FIVE HIDDEN SEASIDE SPOTS IN ITALY AND FRANCE WELL WORTH A VISIT

Porto Venere by night

My WWII espionage novel Crucible of Deceit sends the protagonist on a treacherous wartime mission through Vichy France and fascist Italy. Off-the-beaten-path locales featured in this latest Corridor of Darkness novel are well worth a visit, so here are a few of my favorites.

PORTO VENERE, ITALY

Porto Venere by day

While most American tourists now flock directly to the over-burdened five towns of the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Coast, far fewer make it to this delightful spot. You can easily reach it via La Spezia, itself a very pretty city known for its naval arsenal. Tiny Porto Venere has all the charm of a stay on the Cinque Terre without the unwieldy tourist crowds: a charming and narrow main street, a restored medieval fortress with walkways and embrasures, a boat-filled marina, a nice choice of accommodations, and many stunning views of the azure waters of the Mediterranean. And you can always daytrip up the coast to visit the “Five Lands” to rub shoulders with other tourists.

Porto Venere main street

SESTRI LEVANTE

After breakfast in Porto Venere, head west along the Ligurian Coast to the often-overlooked little town of Sestri Levante. Hidden beyond the main pedestrian path lies the “Bay of Silence” dotted with sailboats, and a nice beach for sunbathing. Enjoy a meal and great service at Ristorante Polpo Mario. We’ve been back several times for the gnocchi!

PORTOFINO

This well-known spot isn’t hidden; it just seems like it as you wind your way there. If you wish to see famous Portofino, spend a little time in Santa Margherita Ligure, as well. You won’t regret it.

Portofino

CAMOGLI, ITALY

Camogli

Then stop in Camogli on your way toward Genoa. This little town by the sea is one of my favorites, but as readers of Crucible of Deceit know, it’s perhaps not the most inviting spot for a spy.

Camogli harbor

ÈZE-VILLAGE, FRANCE

View from Château Eza

You will likely want to see Menton along the way, but many other lovely towns and villages along the Côte d’Azur on the French Riviera will vie for your attention. I highly recommend the ancient hill town of Èze-Village. At the summit sits 400-year-old Château Eza, once winter home for Prince Wilhelm of Sweden (where Ryan and his charges find refuge), and now a classy hotel with an unmatched view of the sea far below and the inviting city of Nice in the distance.

Château Eza
Looking down toward Èze-sur-Mer

ANNECY-LE-VIEUX, FRANCE

Saving one of the best for last, head to this remarkable town on Lake Annecy. With stunning peaks overlooking a glistening alpine lake and one of the most charming villages of France, this area of France will win you over. Amble along the Thiou River as it flows through the town. The town’s welcome will certainly be warmer than the wintertime challenges encountered here by Ryan Lemmon.

The Thiou River
Lake Annecy viewed from Talloires

AND BY THE WAY…

In case you missed the hints, the fifth novel in the Corridor of Darkness series is now available. Crucible of Deceit can be found at www.amazon.com/dp/BOB9QH14LD

Posted in Corridor of Darkness, Novels of Nazi Germany, European Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE RYAN LEMMON, SPY

Many of you have asked for some factual background on the man who inspired this multi-faceted and multi-talented character in the Corridor of Darkness novels. In his postwar years my father, Dr. Leonard O’Bryon, was known as a beloved professor of modern languages and literature. That calm and charming exterior however hid a fascinating story that even his children barely knew.  Let me share a few details to round out that picture.

Berlin University ID Card

As the oppressive and dangerous authoritarian regime of Hitler took its toll on German thought and society, his journals evolved to disguise his thoughts and actions. He wrote in the tiniest of script in miniscule notebooks and hid political commentary in dreadfully boring classroom notes on unrelated topics. Many of the adventures and locales portrayed in Corridor of Darkness were derived directly from personal adventures described in these journals. From time to time on this blog I will share actual passages from these actual reports.

My father kept extensive daily journals, starting in 1927 and later chronicling his life in Germany and France from 1929 to 1939. While a young banker at Irving Trust Company in Manhattan, he received a prestigious fellowship to the university in Berlin. Irving Trust encouraged his acceptance of the offer, believing it would make him an even greater asset to the bank. When the Great Depression hit the worldwide banking industry, he was already studying in Germany and decided to transfer to a field less subject to the whims of world economics. Moving back and forth from Berlin to the university town of Marburg an der Lahn, he witnessed first-hand the rise of Nazism and reported back to American newspapers as he earned a doctorate in history at the Philipps-Universität. His intellect, skill with language and culture, and charming personality won him friends and trust in every group he encountered. The perfect spy.

His covert work for the US government, however, both before and during WWII, remains shrouded in mystery. We know he was assigned to the State Department’s Special War Problems Division before America took up arms. Although officially working for the Foreign Service and living in Washington, D.C., he was away and incommunicado for lengthy periods during the war years. He somehow held the field rank of Major in the US Army, although he never undertook traditional military training.

Tantalizing clues suggest he was sometimes deep within the Third Reich in these troubled times, including dates and locations of acquisition noted in books he purchased. We know that in 1945 he went undercover in American POW camps for SS officers to ferret out signs of possible unrest. In one such camp he was recognized by a former German university acquaintance. The prisoner shouted out my father’s nickname from his Marburg days, drawing immediate attention from the prisoners in the crowded dining hall, and my father was hustled out by camp guards who knew his covert mission and were tasked with his protection.

Martha and Leonard

He held to his official lifetime oath to never reveal anything he did or witnessed during the war years and took that knowledge with him when he died. My late mother, Martha Seffer O’Bryon, confirmed that he had been a covert U.S.-government operative, but could give no details. She said he had lost two Jewish friends he was trying to extricate from Germany in a final mission, and that left him unwilling to ever discuss the tragedy with anyone, even her. I can attest that he never responded to my specific questions about his wartime service. Instead he always switched topics to his pre-war adventures in Europe, many of which are reflected in my novels.

His brother, James Edward O’Bryon, had a lifetime career in the Foreign Service both overseas and in Washington. When asked about his recollections of the war years, “Uncle Jim” also declined to comment, suggesting only that I ask my father directly. The reader will recognize here the fictional character of Ed in my novels, Ryan’s older brother.

I revisited Germany and Austria with my father in his final years, hoping that these travels would bring him pleasure. One day I witnessed what was certainly a PTSD episode reflective of the covert life he had led. We were crossing an open field near Salzburg, having finished breakfast with family members at a nearby inn and wishing to take a morning stroll. We always spoke German together when not in the company of others. Suddenly he left the present moment in a horrifying flashback. In his mind he was eluding Nazi pursuers out to kill him, and his normally gentle demeanor turned to ferocious determination. To him I was no longer his son, but rather an SS officer taking him into the field to execute him, and he was not about to let that happen. He tried to reason with me, to convince me that I didn’t need to follow the order. When I sought to calm him, he pushed me aside and made a run for it. The frightening episode was over within a minute or so, leaving him with no memory of what had just occurred.

My father’s favorite pipe tobacco was a distinctive Latakia blend. In the course of writing these novels I have twice found my home office filled with its unmistakable aroma. In one instance, the printed draft on my desk had been turned back some twenty pages from where I had recently left off editing. The manuscript sat open at an earlier chapter about which I had some questions. I sat there dumbfounded, recognizing he wished me to take a closer look at that particular episode inspired by a journal entry. I hope I figured out what he wanted me to revise in relating that detail of his story. I expect to ask him in person someday.

I can’t help but believe he is often watching over my shoulder as I spin the ongoing story of Ryan Leonard Lemmon, and I hope he is enjoying the fictional account inspired by his covert early life.

AND BY THE WAY…

In case you missed its introduction in my previous blog entry, the fifth novel in the Corridor of Darkness series is now available. Crucible of Deceit can be found at www.amazon.com/dp/BOB9QH14LD

Posted in Corridor of Darkness, Novels of Nazi Germany, European Travel, Historical Thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

DON’T LOOK NOW, BUT COVERT OPERATIVE RYAN LEMMON MAY BE TAILING YOU AGAIN!

From time to time interested readers have been asking when a new sequel to the Corridor of Darkness trilogy might appear. After all, three years (and a pandemic) have passed since publication of novel number four in the series, Echoes of Silence. Well, the time has finally come to reveal the latest challenges in the lives of the many characters who populate these stories.

CRUCIBLE OF DECEIT, A Novel of Wartime Europe

Drawn inexorably into a maelstrom of espionage and intrigue, familiar and never-before-seen characters are forced to navigate wartime Europe of 1941-42, where intelligence operatives for the belligerent and neutral nations constantly seek an advantage, and few encounters are as they appear.

Tested American operative Ryan Lemmon, having barely escaped the Reich in Echoes of Silence, is now tasked with repatriating a nuclear physicist doing research at the University of Pisa. This seemingly simple assignment in Mussolini’s fascist Italy soon becomes something else entirely, and Ryan must depend on all the skills he has been forced to master in his undercover life as an agent.

Meanwhile, in the heart of Hitler’s Berlin, an agent of the Third Reich code-named Klara, trained to seduce and kill, sets her sights on our American under guidance from her Nazi controls, but she is working a personal agenda, as well. Beauty and intelligence can deceive.

And Ryan’s decade-long university friend René Gesslinger, last seen in Fulcrum of Malice off the French coast in a fishing trawler heading for England, returns to Occupied France to stop the arrest, torture and murder of Résistance partisans. His task won’t be easy in a divided country where betrayals are a way of life and death.

Crucible of Deceit, a Novel of Wartime Europe, is now available on Amazon as both e-book and paperback. Just click here to visit the book’s webpage: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B9PYMKGJ.

Or, should you prefer, the paperback can be ordered at Barnes & Noble or any bookstore you favor.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions here on this blogsite, and of course I am most grateful for your reader reviews on Amazon! I’ll be back to updating this blog with stories from the journals of the fascinating man who inspires these novels, as well as suggestions on how you can visit some of the beautiful European spots I portray as a backdrop to these challenging times of WWII.

Thanks for reading!

Posted in Corridor of Darkness, Novels of Nazi Germany, European Travel, Historical Thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ryan Lemmon is back in wartime Berlin…

…and the reluctant secret agent from the Corridor of Darkness novels has a bit of a problem.

Several serious problems, actually.

Gestapo headquarters has posted his image across the  Reich.

The Criminal Police have him under surveillance in Berlin.

His assigned undercover identity has been compromised beyond repair.

And, to make matters worse, both his covert contact within German military intelligence and his American spy master have gone silent. Dead silent.

Now an echo from his past is about to draw him into a criminal enterprise which threatens the entire Allied war effort.

Enough said?  ECHOES OF SILENCE, A Novel of Nazi Germany, picks up the Ryan Lemmon espionage saga where the Corridor of Darkness novels left off, drawing the reader ever more deeply into the treacherous world of 1941 Nazi Germany. Once again, actual events entangle  our spy in the months before the United States enters World War II.

Available as either eBook or paperback at Amazon.com. 

To all the readers who have enjoyed my earlier novels, I hope this one intrigues you as well. Thanks for checking it out. And should you give it a read, I’d love to see your review on Amazon!

Posted in Corridor of Darkness, Novels of Nazi Germany, European Travel, Historical Thriller, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

MY ODDEST EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS

Steam loco (2)

During the Cold War era I spent a few years in Germany, first as a twenty-one-year-old graduate student and then with the military. I spent my first Christmas holiday season putting a Eurailpass to good use, randomly hopping on or off trains as I allowed the whims of time and place to determine my next destination.

One bitterly cold night I found myself stuck in a small town on the border between West and East Germany. A blizzard blanketed the region, and here I was stranded before the Iron Curtain. With no choice in the matter, I took to the streets in near white-out conditions. My intent was to find inexpensive lodging at one of those private homes with a small sign offering Zimmer, “a room.” The town was covered in snow and battened down for the cold. Only a few prospective innkeepers even bothered to answer their doorbells, and no one had a room for me. I was pulled along by the sharp smell of burning coal coming from chimneys which suggested a warmth and refuge I couldn’t seem to find.

At last my wanderings caught the attention of the local police. Perhaps someone had phoned in about my meanderings. The cops were suspicious of an American out under such conditions. They eyed my papers carefully before gruffly sending me back to the terminal, and the little green-and-white police car crunched along behind my plodding steps, making sure I didn’t try any escape.

The first train out wouldn’t depart before morning. I curled up on a wooden bench of the waiting room, resting my head on my suitcase and taking comfort in the roof over my head and the little bit of warmth. A railroad worker finally took pity and led me to the empty train standing beside the platform. Already positioned for its morning departure, its locomotive was fired up and pumping welcome heat through the cars. The compassionate rail man unlocked a first-class compartment and encouraged me to curl up and sleep undisturbed. At six a.m. he awakened me before anyone else was allowed to board and I moved back to second class.

It wasn’t long before I found myself on the streets of Munich. Again it was late at night, but this time after a date, and I had over a mile to cover to reach my hotel. There wasn’t a taxi in sight, so I raised my collar against the bitter wind, wrapped my wool scarf tighter, and set out on foot along the deserted streets. Near to my hotel I caught sight of what appeared to be smoke rising from the sidewalk beneath a streetlamp. As I approached, I realized it was a pool of fresh blood, steaming in the winter air. Drag marks pointed toward an unlit alleyway. I didn’t stick around to investigate, but hurried on to my room. (Some might recall this image, which appears in Corridor of Darkness.)

A day or so later, while navigating a crowded train corridor, I came face-to-face with a very large Bavarian man. Both his slurred speech and the odor emanating from his clothing suggested he’d already consumed more than a few liters of beer. Despite our best efforts to get past each other in the rocking train, I was blocked on every move. He kept talking to me in his thick regional accent, each word more slurred than the last. Finally, sensing the futility, I told him I was an Ausländer, “a foreigner,” and couldn’t understand. “Ah,” he replied (and this much I understood), “let me guess…you’re from Berlin!”

With Christmas just days away, I entered a beautiful square in wintertime Strasbourg. Vendor booths were doing a good business selling candles, wax tree ornaments and roasted chestnuts. A quick glance up a side street brought me to an abrupt halt. As if looking back in time, I saw a scene of wartime devastation: deserted multi-storied houses, shattered windows and doors, piles of rubble in the center of the street, torn curtains blowing through broken window frames. A single wooden chair, its caning shredded, sat atop a pile of broken stones. Bullet holes pocked the crumbling walls. Two decades after the end of WWII, reconstruction had yet to reach that part of the city.

On Christmas Eve morning I found myself boarding a train in Zürich. Friends and I had arranged to gather at a chalet high in the Swiss Alps for a holiday celebration and skiing vacation. It was to be a beautiful traditional European Christmas. Arriving at the village, I left the train station and trudged down through the deep snow drifts to the rented house. An idyllic scene stood before me: a meter of fresh snow on the roof, wood smoke curling from the chimney, skis leaning against the wall beside the entry. But the door opened to coughing, fevered sick people cowering beneath blankets and occupying every available horizontal surface in the overheated chalet. The only healthy person left was the wife of a fellow grad student, who pleaded with me to stay and spend some time on the slopes. Anything that didn’t involve waiting on all those moaning and hacking friends. Weighing the benefits of graciously obliging versus the likelihood of suffering the flu over the rest of my month-long vacation, I gave apologies and regrets at the threshold and retreated back up the hill. Not the most thoughtful of moves.

The next local train arrived shortly at the station. I hopped aboard and joined the few other travelers out on Christmas Eve. As we neared the summit of the Oberalppass, we came to an unexpected and jerking halt. The conductor informed us that we would have to cross over the pass on foot, for our electric locomotive had derailed in the snowdrifts. I grabbed my bag and trudged along the tracks, following two unaccompanied little Swiss kids, a brother and sister in traditional dress. Each held a handle on a big basket covered by a checkered scarf. My guess? Christmas presents or home-baked treats sent home by or being delivered to Grandma. A quarter hour later we reached another train waiting to complete our journey. The children jumped off at the next village, while I returned to Zurich.

So there I sat on Christmas Eve, alone at the Hotel Bristol and thinking of past holidays surrounded by a large family. Determined not to fall into melancholy and homesickness, I went out on the icy streets and bought a warm roast chicken, red wine, some cheese and a small loaf of freshly baked bread. Spreading newspapers out on the floor of my hotel room, I laid my feast out before me, then sat with the drapes open, eating with my fingers while watching the sparkling lights of the snow-covered city.

A knock on my door. I opened and found the hotel manager holding a big bar of Swiss chocolate, a Christmas gift for guests forced to spend the evening alone in their rooms.

A nice dessert.

A different sort of European Christmas.

 

Posted in European Travel, Memoir, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HOW THE BOOK COVERS COME TOGETHER!

cover standing figures

From time to time readers have asked how the covers to my novels come together. What you see above is the original proposal for Corridor of Darkness, the first book of the series, designed by Gabrielle Prendergast. Its evocative imagery convinced me to choose her creative services for all three volumes of the trilogy.

If you are interested in how she creates by bringing together different photos, check out this link: How a custom book cover arises

AND IN CASE YOU MISSED THE ANNOUNCEMENT…The final volume in the Corridor of Darkness trilogy, FULCRUM OF MALICE, is now available in both eBook and trade paperback at Order Fulcrum of Malice

fulcrum ebook image

Posted in European Travel, Historical Thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

FULCRUM OF MALICE in PAPERBACK!

For all who have asked when they can order the print version of Fulcrum of Malice, Volume 3 of the Corridor of Darkness trilogy, it’s here at last…

fulcrum ebook-fix

To order the trade paperback edition, click on FULCRUM OF MALICE

For the eBook edition, please choose: FULCRUM OF MALICE eBook

And my sincere thanks to all who look forward to reading the further challenges facing Ryan Lemmon and his friends.

Posted in European Travel, Historical Thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

BERLIN 1941 – Are you ready?

Europe lies in chains at Hitler’s feet as midnight approaches in the dark heart of the Reich…

Leaving his friends to foil the Nazis in Occupied France, Ryan Lemmon returns to Berlin. Under deep cover in this city of shadows, the American conspires with a powerful German spymaster. Together they intend to subvert Hitler’s state, but secret agent Lemmon is equally committed to saving the life of a dear friend. Threading his way through the menacing streets, he knows he wears a target on his back.

He may be buying her safety with his own life.

Fulcrum of Malice is the final volume in the Corridor of Darkness trilogy.

ORDER THE EBOOK NOW ON AMAZON.COM BY CLICKING

 Fulcrum of Malice 

WATCH FOR THE PAPERBACK EDITION AVAILABLE BY THANKSGIVING!

 

 

Posted in European Travel, Historical Thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Just as he thought he was leaving the darkness behind…

fulcrum ebook-fix (4)

…a new corridor opens before him. The conclusion. Watch for it.

FULCRUM OF MALICE, A Novel of Nazi Germany

Corridor of Darkness, Volume 3

Posted in European Travel, Historical Thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

…with his cover blown…

fullcrum ebook (2)

Posted in Historical Thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments