Today’s featured ThrillerFest 2017 debut author is Walter Gragg. Scroll down to read more about his new novel, The Red Line, and which thriller he chose to be the last he will ever read!

BookTrib: If you were on death row, what would be your last read? And why? 

Walter Gragg: Catch-22. I was hooked by the end of the first page of this incredibly satirical, yet deeply layered, novel. Consistently rated one of the top 100 books of the 20th Century, Heller’s story is unlike anything ever written. The unique way in which the story is presented makes the absolute insanity of not just the events the airmen find themselves facing, but the insanity of the world itself, come through in every scene. It’s a book that will certainly make you laugh, but does so much more. The incomprehensible situation of finding yourself on death row facing a looming end is equally matched by the incomprehensible world Heller’s bizarre characters face in this biting, surreal, and frequently senseless existence as they struggle to survive the horrors of World War II. I can think of no book I’d rather read while locked in a final cage waiting for my days to reach their end.

BT: If you were going to kill off your protagonist what method would you use?  And why?

WG: Since I wrote a military thriller, naturally the protagonist’s death would occur in battle-related scenes. There are so many ways to die in modern warfare – guns and artillery, fighter aircraft or helicopter attack, friendly fire, chemical weapons, nuclear attack. The list is almost endless. My goal in writing The Red Line was to provide a far more realistic look at war than readers find in the vast majority of novels presently being written. The story is an extremely intense, action-filled look at the stark realities of modern battle. This is not a mindless glorification of war. It is not a techno-thriller. It is a story about ordinary people who find themselves facing extraordinary events. While not wanting to give too much away, let’s just say that one of the realities of the story is that death does not discriminate on the battlefield.

BT: What is the all-time best thriller you have ever read? And why?

WG: I especially like the big, bold thrillers of the 1970s and 1980s – Michener, Uris, Clavell, Herman Wouk all come to mind. Their stories not only entertained but taught us something and provided insight into our world. If forced to pick an absolute favorite it would likely be either Uris – Mila 18, or Clavell – Shogun. Both are extremely powerful. Both are books that when you reach the end, you wish would go on for endless pages more. Being a bit of a history buff Mila-18’s descriptions of the events surrounding the 1943 Jewish insurrection in the Warsaw ghetto, mixing both historical and fictional elements, is as gripping as anything I’ve ever read. A truly poignant story filled with desperation and bravery. Shogun offers a far different historical tale about the initial interactions of Europeans with the highly structured caste system that had existed in Japan for untold centuries. I am typically not a fan of books about the Far East but Shogun was truly special from beginning to end.

When it comes to the sub-genre I write in (military thrillers) the absolute best without a doubt is Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. It is head and shoulders above anything ever written about war. Although nearly 100 years old at this point and written from the perspective of a German soldier in the trenches of World War I, Remarque’s ability to capture the essence of war goes beyond anything ever written. Truly a remarkable telling from a writer who lived though the horrors of World War I and did everything he could, unfortunately without success, to keep the German’s from starting World War II.

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THE RED LINE Walter GraggA blizzard is the perfect cover for a shocking act of Russian aggression. Emboldened by their successful re-annexation of Eastern Europe, a power mad Russian president sends his troops over the border into Germany. Standing against this modern-day Pearl Harbor/Battle of the Bulge are the woefully undermanned American forces. They have superior weapons, but that is also their Achilles’ heel. Mastery of the modern battlefield comes from successful command and control, and the Russians have managed to disrupt that. Army Staff Sergeant George O’Neill is the man tasked with making information flow again and getting the Americans back into the desperate game.

But it’s up to hundreds of individual American soldiers and airmen to hold back the flood of Russian troops in order to buy O’Neill the time he needs to bring the big weapons to bear.

THE RED LINE is the story of a five-day war of unimaginable intensity fought between two of the world’s great super powers. It is a tale of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances. The absolute cruelty mankind can exhibit in his darkest moments and the soul-testing humanity and resolve he can muster when faced with his greatest challenges are in full display as the war’s events rush past.

Through the telling of five, separate, but intertwining tales of the Americans caught in the relentless conflict every aspect of the nightmarish battle unfolds. THE RED LINE will grip the reader and drag them deep into the bloody snows of Germany.

Along with O’Neill, they will be lead through the novel by Sergeant First Class Robert Jensen, whose cavalry platoon is the first unit hit during the Russian surprise attack. Jensen will soon find himself struggling to save the lives of the men of his platoon while frantically trying to slow the massive force pouring through the border as the outmanned defenders behind his small force attempt to get organized.

With Lieutenant Barbara Morgan and Sergeant Larry Fowler, the reader will sit in the controllers’ chairs in a Patriot Missile Engagement Station as they furiously attempt to fend off a massive Russian air armada.

They will shiver in a lonely bunker along with Airman First Class Arturo Rios as he waits on the isolated eastern fence at Ramstein Airbase with his powerful machine gun for an immense airborne attack by thousands of the enemy’s most elite soldiers.

And with Sergeant Tim Richardson, in his unit’s sole surviving M-1 they will grapple to hold onto a critical crossroad against the attacks of countless armored units.

As the tortured hours pass and the death toll mounts to obscene numbers, each side will be forced to escalate the conflict to frightful portions in order to have any chance of prevailing. The only question remaining for THE RED LINE is will the world survive its look into a terrifying abyss from which there will be no return.


Walter Gragg THE RED LINEWalter Gragg lives in the Austin, Texas area with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He is a retired attorney and former Texas State Prosecutor.

Prior to law school, he spent a number of years in the military. His time with the Army involved many interesting assignments including three years in the middle of the first Cold War serving at United States European Command Headquarters in Germany where the idea for The Red Line took shape.