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Dan Whitfield
Eagle Ascending
New York cop Joe Krueger is about to arrest a notorious drug pusher when his life changes forever. He witnesses a bomb tear through one of the city's biggest Jewish museums, leaving dozens dead. In the aftermath, the case takes an even more horrific turn: footage from the scene suggests that the bomber is Joe's own grandfather, infamous Nazi General Wolfgang Krueger, who died 70 years ago. With time running out until the next attack, Joe Krueger is forced to confront his family's monstrous past. Piecing the clues together, he discovers that his grandfather had been ordered to recover the True Cross for the Third Reich, and that modern-day neo-Nazis are racing to complete his mission. Armed with little more than a burning desire to expose this plot, Joe travels across Europe and the Holy Land fighting to stop these men and their plan to tip the globe into another world war.
Whitfield’s assured debut finds a New York City cop confronting anti-Semitic terrorism—and, in gut-churning twist, his own family’s involvement and secret past. Eagle Ascending finds NYPD Detective Joe Krueger caught in a bomb blast in Midtown Manhattan. Terrorists have targeted a Jewish museum and cultural center, and while Krueger’s not officially on the case—he works the narcotics beat—his world is rocked a second time when he sees a photo of the chief suspect: Kreuger’s grandfather, presumed dead since the 1950s, a former general of the Third Reich. While the feds track down all leads, including this impossible “zombie” Nazi, Krueger must face some dark family secrets—and an intimation of the supernatural.

Both a propulsive thriller and drama of an American cop reckoning with a family history of Nazism that runs deeper than he thinks, Eagle Ascending grabs readers hard from its opening pages as Whitfield blends gritty procedural realism with the possibility of occult horror. The suspense is threefold, as law enforcement tries to stop whatever the terrorists are planning, Krueger strives to uncover buried secrets, and readers parse the clues about what genre of thriller this ultimately will prove to be. The pulpy backstory involves Hitler’s mad quest for “the True Cross,” reputed to offer power over life and death, a fantastical element that, thanks to Whitfield’s careful framing of the tale, does not diminish the horror of actual real-world anti-Semitic terrorism, whose perpetrators do not need supernatural tchotchkes as justification for violence.

Grounding the story is Krueger, an engaging and relatable figure still shaken by his experience serving in Iraq—and freshly jolted by the truths he gets his mother to reveal. He’s a resourceful and effective hero, both in putting together the pieces of a conspiracy that ties together contemporary companies, Neo-Nazi militias, and ancient religious texts, and in escaping dangerous situations, in New York and on a globe-crossing hunt for truth. The hero’s haunted, but the action’s crisp.

Takeaway: An engaging thriller pitting a New York cop against Nazi terrorists, his own grandfather, and possible occult powers.

Great for fans of: James Herbert’s The Spear, Daniel Easterman’s The Seventh Sanctuary.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A

Whitfield’s ambitious thriller effectively eases readers into its fantastic premise with a prosaic opening. NYPD narcotics officer Joe Krueger loses a drug dealer he’s chasing on a Manhattan street when a bomb goes off at a nearby Jewish museum, killing almost a hundred people. Krueger’s stunned when the federal task force probing the explosion identifies a suspect who’s a dead ringer for the cop’s grandfather, German general Wolfgang Andreas Krueger, who died in 1951. The situation gets weirder when the FBI’s facial recognition software determines that the bomber is almost certainly the supposedly deceased general. Krueger’s sidelined from the inquiry, but perseveres, only to learn from his mother that her father headed a group of researchers ordered by Hitler to find Christian relics. The group’s ultimate target was the True Cross, which the Führer believed could confer immortality. Whitfield keeps the action brisk as Krueger goes rogue to find his criminal relative and the truth. Fans of Daniel Easterman’s Spear of Destiny will be entertained. (Self-published)