Book Review: Rainy Street Stories: Reflections on Secret Wars, Espionage and Terrorism

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by John William Davis

Madison, Al.: Red Bike Publishing, 2013. Pp. 170. . $24.94. ISBN: 1936800101

No, these are not stories to be read on a cold and rainy day but rather the stream of consciousness reflections of Mr. Davis, retired Army officer serving both in combat arms and counterintelligence.  He initially informs the reader, “In humility, I offer no ‘solutions,’ only the thought that no cause is worth the loss of one’s soul.”   The book’s cover evokes a sense of dread and suspense, the mysterious cloak-and-dagger setting, and the limited sketches throughout maintain that sensation and are echoed, in the author’s early comment, “Darkness and an intangible sense of gloom or dread envelop the central battlefields of our world’s secret wars.

For someone of my ilk, born and raised to seek some chronological form and substance, at times, the book was a bit perplexing; shifting from topic and period and back again is a bit disconcerting and takes a while to accumulate.  The vignettes hop from the chilling scene for a young girl watching a Gestapo execution, to a trip to a Polish museum, followed by a meeting with Nathan Hale, and then back to a Nazi death camp.  Once the reader is acclimated to this format, the book becomes quite entertaining, with a collection of poems, compelling stories, and sweeping images of man’s inhumanity to man.

The stories are short and most often intense tales drawn from Davis’ real-life experiences.  Some appear as every day happenings, yet have a deep, shadowy, covert secret significance the author often does not reveal.  One of the more interesting passages was his portrayal of the ‘Spy Conference” held in Raleigh, North Carolina where “super-spooks” meet the Joe Average which is concluded by a classic Edmund Burke quotation, “The best national defense is a good education.”

While reading these accounts of intrigue, I could not help but think of contemporary events: Edward Snowden, Newtown, Connecticut, debates over multiculturalism, innumerable security leaks, torture/water boarding, government shutdowns, counter-insurgency warfare, and a plea for political compromise.  While the author provides no real solutions to these modern conundrums, he hints throughout at solutions, perhaps we should all ponder these in as rational a way as John W. Davis.  The ends simply, with a Rabbi saying, “A splendid man.” 

Although it could have used some illustrations, maps, and other supporting matter, there’s no doubt that this is a splendid book, from a splendid man.

--Bill Speer

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Our Reviewer: Bill Speer is a graduate of  the Pennsylvania Military College (formerly the Delaware Military Academy and now Widener University).  A long-time instructor in history at American Military University, he has written for the Office of Signal Corps History and North & South, among others.  Speer is the author of the series From Broomsticks To Battlefields, dealing with PMC alumni in the Civil War, among them From Broomsticks To Battlefields: After the Battle, The Story of Henry Clay Robinett, who held “Battery Robinett” at Corinth, and the forthcoming Harum-Scarum: The Story of David Vickers Jr.  His previous reviews for StrategyPage are Animals at War: Studies of Europe and North Americaand The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945

Reviewer: Bill Speer   


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