Book Review: Dennis Koller’s “Kissed By The Snow”

Early this year, after reading and enjoying Dennis Koller’s The Oath, I naturally sat down and wrote a review. Because Dennis is a local author, I sent him a copy of my review because I always like to expand my network of local conservatives.

Dennis and I began corresponding, and our correspondence quickly turned into a lunch meeting. I cannot say enough nice things about Dennis and his lovely wife (whose name I’ll omit here, out of respect for her privacy). Both are politically conservative in a really thinking way — something that’s not surprising, I guess, given Dennis’s Jesuit education. He’s a smart, analytical person and would naturally be drawn to the same kind of spouse.

It was at our first lunch that Dennis told me he was working on a new thriller. When he told me the premise, I thought it was incredibly imaginative. As we met several more times at various conservative lunches, Dennis continued to fill me in on the book. When Dennis completed the book, now named Kissed By The Snow: A Rob Kincaid Thriller (A Rob Kincaid Novel Book 1), I was delighted when he sent me an advance copy, which I felt fully lived up to Dennis’s promises.

Here’s the thing, though: I can’t tell you what that devious, clever, surprising plot twist is, because to do so would ruin the novel for you. What I’ll do instead is reprint here the book’s Amazon blurb for Kissed By The Snow, and then add my own comments:

As the highly trained leader of the Red Squadron Security Agency, Robert Kincaid is used to working under the radar—taking care of government jobs that wouldn’t exactly pass congressional oversight.

But in this case, it’s not strictly business. After a Mexican cartel murders his father, Rob is thirsty for revenge. And he’s more than willing to take the War on Drugs into his own hands when his firm is hired for Operation Snow Plow, a secret FBI plan to rid America of drug-related violence once and for all.

As Rob gets deeper and deeper into the FBI’s plan, he uncovers a tangled web of lies and conspiracies that encircle the very core of Operation Snow Plow. As he attempts to unravel that web, he finds himself in a high stakes game of odd man out, where he has been targeted as the odd man.

As with his previous novel, Dennis has a light, deft touch when writing. He doesn’t write with Tom Clancy’s incredible density or Lee Child’s blood-spattered violence. If I had to compare Dennis’s writing to anyone, I would say that he reminds me of Agatha Christie — or, how Agatha Christie would write if, instead of being a woman born in England in the waning years of Victoria’s reign, who wrote countryside and parlor murder mysteries, she was a Jesuit-educated, conservative American man who writes thrillers starring a former Navy SEAL. It’s not the subject matter that makes the two comparable; it’s the fact that both focus on the characters and their relationships (both good guys and bad) as unfolding events lead all of them to a powerful denouement.

Koller has a good technical mastery over the SEAL’s gadgets, but he never overwhelms readers with tech talk. He has a good sense of the details of conspiracies and crimes, but he doesn’t bury the reader in a sea of often irrelevant details. He just moves the story forward in lean, simple prose, adding in whatever information is necessary to keep the reader moving with the story. Agatha Christie, right?

If you’re looking for a fun, fast-moving thriller with some wonderfully surprising plot twists, I highly recommend your giving Kissed By The Snow a try. You can buy the e-book through Amazon, at the links I provided, or, if you want a discount on a hard copy version, you can check out this link.

Any computer game designers out there? We’ve got some core values to sell

do-smartphones-smart-kidsI had the pleasure today of having lunch with Dennis Koller and his quite lovely wife. (And since she’s not a published author, I’ll keep her name out of here to preserve her privacy.) You may recognize Dennis’s name, since he wrote The Oath, a book I enjoyed a great deal and reviewed here. It didn’t come as any surprise to me that I liked Dennis. He was as I expected him to be: the best kind of native San Francisco Catholic. What that means is that he is extremely well-educated (parochial schools all the way, when that still meant something), has classical liberal values (raised in a family that fought for real civil rights, when that still meant something), and is a delightful conversationalist (I think it’s the nun thing again).

One of the things we spent a lot of time talking about was messaging. How, we asked each other, can conservatives sell themselves in the next 2.5 years? We concluded that today’s generation lacks intellectual curiosity and any analytic skills. For the past 40 years, they’ve been taught to think by using their navel as a guide. Small wonder, then, that the avatar of their generation announces that his definition of sin is “Being out of alignment with my values.” Despite knowing this, we conservatives keep thinking that we can convince people through evidence — including the evidence of their own eyes — and analysis that conservativism works in the real world.

Looking at the teenagers in my world, they get most of the data that they value through their smart phones. Unlike adults who use Facebook to share ideas (shallow, but still ideas), the kids use Facebook for gossip about each other. They also like to visit sites such as Buzzfeed and Gizmodo. But most of all, they like to play what I call “thumb games,” in which they zip objects around in a frantic effort to best other players out in cyberspace.

If I had any imagination at all, and even the slightest inkling about how to design a game app, I would design games that look like ordinary games, but that sell ideas such as free market competition. Here’s what I mean:  Years ago, I was able to turn my daughter against Obamacare when I asked her to imagine a world with only one clothing store. What would happen, I asked her, if it didn’t have her size or her style or if it had really horrible sales staff? She shuddered in revulsion. Remember, I said, it’s the only store there is. What’s your recourse? When she realized she was trapped in a fashion shopping nightmare, it clicked. She recognized then and, seemingly, forever, the value of a free marketplace.

Wouldn’t it be great to create a game app that starts with the player (presumably a girl) in a place with there’s only one lousy store selling gross clothes, and then makes them figure out ways to increase their shopping options? It wouldn’t be a game called “Socialism versus Capitalism,” or “Communist Fashion Nightmare,” or anything else so obvious. Instead, it would be an innocuous-sounding game (“Fashion Race” or something like that) and it would be presented entirely as a fun competitive game. However, while the girl is thinking she’s competing against other girls in cyberspace, what she’s really doing is learning about the value of real competition.  One could do exactly the same for boys, with the open market competition element in the game having to do with cool weapons or sports activities or anything else where the point of the game is for the kid to engage in market-based competition — offering more of a better product — in order to win the game.

Games such as that are going to resonate with kids a lot more than some documentary about what shopping used to be like in the Soviet Union.  Kids simply aren’t interested in some abstruse discussion about the sort of free medical insurance market we once had (ignoring all the government interference that already existed) versus the whacked out world of Obamacare, which is being sold as something good, but actually functions badly.

If conservatives really want to know what we should do, we should all go re-read Ben Shapiro’s Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. There, Shapiro relays in their own words the techniques used by Hollywood’s movers and shakers in the 1960s through 1980s to turn our popular culture sharply left. It’s like a primer for taking over the unthinking mind.

Also — and this is totally unrelated to the above post — did you take a minute to read and listen to Canardvark’s Reagan 180 : Peace Through Strength? Not only is it really good, but I’m just thrilled that my site now offers original multimedia content. And Reagan’s words truly are as appropriate now as they were then. Facts may change, but values remain the same.

And thinking about those last words, I realize that the Canardvark’s post is in fact entirely related to what I’ve written here: It’s not the facts that matter; it’s our ability to sell the up and coming generation on core values and eternal truths. We need to use facts that resonate with them to make this sale, and we need sell these facts through their favorite media.

Book Review: Dennis Koller’s “The Oath,” a book that seems to predict the Obama administration (if you don’t like Obama)

The OathWhen talking of the Malaysia Airline mystery, many of us have noted that we’re reminded of books we’ve read about sophisticated and mysterious airline hijackings. That’s how I felt yesterday when, over the course of a few hours, I swallowed whole Dennis Koller’s The Oath. Given that I view Obama’s presidency as a constitutional disaster, I was impressed that, to the extent the book examines the people to whom post-Vietnam voters entrust political power, Koller eerily predicts just how such a presidency could play out.

The Oath, first published in 2000, follows two former inmates of the Hanoi Hilton, one of whom became cop and one of whom is pursuing a deadly vendetta against some of the Leftists who came to interview, abuse, and malign the American POWs (think Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden).  One of those Leftists is moving towards genuine government power, so a great deal of the book asks the reader to think about McGuire’s view (“I’m a cop now and I uphold the law”) and the killer’s view (“The damage these people caused and can still cause requires extrajudicial justice”).

It’s within this moral context that Tom McGuire, the cop, hunting the killer looks back at the ethics class he took in his last year at Annapolis.  Military ethics are, of course, a very challenging thing because the military of necessity is not a democracy but, instead, functions on a command basis.  This means that, the lower one goes down in the hierarchy, the less information an individual actor has, making it increasingly difficult to tell whether an order is appropriate or immoral.

As McGuire notes while he struggles with the morality behind the killer’s vendetta, some orders are easily identifiable as the type that should be disobeyed, such as the one asking a soldier to throw concentration camp inmates into gas chambers.  Others, however, are less clear, such as orders to carry out a carefully targeted aerial bombing that nevertheless will inevitably kill civilians.

It was on the last day of class, says McGuire, that the professor threw at his students the hardest question of all (emphasis mine):

And speaking of bombs, the Professor waited until the very last day to drop the biggest one of them all.   The question he left with us was debated among ourselves long after graduation.   He started by reminding us that in a few weeks we would be graduating from the Academy and be sworn in as officers in the United States Navy.   At that time we would take a sacred oath to uphold the Constitution, against all enemies, foreign or domestic. He said the “foreign” part was easy, but what if we faced a domestic threat. Someone, say, who had been duly elected as President of the United States, but little by little was starting to dismantle the freedoms guaranteed us in the Constitution. “What should be our response in such a case,” he asked. “Were we honor bound by our Oath to resist, and to take up arms against him?”   The same scenario had been played out in Germany in 1934, he pointed out. Hitler succeeded Hindenburg after Hindenburg died. First thing he did was to consolidate power, suppressing all resistance and name himself Fuhrer.   And the German military? They chose to stay on the sidelines, and, as a consequence, the world was plunged into war where millions of people died. What would you have done in those circumstances, he asked? Honor your Oath, or sit on the sidelines?

Professor Springer had timed the class perfectly.   Just as we started to debate the issue, class ended.   He kept us there for a few minutes, and then dramatically wrote on the board in big block letters a quote from Cicero: Grecian nations give the honors of the Gods to those who slay tyrants. “Have a good day,” he said, as we filed out of class for the last time.  (Koller, Dennis (2014-02-26), The Oath (Kindle Locations 2032-2045), Pen Communication.)

Interesting question, isn’t it?  And it’s one that Jonathan Turley, a Left-of-center law professor said only last week that we have to ask about President Obama (emphasis mine):

The United States is at a constitutional tipping point: The rise of an uber-presidency unchecked by the other two branches.

This massive shift of authority threatens the stability and functionality of our tripartite system of checks and balances. To be sure, it did not begin with the Obama administration. The trend has existed for decades, and President George W. Bush showed equal contempt for the separation of powers. However, it has accelerated at an alarming rate under Obama. Of perhaps greater concern is the fact that the other two branches appear passive, if not inert, in the face of expanding executive power.

Turley is correct that other presidents have done what they could to increase their power.  Only Obama, however, has taken it upon himself to rewrite laws (a purely legislative function) or to ignore laws entirely, or even to violate them, because they don’t comport with his ideology (a violation of his oath of office).  Obama has declared himself free of Constitutional limitations.

Aside from the fact that it was prescient, The Oath was a very enjoyable book to read.  Koller is a talented writer, and managed to move effortlessly between characters and time frames.  Not only does Koller move us back and forth between the Hanoi Hilton and present day (or, I guess, year 2000) San Francisco, he also presents the story through both McGuire’s and the killer’s eyes.  Koller has clear, simple (but not simplistic) prose, and offers a lot of information with an economy of words.

I also liked The Oath because of that San Francisco setting.  The fictional McGuire grew up about ten blocks from where I grew up.  Although he was a half generation ahead of me and comes out of the City’s strong Irish-Catholic tradition, I knew what and where he was talking about.  It gave the book a homey feel.

Overall, I recommend The Oath as an enjoyable read, both as a mystery thriller level, and as a thoughtful approach to a profound ethical question.