23 February 2021

I Proudly Introduce My Second Novel, A Spy Thriller, Threat of Night (Yön Uhka)

Excerpt from Threat of Night:

I reminded myself that my visit was to get information and tried to ignore the elegance of the surroundings and the charm of my host. Trying to ignore a mansion's elegance is like swimming and trying to forget you're in the water.

Weidemann was tall and handsome in the uninteresting way of film actors who always play the second lead. I could see a woman falling for his rugged good looks in the first reel then trying to trade up when Cary Grant entered in the second reel.

An officious little man dressed in a white suit came in and poured us coffee in cups with saucers that looked like they were worth more than I made in a year. 

The consul general was warm and gracious in the way people are who do it for a living. It seemed like everything about him was an affectation. There was probably a human being with original thoughts and ideas under all the manners and social etiquette, but he wasn't someone who was allowed to come out and play. I would be dealing with the edifice of Fritz Weidemann, and that would be reflected in the banality of the answers I'd receive. I didn't know any better than to make the most of it.

Before my first question, Fritz hit me with an opening salvo. He assured me that Herr Hitler was not such a bad bloke and wanted to avoid war with the U.S. at all costs and that half of what the American and British press wrote about Der Führer was the bunk. He was a man of peace, my host suggested. Internally I had a good chuckle, but outwardly, I played it straight and scribbled in my notebook as if I'd just gotten an exclusive.

I’m very proud to introduce my second novel, Threat of Night (Yön Uhka). It is currently available via Amazon's Kindle Store and the paperback version is also available.

Threat of Night takes place from November 1940 to December 1941 in Berkeley. It is about a first-year reporter named Matt Kurki who discovers a Nazi spy ring operating in the Bay Area. The story begins with Matt’s best friend, Chaim Klassen being taken to the state mental institution after exhibiting bizarre behavior in public and in a police station. Chaim is no ordinary fellow, he’s working with the eminent physicist Dr. Robert Oppenheimer on developing the atomic bomb. (Oppenheimer and San Francisco German General Consul, Fritz Weidemann are the two characters from real life who appear in the book). 

There is something odd about Chaim’s commitment as he has never shown signs of having mental problems in the past. He soon escapes from the institution.

Meanwhile Matt receives strange visitors and unusual phone calls, some of them from Chaim, who is in hiding.

There follows a suicide, a murder and threats to Matt. Thugs come looking for Chaim.

Matt is undaunted and when he discovers that there are fifth columnists operating in the area, he doggedly pursues the story and finds links between the Nazis and Chaim’s disappearance. Before the story is over Matt is chased and nearly killed — twice.

Through the story Matt, who is Berkeley-born of Finnish parents, is supported by his Finnish-American girlfriend, Martta. We also meet Matt’s parents and kid sister as well as his aunt, uncle and three cousins.

Threat of Night contrasts Matti’s happy home life with the dangers and horrors of Nazism.

For me this book is very much a love letter to my family, both nuclear and extended and to the many older Finns I grew up around. For the first half of the 20th century Berkeley had a thriving Finnish community including first and second generation Finns. My mother, born of Finnish parents, grew up in Berkeley and my Finnish-born father emigrated to Berkeley after meeting and marrying my mother in New York where she was attending Columbia University.

Berkeley still has a Finnish Brotherhood Hall (there used to be two) and a church that offers services in Finnish. There are also Finnish language AA meetings.

I sought to honor my heritage through my book.

I also sought accuracy. I did extensive research into Berkeley in particular and the United States in general in the early 1940s. It helped that I have been watching movies from the time period for over thirty years. I also poured through Berkeley Gazettes from that time. The internet was also a valuable resource in getting all the details necessary for my story.

All the historical events that are mentioned in the book actually took place and at the times described. When I quoted public figures such as President Roosevelt, those quotes were accurate. A few of the restaurants and other establishments mentioned in the book existed in 1941, with a few others I took poetic license. The characters attended a couple of college football games and those happened as I described them.

After the first draft of Threat of Night, I wondered if my story was a little far-fetched. Nazis in Berkeley? Then I came across a book called “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood & America” by Steven J. Ross and discovered that far from straining credulity, the activities described in my novel were quite possible. I owe much to Mr. Ross’ book and advice he gave me when I contacted him.

Lastly I owe a lot to the late great author Raymond Chandler. I read all his novels (some for the second time) while working on Threat of Night, and his writing informed my own. When unhappy with a page or two I’d just written, I’d often use the old writer’s trick of transcribing another writer’s work. I used Chandler. Then I’d go back and re-write the passages I was unhappy with and they’d invariably come out much better (and, not incidentally, less wordy).

I’m really pleased with Threat of Night (and by the beautiful cover design by youngest niece Matlena Hourula). I believe it will appeal to wide range of readers. Perhaps especially to those interested in the time period shortly before the U.S. entered World War II and those intrigued by spies or Nazis and certainly Nazi spies. It might also be of particular interest to Finnish-American readers, not to mention Finns themselves. 

I first realized that Threat of Night was a good book when I asked my wife to read it. She is without a doubt my toughest critic. Thus this was a tremendous gamble that could have caused tension if not outright warfare between us. Much to my delight she loved the book and indeed became my key adviser and editor, making several suggestions that greatly improved the manuscript. 

Unlike my first novel, I will be doing my utmost to market the book, create interest and look for potential readers. I believe it deserves it. I hope that if you read it and enjoy it, you will tell friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers about it.

Thanking you in advance,

The Author

A second excerpt from Threat of Night:

I got out of the car and ran after him, not knowing what I'd do when I caught up to the bastard. But lucky for him and unlucky for me, a car was waiting for him. He hopped in, and the driver sped off. I ran back to my car to give chase. They drove through a residential district for three blocks before reaching the end of a cul-de-sac — I had them! Or so I thought. After slamming on the breaks, the driver got out and brandished the biggest pistol I'd ever seen, pointing it straight at me. Not wanting to meet the business end of a bullet, I made a u-turn so fast that it defied the laws of physics and drove in the opposite direction for a hundred yards. Finally, I stopped and looked back. The armed man was running toward me with his gun pointed at me. 

I thought about running him over, but I didn't have the nerve, mainly because he'd be able to get off a few shots before I hit him. Meanwhile, Carlyle took the wheel and drove up to his partner; I figured that they'd soon be pursuing me. Believing that discretion is the better part of valor, I sped off, turning down one street and then another in hopes of losing them.

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