This is the online home of David Healey, author of thrilling historical fiction and regional histories. Over the years, quite a lot has been added to the website, so this page will help you get started with navigating HealeyInk. Please start by getting your free ebook!


David’s latest books … 

Red Sniper

red-sniper-3d-bookcover-transparent_backgroundRed Sniper is the story of a rescue mission for American POWs held captive by the Russians at the end of World War II.

For these American POWs, the war is not over. Abandoned by their country, used as political pawns by Stalin, their last hope for getting home again is backwoods sniper Caje Cole and a team of combat veterans who undertake a daring rescue mission.

After a lovely Russian-American spy helps plot an escape from a Gulag prison, they must face the ruthless Red Sniper, starving wolves, and the snowy Russian taiga in a race for freedom.



                                                                       Click here to learn more about Red Sniper

Ardennes Sniper

Ardennes-Sniper-3D-BookCover-transparent_backgroundDecember 1944. As German forces launch a massive surprise attack through the frozen Ardennes Forest, two snipers find themselves aiming for a rematch. Caje Cole is a backwoods hunter from the Appalachian Mountains of the American South, while Kurt Von Stenger is the deadly German “Ghost Sniper.”

Having been in each other’s crosshairs before, they fight a final duel during Germany’s desperate attempt to turn the tide of war in what will come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Can the hunter defeat the marksman?

Even in the midst of war, some battles are personal.

Click here to learn more about Ardennes Sniper


Upcoming Events

Anna Ella Carroll presentation, MLA Conference NYC, January 2018.

Release of next Caje Cole novel set for March 20, 2018!


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Mmm. Mmm. Muskrat. Coming to a plate near you.


On the Eastern Shore and Delmarva Peninsula, people are known for eating all sorts of things that raise eyebrows elsewhere.

Crabs, for starters.

Up in New England, they look at you kind of funny if you walk into a seafood restaurant and ask if they have steamed crabs.

“No, but we have lobster,” the waitress will say, doing that funny thing with her r’s.

That’s a Yankee for you. Any fool knows crabs with lots of Old Bay seasoning are much better than a boring old boiled lobster.

People on the Eastern Shore and Delmarva Peninsula also eat soft—shelled crabs. They taste great, if you can ignore the legs poking out the sides of the roll (although some say that a true soft-shelled crab sandwich is served only on white bread).

Other regional specialities include oysters, Maryland beaten biscuits, and Smith Island cake.

The one dish that you’re not as likely to see on any tourism brochures, however, is muskrat.

These furry critters live in both fresh— and saltwater marshes on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Delaware. Also known as “marsh rabbit,” they are considered a Delmarva delicacy whether stewed, fricasseed or fried.

The meat is a byproduct of trapping, because what the muskrat is really known for is fur, not food. There isn’t as much demand for the fur these days because of the politics of fur. But at one time, a muskrat coat was warm and stylish.


You do not have to be a muskrat trapper to make this dish, although you may have to be just as rugged.

A skinned muskrat in a display case at a country market looks like … well, let’s just say that it does not resemble a New York strip steak.

A muskrat also costs much less than grass-fed Angus. I have seen muskrat for about $1.50  each.

Generally, you have to put in an order for muskrat at these country markets.

If you don’t want to cook it yourself, then you can sample muskrat at various places. A few diners have it on the menu in season. Then there’s the Methodist church in Hancock’s Bridge, N.J., where they’ve been holding annual muskrat dinners for over 50 years. They reportedly cook up 1,800 of the critters, or about one ton of muskrat meat.

For anyone who wants to feel like a real Eastern Shoreman and cook his own muskrat, here’s a recipe from “The Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.



Skin and remove all fat from hams and shoulders of l muskrat. Remove musk glands under legs and belly and white stringy tissue attached to musk glands.
Poach in salted water for 45 minutes.


Place cut-up meat in a dutch oven and cover with bacon strips. Add:

1 cup water or light stock 1 small sliced onion

1 bay leaf 3 cloves

1/2 teaspoon thyme

Cover and simmer until very tender. Serve with creamed celery.


With all due respect to “The Joy of Cooking,” I would prefer mashed potatoes with my mukrat. However, I suspect that the muskrat itself will overshadow most side dishes.

Just wait until your guests or family members are saying, “Boy, this is delicious. What is it?” Then tell them they’re eating muskrat. They won’t notice if that’s creamed celery on the side or old boiled socks.

Mmm, mmm, muskrat. Enjoy.

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A WWII detective solves murders on the homefront

By David Healey

Writing in a comfortable studio surrounded by books, the scenes playing in the mind of Mark Ellis are not nearly as peaceful: German dive bombers machine gunning troops on the run, war-torn London, a woman’s bloody body in a hotel room.

The British author’s latest effort is MERLIN AT WAR, in which much of the plot centers around a mysterious letter left behind by an officer killed by those dive bombers. Interestingly enough, the main character is not a soldier, but Chief Inspector Frank Merlin. While war rages, there is no shortage of home front crimes for Merlin to solve.

“People carried on,” Ellis said. “Life carried on.”

And so did crime.

According to Ellis, the wartime blackouts created opportunity for criminals. Looting was commonplace in bombed areas. Rationing gave rise to an underworld of black market goods. He noted that 4,300 cases of looting were tried in just four months of 1940.

It is a side of wartime England that doesn’t quite fit with the “Keep calm and carry on” slogans.

“Police were stretched thin by crimes caused by the bombings,” he noted. He added that the ranks of law enforcement had been thinned when large numbers of police officers joined the military.

“I thought this wartime situation was just a great setting for a crime novel,” Ellis explained.

Mark Ellis signing MERLIN AT WAR in London

After the sale of his computer company, Ellis found himself with time to write. His initial attempt at developing a crime-solving character proved to be a false start. After a few months of work and a lot of pages, he just didn’t find his original version of the character to be to his liking. It took some ruminating during a trip to Spain to find out who Merlin really was, and to give him some Spanish roots, and thus DCI Merlin was born.

For readers of crime fiction, Merlin is a familiar sort of sleuth, but also original and quirky in his own right. Too old to be in the fight, he nonetheless finds plenty of use for his talents as a detective in wartime London. Merlin is surrounded by an interesting cast of supporting characters, including his Polish girlfriend.

The wartime setting also enriches the story on many different levels.

Ellis explained that his interest in the World War II era comes in large part from his own family’s experiences. His father served in the Navy, where he contracted a chronic illness that resulted in his passing away when Ellis was just seven years old. His mother often shared stories of her own war years, from witnessing the bombing of Swansea near her home, to dance parties in London. Even as the war and the London Blitz raged, life went on.

Like many other writers who set their novels in the World War II era, Ellis has tapped a vein of nostalgia for the excitement of the war years that has cast a long shadow even decades later. It’s as if readers are re-living the memories of their parents and grandparents.

“As things recede in time, people seem to get more interested in what happened then,” he observed.

Beyond his own family’s stories, Ellis’s research involved interviews, exploring locales in the novels, and endless hours of reading.

“I have a lot of books,” he noted, gesturing at shelves that run the length of his studio from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling. Mixed among the reference titles are the novels of Graham Greene and Elizabeth Bowen, two writers for whom World War II was a current event. Ellis said he finds inspiration and insights in those pages.

His research with an eye for unusual history paid off.

“A lot of my readers respond very positively to the details. They love learning about the odd, quirky things that they didn’t know about,” he said.

The writing itself takes time and a process that in the case of the most recent novel involved 23 redrafts. Ellis said that he typically writes 1,500 to 2,000 words each day. “I will not leave the desk if I haven’t written that bare minimum,” he said.

Most of the work takes place in that book-lined studio. “Sometimes I like to go to the library for a change of scene,” he said.

What’s next for Ellis? He’s planning a trip to New York to promote the American release of his new novel.

When asked about his plots, Ellis explained that he is not a meticulous planner. After he gets the book going with maybe half of the book planned out, he said he then tends to let the plot lines sort themselves out. One imagines these plot points like the loose ends of a frayed rope that need to be intertwined.

What’s next for DCI Merlin? Considering that MERLIN AT WAR is set in 1940, it’s likely that there are going to be several more years of war, murder, and mayhem in his future, which should leave Ellis fans feeling pleased.


Mark Ellis is a thriller writer and a former barrister and entrepreneur. He grew up in Swansea, under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the second world war. His father served in the wartime navy and his mother witnessed the bombardment of Swansea in 1941. Mark has always been fascinated by World War II and, in particular, the Home Front and the criminal activity which sprung up during wartime. He has written two previous DCI Frank Merlin novels, Princes Gate and Stalin’s Gold and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association. He divides his time between homes in London and Oxford.

Visit him on his website, or on Twitter at @MarkEllis15.

The article above appears in the November issue of The Big Thrill.

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3 questions with Delaware Rev War expert Kim Rogers Burdick


Delaware during the Revolutionary War

Award-winning historian Kim Rogers Burdick is the author of the recent book, REVOLUTIONARY DELAWARE: Independence in the First State. She will be talking about the War of Independence in our region during a special presentation at the Elkton Central Library on Thursday, October 19, at 7 pm.

When not writing, she is the curator of the historic Hale-Byrnes House, located on Christiana-Stanton Road.

She generously agreed to answer a few questions about the Rev War in our region.

What person from Delaware’s Revolutionary era do you find most interesting?

I am more interested in the experiences of the ordinary citizens who were over-run  than I am in the soldiers.  I live in an 18th century house that was home of a known Quaker Pacifist. The house was taken over  by Washington to be a site of a Council of War. You can read more about the house and Burdick’s research at

What do you think is the most interesting historical site in Delaware related to the Revolutionary War?

I have a particular interest in the sites along the W3R, which is the route the soldiers followed both in the Philadelphia Campaign and the Yorktown Campaign.  It cuts across New Castle County to Head of Elk.

What lesson do you think those who lived through the War of Independence would share with us today?

There are a lot of parallels between then and now. Life is still (as John Adams later said about the French Revolution) a third; a third; and a third of the people with strong feelings about politics.

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Best World War II novels

What’s in your haversack? A few of the best World War II novels

One of the problems with creating a list of best World War II novels is that it can vary according to what we’re in the mood to read. Sometimes we feel like steak, and sometimes we feel like shrimp. Sometimes we feel like an action novel, and sometimes we feel all into espionage. I can also think of a few authors whom I wished wrote WWII stories: Bernard Cornwell for starters, and maybe even John Sandford. Here are a few favorites that never disappoint when in the mood for a good WWII story that you can sink your teeth into.

EYE OF THE NEEDLE by Ken Follett

*Spoiler alert. This novel features a German agent who just so happens to be a diabolical and ruthless killer, pursued by an interesting British sleuth, and ultimately brought to ground by the wife of a sheep farmer. Although this novel is set in WWII, the espionage factor here is really secondary to the fact that this is a ripping good pyschological thriller. I keep a battered copy on my desk and dip into it from time to time when I need a good shudder.


This is a novel that I read way back in high school, and wrote a book report for in Mrs. Hawk’s English class. A WWII action thriller not apparently not the sort of novel she had in mind for a book report, and I think I got a B-, but the novel itself deserves an A. The plot centers around a crack team of German commandos who parachute into England to assassinate Winston Churchill. * Spoiler alert. Of course, we readers know from the outset that Churchill was not assassinated. What makes this book so intriguing is that because it is written from the perspective of the German commandos and IRA operative Liam Devlin, it’s not the German soldiers who are the bad guys, but the English.

WAR OF THE RATS by David L. Robbins

Hands down one of the best sniper tales ever written, with one of the bleakest settings, this novel tells the story of real-life Russian sniper Vasily Zaitsev at the battle of Stalingrad. Like Dunkirk or Kursk, Stalingrad was a battle that did not involve Americans, so on the whole we don’t know much about it. Suffice it to say that the title is apt, considering that German and Russian snipers fight a vicious battle through the ruined city on the Volga River. You may be familiar with the similar story told in the film, ENEMY AT THE GATES, but what makes this sniper novel so much better is the POV glimpse into the minds of these urban hunters. Zaitsev’s nemesis is a German sniper sent to eliminate him, resulting in a tense game of cat and mouse between the two marksmen while a much larger battles rages around them.

THE UNLIKELY SPY by Daniel Silva

This best-selling author is best-known for his series featuring Israeli assassin Gabriel Allon, but my introduction to Silva was this early WWII espionage novel. The title seems better suited to a cozy mystery than to a high stakes thriller wrapped around the war of deception surrounding the D-Day invasion, but this story twists and turns like a rat’s maze to the point that you don’t know who to trust. The main character is an “everyman” college professor thrust into the high stakes game of winning the war.

SNIPER’S HONOR by Stephen Hunter

This novel has one of my favorite chapter openings, “He was an old man in a dry month.” But not too old or too dry, as it turns out. Set with alternating viewpoints in the WWII past and the present day, this thriller features the well-known sniper Bob Lee Swagger, this time on the trail of a little-known WWII female Russian sniper. Not everyone is happy about Swagger’s pursuit of the past and these malevolent forces try to stop him, violently. Anyone familiar with Swagger knows how that turns out for the bad guys. For me as a reader, what makes this novel fascinating is the storyline about the female Russian sniper sent to assassinate a nefarious German leader. Tthe German parachutists depicted in the novel, on whom much of the WWII story also focuses, are reminiscent of those in THE EAGLE HAS LANDED. Tough and competent, they are basically decent men with no choice but to serve a very bad cause.

Read those best World War II novels? Other suggestions for best World War II novels would include books by Jeff Shaara, Alistair MacLean, Steven Pressfield, William Peter Grasso, Griff Hosker, Mark Ellis, Norman Mailer, William Styron, and Robert Harris.


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Chance meeting sparked Civil War romance

Fort Delaware as it looked in the 19th century. The island fort served as a prison for captured Confederates during the Civil War.

Confederate found love—and a new home—in Canal Town

By David Healey

There couldn’t have been a worse time for Capt. Lucien M. Bean of the 17th Mississippi Infantry.

The Confederacy was crumbling. In the heart of the South, Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was “making Georgia howl.” Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood’s entire army had been smashed to bits by Gen. George Thomas at Nashville. Down around Petersburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s troops held on in their trenches, which the Union army would soon overrun.

For Capt. Bean, however, the fighting was already over. He had been taken prisoner near Richmond on Dec. 10, 1864. After a stay at the infamous Old Capitol Prison in Washington, he was sent on Feb. 3, 1865, to Fort Delaware, a Union prison island in the Delaware River.

Bean’s story survives today because he kept a diary of his experiences from 1864 until after the war. He wrote, too, about the lifelong romance that was sparked during his journey to Fort Delaware.

Neither the North nor the South treated prisoners well. Considering Confederate troops had little enough food to begin with, it’s likely the young captain resembled a skeleton as the train filled with prisoners steamed north through Maryland.

Curiosity of the Day: Order an DNA testing kit to explore your genetic roots!

Upon reaching Delaware, the prisoners stopped in the town of New Castle on their way to Delaware City, where the prisoners would be ferried to the prison camp.

One can imagine the scene as the train stopped. Confederate prisoners leaned out the doors of the box cars as the Yankee guards kept watch on the station platform, their bayonets glinting dully in the winter sun. Some of the soldiers probably lay on the floor of the unheated railroad car, too sick or too weak to move, going on to die at Fort Delaware.

Two young ladies happened to be in New Castle that day and caught a glimpse of the Rebels. One was Miss Annie M. Foard of the village of St. Augustine in Cecil County, Md. The other was Miss Julia Jefferson of Middletown, Del.

Capt. Bean spotted the two young ladies and asked their names. Miss Foard passed Bean a card with both their names, along with a scarf to keep him warm at the prison camp.

At Fort Delaware, Bean exchanged letters with Miss Foard all through the winter and spring of 1865. According to his diary, his fellow prisoners kidded him about the scarf.

 * * *

William Stubbs opens Capt. Bean’s diary. The penciled lines are still clear even after 130 years.

“I’d like to eventually write out the whole thing,” says Stubbs, a local historian who lives in a Cecil County farmhouse built in the 1750s by a distant relative. He was given the diary by Carolyn Lorraine of Chesapeake City, a relative by marriage.

The diary is actually inscribed with the name of Sgt. Charles Howard of the 76th New York Infantry. The sergeant from Tompkins County, N.Y., has even written a few diary entries.

How did a Confederate captain end up with the Union soldier’s diary? That’s another story in itself, one that Stubbs gladly shares:

On May 6, 1864, during the battle of the Wilderness, Capt. Bean came across Sgt. Howard, who was lying in the road, badly wounded.

The Wilderness was a terrible fight. Smoke floated in the tangled underbrush. Units were all mixed up.

Bean took pity on the wounded Union sergeant. “I had him moved to the side of the road, to some shade,” Bean wrote. “Gave him water. We then were ordered to advance and I never heard from him afterward.”

In gratitude, the wounded Yankee gave Bean his diary. Bean used it to keep a faithful account of events from that day until after the war. His words help tell a love story that brightens a dark chapter in the nation’s history.

Stubbs closes the diary, wraps it again in protective plastic, then returns it to his bookshelf.

“I consider myself the custodian of the diary,” he says.

* * *

Fort Delaware remains a forlorn and imposing place, and it must have been even worse for a young prisoner. Visitors have claimed to see ghosts walking the narrow brick passageways. Cold wind off the Delaware River still washes between the open iron bars on the windows.

On June 19, 1865, the misery ended when the prisoners were released.

Set free, Bean briefly visited Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia. He then journeyed to the Foard home, where, according to his diary, ‘The most important events of my life occurred during the week I enjoyed with my friends at St. Augustine, Md.”

From Cecil County, Bean returned to his home in Buena Vista, Miss. But not for long.

That autumn, Bean and Annie Foard were married at St. Augustine Episcopal Church. Julia Jefferson, who had been at the train station the day the future newlyweds met, was the maid of honor.

Bean went into business in nearby Kent County, Md., for a few years, then moved his wife and family to New York, where he worked for the West Shore Railroad.

In later years, he and his family returned to Chesapeake City in Cecil County. He died there in 1921. Annie died in 1924.

Captain Bean’s headstone at St. Augustine Church in Chesapeake City, Md.

Bean and his wife are buried side by side in the St. Augustine Church cemetery. Annie’s headstone lists her date of birth as 1841. The modest headstones are tucked up tight against the side of the church. Nearby are the graves of three Union veterans.

If it weren’t for Bean’s diary, no one would ever guess his interesting story from the simple inscription on his headstone:

Capt. Lucien M. Bean

Co. A., 17th Miss Inf.


There are no dates for his birth or death. Bean and his survivors must have been proud of his service to the Confederacy to use it as his only epitaph 56 years after the War Between the States ended.

(Originally published in The Washington Times on Aug. 8, 1999)

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Plotting in ancient Rome with Peter Tonkin

By David Healey

Veteran author Peter Tonkin has written a number of books, thanks in part to his hard-driving writing schedule. (If you want some motivation as an author, follow Peter on Facebook and try to keep up with the pages written that he posts daily.) His most recent novel is AFTER THE IDES: CAESER’S SPIES THRILLER BOOK 2, set in ancient Rome in the wake of Julius Caesar’s assassination.

This busy writer, retired teacher, and world traveller took some time out recently to answer some questions about Romans, research, and writing in general.

Thrillers such as yours require a tremendous amount of research to make them plausible. What fact did you discover in your research that stood out for you? 

It’s difficult to pin down just one.  I love the fact that Artemidorus really gave Caesar a list of his murderers on the way into the fatal Senate meeting.  That Antistius the physician carried out on Caesar’s body the first recorded post mortem in history.  And that Antony’s wife Fulvia drove pins (and a stylus?) through Cicero’s tongue when his head was spiked in the Forum 22 months later – because of the terrible damage his speeches had done to her husband, her family and their fortunes in the interim.

As a writer, how do you get the voice right for characters who lived thousands of years ago? 

“Right” is not really the correct term.  I try and make them credible and convincing.  As Lindsey Davis said when discussing her brilliant Falco novels, it is the suspension of disbelief that’s important.  I love to get my facts right, including events, characters and relationships, so Antony has a particular ‘voice’ and Octavian another–extensions of their characterisation in my stories.  Reflections of their characters in history as presented by the most up-to-date research I can find.

If you could go back in time, would you ever choose to live during the Roman Empire era?  

I think not.  I am far too happy in the 21st Century, though I obviously love looking back to Roman and Elizabethan times.  Furthermore, since my retirement from teaching, I have enjoyed travelling for research, having visited (during the last 12 months alone) Rome, Chester, Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders and the Isle of Man; and will be visiting the South of France during late August.  Not to mention spending two months on the Red Sea during February and June.  Travel like this was impossibly time-consuming during the eras I write about.  Widely travelled though they were, Antony, Octavian, Cicero and Artemidorus could never know the simple joy of getting out of bed in London and getting into bed in somewhere as far away as Egypt – later on the same day.

You have an accomplished career in publishing going back to the 1970s. Can you discuss some of the changes that you have seen in publishing? 


For me personally, the greatest changes have come through computing.  I still possess my old Adler 45 typewriter, purchased with money from my first major commercial success but I couldn’t work without a word processor these days.  Especially as I can now just email electronic copies of my novels to my editors who email the proofs back to me.  The internet has revolutionised everything.  The most obvious changes really come through Amazon and similar websites.  When I started in the late 70’s, I had to go to libraries to do research.  Now I use the Internet.  If I wanted specific books I had to wait weeks for them to arrive at my local libraries.  Now I just buy them online and they arrive within the week by post.

Furthermore, since the dawn of e-publishing, everything has changed further still.  As a writer, especially of historical novels, I can download classic texts straight to my Kindle and then carry them all over the world with me.  Something the simple weight of the actual texts would clearly preclude.  And, of course, they are delivered within moments, not days or weeks.  Furthermore, e-publishing offers the opportunity of self-publishing and authors are embracing this facility increasingly successfully.

Do you plot extensively or are you more of an organic writer?

Of necessity, my historical novels require careful plotting, though this is often dictated by actual events.  Both The Ides and AFTER THE IDES tell the stories of what happened (almost hour by hour) during the murder of Caesar and its aftermath.  I am working on the third in the series (Cicero Dies!) at the moment and the plot itself will be dictated by the actual events that occurred between Antony’s decision to return to Rome after the death of Decimus Brutus Albinus and his spiking of Cicero’s head in the Forum.

But there will also be a strongly organic element dictated by the characters themselves.  Antony, Octavian, Cicero and the sadistic Minucius Basilus all have parts to play – as do Artemidorus, Enobarbus, Puella, Cyanea.  And as they are all ‘real’ except for the last two characters, I need to make sure that I choose relevant and exciting aspects of their recorded histories for my books.  An example of this in AFTER THE IDES is the little-known attempt by Myrtillus to assassinate Antony – for which Octavian was blamed and which led to the assassin’s ejection from the Tarpean Rock.  Beneath which I have stood, making notes.  As I have stood on the spot where recent archaeology suggests that Caesar himself died.

Tell us something about your writing schedule and workspace. Do you write in the mornings or evenings? Do you have to work at a desk, on the sofa, or at the local coffee shop? 

I like routines and work best while following one.  My usual routine is:  Up at 6 am and downstairs in gym kit by 6:15.  Email, twitter (tweet) & Facebook (post) check online newspapers.  7 am – 8 am workout (at home) 30 minutes rowing machine, 15 minutes weights etc, 15 minutes exercise bike.  Dress for day.  8 am 0 noon, work on latest book in my study where many of my research books are shelved.  Though I always have Google and Wikipedia up while I type on my computer for ease and speed of reference as I double-check everything.  I find both sources of information inexhaustible and irreplaceable.  While working, I listen to classical music on my headphones.  12 pm – 12.30 pm I prepare and eat light lunch.  1 pm – 5 pm work on book.  5 pm, prepare dinner as I print out the day’s writing.  6:30 pm dinner & family time.  7.30 – 8 pm up to sitting room.  Watch TV.  9 pm – 10 pm bed.


Peter Tonkin has worked as a teacher and writer for more than 40 years. Retired from teaching now he concentrates on Roman spy stories and Elizabethan murder mysteries. After the Ides is the sequel to The Ides but can be read stand-alone. It is his 40th novel.

The above interview appeared in the September issue of The Big Thrill magazine.

To learn more about Peter, please visit his website.

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Remembering one of Chesapeake Bay’s worst hurricanes

The U.S. Naval Academy training vessel Vamarie being battered at its dock near Annapolis during Hurricane Hazel. Photo from Great Storms of the Chesapeake.

To Hell and Back Again with Hurricane Hazel

by David Healey

You can still find a few old-timers who will share stories about one of the biggest hurricanes in living memory to strike the Chesapeake Bay. Her name was Hazel, and by the time she finished roaring through in the early autumn of 1954, trees would be uprooted, roofs ripped off and the crabbing industry devastated. As it would turn out, three hurricanes would reach the Chesapeake that year—the other two were Edna and Carol—but it was Hurricane Hazel that left a lasting impression on the region.

Although hurricane hunter planes were flying by then, meteorologists more than half a century ago still had only a rudimentary understanding of these great storms. As a result, Hazel’s wrath would catch many in the mid-Atlantic region by surprise before the storm steamrolled north to become one of Canada’s deadliest weather events. While forecasters knew the storm was approaching, it was generally expected to weaken greatly as it came ashore. As events would prove, that would not be the case.

CURIOSITY OF THE DAY: Nautical telescopes

The storm arrived in October, at a time when the weather is usually some of the best on Chesapeake Bay, with golden early autumn days, blue skies and beautiful sunsets. But during those first two weeks of October, the weather in the Chesapeake had been unseasonably hot and humid, with temperatures in the nineties. It was as if a bit of the tropics had decided to vacation in Maryland. Little did Chesapeake residents know that the hot, steamy weather would serve as a portent that a tropical cyclone was brewing thousands of miles away off the coast of Africa.

The storm that would become known as Hazel was first spotted on October 5 not far from Grenada. The storm track was difficult for forecasters to predict, proving them wrong as the storm not only grew in intensity but also took a series of turns that brought it ever closer to the United States.

Just before the storm finally made landfall on the morning of October 15 in the Carolinas, hurricane hunters measured the wind speed at 140 miles per hour, making it a massive and powerful Category 4 storm. By then, the clouds from the huge storm had already reached as far north as Pennsylvania, casting a shadow across the region.

The weather had been still and humid, but the wind soon began to pick up as the storm marched closer. In Norfolk, Virginia, at the entrance to the bay, sustained winds of 78 miles per hour and gusts of 100 miles per hour were measured. Baltimore soon had sustained winds of up to 74 miles per hour as the storm struck the Chesapeake region. Talbot County reported a gust of 108 miles per hour. In Philadelphia, gusts of up to 100 miles per hour were recorded. As the storm traveled up the coast, it battered New York City, buffeting the Big Apple with high winds. A gust was recorded at Battery Park of 113 miles per hour, the highest on record for the city.

Winds of that intensity for a sustained period are extremely damaging. Stately trees were ripped from the ground, and many homes lost roofs or suffered wind damage. (When all was said and done, the storm would cost the Maryland and Washington, D.C. area about $22 million—an amount that would be multiplied several times over in today’s dollars.)

Winds did not cause the only damage. Hazel brought a storm surge and very heavy rain to the region as well. According to NOAA, six to twelve inches of rain fell in western Maryland, causing severe flooding there. Tides reached two to six feet above sea level on the Chesapeake. The resulting flooding in Baltimore filled the streets. Waves churned up by the high winds and carried by the flood tide pounded the shoreline and docks. Even at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, the storm severely battered training vessels and sailing yachts that had been secured in advance against the storm. Elsewhere, closer to the open water of the lower bay, the storm surge swept away docks. Small craft broke free and sank. Wind and waves battered larger vessels into splinters.

Experts now say the storm was very deadly for that time, resulting in as many as ninety-five deaths in the United States. Overall, in Virginia, the storm was blamed for eighteen deaths—including four who perished when a tugboat capsized in the James River. An estimated eighteen thousand homes there were damaged. Half of all the electric and telephone lines in the state were downed by the storm winds.

Read about the Chesapeake Bay’s legendary hurricanes, blizzards, fogs and freezes.

The devastation was almost as bad in Maryland. NOAA reports that six Marylanders died as a result of the storm and several more were injured. (An additional three people were killed in the District of Columbia.) While most of the damage to homes was caused by wind, some houses close to the water literally washed away. The tidal surge and winds essentially wiped out the Eastern Shore’s crabbing industry, and crab pots left in the water before the storm were a total loss.

Roads and bridges in the flood zone required expensive repair or replacement once high waters receded. Approximately half a million trees were downed. Maryland’s apple and tobacco crops—still important state industries back then—sustained terrible damage just at harvest time.

Hazel had expended a great deal of its energy in the Chesapeake region, but the storm was far from down and out as it rolled northward. The hurricane would have blown itself out, but during the night the storm united with a cold front coming down from the Midwest and was reenergized. With renewed force, a monsterized Hazel struck Canada with hurricane-force winds of up to ninety-three miles per hour. The flooding and wind damage were extensive in Ontario. By the time Hazel finally dissipated into gusty winds and rain, at least eighty-one people had been killed in Canada by the hurricane.

On its official site, the National Weather Service lists Hurricane Hazel as one of the top ten weather events of the twentieth century to impact the Baltimore region. Even today, more than fifty years after that fateful day, Hurricane Hazel remains one of the benchmarks against which any great storm of the Chesapeake is measured.

The chapter above is from Great Storms of the Chesapeake by David Healey.

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Ocean City hurricane of 1933: Maryland’s City on the Sand

Carved out by the storm of 1933, the inlet was expanded for access to the ocean. PHOTO FROM GREAT STORMS OF THE CHESAPEAKE.

Hurricane of 1933 shaped Ocean City resort

Ocean City is Maryland’s beach town, a place where the population swells to nearly 400,000 on summer weekends. Tourists stroll the boardwalk or splash in the waves. It’s a place for sun, sand and good times.

People craving a bit of salt air and the feel of sand between their toes have been coming to Ocean City for a long time. The first beach-front cottage was built in 1869. Boarding houses and hotels began to appear along the sandy spit between the sea and Sinepuxent Bay as the popularity of the destination grew. Eventually, a “town” was laid out with 250 lots on the land that was once owned by Englishman Thomas Fenwick, the original settler there. By 1875, the Atlantic Hotel opened with 400 rooms. There wasn’t a boardwalk yet, but there was dancing and billiards to keep the guests entertained when they weren’t at the beach.

The oceanfront resort continued to grow, but it was a vastly different town from the one we know today. It was much smaller, of course, without the high rises and development visible today. But one key difference was that it lacked the outlet to the sea that exists today. The resort was located on one long, sandy spit that stretched from Assateague Island to South Bethany and Fenwick Island, Delaware.

That all changed on August 23, 1933, when the “Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane” roared into the region. The last really big storm to strike the oceanfront was in 1896.

Not that big storms hadn’t struck before. One of the largest seems to have occurred in 1821, when the region was only sparsely populated. From descriptions of the time, the storm was almost certainly a hurricane. It devastated both Assateague and Chincoteague. Here is one contemporary account:

“In the early morning the terrified inhabitants, looking from their windows facing the ocean, saw an awful sight: the waters had receded toward the southward, and where the Atlantic had rolled the night before, miles of sandbars lay bare to the gloomy light, as the bottom of the Red Sea to the Israelites; then how a dull roar came near and nearer, and suddenly a solid mass of wind and rain and salt spray leaped upon the devoted island with a scream. Great pines bent for a moment, and then, groaning and shrieking, were torn from their centuried growth like wisps of straw and hurled one against another; houses were cut from their foundations and thrown headlong …”

The account goes on to note how one man and his grandson were swept six miles inland by the storm surge, but somehow managed to survive.

The storm of 1933 was almost as furious. At Assateague, waves 20 feet high swept in from the sea and over the dunes.


Ocean City’s sandy spit has an elevation of just 7 feet above sea level, and so the barrier island was no match for the fury of the storm. Waves surged over the spit, deluging the town. The churning fury of the storm also carved an inlet between the sea and Sinepuxent Bay.

According to news accounts, the storm was devastating to other areas all around the Chesapeake Bay and Delmarva Peninsula. Six people died on the Eastern Shore as a result of the storm, many homes damaged beyond repair, and roads were destroyed.

The Eastern Shore News reported the following on September 1st, 1933: “Many families were driven from their homes. Some escaped in boats, others swam to safety while others floated on wreckage until rescued. Homes were flooded by salt water and the damage to furniture and household goods will run into many thousands of dollars. In many homes, windows and doors were battered down by the pounding waves. High winds did tremendous damage, felling trees, deroofing buildings, and destroying crops. Thousands of chickens and many horses, cows, sheep, dogs, and other animals were drowned.”

A hurricane readiness drill held in Baltimore during the 1950s. PHOTO FROM GREAT STORMS OF THE CHESAPEAKE.

The storm surge completely covered Deale’s Island and many coffins floated out of their graves. Salisbury in Wicomico County was safe from the sea, but heavily damaged by hurricane winds.

Across Maryland, residents were buffeted by high winds. The storm had made landfall in North Carolina, then tracked across Virginia and into central Maryland. More than 7 inches of rain were reported in Baltimore, which set a record. The weather was blamed for a train accident in Bladensburg, near Washington, D.C.

While the Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane destroyed a great deal of property as it pounded Ocean City, the town’s civic leaders actually were pleased that the storm had brought a gift in the form of the 50-foot wide inlet. For years, they had been calling for just such an outlet to be dug, but there never had been funds to undertake such a huge project. And here the hurricane had done it for them.

In the years the followed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers widened and developed the inlet by adding a protective jetty. This outlet to the sea has enabled Ocean City to become not only a resort, but also a major sportfishing center.

To the south, Assateague was not cut off from the resort and became an island. In 1965, Assateague became a National Seashore.

In the end, the Great Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane had given Maryland’s resort town an unintended gift that would help it to grow and become the city by the sea that it is today.

But that knowledge comes with an unsettling side. If the 1933 storm was powerful enough to cut an inlet and change the very character of the barrier island, could it happen again? The experts say a really big hurricane could alter Ocean City’s geography once again. That future remains to be seen, but it’s understandable if Maryland’s oceanfront city pays particular attention to the hurricane forecasts.


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History unlocked at the C&D Canal Museum

Displays at the C&D Canal Museum tell the story of the waterway linking the Chesapeake and Delaware bays.

C&D Canal spans waterways, and maritime history

Of all the sights that visitors to Chesapeake City, Maryland, can see, only a handful of tourists and locals alike manage to make their way to the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Museum. Those who do are pleasantly surprised by its scenic location and informative exhibits. Tucked away at the far end of the town harbor, the waterfront museum occupies the old stone pump house from the days when locks, like water-filled stair steps, were used by vessels negotiating the canal.

Those locks are long-gone, but inside the museum, visitors can find a host of information and artifacts related to the canal, including the 36-foot wooden waterwheel that once filled the Chesapeake City lock. There are maps and aerial photographs showing the 14-mile canal’s watery route across the Delmarva Peninsula. A working model of a lock demonstrates their function. A display case houses fossils found during the digging of the canal. There is even a video chronicling the construction of the Rt. 1 bridge, the most recent span across the canal.

“It’s really a wonderful little museum,” says Ron Francis, a former town councilman who has helped work to promote the museum. “This is a good place to go if you want a better sense of the history of the canal and its role today in commercial shipping.   The changes that the canal have been through are fascinating.  It’s well worth the time.”

The idea canal for a canal stretches back to the early 1600s, when explorer and Cecil County founder Augustine Herman first mapped the region. Herman, and others after him, were frustrated that there was no waterway connecting the Chesapeake and Delaware bays.

It’s a little hard to envision today, but in colonial times when roads were unpaved and muddy, rivers and canals were the original superhighways for transportation of goods and people.

Ships coming up the Chesapeake had to be unloaded at Cecil County ports such as Fredericktown, Frenchtown or Elk Landing, and then their goods or passengers traveled overland to Philadelphia or else to ports on the Delaware Bay.

Several routes for a canal were proposed over the years, and there was even at least one false start during the administration of President Thomas Jefferson.   It wasn’t until 1822 that the first steps were taken toward construction of today’s Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

It may surprise Marylanders that Pennsylvania business leaders were so influential in raising the $2.25 million to fund digging the canal. This is because Pennsylvania merchants were frustrated at seeing so much of the lumber and grain coming down the Susquehanna River from their home state going on to Baltimore by water. A water route to the Delaware Bay, they surmised, would help Philadelphia benefit from the goods produced in their own state.

The old stone museum was once a pumping house for the Chesapeake City lock.

Construction began in 1825.  In the days before heavy machinery, digging the canal was backbreaking work, as evidenced by some of the artifacts at the canal museum. There are picks and shovels, of course, but one of the most interesting construction tools on display is a wooden bucket. The bucket would be lowered by a rope into the canal bed being dug, filled with dirt, and then lifted out by hand. Thousands, if not millions, of buckets were removed in this way during the digging of the canal.

Interestingly, from the black and white photographs and other information displayed at the canal museum, it becomes apparent that African Americans and Irish immigrants provided much of the labor. Their pay was around 75 cents per day.

The canal was first filled with water in 1829 and operated as a private enterprise for the next 90 years. Mules pulled the barges along, plodding down towpaths that bordered the waterway. (In front of the Inn at the Canal in south Chesapeake City, you can still see the tiny office used by Henry Brady, who had a business hiring out mules and then steam tugs to pull barges.)

In 1919, the United States government bought the canal and began construction to remove the locks and transform the C&D into a sea-level waterway.  The government had a strategic motive, which was to create an inland waterway protected from a new threat that arose during World War I — enemy submarines that prowled the open seas.

Visitors to the museum will learn that today, the C&D is the second-busiest commercial canal in the world. (The Panama Canal is first.)   Ocean-going ships and barges use it as a shortcut between New York or  Philadelphia and the Chesapeake Bay ports of Baltimore and Norfolk. Of course, the canal also remains a busy recreational waterway.

CURIOSITY OF THE DAY: Old coins that tell a story.

The museum is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.   The museum is also open some Saturdays during the summer.

One summertime Saturday when I worked there as a volunteer, roughly 40 guests from all over the country stopped by to visit the museum. They really put my knowledge of the canal to the test.  One visitor from Texas was a canal buff fascinated by the history of these unique waterways. Another group that had traveled from North Carolina included a woman who wanted to reconnect with her roots after having moved away more than 20 years before.

“Look at all this,” she said.  “I grew up right in Chesapeake City and I had no idea about the history of the canal.”

The canal museum is just a short drive away for most in Maryland and Delaware, and a pleasant place to spend an hour or so during a visit to town.  And on the benches outside that overlook the water, you can bring a picnic lunch or just sit and contemplate what it must have been like to move all that earth, one bucket at a time, all those years ago.

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