Book Review: Dennis Koller’s “The Custer Conspiracy”

General George Armstrong CusterOne of the best things about discovering a writer you like early in that writer’s career is to watch him mature as a writer from good (he must have been good because you liked him from the get-go) to very good. Dennis Koller has followed exactly that trajectory. I discovered Dennis when I got hold of a copy of his first book, The Oath (Tom McGuire Mystery), a remarkably prescient book that he published in 2000. When I reviewed it in 2014, I couldn’t get over how closely the book paralleled some issues that appeared during the Obama presidency.

As a courtesy, I sent a link to my review to Dennis, who is a Bay Area native and placed parts of the book quite near the area in which I grew up. He wrote back, I responded, and before I knew it, I’d made a wonderful new friend. He is everything I like in a man and an author: well-informed, upbeat, enthusiastic, highly principled, funny (on purpose), and married to a wonderful, beautiful woman whom he adores. He is also endlessly imaginative. For him, everything is fodder for a book.

It was therefore no surprise to me that I also enjoyed Dennis’s imaginative second book, Kissed By The Snow, which I reviewed here. It should that Dennis’s ability to come up with a really clever, often thought-provoking MacGuffin, and then carry a strong plot around it, wasn’t an accident in his first book — all with a little history on the side.

Dennis is now on the verge of publishing his third book — The Custer Conspiracy — and I was fortunate enough to get a review copy. I’m sure it won’t surprise any of you if I say that I liked the third book every bit as much as I liked the first two, and for precisely the same reasons: deft, uncomplicated writing; easy, natural dialog; clever plotting; likeable characters (if they’re on the side of truth, justice, and the American way); a strong narrative flow with an exciting conclusion; and some fun nods to current news that will probably intrigue and delight informed conservative readers.

As always, when it comes to this kind of clever thriller, I’m loath to discuss the plot lest I give away something important. I can tell you that it’s another Tom McGuire mystery and that some of the former Navy SEALS who showed up in Kissed by the Snow also show up in this book. Other than that, I think I’ll limit myself to Dennis’s own teaser from his website:

One hundred forty years ago, on June 25th, 1876 , Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and 210 troopers under his command were wiped out fighting the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn valley in southeastern Montana. To this day, the Battle of the Little Bighorn remains one of the most studied, publicized and controversial battles in American history.

Two years ago, on the anniversary of the battle, I stood on that hallowed ground.

I came to see what Custer saw that day. To understand better why he fought the battle the way he did. Why he split his large command into three smaller units. Why he took his unit north … to die on Last Stand Hill. I wondered what it must have been like for Custer, knowing, as he had to know, his charmed life was about to end.

Later in the day, I visited some of the museums that dot the Little Bighorn valley. In one of them, I came across a copy of a $5,000 life insurance policy, underwritten by New York Life, insuring the life of one George Armstrong Custer. ($5,000 then is about $500,000 in today’s currency).

The discovery gave me a jolt. I wondered why he would ever take a policy out on his life; after all, Custer by all accounts thought himself immortal. So why? Did he know he was going to die at the Little Bighorn? Or was he thinking of getting rich by faking his death at the Little Bighorn, have his wife Libbie collect the money and the two of them run off to France to live happily ever after? I was puzzled.

I asked a friend of mine, college history professor Matt Conroy, to do some research on the life insurance policy.

Two days later, Matt Conroy was lying in a morgue with the back of his head blown off.

With that kind of start, how can you not be intrigued?

Dennis expects to have the book out in time for Christmas reading and giving. If you click here, you can reserve a hard copy of the book and get a $2.50 discount or reserve an e-book with a $1.00 discount. You’ll get an email when the book is out and will only pay the discounted book when you actually order the book.