“Artist’s impression of Die Glocke” by WeskerX incorporated into this artwork under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

“Reminiscent of Ray Bradbury at his best and reading like a great episode of The X-Files, this is science fiction writing of the highest order.” —Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author of The Rising

“The rare kind of yarn that transcends genres ― part science fiction, part action-adventure, and all fun. … Keeps you guessing until the last, breathtaking page!” —Don Bentley, author of the bestselling Matt Drake novels and Tom Clancy Jack Ryan Jr series

On a muggy night in the North Carolina beach town of Azalea Bluff, an object crashes onto the football field of the local high school, and life as Olivia Claven knows it will never be the same again. A struggling journalist reeling from a string of job losses, a growing mountain of debt and the untimely death of her fiancé, Olivia toils at a faltering local news website while staying at her parents’ house — temporarily, she hopes. Little does she know how temporary it really is.

Though the local authorities speculate that the crashed object is a small plane, they can’t know for sure; the feds have swooped in and sealed the area and aren’t telling them much. Instructed to set up roadblocks that back up traffic for hours and miles around, the Brunswick County Police and its sheriff are pushed to the sidelines of the investigation, and they don’t like it one bit.

But while other residents grapple with inconvenience and frustration, Olivia smells a story. One that could maybe become regional or even national news. And she’s determined to get it. Slogging through the thick, swampy woods surrounding the high school, she reaches the edge of the football field and is stunned and perplexed by what she sees there — a strange, bell-shaped craft. Minutes later, she blacks out and disappears without a trace.

THE PRICE OF KNOWING TOO MUCH, AND NOT ENOUGH

Azalea Bluff (Headline Books) is political thriller writer Dennis Hetzel’s foray into speculative fiction territory. It’s a tense and suspenseful novel that explores the secret machinations of the U.S. government to cover up the existence of alien technology … and the price people pay for knowing too much — authorities and civilians alike.

The themes of “knowing” and “not knowing” play out in many ways throughout the book. The story follows the viewpoints of several key characters on their quest for answers — including Olivia herself. What they don’t know is just as dangerous as what they do know. Each discovers different pieces to the puzzle, some of which they share with other characters to fill in the missing picture, and other pieces that they cannot or dare not share. And then there are characters who know much more than the point-of-view characters — knowledge that is only tantalizingly hinted at. 

In this way, Hetzel plays with which bits of information to reveal to the reader, and what to leave to our speculation. It’s a challenging technique, but Hetzel pulls it off masterfully. And while in the end there are still some questions without answers, he provides enough of them to make this a deeply satisfying read that lingers in the mind with possibilities long afterward. 

MORE THAN JUST A SPECULATIVE TALE

Azalea Bluff has much to offer readers who are fascinated with UFOs, conspiracy theories and just what the Nazis may have been working on in their secret underground labs during World War II. For this, Hetzel credits the late broadcaster Ed Galloway, whose radio play “Incident in Mint Hill” forms the basis of the plot. It was at Galloway’s request that Hetzel began writing a book treatment of the story, which eventually morphed into a novel with more scope than (and many departures from) the original.

“Ed passed away from a heart attack just as I completed the first draft,” explains Hetzel. “His widow, Carolyn, has been inspiring in her desire to complete the project. So, I hope people see it as a great tribute to Ed, who was known throughout the country, especially the Southeast, for his radio shows and voiceover work.”

It is Hetzel’s own voice as a writer, however, that turns Galloway’s speculative tale into a human one — a story about characters in deep conflict with themselves: the struggle to connect with others while grieving an unspeakable loss; the psychological torture of isolation; the burdens of guilt and self-loathing when we are forced to go against our deepest convictions and better judgment; the thorny ethics of the “greater good.” And perhaps most poignantly, the painful sacrifices we must sometimes make for those we love.

Azalea Bluff is available for purchase on Amazon.


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Dennis Hetzel is an author, media consultant and freelance journalist. His award-winning thrillers, Season of Lies and Killing the Curse, explored the prices paid to succeed at the highest levels of politics and sports. In earlier lives, he was an editor, publisher, journalism professor, trade association executive and lobbyist recognized nationally for his work on First Amendment issues. A Chicago native, he lives in Holden Beach, North Carolina.