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Young and penniless Johnny Madigan lied about his age to become a Union Soldier. And after surviving serious injury on the Civil War’s most notorious and blood-soaked killing fields, was recruited to work under cover to infiltrate Confederate spy rings.
In this sequel to the acclaimed Ballad of Johnny Madigan, Johnny – older than his years, but much younger than believed by the army, battle-hardened and a master of espionage – is sent back to New York to penetrate an underground counterfeiting gang supplying forged US currency the enemy South.
His assignment takes him to Canada where a murderous Confederate spy ring is plotting an armed uprising to take over New York City and hold it hostage.
Johnny’s dream is to return to childhood sweetheart, Deidre, who kept him alive as a destitute youth in the city’s slums, but there is more than the daily risk of sudden death keeping him from her as he enters the very heart of the conspiracy. Suspected by some plotters, he is seduced by a beautiful woman – herself a key member of the gang – whose orders are to expose him.
Will the war-toughened, but still romantically naïve, Johnny see through sexy Letitia’s love ploy to complete and survive his vital mission and to be re-united with Deidre, or can the conspirators lower his guard with Letitia’s wily help, make their bold, history-changing plan succeed … and see Johnny dead?
John Bray’s immaculately researched and race-paced ‘Code Name: Caleb’ thrusts the reader into the murky depths of intrigue, plot and counter-plot that became the dark underside of the War Between the States.
“I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of your life, your personal life, to be a writer.” Doris Lessing, Persian-born novelist and short story writer, born 1919.
My opinion is that writing programs, of any kind, deemphasize the part about how hard it is to become a writer and how much one gives up to attain that goal. Otherwise, potential students might become disillusioned before they begin. Suddenly, a proponent of writing programs would find themselves with many fewer students.
Ah, but then, if one perseveres, begins to write, merits some modicum of praise from peers, critics, readers, yea, even unto acquisitions editors already knee-deep in slush piles, the struggle becomes worth the candle. Consider for a moment what one must keep in mind while feverishly crafting that lucid prose, structuring the plot as we type: avoid adverbial dialog tags assiduously, writing in the passive voice is frowned upon, don’t repeat words over again, keep punctuation, errors to a minimum. You get the picture: don’t let a serious, sad plot sag in the middle by using alliteration, try not to name your characters with the same name. I wouldn’t, if I were you, stop the action by beginning to preach. Then, just when one has a completed manuscrimpt, check it for spelling errors.
Be prepared to let the telephone ring. E-mails must go unanswered for days. Even when the door bell rings, overcome that burning curiosity to find out if your neighbor’s house is on fire. You will know that you have finally arrived as an author of worth when a note from your spouse informs you that their lawyer will be in contact. Ah well, no matter, you have a publisher for that book you spent so much time wrestling with. One more piece of advice, try not to end sentences with prepositions like with.
Dante Falconieri lives in the murky shadows, assigned to the dirtiest undercover job of all … trapping fellow cops on the take from crime lords.
Dante is the guardian who guards the guardians.
But who guards Dante, the lone wolf and the wild card?
He’s cynical and disillusioned. His promotion’s stalled. He craves to return to the narcotics stings that made him the finest of New York’s Finest. He’s weary and needs a vacation. His cop-on-cop busts have led him to mistrust his bosses, their bosses, his closest partners, district attorneys, and the FBI crack task force to which he’s assigned for the biggest sting of all.
His trophy girlfriend needs much more than his NYPD pay check can buy. And what comfort he has left – this all-consuming passion for Mina – is threatened by his code of secrecy, his unexplained, mysterious midnight disappearances from her bed at a bleep of his phone, and his shallow pockets.
His mind and his devotion to justice are showing cracks as subtly visible as those that felled the House of Usher.
Can Dante himself be trusted, or can he be turned to the dark side by the very villains he’s dedicated his life to putting behind bars … or consigning to hell? They’re trying hard, and disheartened Dante is a desperate man. Open to temptation?
Author John Bray is a 17-year NYPD vet, who retired as a lieutenant, attorney and prosecutor in their internal disciplinary system. He became a crime lawyer before becoming a full-time author. He knows what makes the man who is coded by investigation-hardened insiders as ‘The Confidential’.
This Byzantine tale of intrigue and cunning deception twists and turns at every flip of the page, building to a climax that will leave you wiser — wise enough to be scared stiff. Dante is a beautifully flawed anti-hero … an irresistible character you’d never want to meet, but who you can’t wait to read more of.
The New York City Police Department in the mid-nineteen-sixties projected the image of an inbred and secretive culture. This impenetrable world has been graphically described in books and motion pictures about two police officers, officially commended within the department, unofficially reviled among their peers. Frank Serpico and Robert Leuci, memorable for their devastating revelations, (Serpico, book and movie and Robert Leuci, Prince of the City, book and movie and his later memoir, All the Centurions,) were largely responsible for the reorganization of the methods used by the police department of their era to enforce the existing narcotics and vice and gambling laws.
Serpico had worked in the vice and gambling enforcement system, then called simply “plainclothes.” Police officers, officially designated “plainclothesmen,” investigated and arrested those involved in bookmaking, the illegal numbers racket, prostitution, and the unlawful sale of alcohol. Serpico had struggled futilely against the inherent corruption then existing in plainclothes and elsewhere. He could not accept the idea that collecting money from bookmakers and numbers bankers was part of the everyday business of gambling and vice enforcement. Leuci became a detective in Narcotics and did at first succumb to the temptations of a sub-world awash in cash. Both episodes were related admirably in their stories and the films recounting them. These old ghosts are invoked here to illustrate the climate of the Department as it then existed. In time gone by it became inevitable that at some juncture in a police career, especially in sensitive assignments, choices had to be made. Often peer pressure impelled participation in activities that would later prove ill-advised. Serpico fought against it, Leuci became enmeshed in it.
From the investigations that ensued, the Department reorganized. It entrusted to the newly formed Organized Crime Control Bureau (OCCB) both narcotics and vice and gambling enforcement. The reorganization provided these units with closer supervision. It abolished decentralization and significantly impeded the organized conspiracies rife among plainclothes units. Plainclothes details had operated within division and borough offices, but burdened by the enormous task of managing the precincts under them, the commanders of these larger departmental subdivisions relied on sergeants and lieutenants to supervise their plainclothesmen. Often these supervisors themselves became part of the problem.
In the Narcotics Bureau, then grouped within the Detective Division, a central squad, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), achieved a certain dark celebrity. (Remember the French Connection?) In addition, outlying squads were stationed in detective borough offices throughout the city. In the shadowy world of narcotics trafficking, enormous amounts of money were available to these detectives. There was nothing about such enterprises not understood by everyone from the Commissioner to the average uniformed officer working on the street.
Such conditions existed forty years ago, but the structure of the NYPD is now vastly different. The significant resources and talents of the Department are enlisted to address the many urgent missions that confront modern police work. Further, there is no implication that every police officer of the time was dishonest. Quite the contrary, most members of the force served honorably. There were many highly decorated and brave men and women called upon to shed their blood, and too often they gave their lives in service to the people of New York City.
Call it tradition, culture, climate, an expectation had existed in some quarters that there was money to be made. The political powers that ran the City turned a blind eye. Not only was it expedient to ignore the obvious, there was always the danger that some blame would wash over the courts, the District Attorneys’ offices or City Hall, were too much scrutiny brought to bear. An examination of the history of the era will disclose that often such seats of power were themselves engulfed by scandal. Political pressure had inevitably blunted the impact of most investigations focused on these governmental agencies. Nonetheless, influential men spent sleepless nights waiting for the drop of the next tasseled loafer. The Police Department took most of the blame; low-ranking cops and detectives bore many of the accusations and suffered the larger share of the indictments.
The Knapp Commission, appointed by the mayor and chaired by Whitman Knapp, a prominent attorney, focused media attention on the ugly underbelly of the Department. They held televised hearings and received continuous front-page coverage in the New York newspapers. The New York State Special Prosecutor’s Office, appointed by the governor, employed especially ruthless tactics in their efforts to “root out corruption.” Headed by Maurice Nadjari, a former prosecutor from Suffolk County, New York, the Special Prosecutor’s office used their own extraordinary Grand Jury subpoena power and slanted press releases to intimidate and denigrate those who surfaced in their crosshairs. No entity was spared. Judges, attorneys, police officers, anyone unfortunate enough to attract their attention was subpoenaed to testify. Carefully timed articles in the press announced those to be called before a Grand Jury, often publicly tarring the reputations of targets who had no provable involvement in wrongdoing. The office did not prosecute many cases before it was disbanded. Eventually, even the press turned on them. Their heavy-handed and barely ethical methods were repugnant to any right-minded observer. Federal prosecutors in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York demolished the Narcotics SIU due in large measure to the cooperation of Bob Leuci who was compelled finally to give up his fellow detectives. The department restructured internally and placed the gambling and narcotics enforcement squads within the OCCB. Not much was left to pursue with regard to major integrity cases of which Nadjari’s Office was aware.
The fog of secrecy began to lift, the code of silence penetrated. Slowly and painfully the Department faced what it should have confronted long before. Many more sad chapters were written; more police officers were indicted, tried and sentenced. The light of public attention was focused where it had seldom shone before and at great human cost. The passage of time will validate whether these lessons were fully absorbed by those who oversee the Department.
There was, however, one particularly ill-fated aggregation that did come to the attention of Nadjari’s office. In many precincts, groups of uniformed sergeants formed into what were euphemistically called “Sergeants’ Clubs.” Difficult to infiltrate, protected by an unarticulated secrecy, this tradition continued unabated and unprosecuted. The scheme involved precinct sergeants who visited businesses involved in marginal or minor unlawful activities. Illegal parking in front of stores, unlicensed sidewalk vending, and various code violations were typical infractions that brought harassing police enforcement and expensive summonses unless the merchants were forthcoming with regularly scheduled payments. As in other situations, detection could only occur when a participant overstepped or when an insider reported the arrangement and dragged the whole group into the unwelcome spotlight.
One such hapless sergeant in Queens was overheard on a Federal eavesdropping device focused on an unrelated criminal target. Apprehended by Internal Affairs and forced to cooperate, he wore a body wire against his colleagues. Virtually an entire complement of sergeants from one precinct was compelled to divulge their own involvement, testify before the Special Grand Jury and implicate their brother sergeants. All were prosecuted criminally. One sergeant who denied his participation was indicted, tried for perjury and sentenced to prison.
“To achieve lasting literature, fictional or factual, a writer needs perceptive vision, absorptive capacity and creative strength.” Lawrence Clark Powell, noted author, literary critic, bibliographer and librarian at UCLA for many years. (born 1906-died 2001).
We all have these qualities to one degree or another. The secret is to tap into the well-spring of inspiration present at some level in everyone’s heart. Any experience can be a writing prompt. In a recent writing workshop, a professor of English and creative writing suggested that a writer be conscious of our literary forbears. The title of the workshop was “Writing with Allusion, (i.e. an indirect reference to something), Beg, Borrow or Steal,” It is no sin to use ideas or methods employed by those who have trod the path of creativity in the past. He showed how all writers do it to some extent or another. When we use a name or reference a character from mythology or Scripture, we are using the literary device of allusion. He gave this as an example of “begging” from the wellspring of recognizable words that embody a concept which is succinct and universally understood.
Whether we are aware of it or not, there are a finite number of plot concepts that recur throughout literature. Writers “borrow” these ideas and incorporate them into their works of fiction. Going as far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh, written thousands of years ago in ancient Mesopotamia, writers have built on the plot line of a heroic figure surviving against insuperable odds.
The word “steal” would tend to give us pause. The word implies flagrant plagiarism. Plagiarism, however, as everyone knows, is the wholesale copying verbatim from another’s work and claiming it as our own. When the professor demonstrated what he meant, he used fragments of poetry and asked the class to employ the same meter and pattern but change the words. Although he gave the prompts as an exercise in poetry, he made the point that this method may apply to all forms of writing. The professor cited T. S. Eliot who copied shamelessly from other poets in composing the “Wasteland” and created a timeless piece of literature.
Finally, to quote Isaac Newton: “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then you do it for a few close friends, and then you do it for money. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673) French Actor, Playwright and Writer—Stage name MOLIERE.
Here’s a question with which to search our souls. At which stage of writing am I?
This mischievous quotation by Moliere catches the eye because it highlights an eternal truth. If we write, we are at one of those three stages. When the Muse seizes us, she forces us to the pen and paper or the keyboard, often both. We frequently begin to write about something we love, or in some cases to exorcise a demon that has perched on our shoulders from time immemorial. We write initially to put our thoughts in readable form. The next impulse is to share them. In the beginning, we ask only those close to us to read them, never daring to disclose something so personal to casual friends or strangers.
Once however, in the grip of these inexorable influences, we take up the self-imposed challenge. Driven beyond the borders of our own reticence, we sally forth, asking distant and hyper-critical strangers to read, evaluate, and dare I say, publish this fragile child born of our imagination and hard work. We are compelled then, to suffer the bitter slings and arrows of rejection, even outright scorn. But now with the bit in our teeth, we plunge ahead. Revise, rewrite, polish, edit, and revise again. Will anyone, at last, see the merit in our art? The joy, however, of acceptance is unequaled. It is an affirmation of our very souls. Every moment dedicated to assuage that burning desire that flames within has been justified. Finally, should someone actually pay us for our cherished work of prose or poetry, we are truly fulfilled. Then, alas, back to the keyboard, how can we stop now?
Writing is an exploration. You start
from nothing and learn as you go.
E.L. Doctorow, American Author
How often have we sat staring at a blank page, or a blank screen, feeling the pressure to write or somehow under external pressure to meet a deadline, and the inspiration will not come. We invoke the Muse, we try to conjure an image but the block remains. We know we are not alone. Many before us have trod this lonely path. Remembering that we start from a wellspring of memory, experience, imagination, the first words appear on the page. After the first baby steps another sentence appears. What’s holding me back? I know what I want to say. How to find the words, put them in the proper order? If we care about our craft, we want these words to express who we are. Someone else will read them. That’s it, everyone fears being judged. When a writer presses forward in the face of the obstacles of self-doubt and concern for how her efforts will be received, she will permit the inner voice to let the words flow.
E. L. Doctorow gives us another insight: “Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake.”
Authors, poets, essayists take heart. Once we have stepped out into the void and found we did not plummet into the abyss, our courage has been strengthened, our resolve becomes firmer. Even criticism pushes us forward. Praise and appreciation becomes the fertilizer in the garden of our creativity.
Lastly, From Mark Twain: “Courage is not the absence of fear, or resistance to fear. It is the mastery of fear.”
The Difficulty of Literature Is Not to Write, But to Write What You Mean.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Scottish essayist, author and poet (1850-1894)
Every author who has set pen to paper or keyboard to blank screen feels the anguish of communicating with words that which is in their mind. To be misunderstood is a painful arrow through the heart. Everyone who is literate may assay to put their thoughts and feelings to paper. Not every attempt at setting forth one’s innermost cerebrations, (a ten dollar word) will meet with success. Often, we know, the selection of just the right word makes the difference between having the reader intuit our meaning or have the effort miss the mark.
To that end may I make a suggestion? Writer’s Digest Magazine recommended a website called MasterWriter 2.0. It not only provides an instant thesaurus (that’s how I found ‘cerebration’), and dictionary, but various writing hints, some of which are: suggested projects, word families, phrases, parts of speech, rhymes and pop culture. Of course, we have Roget’s Thesaurus right to hand, and some of us may use The Synonym Finder, by J.I. Rodale, a somewhat more complete listing of word alternatives. However, once MasterWriter is downloaded to your computer it is available at the click of the mouse while your writing is in progress. One needn’t stop to open a book and leaf through pages.
One caution, MasterWriter does require an expenditure of money, but can be accessed initially for a thirty day trial period. Stuck for an idea? Looking for the correct concept to freshen your story? Not sure of the meaning or correct spelling of a word? A search in one of these categories could jump start a story gone flat or which you have written into a corner. Finding just the word we are looking for may enable us to do the most difficult: say what we mean.