William Doonan

I write books and stories.

Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Raiders of the Lost Tombs

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Greetings, Friends!

Today my good friend and fellow author John Daniel has some wisdom to share, and a couple of choice recommendations about some archaeology novels you won’t want to miss!  I’ll turn it over to John:

JMDauthorphoto.2photo by Clark Lohr

I’m presently reading American Caliphate, a spellbinding novel by William Doonan, published in 2012 by Oak Tree Press. It’s an archaeological novel about a “dig” (archaeologists prefer the term “excavation”) on the north coast of Peru, the ancient home of the Moche Indians, who built adobe pyramids. These pyramids, and one pyramid in particular, are of particular interest to a team of North American academic archaeologists, but in this high-stakes adventure novel there are other parties equally interested in what might be found inside a certain tomb. The CIA, for example. The Vatican. A strong-minded old Muslim woman in Lima. And whoever it was that shot and nearly killed Ben and Jila, a pair of romantically involved archaeologists, the last time they poked around the Santiago de Paz pyramids.

American Caliphate has a cast of intelligent, risk-taking characters driven by academic jealousy, political intrigue, religious rivalry, love and lust, outright greed, and insatiable nosiness about the ancient past. The plot is full of danger and discovery. And what these archaeologists discover may confirm rumors that Muslims fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal brought Islam to the New World.

I won’t give away the ending of American Caliphate for two reasons: I haven’t read the ending yet, and I don’t give away endings. I’ll tell you this much, though: if you haven’t read William Doonan’s American Caliphate yet, you’re in for a treat.


Another archaeological adventure novel I highly admire is Barry Unsworth’s Land of Marvels, which is set in Mesopotamia in 1914, during the twilight of the Ottoman empire, on the verge of the First World War. Here again, we have an excavation by an academic archaeologist, John Somerville, and his team. They feel they’re about to uncover a treasure of history from the Assyrian empire, but they know their work is being threatened by the advancing construction of a German railroad that will connect European capitals to Baghdad. What Somerville doesn’t know is that there are other forces equally covetous of the same patch of desert real estate. There’s a Swiss couple of Christian zealots who join the excavation’s encampment; their goal is to establish a Christian theme park on the supposed site of the Garden of Eden. There’s a dashing American adventurer who poses as an archaeologist but who is really more interested in seducing Somerville’s wife, and even more interested in helping American and/or British oil companies discover and develop oil fields in the same territory. Somerville is further “helped” by an Arab messenger whose concept of the truth is defined by whatever will profit himself the most.

In Land of Marvels, practically nobody is who he or she pretends to be. This is another novel about duplicitous diplomacy, greed, religious rivalry, love and lust, and the conflict between the lessons of the past and the economic opportunities of the future.

Land of Marvels is also a ripping good story. Again, I won’t give away the ending, but I guarantee you a breath-taking surprise.


Now. Have you read The Egyptologist, by Arthur Phillips? Oh boy. Talk about characters who aren’t who they seem to be or claim to be. This is a thrilling, hilarious, frightening tour de force, a delightful puzzle, an outrageous tale of archaeological obsession, greed, love, deception, and madness.

Not up to the task of summarizing the plot of The Egyptologist. I’ll cheat and quote the back-cover copy from the Norton paperback edition:

…a witty, inventive, brilliantly constructed novel about an Egyptologist obsessed with finding the tomb of an apocryphal king. This darkly comic labyrinth of a story opens on the desert plains of Egypt in 1922, then winds its way from the slums of Australia to the ballrooms of Boston by way of Oxford, the battlefields of the First World War, and a royal court in turmoil. Exploring issues of class, greed, ambition, and the very human hunger for eternal life, The Egyptologist is a triumph of narrative bravado.


I see I’m running out of time and space here, so I’ll be brief with my plug for my favorite tomb-robbing novel. Yes, I wrote it. I don’t claim it’s the best of the four, but it is my favorite because I dug through the past to find it, and then I watered it and watched it grow. Then I published it on Kindle, so you can read it.




On the night of June 8, 1918, five officers in the U.S. Army, all of them recent Yale graduates and members of the secret society Skull and Bones, sneaked into the Apache graveyard at Fort Sill Oklahoma, opened the tomb of Geronimo the Terrible, and stole his skull. Whatever happened to that skull, and whatever happened to the ringleader of that moonless, midnight raid? This legendary crime and its consequences are central to John M. Daniel’s novel Geronimo’s Skull, which takes place over twenty-five years in the early twentieth century, from the Saint Louis World’s Fair in 1904 to the stock market crash in 1929. It tells the story of Fergus Powers, and his development from a boy of nine, fascinated by energy and machinery, to a young man in his thirties, poised to take charge of a failing company and turn it into the largest manufacturer of oil drilling equipment in the world. Geronimo’s Skull is romantic and fantastic, full of love and war, friendship and family, magic, danger, and moral quandary. Fergus Powers, the leader of the grave-robbers, is the novel’s guilty hero, hounded for the balance of the book by the Indian warrior’s ghost.

Kindle link: http://www.amazon.com/Geronimos-Skull-John-M-Daniel-ebook/dp/B004IWRCB6

John M. Daniel’s new book is called Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery. For info: http://www.danielpublishing.com/jmd/hooperman.html


Written by williamdoonan

December 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Grave Passage – get your free copy today!!!

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We interrupt this regularly-scheduled zombie blog to bring you breaking news:  William Doonan’s first mystery novel, the award winning Grave Passage is being offered as a free download today on Amazon.com.


Grave Passage explores crime on the high seas, and introduces a valiant and original protagonist. Henry Grave is an investigator for the Association of Cruising Vessel Operators. A former P.O.W., Henry is as cunning as he is charming, and at 84 years of age, he fits right in with his fellow passengers.

When retired FBI profiler Robert Samson is murdered onboard the cruise liner Contessa Voyager, Henry Grave is sent to investigate. Samson was giving a series of lectures on cold case crimes he felt he could crack. But he got cracked first. Henry has just five days before Voyager reaches Miami. There, the FBI will question the passengers, but the case will have grown cold and the killer will walk free unless Henry can find him first. With the help of a television actress, a cosmonaut, and a Venezuelan general fighting extradition, Henry draws on skills honed in a Nazi prison camp to track down a couple of passengers who might have their own reasons for taking this particular cruise, reasons unrelated to the sumptuous meals, delightful shipboard activities, and exciting ports of call.

12 million people take a cruise each year.
Most have fun.
Some die.
Henry Grave investigates.

Be sure to get your copy of Grave Passage today- supplies are limited!!!!


Written by williamdoonan

June 8, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Mystery

MedicineLand: Chapter Five

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Julia still had an hour before class so she checked in with Carson in the Microarray lab.  She found him seated in his wheelchair, his hands clasped over his belly like a mechanized Buddha, watching through the thick glass as Prometheus, their helium-cooled mainframe, extended its robotic arm to deposit a droplet of liquid DNA on a nylon pad.

“He’s like a god,” Carson said in admiration.

“Like a god, but not quite,” said Julia.  “Prometheus was a titan.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I can’t remember,” she said.  “I think they were somewhere between gods and humans.  What’s he doing today?”

“Eleventh chromosome, we’re near the centromere.”

“Thank you, Carson,” she said.  “I know that much, we’ve been there for a more than a week.”

He handed her the printout where the precise location of the individual genes were recorded.  “You know we’re months ahead of schedule.”

“And we still haven’t found anything,” Julia reminded him.

“Yeah, but think about it.  The human genome is sequenced eight years early.  Now with Prometheus, we’re detecting genetic activity, wait,” he paused.  “I calculated it.  We’re decoding protein signatures 167 times faster than we were a year ago.”

“And we still haven’t found anything,” Julia repeated, “with ten months of funding remaining.”

Two more students walked through the sealed door into the room.

“Don’t you come in here with that fucking sandwich,” Julia scolded.

They turned in unison and left.

“Let me play around a bit,” Carson said.  “I’m getting bored with this.  I downloaded the first 50,000 sequences on the twenty-first chromosome.  I want to start on it this weekend.”

“I didn’t think the twenty-first was on line yet.”

“It’s not.  The National Science Foundation has not yet certified it for funded research, but it’s public domain.  I took it off the internet.”

Julia scanned the printout but found nothing of interest.  “Then we can’t use it, Carson.  Plug that data into the computer and we are out of compliance.  We could lose our grant.”

“Come on, Professor,” he said.  “Is that how Isaac Newton would have responded?  Would Gregor Mendel have stopped playing with his peas if the abbot told him he was out of compliance?”

Julia ignored the comment.  “Let’s finish the eleventh.  We will get to the twenty-first in about a month or so, right?  By that time, NSF will have approved the public version.”

“Let me have a go at it over the weekend.”

“This thing leases for eighty grand a month,” she said, pointing to Prometheus.  “That’s why it will be in use over the weekend.  Sharon is going to be running her tests.”

“Sharon went into labor this morning.”

Julia turned.  “She was pregnant, that’s right.  Then you can finish the eleventh chromosome this weekend.”

“I can’t,” he said.  “It’s my niece’s birthday.”

“And you’d blow her off to work on the twenty-first.”

“Yes.  I’ll start the arrays on Friday night and finish Sunday night.”

Julia fit the morning printout into the binder.  “You have dialysis on Saturday.”

“I can do it here,” he said.  “My dad bought  me a personal dialysis machine.  I can do it here..”

She smiled and sat across from him.  “Why the twenty-first?  We’ve written it in as nonessential.  We get to it if time permits.”

“I’ve been thinking about Down’s syndrome.”

“Trisomy 21,” she said.  “Individuals inflicted with it have three copies of the twenty-first chromosome.  They suffer from moderate to profound mental retardation, heart defects, and systematic developmental problems.”

“Right.”  Carson nodded.  “Developmental problems.  Timing is off.  Baby teeth don’t fall out on time.  Puberty is a mess.”

“And death is premature,” Julia added.  “But that’s not because of a control gene; it’s because there are three chromosomes instead of two.  Genes on one chromosome communicate with their partners on the other chromosome in each of the twenty-three pairs.  When you throw in an extra chromosome, the result is like static.”

“And the static interrupts the communication,” Carson continued.  “So a master control gene that we identity this weekend, diagnoses the interruption, perceives that it is not rectifiable, and begins coding for cellular and regulatory destruction.  That’s why the individuals die prematurely.”

Julia shook her head.  “And we’ll share the Nobel Prize.”

“It makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“No,” she said.  “It doesn’t, Carson.  The static itself is the problem.  If a gene can’t locate and communicate with its partner, it can’t do its job.  If there are three copies of the twenty-first chromosome, then something like six thousand genes can’t find their mates.  That’s why the individuals die prematurely.”

Carson pushed the joystick on his armrest and the wheelchair moved forward, then spun around in circles.

“You’re going to make yourself dizzy,” Julia warned.

“It helps me think.”

“I want this just as much as you do,” she said.

“I know.”

“I don’t think the master metabolic controller would be on the twenty-first.”

“I’ll start the arrays on Friday night and finish Sunday night.”

Julia checked her watch.  “I’ve got to go to class,” she said.  “Why not?  We’re not getting anywhere this way.”

Written by williamdoonan

October 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Posted in MedicineLand, Mystery

MedicineLand: Chapter Four

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Sentec Dynamics’ world headquarters sprawled across twenty-three acres of West Sacramento industrial park.

“We try to provide an appealing work place,” said the woman from human resources as she began the tour.  “We have a state-of-the-art gym, complete with aerobics and kick boxing twice a week.  We’re having ballroom dancing lessons starting soon.  Do you like to dance?”

Adam nodded slowly.  ”Six years on Broadway.  I had my own show.”  Was she kidding?  He smiled when he saw Hammermill coming their way.  Rescue, he thought hopefully.

“Glad you made it, Adam.  Has Elise given you the five cent tour?”  Hammermill shook his hand.

“I think we got through only about two cents but I get the picture.  Could we have a look at the lab, maybe meet some people?”

“Right on.”  Hammermill stole him away and brought him to a conference room on the second floor where several men sat around a large glass table.

Finally meeting the board, Adam thought.

“Gentlemen,” Hammermill began, “this is Dr. Adam LaPorte, he’ll be working in S.H.  You all have seen his paperwork.  Adam, this is Sentec’s house counsel team.”

Adam shook five hands and waved to the guy in the back by the window.  “You all are lawyers?”

“That’s right, Dr. LaPorte.  We have some documents for you to sign before we go any further.”

Adam sat.  He looked up at Hammermill.  “We did a contract in Portland.”

“Nondisclosure agreements,” said the lead lawyer.  “Sentec operates eleven semi-independent operating units.  Five are grant-funded and therefore have their own oversight boards.  Therefore, eleven separate nondisclosure agreements, each specific and comprehensive.”

“All standard?”

“Somewhat more substantial than the industry standard,” Hammermill began.  “Someone asks what you do, you say you’re a chemist, or a flavor chemist, or a scientist, or you make something up.  Any further questions and you back out of it.  Nobody, not your wife, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your priest, not your Mom or your frat buddies know what projects you work on.”

Adam nodded.

“No disks, no USB drives,” one of the other lawyers continued.  “No digital media leaves the compound.  This is all standard.  No paperwork goes home with you.  If you are contacted by headhunters or receive any outside offers of employment, you report them.  If you are questioned by authorities or outside agency about specifics of your employment, you contact us day or night.”

“It’s the Snack Happy way,” said the skinny lawyer closest to the door.

Adam turned slowly.  “The what?”

“The Snack Happy way,” the man repeated.

“The what?” Adam asked again. “What the hell is Snack Happy?”

Hammermill jumped in.  “Snack Happy is the research division you’ll be assigned to.  Six of the thirty divisions are folded into it, so you’ll have a great deal of authority.  Some of the other divisions don’t deal with material that is as confidential so the nondisclosures are not as comprehensive.”

“Snack Happy,” Adam repeated.  “I don’t work on candy.  I told you that in Portland.”

“No candy,” Hammermill assured him.

“What then?”

“Cookies and snack cakes,” another lawyer answered, “with an emphasis on snack cakes.”

Adam nodded.  “Just so we’re clear on the candy thing.”

The older man, the one standing by the window opened a leather binder.  “Dr. LaPorte, I’m Tom Kerwin, I’m Mr. Kessler’s personal attorney and chief operating officer.  Mr. Kessler could not be here to welcome you personally.  He is currently at our facility in Geneva, but he asked me to extend a warm welcome on his behalf.”

“Thank you,” said Adam.  “I look forward to meeting him.”

“I also read your letter of referral from Dr. Henning in Amsterdam,” Kerwin said, grinning.  “He said that by the time you were through, he could set a pistachio nut on a shelf for a decade and it would neither deteriorate nor lose flavor.”

“Delicious and long lasting,” Adam said.  “That’s also how I describe myself to my lady friends.”

The lawyer by the door laughed out loud but stopped abruptly when no one else did.  Hammermill closed his eyes.  “Why don’t we have a look at the labs?” he said.

Written by williamdoonan

October 13, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Posted in MedicineLand, Mystery

MedicineLand: Chapter Three

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Julia couldn’t sleep.  The moonlight washed over Rocky, who snored quietly beside her.  She could just make out the tattoo on his forearm; St. Brendan, wearing a Bishop’s miter and standing at the bow of a sailboat.  Rocky told her about the gang he ran with as a kid in South Philadelphia.  Billy St. Clair had the same tattoo but he had it removed when they made their first million.   Rocky declined to do the same.  It’s an artifact of my life, he told her once.

Julia climbed out of bed and moved quietly to her office.  She turned on one of the desk lights and looked down into the atrium at the indoor pool, whose low safety lights made it glow like an alien ship.  She shook her head in amazement.  Have I really lived here a whole year?

But it had been more than a year, she remembered as she leaned back into the ergonomic chair.  She moved in after their engagement; her father wasn’t pleased.  You know this gringo six months and you’re going to give it up before you even see a ring?

Julia had laughed.  She had a two carat engagement ring, and she had given it up some time ago.  You’re the one who introduced me to him, she told him.

She first met Rocky at the site of a minor industrial accident.  Her father was overseeing the renovation of an old factory when a floor caved in.  Julia went with him when the call came.

Two men had gotten tangled in beams that broke four ribs, collectively, but the ambulance was there before they arrived.  Julia checked with the paramedics to be sure they didn’t need a doctor, and then found her father talking with a tall man wearing a gray sweater.

“We figured most of the floor needed to go,” her father said, “but sometimes the rot gets deeper than you think.”

“But your men will be OK?” the man asked when Julia came over.  He looked straight at her.  “There’s little worth dying for; certainly not this old building.”

“The paramedics say they’ll be fine,” she told him.

“My daughter,” her father said, “Julia.  She’s a doctor.”

“Rocky Shannon,” the man said.  “Lovely to meet you.  I’d like to follow up with the men who were hurt, to make sure they’re OK.  Could you help me with that?”

She paused.  “I’m a research doctor.  I don’t really…”

“Of course she can,” her father interrupted.

Julia produced a card.

“I will be in touch,” Rocky said, placing the card into a silver card holder.

And he was.  The dinner invitation was alarming at first.  She ran it by her father, for facts not permission, and learned little about Rocky Shannon except that he was local, was apparently wealthy, and had been engaged in some renovation work for the past few years.  He might even have paid for part of your medical school, her father said.  Julia reminded him that she had a full scholarship.

Rocky took her to a pizza restaurant.  And afterwards they walked by the old governor’s mansion, and then past the notorious Dorothea Puente house, where Ms. Puente had systematically poisoned old men over a period of several years so she could steal their social security.

“And you want to renovate that house?”

Rocky laughed.  “Are you kidding?  I’m afraid of it myself.  But we’re working on a house behind it.  I’m hoping the bad karma doesn’t spill over.”

“All karma is bad karma,” Julia told him, in what would become the first of many conversations about karma.

On their second date, he took her to the executive airport where a small plane sat, fueled and ready.  “It’s going to be loud,” he warned her.  And it was.  They headed to Napa, a flight that should take no more than half an hour but Rocky made a detour south toward Lake Berryessa, flying low.  “Look over there.”  He pointed to an abandoned mansion that had seen better days.  “Isn’t it lovely?”

“What is it?” she asked.

“I love you too,” Rocky said above the noise.

“That’s not what I said.”

Rocky grinned, banking hard so that she moved as close to him as her seat restraints allowed.  “That,” he began, “is the most beautiful property left to be developed in the Central Valley.  That’s Lundt Castle.”

“I’ve heard of that,” Julia yelled.  “The Lundts, they were show biz people back in the 30s.”

Rocky nodded.  “Arthur and Grace Lundt.  They were big in the horror film circuit.  They hung out with Bela Lugosi and that crowd.”

Julia stared at the mansion as the plane banked.

“I’m trying to buy it,” Rocky said.  They flew in silence to a small Napa airstrip where a car waited to take them to a winery for dinner.

“Does this work on all your girls?” she asked, when the wine had been poured.

“No,” he said  “Most girls wouldn’t get into a plane with a man they hardly know.”


A week later she took him to a retirement party at the university and then to her favorite Tapas restaurant.  “Still not clear on what you do?” she said.

“We renovate properties with historic significance.  That’s mostly what we do.  We tried gold mining.  We bought rights to exhausted gold mines and reopened them, using new extraction processes, but we’re getting out of that, focusing more now on the real estate.  Mostly we just renovate.”

“You said we.  You work for a company?”

“No,” he said.  “I have a partner.  You’ll meet him.”

He took her back to his house and showed her the pool, the squash court.  They ate powdered donuts from a box in a stainless steel kitchen.  He put the milk back in the refrigerator and came around behind her.  “I think…,” he said, touching her hair.

Julia turned around.  “I think too,” she said, and she kissed him.


The light was blinking on the answering machine.  She had forgotten to check earlier.  The message was from her mother, wishing her a happy anniversary.  I wonder if she’s still up, Julia thought.  It’s only about two.  She dialed.

“Of course I’m up, mi hija,” her mother said.  “I don’t get off until three.  How does it feel, un año entero, a whole year.”

Julia smiled.  “It feels good, mama.”

“You love him still?”

“Of course I do.”

“Don’t let that money get to your head, amor.”

“Mama, I make like a hundred and fifty thousand a year.  I don’t need a man for money.”

“I’ve got to go, baby.  One of the nurses is out tonight, so we’re running around like on ER.  We’ve had four overdoses already.  The drugs are killing this city.”

“You want me to come over?”

“Not on your anniversary night, baby.  You can be a fancy doctor by day but tonight you should be a love slave.”


“Or, you know, these gender roles are reversing.  Maybe you make him your love slave, tie that boy up with the string from the cake box.”

Julia stared at the phone.  “I can’t believe this is you.  Did the doctors leave a little of the codeine unattended?”

“Sleep well, baby.”

Julia smiled as she hung up the phone and snuck back to bed.

Written by williamdoonan

October 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Posted in MedicineLand, Mystery