches, a redneck seeking to take out Muslims in a blaze of glory, a Chinese general eager to defect with his family, and a mysterious dominatrix who may be the most dangerous person of all.

Mertz juggles all these characters and more, each with their own subplot, as tension mounts and the stakes grow ever higher. Scenes shift quickly from one crisis to the next, and before you know it you've no choice but to plant yourself in a chair until all the plotlines intersect in the Olympic-sized climax.

The games themselves make a great backdrop for the action, and are handled so convincingly I wonder if the author was actually there while writing this. Maybe when the games move to London in 2012 I’ll be watching. But I'll definitely be looking for Stephen Mertz and Tag McCall to return, so they can bring me the
REAL story.

– Evan Lewis, Amazon.com

 

 

 Kate Daniels is a co-pilot aboard the space shuttle Liberty. Liberty is to deploy a space defense system satellite created with the latest American technology. The shuttle crash-lands in the uncharted, mountainous frontier between North Korea and China. As the ranking able-bodied officer, Kate takes charge, evacuating the crew from the crash site. A mountain warlord captures the Liberty's crew, intending to sell the shuttle and its cargo to the highest bidder. On the world stage, this crisis rapidly escalates. The North Koreans forbid an American search and rescue operation, sending their own troops into the region instead. The technology on board Liberty is invaluable to both the North Koreans and the Chinese. The U.S. President orders American armed forces to full alert, preparing for a military incursion to locate the shuttle. This could be the flashpoint for the long-feared nuclear showdown between North Korea and the U.S. Monitoring these spiraling events with a personal interest is Major Trev Galt, Kate Daniels' estranged husband. Since his breakup with Kate, Galt has become romantically involved with Meiko Kurita, White House correspondent for a Japanese news agency. Galt had thought he was over his wife, but Kate and the shuttle disappearing without a trace re-ignites his unresolved feelings for her. While Kate and her crew struggle to survive, Galt and Meiko risk their lives to untangle the Korean Intercept; a race against time that pitches them into a labyrinth of treachery reaching from the corridors of Japanese corporate power to the blood-splattered back alleys of Tokyo, from the White House to the barren, hostile mountains of North Korea.

 

Reviews:

 

“Fans of political thrillers will relish this high-action tale…the story delivers enough action to satisfy those who prefer an adrenaline rush to more subtle pleasures.”

– Booklist

 

 

THE KOREAN INTERCEPT is the fifth (by my count) novel Stephen Mertz has published under his own name in the past few years, and it is the first to hit mass-market paperback. It is an action thriller with more than a little attitude, and even a touch of originality.

The space shuttle Liberty is just minutes off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral when its crew is given the order to abort mission--they are to maintain radio silence, and let the navigation system take them down. It isn't long before the crew realizes something is terribly wrong and as the shuttle makes its final approach the pilot takes the controls and overshoots the approaching runway in Hamgyong Province, North Korea. He also gets a short mayday transmission out before the shuttle's power goes down.

In the United States the president wants answers. No one knows exactly where the Liberty went down and the crew's emergency beacons are frighteningly quiet. The Koreans, while not openly hostile, are unreceptive to a U.S. led search party, and the Chinese are more interested in their own search than helping the United States. This is where the hero arrives--Trev Galt. He is the best operator the United States has and to make things even more interesting his wife is one of Liberty's missing astronauts. It doesn't take Galt long to take things to the next level and when he does, watch out.

THE KOREAN INTERCEPT is a modern thriller in every sense of the word. The writing is loose and stark. The plot is flamboyant, larger-than-life, and fast-paced. The characters are cardboard, but they fit the story and fulfill their roles perfectly as the plot steams toward the climax. The major difference between THE KOREAN INTERCEPT and most of its peers is the action. Stephen Mertz made a name in the men's action novel market in the 1980s, and it shows here. The action is quick, sharp, and exhilarating.

If THE KOREAN INTERCEPT has a weakness, it is one shared by most works in the genre--it takes the story a little too long to develop as the major players are introduced, but Mr. Mertz infuses the introductory scenes with enough action to keep it interesting. Then it really begins to pop about a quarter of the way through and it doesn't let up until the final climax when Trev Galt makes it his mission in life to rescue both the Liberty and its crew.
Gravetapping

 

 

 

 Japan is at the brink of surrender. It is the eve of the Emperor's announcement of his country's acceptance of the Allied terms of surrender. But a core of fanatical extremists in the Emperor's military, descended from the legendary Samurai warriors of feudal Japan—and other, more shadowy factions of power shrouded in the mysteries of this ancient society—vow never to surrender. The overthrow of the Emperor is only the first step in their insane scheme.

Sergeant John Ballard is a battle-hardened commando. The best the army's got when it comes to fighting dirty. Years of surviving on the edge are starting to eat away at him but Ballard can't stop now. General Douglas MacArthur himself has just handed Ballard what may be the most impossible mission of the war.

Keiko Tamura is a young Japanese woman, gutsy, independent; the blood of the Samurai flows in her veins. Educated in America before the war, she is willing to risk her life to end the military madness that has brought her country to ruin.

Unlikely allies thrown together, these two alone stand in the way of one final, sinister, far-reaching plot with millions of American and Japanese lives at stake.

 

 Robin Curtis and her son Paul have come to Devil Creek to start over after her bitter divorce. Also new to the area is Mike Landware—a writer haunted by the death of his wife. Neither of them are looking for love or trouble, but in Devil Creek, it's possible they'll find both. At first Devil Creek seems like an idyllic small town, but it's not long until things begin to go horribly wrong. A young hoodlum takes an automatic weapon into town for a killing spree that shocks everyone. The same night, a serial killer begins stalking the women of the community. When Paul goes missing in the mountains, it's up to Robin and Mike to find him and to find out what's going on in their new home . . . before it's too late and another victim is added to the growing death toll.

 

Review:

 

Evil has come to the tiny community of Devil Creek, New Mexico. Unfortunately, so has Robin Curtis, driven into hiding with her son, Paul, to escape her sadistic spouse. Their neighbor, Mike Landware, has never gotten over the death of his wife and has been leading a relatively reclusive existence, but now unsettling events force Mike and Robin to form an unlikely alliance. Readers who enjoy a lot of horror mixed in with their romance will appreciate this tale of serial murders, a stalking husband, and a prophetic Native American shaman. Mertz's fast-paced novel twists and turns between the spiritual realm and the surrealistic world of a small town with a deep, dark secret. Fans of Nora Roberts' Carolina Moon (1999) and Catherine Coulter's The Cove (1996) will appreciate the chills and thrills this book offers.

– Shelley Mosley
 

 

 After two years, Robin Curtis, her fourteen-year-old son, Paul, and her new husband, Mike Landware, have healed emotionally from their terrifying ordeal when a serial killer, suicide and the supernatural ravaged their lives and the isolated Southwestern mountain town of Devil Creek, which they call home. But those scars are ripped open anew when Mike thinks he sees the woman he was married to, years before he met Robin. Her name was Carol, and she was the victim of a vicious rape/murder. The police had briefly suspected Mike but the case was marked Closed when a handyman was arrested and later committed suicide. But Carol's murder was never officially solved. When Mike sees "Carol" a second time in one day, life turns dark very quickly for Robin. For the first time since their marriage, she begins having serious doubts about this man she's married. Who is this mystery woman who is haunting them, reawakening long-buried demons deep with Mike? Has Robin married a murderer? And has an ancient Indian spirit gained possession of her son? With a catastrophic forest fire raging closer and closer toward this once peaceful town, violence, murder and mystery return to Devil Creek.

 

Review:

 

A fine paranormal crime thriller…a quality read

– BookReview.com

 

 As an Army Ranger, Steve Madison saw action from Iraq to Central America, from Somalia to Kosovo. But with his discharge from military service, he thought he'd seen the last of violence, bloodshed and sudden death. He was wrong. As an "industrial consultant" to the music industry, Madison specializes in extricating pop stars from scandals that threaten to destroy multi-million-dollar careers. Johnny Willow is the hottest superstar of his generation; a young, gifted, blind musical genius whose addictions drove him into rehab and an extended hiatus at the height of his career. Now Johnny is back, clean and sober, with a new CD debuting at number one on the charts and a sold-out concert beginning a world tour. But one rainy night in St. Louis, Johnny's past returns with a vengeance and everything is threatened in a twisty maze of ghetto gang bangers, the Mafia, the DEA, a missing shipment of cocaine, kidnapping . . . and murder. That's where Steve Madison comes in.

Also includes two short stories, "A Hit for the New Age," and "The Death Blues."

 

Reviews:

 

FADE TO TOMORROW presents an interesting glimpse at Mertz's writing ability… fast-moving, action-packed...

 – Reviewing the Evidence.com

 

 A surprising and generously clued whodunit…Mertz is an action specialist.”

– Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine