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About the Book
Robin Fox is a peace-loving professor of world religions, trying to atone for his crimes as a U.S. Army interrogator. But at a Washington prayer rally, a suspect is caught trying to disperse a rare encephalitis virus, the same one used in an attack in Iraq that Fox once foiled. A CIA agent, John Adler, asks Fox for help.
Troubled by this request, Fox consults Emily Hart, his colleague at the United States Peace Research Institute and wife of its strongest supporter in Congress. She, however, has her own troubles. Leila Halabi, a Palestinian peace educator, has disappeared on the way to Washington for a lecture tour. Fox accepts Adler’s request, in exchange for the CIA’s help in finding Leila.
Fox works with a joint FBI-CIA interrogation team, and worries that Adler’s prejudice against Muslims is clouding his judgment. The suspect eventually reveals that he is part of an international conspiracy to eradicate religion, “using one virus to cure another”.
Fox deduces that the next attack is planned for Israel during Passover. Meanwhile, Emily learns that Leila has been imprisoned in Israel, and travels there to campaign for her release. Spurred by danger to the woman he loves – although he could never admit it, even to himself – Fox boards a plane that will reach Tel Aviv before her.
By careful observation, Fox catches another suspect at Ben-Gurion Airport. Now a hero to Israel, he persuades the head of Shin Bet to release Leila and let him interrogate the suspect.
He infers that the next attack is planned for Jerusalem on Holy Saturday. Joined by Adler, he sets up surveillance at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but fails to prevent an explosion.
Suspecting that this attack was a diversion, Fox reinterprets his clues and concludes that the real target is the Vatican. He and Adler fly to Rome in time to catch a suspect in the act of planting an aerosol device in the dome of St. Peter’s during Easter Vigil Mass. Fox breaks her silence by intimating that her love for the group’s mastermind has been betrayed. She reveals the name by which she knows him, and gives up enough information to identify the next target: Westminster Abbey, at an Easter service with the Royal Family attending. But at the same time, he receives a menacing message: Emily has been abducted by the mastermind, who threatens to kill her if any cameras catch Fox there.
Fox goes to London, enters the Abbey in disguise, and uncovers the most elaborate strategy yet: a sleeper agent in the Abbey choir planted the virus in a fire extinguisher, and used a time-release flammable agent to make the Archbishop’s vestments spontaneously combust.
After stopping the attack, Fox roughs up the suspect but learns nothing. His escort from the Security Service takes him to question the mastermind’s mentor at Oxford. Shocked to hear how his teachings have been twisted, he gives up a name: Theodore Gottlieb. They go to Gottlieb’s house, to find him calmly awaiting them with high tea and high explosives.
After a standoff, the bombs detonate and set fire to the house. Fox, cut off from the police, has to chase Gottlieb to the room where Emily is being held hostage. Using his military training, he succeeds in seizing Gottlieb’s pistol, but his principles of nonviolence will not allow him to shoot. They struggle, Gottlieb falls, and the firefighters rescue Fox and Emily in time.
They return to Washington. Adler has promised to tell the Saudis about the final target, Mecca during the Hajj, but Fox suspects he is lying and goes to the Saudi embassy himself. A furious phone call from Adler confirms his suspicions: the CIA was planning to let the attack proceed, and use an Army-designed antiserum to blackmail the entire Muslim world.
After launching Leila’s tour, Fox and Emily walk together through the GWU campus. He yearns to tell her that, when he was sure his life was over, his only thought was of her. But discretion trumps valor, and when they say goodnight, his true feelings for her are still a secret.
Interview with the Author
What initially got you interested in writing?
I’d have to go back in time and ask my 6-year-old self; he’s the one who got me hooked on writing stories, and I haven’t been able to stop since. I finished my first novel-length manuscript in high school, and after a slight detour when I was led astray by the siren song suggesting that publishing academic papers in peer-reviewed journals would be a more prudent channel for my literary ambitions, I’m happily back on track with creative writing.
How did you decide to make the move into becoming a published author?
The time was right. I had a story inside me that wouldn’t let me rest until I shared it with the world. Did I tell it well? You can judge for yourself.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?
I hope they’ll take away a new perspective. This book has a religious theme, and religion, whether you’re a believer or not, affects everyone and everyone has an opinion about it. And for most people, these opinions are so strongly entrenched that you could hurl arguments at them until doomsday and never move the needle; the only chance you have of getting anyone to see an alternate point of view is through story. Wherever you fall on the scale, from firebrand evangelical to firebrand atheist, you’ll probably find something in this book to challenge you. Judging from the reviews, it will make your heart beat faster – and it might raise your blood pressure, too!
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
I love the way the story takes on a life of its own. I think writing, as an art form, is less like painting or sculpture and more like growing bonsai: you may start with a clear image of the finished product, and you can twist and trim your material into the shape you want, but it’s still a living thing, and it sometimes wants to grow in a different direction from the one you had in mind, so you have to be flexible and acknowledge that it might know better than you. There are times when a character seems to be speaking to me, suggesting something I hadn’t previously thought of. I love those moments, because it feels not so much as though I’m creating the story out of nothing, as that it’s telling itself through me.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
The difficulty of getting Time, Energy and Inspiration in the room together: they all seem to have such crazy schedules and I can rarely get more than two of them to sit down with me. Sometimes I wake up bursting with ideas, but can’t get a moment to write them down until late at night when I can barely keep my eyes open, let alone remember what the muse was whispering in my ear that morning. Other times, I’m well rested and have a rare block of free time, but the well is dry. I often resort to stealing moments throughout the day for writing – and if you piece together enough stolen moments, eventually you have a book.
What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field?
There’s a Japanese saying: “Do the best you can and await orders from heaven.” If you have a story inside you fighting to get out, then write it, and polish it, to the best of your ability. Then, when the time is right, it will find its audience. It took years of pounding the pavement before I found my editor, but in light of world events during that time, I’ve come to feel that perhaps the story was waiting until a time when it would be most relevant. So if you ever have moments when you start to doubt your story will ever see the light of day – and I suppose every aspiring author does – don’t be discouraged. It always seems impossible until it’s done.
Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you?
I’ve lived most of my adult life in Japan. How I got there, and what I’ve been doing there, would be the subject for a whole different interview, but in large part, I have my life in Japan to thank for this book. Living in a very secularized society helped give me the inspiration for the story, and the desire to keep some kind of connection with my homeland helped light a fire under me to write it.
What are the best ways to connect with you, or find out more about your work?
You can find out more about Mind Virus and my other works on my website: charleskowalski.com. Looking forward to seeing you there!
About the Author
Charles Kowalski currently divides his time between Japan, where he teaches English at a university, and his family home in Maine.
His previously unpublished debut novel, Mind Virus, won the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Award and was a finalist for the Adventure Writers’ Competition, the Killer Nashville Claymore Award, and the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association literary award.
Other novels and short stories by Charles Kowalski:
“Let This Cup Pass From Me” (Finalist, American Fiction Short Story Award (New Rivers Press); Honorable Mention, The Maine Review Short Story Competition)
“Arise, My Love”
“The Evil I Do Not Mean To Do”
About the Publisher
About Literary Wanderlust
Literary Wanderlust publishes well-written novels and short story anthologies in the romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and thriller genres, as well as obscure history and research topics. Visit us at www.literarywanderlust.com