The essential in espionage thriller, Gulf of Tonkin revisited, a remarkable mathematician, and more reader reaction: newsletter, Nov. 15, 2019

November 18, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,662) on Friday, November 15, 2019.


The Veterans Day event we had at the Blount County Public Library that launched the first volume of Vietnam Voices could not have been better. About 150 people showed up, the choral group from Maryville’s Broadway Baptist Church was superb, and our main speaker, Tim Lomperis, spoke with knowledge and feeling about being a veteran. The Friends of the Blount County Library set up a book sale and sold about $1,100 worth of books. They came close to selling out of Vietnam Voices.

In addition, everyone seemed to enjoy getting together with the veterans and giving them some recognition.

In short, a good time was had by all. And I hope that all of you have a good time this weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,666 subscribers and had a 29.3 percent open rate; 4 people unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

The necessary element for espionage thrillers

We all know what the essential element of a murder mystery is. It’s the murder.

The essential element of an espionage thriller is more elusive, but I have a candidate in mind. It’s betrayal.

And thereby lies the tale. What drives a person to betray friends, family, colleagues, and/or country? How deeply will the element of betrayal reside in the character? Will the character betray anyone at any time? Probably not, but when will betrayal arise.

I have been reading some espionage thrillers lately and have become fascinated by the world of spies, espionage, and, yes, betrayal. Betrayal is the running theme of Joseph Kanon’s Defectors, a book I finished last week. Kanon’s books are written with grace and depth of feeling, and they include all of the other elements that make espionage a good companion for a dark, winter night — things like deception, danger, high stakes, and even murder.

But I keep coming back to betrayal.

So I was delighted to find this article on that is an interview of Joseph Kanon by another shooting star across the espionage genre’s sky: Paul Viditch. In the article, Vidich writes:

I have read most of Kanon’s books and have come to appreciate him as a worthy successor to Graham Greene. Kanon’s novels, which are filled with complex characters who struggle with moral questions, have achieved publishing’s trifecta—commercially successful, critically well-received, and admired by other writers. They are spy novels, but only in in the sense that one or more of the characters is a current or former spy, and they deal with identity, duplicity, and betrayal. Plot doesn’t drive his novels, characters do. They adhere to a basic principle of storytelling: character is plot; plot is character. And this is true of Kanon’s new book, The Accomplice, which is one of his most accomplished. Source: Joseph Kanon: Why Spies Are the Ideal Subjects for Writers | CrimeReads

Kanon has just published his latest thriller, The Accomplice. As with all of his books, the physical and moral questions that his characters must confront are fascinating.

Vidich has published two novels, An Honorable Man and The Good Assassin. His third novel, The Coldest Warrior, will be out early in 2020.

The article cited above will give you a good insight into both of these writers.

Podcast: Countdown to Capture – Peter Chadwick: Murderer and Fugitive

Countdown to Capture – Peter Chadwick: Murderer and Fugitive is another of the police-produced podcasts (I recommended one, Break in the Case, from the New York Police Department last week) that examine and a crime and the subsequent investigation purely from the police point of view.

But this one is different.

It was produced by a police department not just to describe a case but to help solve it.

In October 2012, Peter Chadwick failed to pick up his two younger sons when their school in Newport Beach, California, let out one afternoon. They were left standing at the bus stop. A neighbor saw them and took them in for the evening. Neither Chadwick nor his wife, Quee Choo and known as Q.C., were anywhere to be found.

Chadwick eventually turned up with a story about how his wife had been murdered and he had been kidnapped. You can imagine that the police suspected that was not the real story. What happens next is sad and frustrating. I won’t go further so as not to spoil it if you are interested.

This podcast is seven fairly short (about 15 minutes) episodes. It is not slickly produced like Break in the Case, but it is a fascinating story. If you listen to the first couple of episodes, you’re likely to have a binge.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

Mathematician Hilda Gieringer’s remarkable journey

If you are not a mathematician, you are unlikely to know about plastic deformation, the Gieringer equations, or slip-line theory. And you have probably never heard of Hilda Gieringer.

But if you have ever crossed a bridge, you owe Hilda Gieringer a word of thanks.

. . . slip-line theory plays a central role in science and engineering. In safety engineering for bridges, for instance, application of this theory ensures that metals don’t strain beyond their deformation point, preventing bends and breaks. Source: The woman who reshaped maths – BBC Future

Hilda Gieringer was one of the most remarkable mathematicians of the first half of the 20th century. Her genius was well recognized and regarded among math profs of her time, but her life story makes her accomplishments even more remarkable.

Gieringer was born in 1893 in Vienna into a Jewish family that valued education, even for girls. She showed a remarkable aptitude for that most unfeminine field of mathematics, and by 1917 she had earned a doctorate from the University of Vienna. But the world wasn’t ready for a female mathematics genius, especially one who was Jewish.

She became the assistant to Richard Von Mises at the University of Berlin in 1921 and six years later became the university’s first female lecturer. In 1933 she was offered a professorship, but that did not last long. The Nazis had come to power in Germany, and they were fast purging industry and academics of all Jews and Jewish influence.

From Berlin she and Von Mises went to Istanbul where they worked happily for several years. A regime change there, however, put her back into the hunt for asylum. The U.S. was the obvious place, but the strict immigration quotas has already been filled. With time running out before she was deported back to Germany and certain death, she got a visa to the U.S.

Life in America did not include concentration camps, but it wasn’t easy either. She was still a woman working in a field that many believed only fit for men.

Her entire story can be found at The woman who reshaped maths – BBC Future. It is very much worth reading.

Gulf of Tonkin – the debate continues

My current involvement in our Vietnam Voices project (see last week’s newsletter) has provoked discussions among some of my good friends about the incident cited most often as the spark for the American escalation of forces in that country in 1964 and 1965 — the attack on U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin.

It was initially reported that there were two attacks on U.S. ships in the area, the first on the evening of August 2, 1964, and another two days later. These attacks were characterized at the time as unprovoked. The facts surrounding these incidents were obscure and were shrouded for more than 40 years by the government, but in 2005 and 2006 documents were declassified that shed a lot of light on the incidents. They do not paint a pretty picture of what President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told the American public, as opposed to what they knew to be true.

A 2008 article in Naval History journal by Lt. Cmdr. Pat Patterson lays out a more complete picture of what really happened during those fateful days:

Combined with recently declassified tapes of phone calls from White House officials involved with the events and previously uncovered facts about Tonkin, these documents provide compelling evidence about the subsequent decisions that led to the full commitment of U.S. armed forces to the Vietnam War. Source: The Truth About Tonkin | Naval History Magazine – February 2008 Volume 22, Number 1

All of the evidence is that the first attack, the one on August 2, occurred. The second one, that of August 4, did not. Yet Lyndon Johnson (right, caricature) went on national television when the evidence was still murky at best and announced that two unprovoked attacks had occurred in the Tonkin Gulf and that he was ordering retaliatory strikes because of it.

He also asked Congress for an authorization to build up military forces in the area, and Congress quickly — and nearly unanimously — complied. It wasn’t a declaration of war, but it might as well have been.

Why was the U.S. so quick to respond and so forceful in that response?

Hindsight has provided us with an abundance of plausible reasons with legitimate evidence for many of them. To my mind, however, the overwhelming reason resides in one word: politics.

Lyndon Johnson was in the midst of an election campaign against Republican Barry Goldwater, who was pounding him daily about being “soft” on communism. Johnson needed to blunt that criticism — or thought he did. The Gulf of Tonkin incidents gave him the opportunity, and despite its lethal implications, he took it.

He was aided by Robert McNamara who manipulated the evidence to justify the action.

Now, 50 years later, we’re still debating the whole thing.



Josie D.: Hello from Ontario, Canada.   Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading all of your informative emails.   We watched all of the World Series games on TV.  I was rooting for the Nationals from the very beginning.  I was very disappointed, how President Trump was booed at the game.   I found it to be very disrespectful.   Whether people like or dislike him…it was not the place for Political Aggression.  Hope you enjoyed the game.   I have only been to one live baseball game (not World Series) in Detroit Michigan.   I enjoyed it.  I also enjoy your books.   Keep up the good work!

Marcia D.: I do like baseball. I’m a Cubbies Fan.

Vic C.: My father was an ardent — and knowledgeable — baseball fan.  More than that, the Phillies were near an obsession from the time he first went to a game at Baker Bowl.  When broadcasting of games came to TV, he quickly found that listening to the radio and turning down the TV’s sound was the best way — other than to be there — to watch what was happening.  Sadly, he didn’t live to see the “his” team win the Series.

My first “live” game was in 1950 (I was eight) and the game was at Shibe Park (the named of the owners and later renamed Connie Mack Stadium) at 22nd and Lehigh Avenue, across the street from Bok Vocational School.  Our house was several blocks from (what was then) the northern end of Broad Street subway.  We rode that and got off at Lehigh avenue (Broad Street was 14th Street and we walked to the stadium. Our seats were on the first base side on wooden benches and among an excited crowd.  After all, these were the “Whiz Kids’ and no Philly Fanatic was needed (or “born”.)  Robin Roberts pitched and he was astounding; like others, a talent unrecognized by later generations.  Names I remember: Richie Ashburn (duh), Del Ennis, Eddie Waitkus, Granny Hamner, Jim Konstanty, Curt Simmons, Dick Sisler, Andy Seminick, Stan Lopata, Mike Goliat, Bubba Church.

I also remember going to an Athletics game and watching side-armer Bobby Schantz (“Dad, why’s he pitch that way?”), Wally Moses, Gus Zernial, Eddie Joost aaaannnd Connie Mack, tall and very thin in white: suit and Panama hat.

In some way, those really were the good old days.  Thanks for stirring the memories.

Becky A.: I loved your reading about your World Series adventure. Even though a girl, as a child, I loved baseball. The best games I remember, however, were those I watched my oldest grandson play. He was the “best ever” as we grandparents like to say. Thanks for sharing your story. 

Mike P.: Good newsletter, even though the wrong team won the World Series. Just a game of chance.

Eric S.: My apologies to Curtis for making what he felt was a disparaging remark about tuba players. I have nothing but the highest respect for them and their ability to toot their horns with gusto. Poor judgment on my part! I should have said kazoos. Or maracas. Or bongos…

Tod W.: Thanks for the work you’re doing with the Vietnam Voices Project. 

In the early 70s I read a fine book of a commander’s experience in Vietnam, Soldier by Lt Col Anthony Herbert

In it he describes activities that never seemed to make it in the news, things which he referred to as paper-pushers punching their combat zone tickets for promotion purposes.  He described one mission that he led that took enemy fire resulting in some casualties.  He radioed back to his base for Medevac copters to evacuate the wounded.  He was told that they were all busy delivering pizzas.  As he tells it, he waited a couple of minutes, called back, and ordered a bunch of pizzas.  When the chopper arrived, he threw out the pizzas and began loading his men into the chopper, all the while some green warrant officer pilot complaining about who’s going to pay for the pizzas.  Get the book; it’s a good read.

Vicki G.: I’ve always admired Ronald Reagan, from his movies through his Presidency.

Thank you for sharing the NYPD true crime podcasts.
Hal M.: Jim, I’m glad you were able to go to a World Series game. I agree with you about the annoying artificially-generated noise. That really annoys me whenever I attend games at Neyland stadium. There is no need for it when you have a large marching band of talented musicians. Just amplify the band. Ok, just an old curmudgeon shuffling off.


This week’s watercolor: Blount County Public Library
I have done several watercolors of the Blount County Public Library, where I am writer-in-residence, and I never tire of it.

Best quote of the week:

To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature. Auguste Rodin, sculptor (1840-1917)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Edmund Morris and Richard Ben Cramer and unworthy subjects, a police procedural podcast, and reactions to the World Series: newsletter, Nov. 8, 2019



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