May 2009

Death Piled Hard: A Tale of the Confederate Secret Services by W. Patrick Lang is the sequel to The Butcher’s Cleaver and begins shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, presumably where the previous book left off. The reader follows Claude Devereux as he brings the body of his brother home from the war. Devereux is an officer in the Federal army, assigned to Secretary of War Stanton, and a confident of President Lincoln. Unbeknownst to the Federal high command, Devereux is actually a member of the Confederate Secret Service and is gathering information on Federal war plans.

Devereux’s cousin, Major John Balthazar of the French Army soon comes to Washington and with Devereux’s assistance secretly crosses the line into the Confederacy as an official observer of the French government.

After the Battle of Rappahannock Station, Balthazar is given command of a Confederate battalion. The story continues through the Overland Campaign, following Balthazar and Devereux, who has made his way to Grant’s Headquarters.

In spite of the book’s subtitle, this is mostly a story about Balthazar’s battalion and its combat actions. Unfortunately, I did not find the combat descriptions as gripping as I might have. This was especially true of the description of the fighting at the Mule Shoe, during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House where some of the most savage fighting of the war occurred. I do not think the author was able to properly portray the intensity of the fighting there. This was better portrayed in Donald McCaig’s Jacob’s Ladder.

For the most part, I liked the characterizations and the dialogue, however it did not seem like the story was going anywhere. The reader followed Balthazar and Devereux through the Overland Campaign and things happened but there did not seem to be any focus, perhaps this is due to the book being the middle book of three. It should be noted that I have not read The Butcher’s Cleaver. However, I thought Mr. Lang did a good job of summarizing the previous book throughout so that this book could be read on its own.

Even with the minimal plot, I was still enjoying the book until about the last 50 pages. At that point, the author shifted the focus of the story to a new location and introduced a slew of new characters that were at most tangentially related to the other characters in the book. Balthazar and Devereux disappeared until the final four pages where a presumed third book was set up.

I do not believe I will be making any effort to find the next book in this series.

I received a review copy of this book from Rosemont books.


Kamal Saleem was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1958. At the age of seven, he was recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood and soon after joined Fatah, the largest faction of the PLO. His book The Blood of Lambs: A Former Terrorist’s Memoir of Death and Redemption alternates between the story of his youth as a member of Fatah and his present day actions.

At seven, he began smuggling weapons into Israel and soon moved on to combat missions. He participated in extortions, kidnappings, bombings, murders, and the usual terrorist activities as he moved up in the Fatah ranks. At the age of 16, he went to Libya for advanced terror training in one of Muammar Gaddafi’s training camps. He returned home just prior to the start of the Lebanese civil war and spent several years fighting along the Beirut’s Green Line. He was eventually sent to Saudi Arabia to raise money for the PLO, which he was apparently very successful at, collecting large donations from wealthy oil Sheikhs. He returned to Lebanon and was involved in a mission to steal SA-7 SAMs from Syria; once they were stolen, he helped transport them into Afghanistan for use against the Soviets. While in Afghanistan Mr. Saleem shot down a Soviet bomber with one of the SA-7s. In 1981, he came to the United States in an effort to radicalize American Muslims, which he continued to do until 1985. In 1985, he was involved in a serious auto accident and broke two vertebrae in his neck. After spending a week in the hospital, his doctor asked him if he would like to continue his recovery at the doctor’s home. Mr. Saleem agreed and moved in with the doctor’s family while he continued to heal. By 1990, he had converted to Christianity and married an American woman. He never told her or anyone about his terrorist past. In 2004, he decided he needed to speak out about the dangers of radical Islam and its ties to terrorism.

Intermixed with the above story are incidents that occurred during his speaking tour in 2007-2008. Most of the incidents involve threats of some sort made against him or his family.

In the first chapter, Mr. Saleem describes an incident that occurred in Chino, California in 2007. I have been in law enforcement for almost 20 years, so I know a little about security and I have a hard time believing the event he described actually happened or at least happened as he described. This caused me to question the truthfulness of everything that came after. All of the events Mr. Saleem describes could have happened and they all could have happened to him but his first chapter makes me wonder. With this in mind, I question how Mr. Saleem could have risen so high in Fatah at such a young age and how he managed to be involved in so many different actions in such a short time.

While I questioned Mr. Saleem’s trustworthiness, I thought the story was well told and it kept me interested. Right up to the point where he moved in with the doctor’s family. While, I found it unlikely that such an event would occur, what really got me was the doctor’s explanation for the offer, “We just want to show you the love of God”. I read that and said; “You have got to be kidding” however it got worse. The scene describing the doctor’s children meeting Mr. Saleem sounded like a scene with Rod and Todd Flanders from The Simpsons. Moreover, to finish it off, god spoke to him.

Mr. Saleem mentions in his book that critics have accused him of fabricating his story, alleging he was never a terrorist, nor a Muslim. The supposed purpose of this is to discredit his warnings about radical Islam. I think his warnings are valid, but I don’t know if his story is.

This book was received from the Library Thing Early Reviewer program.

At least a billion words have been written by or about Ernest Hemingway, there are books about pretty much everywhere he ever lived or visited.  While it would seem that there is no more to be written about the man or his work, new books continue to be written; among them is The Best Friend I Ever Had: Revelations about Ernest Hemingway from those who knew him.

by David Nuffer.  Mr. Nuffer has a fascination with Mr. Hemingway; of the billion words he owns about 24 million of them and he has visited most, if not all of Mr. Hemingway’s former homes.  In his book, Mr. Nuffer documents discussions, interviews, meetings, and letters from and with ten people who knew Mr. Hemingway at one point or another during his life.  They include family and friends, including his last wife, Mary Hemingway, and one of his sons, Patrick Hemingway.  The book is divided into eight chapters, each one devoted to one of the ten people, with two being married couples who share a chapter.  Most of the people had a seemingly limited amount of contact with Mr. Hemingway and could only shed light on the small part of his life they were involved in.

I have read a few of Mr. Hemingway’s novels and short stories but I know very little about him.  I know the basic things that I assume everyone knows about him.  He committed suicide in Idaho, and he lived in Cuba and Key West (I’ve been to the Key West house), he hunted big game in Africa, and he had some involvement in the Spanish Civil War; other that that I don’t know much about him.   While that does not present a problem in my day to day life, it did when reading this book.  Most of what’s in it could probably best be defined as minutiae, of possible interest to those with great interest in Mr. Hemingway’s life but not to the common reading.

The Best Friend I Ever Had was really the story of Mr. Nuffer’s fascination with Mr. Hemingway rather then a story about the man himself.  Mr. Nuffer has an obvious passion for the subject, but to quote Mr. Hemingway, “[I] did not have enough background knowledge to appreciate the book.”

I received this book as an ARC and would like to thank Mr. Nuffer for it.