Saturday, August 12, 2006

WORDSLINGERS: David L. Robbins

One of Random House’s biggest thriller novels this summer belongs to a friend of mine. This past May, I offered a review of The Assassins Gallery by David L. Robbins. The novel offers an interesting what if regarding FDR and the end of World War II. What’s ironic is that this isn’t a book David had planned to write.

This past Tuesday, Richmond’s local independent bookstore Fountain Bookstore celebrated the release of The Assassins Gallery. David spent some time discussing what led him to write this book and read the opening scene of his book.

David’s past works are made up mostly of World War II epics. He’s not one for light reads. His books include major conflicts such as the Battle of Kursk (The Last Citadel), the race for Berlin (The End of War) and the Allied invasion of France (Liberation Road). After finishing Liberation Road, David set his sights on another epic. His plan was inspired by the novel Exodus by Leon Uris. David wanted to take Uris’ idea and write about the birth of Israel. Only David wanted to do it from the point of view of an Israeli assassin. At a lunch with his editor, he pitched the idea. “They were like, ‘That’s a great story. You’re the perfect writer to do it… but no one would buy it’.” David was floored. “I asked, ‘So what do you want’?” The answer might not surprise many of you: they wanted another Da Vinci Code.

At first, David considered sticking to his artistic guns. A few days later, he was in Boston and vented by kicking pigeons (he spent a brief moment explaining that if you’re patient enough, you can sneak up on a pigeon and kick it… I think this is the Boston equivalent to cow-tipping; still not sure if he was serious) when the premise for The Assassins Gallery came to him. “Every time a president dies, there are theories that he was assassinated.” For this book, he chose the era he knows best, World War II. “I took the last months of his (Roosevelt’s) life and used his exact itinerary. I changed nothing.” David then looked at Roosevelt’s schedule within those last three-and-a-half months as if he was the assassin and figured out how he would get in and make the kill. Even though The Assassins Gallery isn’t the book he’d originally wanted to write, you can tell by the way he discusses its origins that he still loves it much like a father who avidly loves a daughter, even though he originally wanted a son.

David is Jewish and his family line descends from Russia, and you can easily see how these two elements influence his work. The Last Citadel offers a courageous family of Russians caught in “the largest armored engagement of all time.” David argues that people who think America won World War II discount Russia’s numerous victories against Germany. His Jewish background definitely shows itself within Liberation Road in which one of the main characters is a military chaplain who is a rabbi. An interesting fact about military chaplains David presented at the event at Fountain Bookstore: a much greater percentage of rabbis than chaplains from any other faith were also uniform soldiers during World War II.

Other Books by David L. Robbins:

David’s next book, The Betrayal Game, offers his first sequel. His hero from The Assassins Gallery, Mikhal Lammeck, returns and finds himself in the midst of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. You can expect that book to come out next summer.

One of my favorite questions to ask of any writer is, “What are you reading?” When asked, David said he was reading a book from George MacDonald Fraser’s “Flashman” series. I hadn’t heard of this series, even though it’s quite popular. The books tell the story of English soldier Harry Flashman who, despite being a coward and a drunkard, manages to find himself plunged into the action of many historic battles. That he achieves fame as a hero is the punch line to these stories as all the people who witness his cowardly actions typically die before they can out him for a fraud. The books are historically accurate in as far as these battles did occur and Fraser does nothing to alter their outcome. Basically, Flashman is the polar opposite of Richard Sharpe from Bernard Cornwell’s historical action series.

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