[Review by CHIP ETIER]
“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot.” — Alan Jay Lerner
Mention “Camelot” in a group setting such as a cocktail party or church social and inevitably one or more of those present will think of, and perhaps mention, Jack and Jackie Kennedy.
So where were you in 1962?
If you weren’t around in 1962, ask an older family member. Many baby boomers were in elementary or middle school. John F. Kennedy was in the White House. Castro was in Cuba. Russian missiles were in Cuba, too. Kruschev was in hot water. The world was in shock.
How could it be possible that a Russian spy could have penetrated the innermost sanctums of the United States government? Such a breach in security would have given the Kremlin accurate and detailed information about Kennedy’s plans for handling the Cuban missile crisis.
Author David Stokes most recent work of fiction, Camelot’s Cousin, offers readers an engrossing tale based upon circumstantial evidence to support that premise. Additionally, we see the possibility of another conspiracy theory to explain JFK’s assassination.
Stokes has a good story and he tells it well. The narrative comes across as conversational, which is a pleasant change from the business like detachment of most omniscient story tellers.The protagonist is a radio talk show host (an amalgam of contemporaries Stokes knows in real life) and his entourage of associates from work. Their adventures put them in harm’s way when they unwittingly attract the attention of none other than Vladimir Putin himself, his band of spies and seemingly inept hit men. Templeton Davis, the on-air personality, has an unquenchable desire for all things related to spies and their history. This desire is piqued by a discovery made on the farm of one of his support staff. His investigation sparks a series of untimely deaths. Who’s dying? The people he seeks out to help with his project.
Can former members of the OSS, the CIA, and the KGB ever really retire? Stokes delivers with a page-turner that could easily be non-fiction — if you believe in conspiracies.
Author: David R. Stokes
Synopsis: When a Dad tries to dig a hole in his Northern Virginia yard to bury the remains of the family pet, he chances upon something buried years before-a mysterious briefcase. Its contents include a journal with cryptic writing. The father turns to his friend-and boss-Templeton Davis, a former Rhodes scholar and popular national radio talk show host, for help figuring out what he’s found.
They soon realize that they are in possession of materials that were hidden more than 60 years earlier by a notorious deep cover agent for the Soviet Union. And buried with the materials were clues to a great last secret of the Cold War-the identity of the most effective spy in the history of espionage.
Long a mere footnote in history, the story of this man’s treachery reaches the pinnacles of power and geopolitics. It’s a story that begins just before the Second World War breaks out and reaches the depths of the decades-long stand off that followed.
After reading Camelot’s Cousin, I couldn’t wait to learn more about the research and ideas behind the captivating book by David Stokes.
Hi David, I really enjoyed reading your book and found myself wondering what kind of work went into creating the story.
I was on the trail of a spy story—a genre I had always enjoyed—for a few years. I did a lot of reading, both fiction and nonfiction (including history works I reference at the end of the book). Many years ago, the Cold War, particularly the presidency during that time, was the focus of my thesis when I earned my Master of Arts degree in political science. Having written a narrative nonfiction story earlier (The Shooting Salvationist), I was interested to experience the fact that it required nearly as much research to write my novel as it did that previous true story.
Before we get to Camelot’s Cousin, I wanted to know a little more about what inspired you to get into writing. Have you always wanted to be a writer or did it build up over time?
I had thought about it for many years and in my work as a minister writing has played a big part. But the decision to actually write books (and articles, essays, columns, etc.) was around my 50th birthday in 2006. I guess I created a bucket-list of sorts when passing that milestone, realizing how life was passing by and I became more goal oriented when it came to writing.
I noticed the correlation between your radio career and the character Templeton Davis being a radio host. Do you feel it’s easier to create a story when pulling from personal experience?
Yes, certainly. And though Templeton Davis is not based on me, I wanted to create a character and context familiar to me—one that I could write about with credibility.
I really enjoyed the history you weaved into Camelot’s Cousin. How did you go about choosing Kim Philby to use in your topic?
Kim Philby was probably the most famous (infamous) spy during the Cold War and his story has been told many times and in many ways. In fact, the great espionage writer, Robert Littell, recently published a novel about him called, Young Philby. In the fall of 2011, I spoke at Darmouth College about my nonfiction book and had dinner after with a Pulitzer Prize winning writer (for journalism in the 1970s). He had covered the “spy beat” for many years back in the day and we had a conversation about Mr. Philby that really inspired me to build the story already developing in my mind around him.
Camelot’s Cousin had a lot of background research and information to back up parts of the storyline – what’s your method for researching the history behind your story?
Reading. Then more reading. It’s as simple as that. I probably have more than 200 books in my library about Cold War espionage (my personal library has more than 7,000 books). And the stories and images have long been part of my thoughts. Practically speaking, I took copious notes in journal-type notebooks. But much of the research was conducted as the story was being written, requiring long pauses at times to work things through.
Do you have an estimate for about how much time went into writing Camelot’s Cousin?
It took me about 6 months to write the narrative, then a few more months working with an editor in New York to polish it. This editor helped me with my previous book—an older gentleman who years ago discovered both Stephen King and John Grisham. I mention him in the book’s acknowledgement section. He was very helpful.
What can we look forward to from you next?
I have about 10 books in my head—fiction and nonfiction, but currently I am writing a political novel based on a true story from the late 1940s.