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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
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?

The Shadow Of The Mole

Bob Van Laerhoven’s The Shadow of the Mole is an intriguing and compelling historical thriller that has left readers both baffled and in awe. This beautifully written, thought-provoking story deals with the complex themes of loss, suffering, and the psychological traumas of war. The author also includes the challenges of a complicated, budding love affair in the difficult times of war. The novel employs symbolism heavily and also explores themes of the supernatural along with sexual themes. Set against the staggering backdrop of the First World War, the story is initially set in 1916, Bois de Bolante France but wanders into earlier times as the novel proceeds.

The novel is made up of different perspectives and shifting timelines. Still, the story primarily follows Michel Denis, a front-line physician, and psychiatrist-in-training, who is in his own mental and physical turmoil after losing an arm in battle. He takes a peculiar interest in ‘The Mole,’ a man who was found in a deserted mineshaft by the French troops. The Mole has amnesia and firmly believes that he is dead and an ‘Other’ has taken control of his body. Denis is compelled to open a psychiatric investigation to uncover the mystery of this man’s past and the events that led him to hold such a belief. What is even more fascinating is that this novel contains a story within a story: Denis’ story is interspersed with The Mole’s writings of Alain Mangin, a story he begins writing in écriture automatique. He insists that he is just writing down what is being recited to him by ‘another.’

Throughout the course of this extraordinary story, deception and reality go hand in hand, and people’s minds are tested to their limits right to the end. The most pressing question raised is, “when, how, and why does reality shift into delusion?” The story’s climax is equally dramatic: a truly cinematic experience that thoroughly engages the reader until the very last page, leaving them questioning what they believe to be true. I recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction and thrillers, for I can assure you that this novel will be unlike any other you have read!

Pages: 430 | ASIN : B09RTTK28K

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The Smallest War

The Smallest War, by Mark Sheehan, is a rollicking action tale of political intrigue. The global balance of power is at stake when viral sabotage leads to an international incident in the Bering Sea, which happens to be home to a massive, newly discovered oil reserve. Calling upon a little-known process laid forth by the charter of the United Nations, the Russian Federation seeks to solve a potentially world-ending dispute with the United States of America through a “Small War.” Through a series of bizarre circumstances, the US team is made up of a ragtag group of individuals who were chosen not for their skills but for their failures.

The Smallest War is quite a ride. While the fantastical story is grounded in reality, the reader must embrace their suspension of disbelief to follow the events leading up to the “small war.” Impossible viral attacks, an absolute dereliction of duty by the US Department of Defense, the military-industrial complex pulling all the strings to guarantee nothing but massive warfare, while the Russian federation uses dirty tricks and a loose interpretation of international law to get their way…  on second thought that all seems incredibly feasible.

I had a good time reading The Smallest War, despite some shortcomings. It reads very much like a Hollywood blockbuster, with locations spanning the globe, giant action set pieces, and characters ranging from damaged, struggling anti-heroes to absolute villains who will do anything to accomplish their goals. The characters are tried and true tropes of the genre: the Americans feature greatest hits such as the strong dumb guy, the mouthy rich guy, and the level-headed woman who can pull the team together. Each has their own flaws that bring a bit more to the stereotype.

The Smallest War: an action-adventure thriller is a riveting military and war novel. Readers will encounter suspense and thrills in each chapter as they wait to find out how this small war will play out and who will end up with control over the oil.

Pages: 406 | ASIN : B0B7P4ZKMF

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Ice Islands – Book Trailer

Major Rake Ozenna faces dangerous choices and deadly consequences in this rip-roaring political thriller that takes you from the ice islands of Finland to the bustling streets of Tokyo via Russia and the White House . . . Buckle up, this is a thrilling ride!

Major Rake Ozenna’s mission is simple: gain access to the Kato family – Japan’s most dangerous crime empire – and stop the threat to America. But when the secret son of the Russian leader is executed and Rake’s target, Sara Kato, is implicated in the murder, a political crisis between Russia, Japan and the US is set in motion.

It’s a race to protect Sara and earn her trust whilst escaping the inhospitable terrain of the icy Aland Islands. Meanwhile, Russia wants revenge for the murder, a catastrophic move when it is revealed that Japan is not the trusted ally America thought it was.

As Rake learns the true extent of their deadly plans, he must draw on every ounce of his training to succeed. Because if he fails, it won’t just be his life that will be lost . . . the consequences will be global!

Ice Islands is the third Rake Ozenna thriller and will leave readers breathless . . . and eagerly anticipating the next heart-racing adventure!

Alien Orders

Air Force Captain Scott Ryan’s whole life changed when he spotted a mysterious craft over the night skies of the Utah desert. Alien Orders: A Science Fiction Novel is the story of a man who seeks the truth and refuses to let that truth be hidden from the human race. Fighting his way through devious government cover-ups and perilous alien subterfuge, Captain Ryan is a man on a mission–and that mission is to thwart an otherworldly threat to mankind. With the unlikely help of conspiracy theorists, dedicated military personnel, tenacious detectives, and a mysterious woman, Captain Ryan finds himself plunged into a battle for the fate of humanity.

Author Johnnie West’s Alien Orders is an old-school science fiction tale shrouded in a twisting conspiracy plot. Captain Ryan teams up with his fellow pilot, Captain Jeff Johnson, to chase down leads and investigate their strange sightings in the Utah desert. Encountering a large cast of characters, the two friends must figure out who is friend or foe as they navigate an alien plot and confront the power-hungry humans who aid them. 

Alien Orders is a quick and satisfying read with prose that is simple and straightforward. The story is more reported to the reader than experienced, which works for the blunt, military-style of writing. Chapters fly by, with action and tension rising and falling like a steady tide. After the mid-way point in the novel, the pace really speeds up. Side characters and sub-antagonists rapidly come in and out of the story offering solutions to problems and moving the storyline along. I felt that more dialog would have helped flesh out the characters. However, the overall story is tightly woven and still full of surprising twists.

Alien Orders: A Science Fiction Novel is a fantastically thrilling science fiction story. The action and drama will keep readers engaged and working right along with the characters to solve the mystery. To anyone who enjoys government cover-up stories about aliens among us, this is the book for you.

Pages: 209 | ASIN : B09PHG1QG6

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Fighting for Freedom

Stephen Alder Author Interview

Deehabta’s Song follows the life of a woman that must retrace her past to discover who she really is. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

Actually, the original inspiration for the book did not have Krissa as the main character. That developed as I put together the outline for the story. Originally, I wanted to portray the Roman Empire’s conquest of Gaul and Briton as a sci-fi story set on different planets. But there had to be a central character through whom the effects of this conflict were seen. More and more Krissa’s experience became the focus of the story.

Readers get to know Krissa at the ages of 30 and 60 as she pieces together the clues of her life. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

In Krissa’s character I wanted to convey a goodheartedness and sincerity that comes through even when she is cantankerous and difficult in her sixties. She helps many people with her martial arts skills, both by defending them and by being a dedicated instructor. Her fearlessness and ferocity when she is younger, however, leads her into a confrontation with the empire. As a deeply troubled person in her sixties, her persistent self reliance makes it difficult for her to let her roommate Jo help her. The real reason for her inner strength and the belief that she can take on the empire by herself is of course the mystery that the story unravels.

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

There is the theme of fighting for freedom, drawing from the Britons’ resistance to the invading Roman Empire. The main character combines Caratacus and Boudicca. Boudicca almost defeated the empire until her rebellion was crushed and she died. Caratacus was defeated but he became assimilated into the Roman world and lived out his life. The book looks at the impact of forced assimilation. There is also the idea of what determines our identity. Our self image is a powerful force in what we conceive is our identity. In our world self image is elevated to being the only determining factor of identity. I suppose the term “identity” involves an image. But when all the images of ourself are stripped away, what are we? Nothing? Is there a core identity that is not determined by self image?

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

My next book is a sequel to Deehabta’s Song that I am titling Deehabta’s War. It goes into her beginnings in greater depth and the new conflict she faces. I hope I can have it done before the end of the year.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Deehabta’s Song is the story of a woman’s struggle to find herself and return home. A captive who does not consciously know she is a captive, she is forced to fight external and internal foes. With the help of others, she is set free and learns to accept the person she always was, a reality that was hidden in the dark world of her own subconscious mind. A warrior from start to finish, she acts without hesitation to fight against any powerful force, be it a tyrant or the empire itself, to protect the people of her world.

Deehabta’s Song

Deehabta’s Song by Stephen Alder is a story set on the futuristic planet of ‘Erunanta,’ also known as ‘Roon.’ In a world dealing with the aftermath of an interplanetary war, the main character Krissa attempts to start again in a new city. Krissa is faced with unusual feelings and challenges while rebuilding her life. Discovering she suffers from Caderyn War Syndrome, similar to what we know as PTSD. With the help of her new friends and colleagues, she attempts to decipher what is going through her mind.

This futuristic dystopia is well thought out, and the creativity running through this imaginative story is impressive as the reader is transported to another time and place. There are also many hints made towards the back story of Krissa, which engage the reader to find out more. With each piece of information that Krissa discovers about her past, more questions come forward slowly unraveling the web of lies and misinformation she has believed.

Amongst all the fantasy elements, Steven Alder has also made the novel relatable through the characters’ everyday lives. Words such as ‘comdev’ and ‘Censtat’ have been used to enhance the feeling of being in another world; however, through their descriptions, they seem to be everyday things such as a mobile phone and the central station in a city.

The author has a wonderful imagination and spends a lot of time building out the world that the novel takes place in. There is a lot of back and forth between past AFS (After First Settlement) 3995 and present AFS 4025 as the characters work to find out what caused Krissa’s trauma. Diving into her past they discover her martial arts skills and teaching a banned style of fighting, her trouble with those in political power, and the brutalization that she must endure at their hands.

Deehabta’s Song is a science fiction dystopian thriller novel with some fantasy and supernatural elements mixed in as well. The protagonist is a strong female character that will attract readers looking for a novel that breaks away from traditional women’s roles.

Pages: 186 | ASIN : B08QHQMKML

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Serpents Underfoot

Serpents Underfoot (A Military Action Thriller) (The JD Cordell Action Series Book 1) by [D.C. Gilbert]

If you are a fan of thrilling action  adventure novels, you are going to enjoy reading Serpents Underfoot, by DC Gilbert. The story follows our hero, JD, who is a Navy SEAL K9 Handler. He and his team go to various locations during their missions in areas such as the Middle East and Asia. JD is on the trail of an international terrorist organization. His mission is to try and put a stop to their devious plans. His strategy is to use a mix of Spy Optics and martial arts .

Author DC Gilbert is an artist when it comes to leaving the reader captivated and yearning for more at the end of every chapter. Readers are treated to a good dose of action, but always with a unique buildup that always ensures the action oriented pieces have a reason, and because of this the novel feels a lot more authentic, even though it can be over the top.

The book is relatively a short but none the less engaging. I enjoyed the military jargon in the book to be spot on, never overwhelming, but enough to make you feel like you were in the middle of an actual operation. I was in the military myself, and I appreciated the descriptions of the way operations are handled in this book. They are very similar to the way operations are conducted in the military. I don’t have as much experience with K9 units, but I still felt that that aspect of the book felt authentic, and occasionally even provided some comic relief in this otherwise tense novel. Any fan of the action thriller genre will be impressed by the vivid and kinetic action within this novel.

As JD, his K9 comrade, and his Navy SEAL unit goes deep undercover to discover the secrets of this horrible terrorist organization, the story never loses focus on its characters who are consistently engaging. With multiple exotic locations throughout the novel, I always felt like the team, and the story, was on the move.

Readers who enjoy a fast paced military thriller will find plenty to enjoy in author D.C. Gilbert’s hard hitting action novel. Serpents Underfoot is a fantastic start to The JD Cordell Action Series.

Pages: 278 | ASIN: B075TDML3D

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