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A New Novel, Coming To Life

Bob Van Laerhoven Author Interview

The Shadow of The Mole follows the intertwining stories of a man who believes himself dead, who is writing a story he claims is being recited to him, and the doctor caring for him during WWI. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

From 1990 to 2003, I was a freelance travel writer in conflict zones worldwide: Somalia, Liberia, Bosnia, Serbia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Mozambique, Kosovo, and Burma(Myanmar)… to name but a few. I stopped when I was fifty and began to suffer from strange psychic symptoms. I struggled with the impression that something invisible followed me like a shadow. A leering, threatening presence mocked me, whispering that I wasn’t an actual human, just a walking mummy and that a terrible death would be my fate. So, of course, I sought professional help and soon learned that long periods of stress can produce all kinds of unusual mental phenomena. Intrigued, I began researching Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I learned that PTSD, even in Roman Times, was documented and that, in WW1, soldiers who showed signs of PTSD usually ended up in front of the firing squad as cowardly deserters who pretended to be lunatics.

And then, I stumbled across Cotard’s Syndrome, sometimes also called “walking corpse syndrome.” When I began to read about it, it was as if a cold finger prodded me in my neck, and I smelled the energy – still far away – of a new novel, coming to life.

In 1880, the French neurologist and psychiatrist Jules Cotard was the first to describe and analyze the psychiatric syndrome he called Le délire des negations (The delirium of negation). I read about different symptoms and cases, but the ones that I found highly fascinating were patients who were convinced that they were dead. One of them was a young man who told everyone that he was a corpse and that his ‘self’ (sometimes, he said ‘soul’) was standing behind his right shoulder.

That night, I had a nightmare in which a ‘gypsy’ played a frightening role. That made me think about thirty years ago when I published ‘Feria,’ (Funfair), my third book, a short story collection about the Romani – gypsies – a people of wanderers with a unique culture and myths of gods and demons that I found fascinating.

Subsequently, by chance, I read stories about soldiers in WW1 trenches who reported about ‘presences,’ benevolent or malicious, materializing during intense fighting. New trends in psychiatry and psychoanalysis didn’t limit these symptoms to stress or cowardice but, hesitantly, began to search for malfunctions in the brain and childhood traumas in Freud’s psychoanalysis, often of sexual nature.

Thus, puzzle after puzzle, the hidden entry in my subconsciousness opened itself slowly and gave me access to writing “The Shadow Of The Mole.” The road to completion took me three years, sometimes stumbling over wondrous details, sometimes following dead-end forks in the journey before I once again found the “silver thread beneath my feet” (Hermann Hesse: Steppenwolf). Buffeted by doubt, despair, illumination, wonder, and hope, I wrote like a mole, rooting deeper into my story…

When you first sat down to write this story, did you know where you were going, or did the twists come as you were writing?

Being a full-time author for over 30 years, I have published ( traditionally) more than forty books in Holland and Belgium, and each novel started with only a hunch, a flash of intuition, and a first sentence. Each time a first sentence of a book came to me, I knew that I was on my way and that I more than possibly would finish the novel, trusting the inspirations that would materialize when the story developed itself. Often, I felt a pass-through for insights given to me.

This ‘method’ was not always foolproof: sometimes, I made useless detours, or, on other occasions, I resisted an inducement because I was afraid of the artistic, commercial, or personal consequences. When this happened, I noticed that the story fell flat or just plain stopped, so I had to give in and sought for a style and an element of mysterious opaqueness to incorporate the inducement in my story. For instance, there is a family secret of sexual nature in “The Shadow Of The Mole” that plays a big part in the story, but I didn’t want it to be in the readers’ faces, so dispersed in the novel, you can find allusions, hints, metaphors. This mysterious atmosphere plays an essential part in this novel.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

During my years as a travel writer, I noticed how war and violence could turn humans into terrible creatures committing horrible atrocities. Why and how does conflict trigger such savagery in us? And why don’t we learn from warfare in the past? For instance, in the nineties, I witnessed the Bosnian war’s ruthlessness, and now, thirty years later, I see the same horror in the Ukrainian conflict. Nothing has changed…Correction, something has changed: the weapons used on the battlefield have become even more sophisticated, deadly, and destructive.

Must we conclude that war alters something in the chemistry of our brain, or do we have to turn back to the old belief that humans can be possessed by demons who thrive on endless suffering? Hidden in “The Shadow Of The Mole” lies a possible and chilling answer.

What is the next book you are working on, and when will it be available?

I’ve chosen the working title “The Firehand File” for my next novel. Again, it’s a historical novel, this time situated in 1921 Berlin, the European “capital of sin.” In Flanders, critics described “The Firehand File” as a “worthy successor to “Baudelaire’s Revenge,” my first novel in English translation (2014), which won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best suspense novel of the year in Belgium, and the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense. “Baudelaire’s Revenge” has been translated into English, French, and Russian. The novel centers around the poetic oeuvre of Charles Baudelaire, one of the greatest nineteenth-century French poets.

Likewise, the plot of “The Firehand Files” has a lot to do with the poetry of the Flemish Dada poet Paul Van Ostaijen who lived for a while in Berlin. Once again, it is a complex, thrilling, historical novel noir.

Maybe, it’s better that I disclose the first draft of a blurb. It will give readers a condensed picture of the novel’s soul.

Berlin is a city of extremes. Political violence plagues the streets during the day. A serial killer whom the media call “The Skinner” roams the streets at night. He is suspected to be a rabid World War I veteran, but he remains untraceable.

In this human pressure cooker, the relationship between Paul Van Ostaijen and his impetuous girlfriend, Emma Clément, is on edge. Like hundreds of thousands of others in Berlin, they live in poverty. They are addicted to cocaine and other drugs, while Van Ostaijen is convinced that the artistic Dada movement, rejecting the logic, reason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society, instead expressing nonsense, irrationality, and anti-bourgeois protest, would change the world.

On a drug-induced whim, Van Ostaijen steals a document titled “The Firehand File” in the apartment of the spy Elise Kraiser. He finds the title “dramatically poetical.” Who could foresee that the poet, doing so, would set in motion a series of dramatic events that shed surprising light on a politician who is rapidly gaining influence?

His name is Herr Adolf Hitler.

The Firehand Files was one of the five finalists of the 2018 Hercule Poirot Prize in Belgium. I hope to see the translation finished this year and that Next Chapter, my publisher, will find it a worthwhile novel.

I sense that “The Firehand File” will be my last novel. I turn seventy this year, and my health is waning, so I’m preparing myself for the most fantastic adventure of all: death and the afterlife.

Author Links: GoodReads | Website

The Shadow Of The Mole is a finalist in the Best Thriller Book Awards 2022 in the Historical Fiction category on BestThrillers.com
The Shadow Of  The Mole is the Gold Category Winner for “Historical Literary” in the 2022 Historical Fiction Company Book Of The Year Contest

1916, Bois de Bolante, France. The battles in the trenches are raging fiercer than ever. In a deserted mineshaft, French sappers discover an unconscious man and nickname him The Mole.
Claiming he has lost his memory, The Mole is convinced that he’s dead and that an Other has taken his place. The military brass considers him a deserter, but front physician and psychiatrist-in-training Michel Denis suspects that his patient’s odd behavior is stemming from shellshock, and tries to save him from the firing squad.
The mystery deepens when The Mole begins to write a story in écriture automatique that takes place in Vienna, with Dr. Josef Breuer, Freud’s teacher, in the leading role. Traumatized by the recent loss of an arm, Denis becomes obsessed with him and is prepared to do everything he can to unravel the patient’s secret.
Set against the staggering backdrop of the First World War, The Shadow Of The Mole is a thrilling tableau of loss, frustration, anger, madness, secrets and budding love. The most urgent question in this extraordinary story is: when, how, and why reality shifts into delusion?

Baker Street Irregular

Baker Street Irregular by Craig W. Fisher is a story that has the reader questioning whether he is guilty or innocent? As we follow the protagonist, Bill, in the present, he is accused of a brutal murder. Clearly, he was there at the scene, and all the evidence points towards his involvement, but he claims to not be the killer and is keen to find out who truly did it, clearing his own name. Once a war hero, he definitely has the skills needed to get to the bottom of this. However, being in Berlin only a few years after the end of the war may make his investigation a little more complicated.

Gripping from the very offset, the story opens with the line, “One last check of his watch and a reassuring pat on the knife he kept in his jacket pocket, and he disappeared into the all-consuming darkness of the Berlin night.” Dark and mysterious, this has the reader drawn into the story from the beginning, keen to discover more about this compelling character. As the story progresses, it flashes between various times in the main character’s history, with each chapter exploring what led to his current situation. The author has done this wonderfully by heading each chapter with the date and location, making it easier for the reader to follow the plot.

Baker Street Irregular is an extremely intriguing espionage thriller. I could not wait to find out more about the main characters’ history during the war etc., as well as who really committed the murder in the present day (1947). It is a story that encompasses crime, spy novels, and war into one interesting tale. I would highly recommend this to anyone, as I found it hard to put down.

Page: 362 | ASIN : B0B7GNLFH7

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Fallen Kings of Medieval Sicily

Carlo Treviso Author Interview

Siciliana recounts Aetna’s journey as she struggles to bring Sicilians together in rebellion against their French conquerors. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

As a first-generation son of a Sicilian immigrant family, I wrote “Siciliana” in an attempt to change the paradigm of how Sicily and Sicilians are portrayed in popular entertainment. Meaning moving away from the stereotypical mafia don and casino mobster depictions and into the beguiling world of forbidden knights, forgotten fortresses, and fallen kings of medieval Sicily. 

Aetna Vespiri is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character’s development?

I grew up with sisters and I am inspired by strong women. I envisioned Aetna as a sharp, intelligent, fiery force of nature like the Sicilian volcano that she’s named after. Aetna is an uncompromising leader who is not afraid to speak her mind and live her truth even if it means risking her life standing up against the tyrannical forces who are oppressing her people.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

There were major themes that I wanted to explore in the novel.

Family (cosca). At the heart of the book this term called “cosca.” Cosca is Sicilian for an artichoke. An artichoke, as you may know, has layered blade-like leaves that cover it’s heart. The artichoke, then, becomes a metaphor for the Sicilian family unit. Back in medieval times, Sicilians wielded short swords called stiletto blades. And with the blade of the stiletto is how they protected their family. Thus, when all of the Sicilians came together with their blades, that created the cosca, or artichoke, of the family. On top of this broader revolution story, you get this contemplation of what it means to be cosca…family.

Identity. In short, this theme explores what it means to be Sicilian. By the same token, our main protagonist, Aetna Vespiri, develops not only a new identity for herself when she steps out of obscurity and into the pages of history as the revolutionary hero who becomes known only as Siciliana, but also helps define a new identity for the nation of Sicily.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’m currently working on my second novel though the details aren’t quite ready to share yet. I hope to have it completed in the next two or three years.

Author Links: GoodReads | Instagram | Twitter | FacebookWebsite

A family torn apart by conflict.
An uprising of deadly magnitude.
A nation altered forever.
Inspired by actual events, Siciliana is the harrowing tale of a young woman’s courage in the face of unthinkable turmoil.
In 1282 AD, the Kingdom of Sicily is under the rule of a tyrannical French king and subject to his brutal Angevin army. Daily acts of violence and persecution are commonplace in a once-prosperous realm.
For twenty-year-old Aetna Vespiri, daughter of a revered Sicilian knight, survival has become second nature. As a child, she witnessed the destruction of her family’s vineyard by Angevin soldiers and spent the next decade learning the tenets of stiletto-blade combat.
Years later in Palermo, as the evening bells toll for Vespers, Aetna fends off a nefarious sergeant and sparks an uprising against the Angevin occupation. Now, standing at the forefront of an accelerating people’s rebellion, Aetna finds herself fighting not only for a nation she believes in but also for the meaning of family. In her darkest hour, this dauntless Sicilian woman steps out of obscurity and into the pages of history.
The legend of Siciliana is born.
Set amid bustling Arab markets and brooding Norman fortresses, Siciliana will envelop readers in the sights, sounds, and dangers lurking around every corner of medieval Sicily.

Knights of the Air, Book 1: RAGE!

In this relentlessly entertaining historical thriller we follow Lance Fitch as he finds himself falling from the highs of drinking bitter lemonade and worrying about flirting with his fiancée in front of their fathers to the lows of worrying about how to survive the next hour while in the trenches of World War I.

Though an unpopular gunner in the air force, Lance is hell bound on getting himself into a plane before the war is over. Thanks to another pilot’s unfortunate hit, Arthur Wolsey became the reason Lance was allowed in the sky. With both men having a known wild streak, they build a surprisingly close friendship that will be tested as they fight to stay alive in the air against all possible odds. And on the home front, Arthur and Lance’s friendship faces another type of stress as Lance discovers Arthur’s beautiful half-sister, Megan.

Author Iain Stewart knows how to throw readers into a scene and keep them enthralled until the end. I loved the vivid sets (as it really did feel like an action movie at times) and reveled in the way they are meticulously constructed. As a lover of military history (specifically the First and Second World Wars), the historical aspect of Knights of the Air: Rage! passes the accuracy-test with flying colors. For example, reading about how and why the “Fokker Menace” came to be was like seeing a celebrity in person; WWI enthusiast will know what I’m talking about. This novel weaves these facts in and around the fiction story, giving the whole book a grounded and realistic feel, even when things get wild. Because of this the story feels like it could be a memoir; a fictional one at least. To keep such an incredible story feeling like it was all first-hand accounts from the war is an impressive talent that I give high praise for.

The beginning of the story is one I can only equate to the Adventures of a Young Naturalist by Sir David Attenborough, because I felt like it had a similar way of noting down critical elements of one’s surroundings and delivering it in a narrative that felt fulfilling and thoughtful and truly allows the reader a sense of each scene and moment. But, again, Iain has a strong understanding of making fiction come to life, and once he’s grounded the story it takes off and we’re in for a whirlwind adventure.

Knights of the Air, Book 1: Rage! is a rousing and suspenseful military adventure novel that is filled with gritty air combat that sticks close to WWI facts but never forgets to entertain the reader.

Pages: 363 | ASIN : B09T2KP5SL

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Siciliana

What would you do if you were born into a world where you had no control over your future? Aetna Vespiri, a young Sicilian woman living in French-controlled Sicily in the 1200’s, defies her own fate in answering this question.

Carlo Treviso’s Siciliana weaves a legendary tale, recounting Aetna’s journey as she struggles to bring Sicilians together in rebellion against their French conquerors, the Angevins. Aside from the overarching national struggle, Aetna, along with dynamic side characters like Fra’Diavulu, a formidable man in a devil mask who wields a flaming sword, and Don Rapaci, a great knight who fights with the help of an eagle, also face familial and identity struggles to form a very thrilling conclusion.

Treviso creates a captivating and realistic depiction of rebellion, as he describes both the awe-inspiring nationalistic moments, such as the creation of a new flag, as well as the less rosy-colored moments that happen in the shadows, such as a mob’s bloodthirstiness against the abusive Angevins. The author, the son of a Sicilian immigrant, uses this book to capture the heart of a Sicilian identity, describing the culture, food (he includes little recipes at the back of the book!), architecture, and strong connection to family (cosca). These descriptions help justify why Sicilians wanted to create a national identity for themselves, as well as how they all managed to band together despite a high risk of death.

I heartily enjoyed this rousing historical thriller, but I felt that some of the side characters were not as developed as other characters. While Treviso creates some interesting and unique characters to read about, others felt dull in comparison to the main characters.

I recommend Siciliana to readers who are interested in Sicilian culture or engrossing historical fiction. While the book feels lengthy at times, watching Aetna overcome one impossible situation after another is engaging, and all the elements of Sicilian culture sprinkled in speak to Treviso’s immense heart and personal connection with this story.

Pages: 483 | ASIN: B09TQ5R61R

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Disorder

Disorder by Antim Strauss is a riveting story about the most infamous US presidential election in recent times. This fictional narrative is based on actual events and explores the actions of a mysterious figure known as The Fixer. The reader is hooked from the start as the story begins with a message by The Fixer himself, addressing the reader. Individual chapters are dedicated to the thoughts and words of The Fixer, whose poetic lines are pretty gripping. As the story progresses, we realize how the actions of The Fixer are about to cause a catastrophe. An unstable, and disgraceful candidate becomes the frontrunner of the GOP, and a massive disinformation campaign is afoot to ensure his victory. Tipped off by a former president, journalist Geoffrey Wines along with fellow journalist, hacker, and Superman enthusiast Jimmy Olsen, discovers a much deeper conspiracy. One that threatens the very essence of American Democracy.

Disorder opens in a slow-burn style giving readers the background leading up to the election and introducing The Fixer. The words of The Fixer, nicknamed Elvis, add freshness to the narrative and gives readers a unique perspective. Similarly, the author has done an excellent job of conveying the thoughts of his characters within the text.

While the novel is a political thriller, readers are not inundated with suspenseful events. The story is well written and the narrative techniques used by the author are commendable. As a technothriller, there is a lot of technical jargon and computer-related stuff to appeal to the tech-savvy crowd. The best part about this story is the investigation by Geoffrey and Jimmy, along with other members of their team. The way the investigation is conducted and clues are connected are quite intriguing and will appeal to fans of compelling mysteries.

Disorder is a political fiction novel that parallels closely to recent events. Appealing to readers of mystery novels, political, techno, and psychological thrillers, this suspenseful and riveting novel has something for readers of all types.

Pages: 363 | ASIN : B09SBRYNHJ

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Driven By His Intellectual Curiosity

Ethan T. Burroughs Author Interview

Writ Reveal follows a diplomat that heads to assignment in Kuwait, where he discovers ancient Islamic writings and is thrown into a conspiracy that puts his life in danger. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

My inspiration for Writ Reveal essentially started with my research of reports of 1972 findings by German scientists of palimpsests, re-purposed Quranic writings, purported to pre-date the life of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, an ‘incendiary’ discovery, if true. I found these reports to be a fascinating overlay to another historic event, that of the 1258 razing of the great city of Baghdad by the Mongols. I connected them to real exhumations of Iraqi war dead from the 1990 Iraqi invasion of and subsequent expulsion from Kuwait. All this provided a convenient and terrifying backdrop for protagonist Clayton Haley, fresh off his survival of plots, conspiracies, and terror in prequel Messianic Reveal!

What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

I intentionally keep my protagonist credible, not heroic. He does not seek conflict, yet responds to it with the best of his ability when he faces it. He’s driven by his intellectual curiosity and his concern for his colleagues and friends, which gives him the courage to face the growing threats he encounters. He resents being characterized as a ‘glory hound’ yet is compelled to keep pulling threads of mystery and conspiracy as the hunt for his primary antagonist comes into focus.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

It’s essential that Writ Reveal, like its prequel Messianic Reveal, seems plausible. I love it when readers ask if these stories are true! Most incredible aspects in both books are indeed either true, or widely believed in the Middle East. I also like to explore how religions of good people are often exploited or manipulated by power hungry individuals. I expose much of this exploitation in my books while ensuring faiths and the people themselves are not denigrated.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’m very pleased to note that Babylon Reveal is in production and will soon be edited. I anticipate a release in early 2023, followed by Prophecy Reveal in 2024! Both will continue Clayton Haley’s journey into historical intrigue, clash of belief systems, and terror.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Writ Reveal continues Clayton Haley’s journey into Middle Eastern intrigue and conspiracy, picking up where prequel Messianic Reveal ended.
Haley restarts his diplomatic career, this time in Kuwait, where still-present trauma from the 1990 Iraqi invasion haunts local denizens. Haley’s exhumation of mortal remains ferries him figuratively and historically upriver to both modern and ancient Baghdad. He finds himself on course to salvage ancient writings, including Quranic palimpsests, manuscripts that potentially pre-date Islamic Prophet Mohammed’s visions, a truly epic reveal if realized.

As in the prequel’s Messianic Reveal, Haley stumbles into the combustible mix of religion and politics, resulting in rare scrutiny of one of the world’s largest religions. Re-joining the story are his Green Beret and intelligence friends, as well as a spectral, wealthy Bin Laden scion and his henchmen eager to eliminate Haley’s meddling, as all parties race to the reveal of the ancient writs secreted away during the 1258 razing of Baghdad by Mongols. Writ Reveal further develops Haley’s complex character and introduces new companions to help him in his discovery of the religious divides in the Middle East, and why they matter to and how they shape U.S. political ends. Writ Reveal offers bold introspection into how cruelly religious interpretation distorts and exploits the faith of the masses.

Writ Reveal

Writ Reveal is the second book in the Clayton Haley series written by Ethan T Burroughs and is the follow-up to Messianic Reveal.

Writ Reveal picks up not long after Messianic Reveal left off. Knowledge of the first book is helpful but not essential; Writ Reveal is easy to jump into. Following the fallout from Messianic Reveal, Haley is restarting his diplomatic career in Kuwait, a country haunted by the 1990 Iraqi invasion and bloodshed. Haley’s new role leads to the exhumation of human remains that soon drags him to Baghdad.

Haley is no good at staying out of trouble, and soon his curiosity gets the better of him again, and he is engulfed by a new conspiracy. During his trip to Baghdad, he finds himself on track to salvage ancient Islamic writings that predate the Prophet Mohammad’s visions.

This discovery threatens to upheave the middle eastern status quo and bring centuries of Islamic teachings into question. Unsurprisingly, this makes Haley an unpopular man, and soon all sides are gunning for him. Thankfully he still has his old green beret friends and intelligence colleagues for backup.

Reading Writ Reveal feels very much like reading a mixture of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Much like Brown, Burroughs is adept at taking historical fact and blending it with modern-day fiction. However, unlike in The Da Vinci Code, the conspiracies in Writ Reveal are far less outlandish and far more believable. Nevertheless, Haley’s character will remind readers of Ryan, and much of Writ Reveal’s contemporary political story would fit nicely into a Clancy novel.

However, Burroughs sets himself apart from Clancy and Brown in how he writes. Burroughs knowledge of and respect for the Middle East and Islam is evident in every line of Writ Reveal. Even when he is challenging Middle Eastern governments and their religious ideologies.

Burroughs deftly teaches his audience about this religious, historical, and political boiling pot without his prose ever becoming too dry. Writ Reveal is still as full of the gunfights and chases as we would expect from a book of this genre.

Writ Reveal is an excellent blend of historical and political thriller. This riveting novel will have readers of suspense and thriller novels on the edge of their seats.

Pages: 300 | ASIN : B09NV8QFLR

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