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A Sinister Orphan Train Smuggling Ring - an Editorial Review of "Gold in Peace, Iron in War"

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

Book Blurb:

A talented detective duo must unmask a sinister child smuggling ring and expose the corruption in a world rocked by war.

Four and a half years after the terrorist bombing plot of 1916, expert detective Randall Blackburn is ready to face his toughest case yet. When a San Francisco mayor recruits him and his adopted daughter Vignette Nightingale to bust a horrifying child smuggling ring, Randall plunges into a sinister investigation with roots far deeper than he could have ever imagined.

As they begin to peel back the layers of mystery behind the so-called “Orphan Trains,” Randall and Vignette piece together the shocking truth behind an underground railroad with ties across the Atlantic. Determined to stop the ruthless practice and bring down the culprits, the detective duo must use all of their wits to expose the corruption that lurks in the shadows.

But there are powerful figures who would rather keep the Orphan Trains a secret… and Randall quickly finds himself locked in a deadly battle to unmask the shady people who have crept into the upper echelons of power.

Dive into the thrilling fourth book in New York Times bestselling author Anthony Flacco’s Nightingale Detective series. Drawing on his experience as an award-winning screenwriter and true crime novelist, this exhilarating historical crime novel features real-life figures and events. Perfect for fans of Devil in the White City.

Author Bio:

A New York Times and International Bestselling author, Anthony Flacco was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, one of four brothers. Their father was an Air Force pilot and mother was a talented artist and painter.

His background as a trained stage actor with over 2,000 performances under his Actors Equity membership provides the primary basis for his critically acclaimed ability to empathize with a wide cross-section of personalities. He moved into screenwriting when he was selected for the prestigious American Film Institute fellowship in Screenwriting and received his MFA in screenwriting there in 1990 after winning AFI's Paramount Studios Fellowship Award for his film script, The Frog's Legacy. He was then selected out of 2,000 entrants for the Walt Disney Studios Screenwriting Fellowship and spent a year writing for the Touchstone Pictures division.

His screenwriting experience drives narrative stories that are visually compelling, whether for a movie theater or the screen of a reader's imagination.

His latest historical thriller series is with Severn River is a reissue of the first highly acclaimed Nightingale series. Books 3 and 4 will be published in 2022-23.

In 1994, his first nonfiction book, A Checklist for Murder, was acquired in auction by Dell Books as a mass market paperback and turned in solid sales.

Anthony then adapted his book into a screenplay for a two-hour television movie script and sold it to NBC Studios for a movie of the week. For the next several years, he worked as a freelance script doctor and story editor.

During that time, Anthony was hired by the Discovery Channel to write a two-hour documentary entitled Deadly Spree, and his true crime writing was also featured on a one-hour episode of The Prosecutors for Court TV.

Anthony served as a national Judge for the Illinois Arts Council, writing individual evaluations for over 100 screenplays for their 2003 Writing Awards.

In 2005, with the publication of his nonfiction book Tiny Dancer (St. Martin's Press) the book was selected by Reader's Digest as their Editor's Choice for August 2005 -- which was their 1,000th Commemorative Issue. The book has been internationally acclaimed, and the Kansas City Star named Tiny Dancer "one of the 100 Most Noteworthy Books of 2005." In 2007, the book received Best Seller status in Italy and continues to be popular there with over 300,000 copies sold in that one country.

Back in the U.S., his first two novels of historical fiction are from Ballantine at Random House. The first book, The Last Nightingale, was released in June of 2007 and was one of five nominees for "Best Original Paperback" from the International Thriller Writers Association. The second book, The Hidden Man, published in June of 2008 and created widespread interest in his historical writing within the publishing community.

In November of 2009 his historical true crime book was released by Sterling Publishing -- The Road Out of Hell: The True Story of Sanford Clark and the Wineville Murders. It won the USA NEWS 2009 Best True Crime Book of the Year.

Publish Your Nonfiction Book (Writer's Digest Books), which Anthony co-authored with literary manager, Sharlene Martin, was also published in 2009.

He wrote NY Times Bestseller, Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Release by SEAL Team Six published on May 14, 2013 with Atria Books/Simon and Schuster which won the 2013 USA NEWS Best Memoir of the Year. It was optioned by Warner Bros. Studios for Clint Eastwood.

His historical novel, In the Matter of Nikola Tesla: A Romance of the Mind, has been published in the U.S, Italy as "L'Ultimo Segreto di Tesla"," Russia and Estonia.

He is the co-author of TAKING MY LIFE BACK (Revell/Baker, April 2017) with Rebekah Gregory.

In 2022, Severn River Publishing released Anthony's NIGHTINGALE DETECTIVES SERIES:

1. The Last Nightingale

2. The Hidden Man

3. Vengeance For All Things

4. Gold in Peace, Iron in War

He is an experienced public speaker and frequently gives seminars on writing and is a featured speaker for writers conferences and clubs. He lives in the Seattle area with his wife, Sharlene Martin.

For more information, see

Editorial Review:

''Wealthy people, powerful people all around the World have managed to establish a network through which they can ship people. They conduct an international market without the rest of the world knowing a thing about it. Try to imagine, they've set up a functioning underground railroad on an international basis! Only this one isn't set up to free slaves; it's there to transport them and to keep them a secret all during the trip. The ones who survive enter a world where they're invisible. To everyone who ever knew them, they're already dead. You don't need to believe in Hell to grasp the level of torment these people suffer.''........

This grim analysis is delivered by Deputy Commissioner O'Grady, a remarkable person who has achieved high rank within the New York Police Department;  made all the all the more remarkable by the fact that she is a woman! Her blunt situation report is delivered to Randall Blackburn and his adopted and free-spirited step-daughter, Vignette Nightingale, first encountered in this outing clad in leathers and astride a powerful Harley Davidson motorcycle and side car. These two comprise the 'Blackburn and Nightingale Detective Agency' based in San Francisco. This is a perfect summation of the underlying premise of Anthony Flacco's latest book 'Gold in Peace, Iron in War'.  Devoted followers of Flacco, of whom there must be many, will already be fully conversant with Blackburn and Nightingale from previous episodes from their adventurous life as Private Investigators, their unique set of skills and their unwavering quest for justice. So, what has occasioned this lengthy journey across the Continent from San Francisco to New York?  It is now 1920, the era of Prohibition and America and the World at large is still recovering from the effects of a terrible and cataclysmic world war that has brought death, misery and deprivation to millions. 

On one of her journeys across San Francisco, Vignette encounters a young vagrant boy and takes him to safety and away from a pursuing man intent on his murder. She brings him home where her foster father Randall Blackburn has a very tolerant view of her philanthropic habit of bringing home waifs and strays. The boy [he calls himself 'Dante'] is somewhat different. He is clearly a resourceful and courageous boy, aged about eleven and of unknown origins. He has an extraordinary story to tell. He is an escaped slave, he tells them, and has fled across the whole country from New York, where he was involved in a highly complex and lucrative operation in the trafficking of slaves [many seized upon their arrival in New York from the war devastated areas of Europe such as the former Baltic and Balkan states] and sold and transported all over the United States and beyond. The boy himself has been involved in the procurement of young children. On the two top floors of the 'City Squire Hotel' in New York auctions are held of these poor unfortunates to a highly selective group of highly privileged and protected members of the elite drawn from politicians from local and central government, high ranking representatives of law and order, oil barons and other tycoons, and the Church. These auctions and the depravities attendant upon them are presided over by the owner of the Hotel, a suave and handsome man by name of Clayton Mannerly and his young and beautiful wife Alison. Flacco provides the reader with an initial introduction to these depressing and depraved events:

.....''The casual state of attire [of the guests] signalled the determination of eight obscenely wealthy couples to ignore social boundaries and numerous laws, partly for pleasure, partly for future profits; and mostly because of the joy in flaunting the ability to get away with it......knowing they would dodge prosecution even if they were caught....[the slaves are brought in for the auction] ....''The auction was over in minutes, with the bidding done as a silent dance of hand gestures. Tonight's group of three women, three men and two children, a boy and a girl of perhaps eleven or twelve years. The victims were lined up and scrutinised, selected by one couple or another, then separated from the others and moved into one of the private rooms containing nothing but large beds. The captive adults all went quietly, resigned....they had all taken thorough beatings already, including the children, to ensure cooperation and silence......''

Mannerly, in fact, is very much a front man for this sinister organisation. He and his wife are responsible for the initial procurement of the trade in humans at source, along with a high ranking and equally despicable Churchman. Thereafter, they are held  responsible by the highly sinister 'Movers', who run the entire massive operation and the equally sinister and unsavoury Reverend  Canon Richard Young who runs a bogus 'Seminary' where slaves are either 'educated' or indoctrinated or else simply disposed of by death, preceded by torture. In the first instance, Mannerly is also responsible for the safeguarding of the auctions and the operation as a whole; and this has been seriously compromised by the escape of the boy 'Dante' to San Francisco with the connivance and assistance of the slave Eliana, his adoptive 'aunt'. This is a serious breach of security. Mannerly is desperate to locate and silence the boy, to which end, through the 'Movers', he has recruited the anarchist and expert bomb maker Andre Salsedo to remove the threat. It is this man that the boy is fleeing from.

While Vignette is philanthropically saving the young boy, the imperturbable Randall Blackburn is in conference with the Mayor of San Francisco at his corruption riddled office and being informed of the magnitude of the slave railroad. A whole trainload of orphans moving west has vanished, along with their caretakers. Blackburn is commissioned to investigate and to travel, all expenses paid, to New York and to liaise with the authorities there. Phone conversations between the two cities have been monitored and the name of Mario Buda, Head of the American Anarchist Movement, is mentioned. References to the Hotel City Squire in New York, the location of the slave auctions, has also been noted. Mannerly, in the meantime, is trying to solve the thorny issue of dealing with a disgruntled and very uncooperative Andre Salsedo, deeply resentful and unhappy at his allocated task of dealing with the runaway boy. Mannerly, however, is a master of smoothing over difficulties.

''Clayton Mannerly had not risen to the intersection between the smuggling line from Europe and the financial lines to this country's elite without constantly having the ability to think up a lie quick as a blink and deliver it like a priest.....Mannerly was making it up in free form now. He skated on the surface of his own stream of bovine feces..........''

 It is also the express command of Mario Buda, bomb maker Non Pareil, and head of the Anarchists in the United States of America. Salseda is ordered to return to New York and assume his former alias as a printer in Brooklyn. This is also the destination of Blackburn, Vignette Nightingale and the boy Dante and they travel, all expenses paid by the state, to the Hotel Plaza in New York- there to plan their investigations and to carry them out. And for Blackburn, this just got personal. Having learnt some of Dante's story and his fears over his 'Aunt' Eliana, he has thwarted a burglary and murder attempt on Dante and forced information from the intruder, learning that Salsedo was also responsible for the murder of his foster son. He learns also of Salsedo's present location in Brooklyn. The three of them, with the aid  of an unscrupulous and utterly unreliable free lance reporter, are about to start delving deep into the dark underbelly of organised crime; the conspiracy of the unholy alliance between the anarchists and 'the Movers'.

Previous readers of Flacco will be pleased to learn that the plot of 'Gold in Peace, Iron in War' is fast paced and action packed, somewhat in the style of old fashioned weekly radio detective dramas or Saturday morning trips to the local cinema. There are a whole series of truly heart stopping and cliff hanging moments which truly test the iron nerves of the Blackburn and Nightingale Detective Agency and the dogged tenacity of Dante to the limits. The efforts of the two women, Deputy Commissioner O'Grady and the indomitable Detective Goodwin of the NYPD against the innate sexism, prejudice and corruption of the local Police authorities seem often to be to no avail and, always, there is the pure evil of the conspiracy they are all attempting to uncover. Here is the truly atrocious Clayton Mannerly dispassionately and cold bloodedly describing to his doubt ridden wife the fate of their victims: 

''The truth is they won the game they didn't even know they were playing. We buy 'em by the batch and take what we get. Handling the mutts is lost time for us....They've been rejected from lives of servitude, they're so glad to be on their own in America, they're not about to complain to anybody....Now, the stupid ones, they'll die right out. You watch. Find 'em passed out in alleys, getting arrested for petty crimes. The ones with some spark, some determination - why, they'll head for the hills. Travel on foot, sleep rough, live off the land until they can snag some job, maybe do something nobody else wants to do. And just begin to put together a life, lucky bastards.''

The constant whiff of menace is all-pervading throughout the entire book! Nobody seems to know the actual identity of these high ranking 'Movers; but they are omnipresent, everywhere and involved in everything, from the highest level to the lowliest cog of the operation. Especially disturbing is the link  - a 'Faustian Pact' - between 'the Movers' and the highly dangerous and volatile international anarchists who are being bank-rolled in their plans to bring terror and destruction to the entire United States of America and to bring influence to bear upon the selection of the next President in the Autumn of 1920! The team of the Blackburn and Nightingale Detective Agency increasingly find the odds stacked heavily against them. Even the City of New York itself seems to be a living and malevolent entity:

''In the fresh energy of morning, Manhattan was a powerhouse of a metropolis clawing its way to dominance with every passing year. Daylight revealed its true nature, beyond the din of traffic chaos, the fumes and the trash. It laid bare the slabs of muscle operating the city and showed the anatomy of a seething creature trapped in new skin already hungry for growth in all directions.....''

After many perilous incidents and attempts to uncover the true extent and the scale of this international conspiracy, events begin to escalate in the early Autumn of 1920 and the impending Presidential Election. New 'orphan trains' are soon to set off for the West coast and legitimate adoptions and the plans of the anarchists to not only thwart but actually destroy these go up by several notches. It is time for Blackburn and Vignette to intervene once more. As is only to be expected in a novel by Anthony Flacco, such intervention is fraught with danger and the nail biting climax of 'Gold in Peace, Iron in War' will come as no disappointment to readers and followers of Flacco's books, in its intensity and excitement.


“Gold in Peace, Iron in War” by Anthony Flacco receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



To have your book editorially reviewed or enter the 2022 HFC Book of the Year contest, go HERE


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