Jeremy Taylor Review Shadows of War
Shadows of War – reviewed by Jeremy Taylor, Rear Admiral, USN
Robert Gandt. New York:
November 2004. 352 pp. $7.99
Bob Gandt is still having fun. A former Naval Aviator and
carrier aviator, Gandt has accumulated more than 30,000 hours in military,
commercial and general aviation aircraft. In the early 1960s he was an A4 Skyhawk driver and logged more
than 300 arrested landings. After 26
years with Pan Am he joined Delta in 1991. High on his list of current loves is flying his Siai-Marchetti
260 out of Spruce Creek Fly-In, billed
as the “world’s premier fly-in country club”, which is located near Daytona
Beach. He keeps his hand in air show
aerobatics with neighborhood buddies who have formed the “Marchetti Mavericks”. (For more on Gandt: www.gandt.com)
Gandt has been flying and writing about flying for about 50
years, and it shows. He has graduated
through the apprentice and journeyman phases of the writing craft to earn and
retain a legitimate master’s rating as a “storyteller extraordinaire”. His latest novel, Shadows of War, the fourth
in a series following the career of Gandt’s heroic Brick Maxwell, Commander,
United States Navy, authenticates this conclusion.
While Shadows of War will provide sustained reading pleasure
for the newcomer to Gandt and Brick Maxwell, I believe the better course is to
buy and read the first three novels in the series—Acts of Vengeance, With
Hostile Intent, and Black Star—before becoming immersed in the characters,
geography and difficulties of the Gandt cast in SOW. The series is so good, none should be missed, and taking it from
the top is the preferred way to go. Also,
Signet has done such a good job covering each of the four novels that taken
together they look almost as good as they read. They make a nice addition to a library.
Gandt is a master of the short sentence and every word is a
dart. There is no fat. The result is a
lean, mean, rapid-fire delivery of a well devised tale that captures and holds
attention from beginning to end. Characters
are believable and well developed. The
storylines are a blend of actual fact, geography, and history and Gandt’s
imagination and superb creativity. Where
fact and fiction begin and end only the author might know.
All four of the Maxwell series are set in the Persian Gulf
area and involve our Navy carriers and other American forces engaged in our
ongoing war on terrorists in the region. Gandt has done his homework and
produced a set of techno-thrillers of the Tom Clancy bent that I believe exceed
Clancy standard. Gandt skillfully
weaves the details of warfighting capabilities and strategies of all
participants into the geography, politics, and personalities of the region to
produce very realistic situations and difficulties for his cast of characters
In Shadows of War Gandt’s storyline centers on the recovery
of a downed Navy pilot who has been missing and presumed killed in action for
more than a decade. There is an
unmistakable similarity here to the real life mystery of Navy Lieutenant
Commander Michael Scott Speicher, the FA-18 pilot shot down over Iraq on
January 19, 1991. Enter Gandt’s
imagination and his hero Brick Maxwell. The locating and recovery of downed pilot Raz Rasmussen becomes a
gripping episode of good prevailing over evil. Gandt creates and spins a yarn that both entertains and informs.
As might be assumed, Gandt is at his best when he is in the
air. He is a match for the best of the
aviator–writers, guys like Stephen Coonts and Dale Brown, when it comes to
taking a reader flying. As an old
tailhooker, Gandt is especially comfortable and effective in spinning stories
and situations that spring from carrier operations and the special breed of
warrior that loves to fly and fight from the sea. In the process, both Gandt and the reader have spirited fun.
Shadows of War is a superb tale I most strongly recommend to
Skyhawk Association members. Read all
four of the Maxwell series and get ready for number five. I am.
Interview with Shadows of War author Robert Gandt by
RADM Bear Taylor
A Dozen Softballs for Author Robert Gandt
members are fortunate to have an increasingly successful shipmate and fellow
Skyhawk aviator among their number.
Robert Gandt made his mark flying the A4 with Attack Squadron 36 on USS
Saratoga. Then came more than 30 years
of airline flying with PanAm and Delta.
For fun he took his Marchetti on the air show circuit and entertained
more than 3 million aviation enthusiasts.
Through out his flying career, Bob worked hard to hone his
writing skills, and by the mid-1990s he was enjoying modest success as a
non-fiction writer. His fourth book, Bogeys and Bandits: The Making of a Fighter
Pilot, was published in 1997, and in 1998 he was writing for the TV series,
Pensacola: Wings of Gold. He
published his first novel, With Hostile Intent, in 2001. The cast
of characters for Hostile Intent has
been retained in three more novels in the “Brick Maxwell Series”, and his
latest, Shadows of War, hit the bookstores in November 2004.
Coincident with a short review of Shadows of War for The Skyhawk Quarterly Review, Bob agreed to take
a swing at a set of questions from Bear Taylor, another old Skyhawk driver, retired
two-star, and wannabe author, who makes no secret of his admiration and respect
for Bob Gandt.
Softball #1: In all four of your novels, Brick Maxwell rises
above all. Where did you find this guy?
Brick Maxwell was the name of a
pioneer flying boat captain and a hero of mine. I thought it was a cool name, and now that he’s dead I’ve swiped
it. The fictional Brick Maxwell is an
amalgam of all our flying heroes—a flawed but gutsy warrior who doesn’t mind
breaking a few rules.
Softball #2: There is an axiom for writers that states that
you learn to write by reading. What do you read?
Everything, all genres. Military and aviation stuff. Two, sometimes three novels a week. You learn from the bad as well as from the
good. Some of the best contemporary
writing, by the way, is in the crime and mystery genre.
Softball #3: You did very well in non-fiction, and are now
having great success with novels. Which is more fun? Harder work?
It’s all work, but the real high
comes from fiction. You get to play
God, create characters you love or loathe, invent a world of your own
design. Much more fun that reporting
the unvarnished truth.
Softball #4: You have created an interesting and believable
cast of characters for the Brick Maxwell series. Do you lie awake at night
devising interesting trouble for them?
No. I lie awake wondering how I’ll get them out of the interesting
trouble I’ve gotten them into.
Softball #5: I have found that research is fun and writing
is work. Agree?
No. It’s all work.
Softball #6: You are on top of your history, current events,
political geography, military technology, and the real world. What’s your
secret? What are your favorite internet resources?
I read a dozen or so military and
tech journals. AvWeek, print and
online, is a prime source. Jane’s, for
detailed stuff about foreign militaries.
The internet, of course, is the greatest invention since beer. God bless Google.
Softball #7: What is your writing process?
The wee hours around dawn are my
high energy time. I start a new novel
with a premise, then a list of story beats, a lengthy character flesh-out,
finally an outline of key scenes. When
the drafting starts, the pace revs up to 2,000+ words a day. If I’m lucky, I stumble onto some neat plot
twists and reversals along the way.
Then comes the rewrite, which I hate.
Softball #8: A sage has observed that writing fiction has
little effect on the world. What’s the role of a writer in society? What reader
reaction to your novels are you looking for?
A commercial (as opposed to
literary) novelist has one paramount duty:
to entertain his audience. If he
can also illuminate or celebrate a facet of our society, all the better. Then he’s in the big league. I’ll take that anytime.
Softball #9: Where and how did you learn to master the short
sentence? Is compression a driving
factor in your approach to the writing craft?
As a kid I tried to write like
Hemingway. I got over that, but I still
think the best writing is lean and gritty, to the point, no fluff.
Softball #10: Did your participation as a writer and
consultant in 22 episodes of Pensacola:
Wings of Gold provide a working lab for perfecting your ability to craft
It was a
great education. TV writing is all
dialogue and plot. You develop a main
story and a couple substories, three acts, cliffhangers before every
break. A classic formula for the
Softball #11: When you were a tailhooker, there was no other
response to an LSO debrief except to say “thank you”. How do you handle the
reviews of your writing?
Same way. No whining
(even when they’ve got it dead wrong).
Suck it up and move on.
Softball #12: You started writing at age sixteen and have
achieved an enviable success over the past fifty years. What’s next? What’s the
Well, Brick Maxwell has a few more
missions left in him. In the meantime,
I’m conjuring up a novel with more historical breadth, sort of a
multi-generational furball. Sorry I
can’t reveal any more. The details are