Preston Fleming was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He left home at age fourteen to accept a scholarship at a New England boarding school and went on to a liberal arts college in the Midwest. After earning an MBA, he managed a non-profit organization in New York before joining the U.S. Foreign Service and serving in U.S. Embassies around the Middle East for nearly a decade. Later he studied at an Ivy League law school and since then pursued a career in law and business. He has written five novels.
Author’s Biographical Note: I wrote Dynamite Fishermen and Bride of a Bygone War to clear my head after eleven years of government service in places like Beirut, Cairo, Tunis, Jeddah, and Amman. I had already decided to write novels at age fourteen, during my first year as a boarding student at Exeter. My English instructor, a World War II combat veteran, advised those of us who wanted to follow the path of Melville, Conrad and Hemingway to first go out and live a life of adventure so that we would have stories people might want to read. My adventures started in the Middle East and continued in Washington, Europe, the Russian Far East, Maui, Utah, New York and Boston. Particularly in the Middle East and Russia, I saw failed states and failed societies and was often surprised at how much their people had in common with Americans. This made me think about whether America might someday suffer its own kind of failure. During the 1930’s, Americans watched Germany, Italy and Russia and asked, “Could it happen here?” Today, one could ask the same. In writing Forty Days at Kamas and Star Chamber Brotherhood, my greatest concern has been for the novels to gain a readership before the events they describe come to pass.
“A full-bodied thriller relayed by a consummate storyteller.”
– Kirkus Reviews
A security contractor learns that the U.S. government is using his company’s technology for sinister purposes in a new thriller from the author of Maid of Baikal (2017).
After electromagnetic pulse attacks cripple much of the U.S., the country endures an intifada—predominantly, jihadi bombings and shootings. The Department of Homeland Security implements emergency security measures (ESM), ultimately selecting Zorn Security as a contractor for its Triage system. This threat-assessment algorithm rates questionable citizens by category to determine a “propensity to commit political violence.” Unfortunately, Zorn Security CEO Roger Zorn spots trouble right away. DHS is essentially tweaking Triage so that myriad people, including non-Muslims who have protested the ESM, rank in a high category, marking them for deportation. After Roger, who formerly worked for the CIA, hears that an old agency friend’s teenage, Muslim-supporting daughter is missing, he’s determined to find out what’s happening to deportees This entails hitching a plane ride to a detention facility on a Caribbean island and, later, checking on detainees on another continent. Seems the only thing more alarming than the detainees’ treatment is the government’s apparent plan for the ESM to be the new security standard. Readers familiar with Fleming’s prior work will likely anticipate keen characterization and dialogue—and won’t be disappointed. Roger, for one, is multilayered; the 60-something is still establishing himself after his late, company-founding father made Zorn Security known for “brutal counterinsurgency campaigns.” Supporting characters are clearly drawn, like the Ibrahim family, whose patriarch is a government target merely for his son’s radical beliefs. Despite Roger’s spy past, there’s minimal espionage, as the narrative thrives on atmosphere stemming from individuals whom the protagonist quite understandably grows to distrust. Character exchanges, meanwhile, are intelligent and indelible.
A shrewdly written tale with a robust cast of characters and a frightening intifada in the U.S.
Pub Date: May 26, 2020
Page count: 423pp
Publisher: PF Press
Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020
In Fleming’s thriller, set in the not-too-distant future and the final in the author’s Kamas Trilogy (Star Chamber Brotherhood, 2013, etc.), a man sent to a labor camp plots to help a family whom he believes he’s betrayed.
Department of State Security officer Warren Linder’s undercover operation in West Beirut targeting insurgent Philip Eaton is botched. The DSS, needing Linder to take the blame for inciting the Lebanese government, accuses him of collaborating with Eaton, who fled the States with pilfered bank money years ago during Civil War II. Linder is given a life sentence at a Yukon labor camp. He soon plans an escape, hoping to make it up to those affected by the failed DSS assignment —namely Eaton’s daughter, Patricia, with whom he’s enamored. Fleming’s previous books depict war-torn countries and civil unrest, and his latest follows the same pattern; though there are no gunfights, scenes like a five-day trek in the relentless cold with many prisoners who don’t survive are fraught with tension. So many characters have veiled, treacherous agendas—Bracken, the camp’s deputy commandant, wants Linder to spy on fellow detainees, and Linder’s untrustworthy DSS friend, Denniston, tries to coerce a confession—that even scenes of dialogue hum with the anticipation that a bomb could explode any minute. Fleming’s vision of a near future is a chilling dystopian world, particularly the U.S. (Linder’s homeland), burdened with a megalomaniacal president-for-life whom Linder equates with, among others, Caligula. Despite the story’s setting and the brutalities that Linder endures, the novel is far from dreary. Instead, the protagonist embodies hope: He clearly has affection for Patricia, who’s essentially his reason for becoming a fugitive, and he’s had only two short interactions with her, both 20 years ago when they were teens. Flashbacks, including Denniston trying to convince CIA agent Linder to sign up for the DSS, are nice breathers from the perils of the harsh weather and labor camp—though the best one, not surprisingly, is when 13-year-old Linder meets Patricia at a dance class.
Pure energy in print form, whether the characters are being pursued or simply talking; Fleming has proven himself a craftsman.
Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2014
Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2013
Fleming’s (Bride of a Bygone War, 2013, etc.) dystopian thriller follows a former businessman turned labor-camp prisoner who gets more than he bargained for when he joins up with a group of anti-establishment rebels.
In 2024, America is controlled by the totalitarian Unionist Party, which rose to power in 2016 after winning the presidency and both houses of Congress. At that time, businessman Paul Wagner chose to stay in Sewickley, Pa., while his neighbors, the Moores, fled to Canada soon after the Unionist takeover. Eight years later, Paul has been transported to Kamas, a Utah-based labor camp for enemies of the state; like Paul, many of the prisoners have been charged with conspiracy. He doesn’t know it, but his daughter Claire has come to Utah looking for him. The narrative bounces between Paul’s and Claire’s points of view, and events between 2016 and 2024. The author skillfully weaves a vivid picture of how today’s world could become a cruel dystopia, and he has a strong, cinematic style, full of moments of dramatic irony and shocking revelation. For example, soon after arriving at Kamas, Paul witnesses an old woman and a young girl sneaking bread to some of his fellow prisoners before the guards set dogs on them. Later, the same events are shown again, from Claire’s point of view, and neither she nor Paul realize how close they came to seeing each other. Readers will likely recognize a Nineteen Eighty-Four influence, but Fleming’s labor-camp setting also brings to mind Holocaust literature; as in many examples of that genre, Paul is forced to choose between his principles and what might be his last hope of reuniting his family.
An intense, brutal portrait of a dystopian American future.
Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013
Page count: 365pp
Publisher: PF Publishing
Review Posted Online: March 27, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013
Fleming’s (Forty Days at Kamas, 2013, etc.) latest dystopian thriller, the second in his Kamas trilogy, tells of a prison-camp survivor enlisted to assassinate the camp’s last remaining warden.
In 2029, Frank Werner is part of the Star Committee, a group that he and other prisoners formed years ago while in a “corrective labor camp” in Kamas, Utah. The Committee gives him an assignment: Kill former warden Frederick Rocco, the man responsible for shutting down the Kamas revolt five years before. Frank, who’s still looking for the daughter he lost after his arrest in 2024, recruits other survivors and trusted colleagues for the covert mission—but, as with any plan, snags are inevitable. The central assassination plot, which opens the novel, generates a fair amount of suspense; readers soon find out that the team’s mission may have been unsuccessful—and that it left at least one member dead. The author previously wrote about war-torn Beirut in his novel Dynamite Fishermen; here, he depicts civil turmoil in a near-future America that’s suffered through a second civil war and is now ruled by the totalitarian Unionist government. This unnerving atmosphere provides an effective backdrop for several subplots; for example, Frank’s girlfriend, Carol, is in danger of losing her living space to the Housing Authority, and Frank believes that a neighbor falsified disparaging details about Carol to get her apartment. At another point, Frank very carefully tries to find out information about his daughter at a local school. Intermittent flashbacks also reveal details of Frank’s time as a prisoner. But in this grim future, Fleming provides breaths of fresh air, such as Frank’s amusingly old-school method of surveillance: He simply drinks coffee and reads a newspaper while sitting across the street from the building where Rocco works. Clear parallels to the Holocaust abound in this novel, but, rather than turning Frank into a tragic figure, the author emphasizes Frank’s steadfast determination and strength as a survivor.
A full-bodied thriller relayed by a consummate storyteller.
Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013
Page count: 255pp
Publisher: PF Publishing
Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2013
A man working for the American Embassy in Lebanon employs whatever means necessary to expose the organization behind a series of car bombings.
Conrad Prosser, immersed in the civil disorder of early-’80s Beirut, excels at gathering intelligence but is overlooked for a promotion as he is unable to proficiently handle the “essential task” of recruiting agents. Car bombings are escalating while Prosser begins courting Rima, sister to a prospective recruit. Prosser’s information traces some of the city’s unrest to the precarious Col. Hisham, but while he learns that a foreign (American) spy has been targeted for assassination, he doesn’t seem to realize that someone is following him. Author Fleming’s (Star Chamber Brotherhood, 2010, etc.) novel adequately details the lives of people accustomed to a land besieged by violence. Prosser passes by armed militiamen during a morning jog; a baseball game is interrupted by exploding artillery shells, and then quickly recommences to preclude a forfeit; sentries at a checkpoint wave drivers through, despite the obvious presence of a sniper just ahead. Survival seems predicated on caution and paranoia, as Prosser is particularly careful when meeting with agents, even going so far as to travel an alternate route to elude potential surveillance. Prosser is multifaceted, fully capable and perceptive, but steadfast in his distrust. As such, those who know him are kept at a distance, like the spy using an alias for each of his sources of intel (a different name for each man) and his girlfriend little more than a way to advance his career. The possibility of bloodshed at any moment makes simply driving in congested traffic a white-knuckle affair and keeps the story at a constantly elevated level of suspense. The strongest point of Fleming’s novel is its ambiance, as the characters are surrounded by the sounds of warfare. There are ample action sequences, but with Prosser hearing guns constantly fired, even the more languid moments move with a searing undertone. A persistent reminder of Beirut’s hostilities seems to justify Prosser’s lingering doubt of others, adding an edge to any interaction he has. Uncertainty among the characters coupled with relentless gunfire and explosions make for an extraordinary novel, each page just as eruptive as the city which provides the setting.
Pub Date: July 27, 2011
Publisher: PF Publishing
Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2012
A CIA agent working at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut fears his past has caught up to him in the riveting second volume of the Beirut trilogy.
Higher-ups transfer Walter Lukash, a seasoned CIA officer, from his tour of duty in Jordan to Lebanon to act as a liaison for a fragile political party. Lukash’s orders are to inconspicuously gather intelligence in hopes of increasing the party’s cooperation with the U.S. Embassy, but that task quickly proves problematic when Lukash’s girlfriend from Jordan shows up in Beirut with ties to a wily Syrian national and an assassination plot. Conrad Prosser, the protagonist from Fleming’s (Dynamite Fishermen, 2011, etc.) previous novel, travels to war-torn Beirut at the behest of a source looking for his daughter’s missing husband—whose name happens to be an alias used by Lukash five years earlier. The winding plotlines make for a gloriously elaborate story as Fleming adeptly weaves through genres amid the rubble: suspenseful distrust among the conniving characters, window-shattering action sequences and the understated romantic tension between Lukash and Muna, the woman he left behind. The drama plays against a fiery backdrop of civil war, a setting well established in Fleming’s prior novel and aptly recreated here. This time, the inescapable violence acts as a foreboding presence: a cease-fire breaks the night Lukash arrives in Beirut, where he sleeps in a building riddled with bullets as explosions light up the sky. The rapidly developing plot burns through pages faster than the first time Fleming took us to Beirut.
An intelligent thriller teeming with vigor.
Pub Date: July 27, 2011
Page count: 162pp
Publisher: PF Publishing
Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2012
A novel examines civil war and prophecy in the years following the Russian Revolution.
In his Kamas Trilogy, Fleming (Forty Days at Kamas, 2015, etc.) described a totalitarian future that may yet arrive. In his new stand-alone tale, the prognosticator turns his pen to a half-imagined history, a totalitarian past that needn’t have been. Sent to Siberia by the United States during the Russian civil war of 1918, when the Communist Bolsheviks fought the Nationalist White Guard in the wake of the czar’s execution, Ned Du Pont finds himself providing aimless backup for the Nationalists in “a miserable little fight.” In this battle, American troops are expressly forbidden to directly engage the enemy, whomever that is. Then he meets the Maid of Baikal. Like her namesake, the Maid of Orléans, young Zhanna Dorokhina hears voices. As with Joan of Arc, those voices belong to saints, and their words provide not only courage in the face of adversity, but also precise wartime tactics the White Guard must obey if it hopes to gain a foothold on success. “My voices tell me Uralsk must be retaken by summer,” Zhanna tells White leader Adm. Alexander Kolchak. “If not, the Red Army will surely breach our defenses at Ufa and sweep across Siberia from Yekaterinburg to the Pacific.” Half entranced by Zhanna’s spiritual mission and half in love with the very real young woman in his charge, Ned finds himself in the position of helping her fulfill her prophesies. His assignment soon becomes a calling and he tries as best he can to both prevent Zhanna’s murder at the hands of a vengeful religious tribunal—the same fate that befell her predecessor—and to use the connections his family name delivers to secure arms and ammunition for the anti-Communist front. Fleming achieves the near impossible in this long book, keeping dozens of plots spinning while he catches the reader up both on what historically transpired and how different outcomes might have plausibly happened. Character after character is ushered into the theater of war, made memorable, then variously deployed to raise the stakes. Treachery, espionage, heroism, or romance seem to hover around each encounter, and the reader is placed in the unusual and invigorating position of watching history come alive with no idea of how it’s going to end.
A Russian war story that lives and breathes from a writer at the peak of his powers.
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017
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