Book review: ‘Crimson Phoenix’ by John Gilstrap


John Gilstrap is a bestselling author, and the Winding Rivers Library System has several of his books. “Crimson Phoenix” is the first of a new series that he is writing and is not due for release until Feb. 23, 2021. It features Congresswoman Victoria Emerson and deals with destruction by a nuclear war. If you are not familiar with John Gilstrap, you may want to check out his earlier writing.

Victoria Emerson, U.S. Representative for West Virginia’s third Congressional District, was unceremoniously interrupted at home, told to grab an overnight bag, and be prepared to leave immediately. Major Joseph McCrea explained that Crimson Phoenix was in effect and that it was his assignment to take her safely to Hilltop Mountain Resort in West Virginia. As a single mother, she refused to leave without her two boys. After initial resistance, McCrea acquiesced, taking the boys’ cell phones. It was a four-hour drive to Hilltop Resort, and there was a long line at the entrance.  Soon enough, it was established that family was not included in the safety bunker for the Congress. That was the end of it for it for Victoria Emerson. She resigned.

Victoria Emerson was somewhat of a survivalist. She and her boys had practiced for an emergency situation; each had a survival pack that contained an unassembled 10/22 rifle and basic survival materials. The family had also agreed to meet at Mountain View, W.Va., if they became separated. That was the destination of Major McCrea, Sergeant Copeley and the Emerson family after the resignation. The reason: Adam, an older son, was in a military school near there. Mrs. Emerson was sure he would make his way to Mountain View and meet them. She didn’t know that the military school had burned to the ground. She also didn’t know that the nuclear blast would result in a total collapse of all electronics, including those in automobiles. The Suburban suddenly stopped. Major McCrea, Sergeant Copeley and the Emerson family were without transportation, still 200 miles from Mountain View. And among other things, they needed supplies, including food.

Without a car, the only choice was to walk. In need of food and other supplies, they would be in competition with virtually everyone who was still alive after the nuclear disaster. They did have a map, and the nearest town was Ortho. The walk wasn’t the only problem. On the way, they encountered a man who introduced himself as Jeffery Grubs and said he and the group with him wanted no trouble. They were confrontational, though, and were attempting to keep some things on site near the woods. McCrea negotiated safe passage, but threats were made on both sides regarding future meetings.

Upon reaching Ortho, they found a crowd gathered and two teen brothers being beaten and apparently about to be hanged. Victoria immediately rushed forward and took charge. The boys had been caught in a pawnshop that had been ransacked. Victoria, with the help of McCrea, established some order, and it was determined that the young men were inside the pawnshop, but they weren’t the ones who had stolen anything from either the pawnshop or the damaged gas station. McCrea believed that the Grubbs gang were the likely thieves. Eventually that led to the freedom of the Foster boys and a confrontation with the Grubbs gang by a group of Ortho citizens. Members of the gang were killed, but not Grubbs himself. Victoria was busy helping the citizens in dealing with the new reality. She organized a task force to collect and preserve the available food. With no refrigeration, frozen food would need attention first. Leadership teams were developed to identify and collect medical supplies, establish hunter teams, deal with sanitation, and identify building supplies. Ortho needed a leader and outsider; Victoria Emerson was it.

Much else was going on in the tragic circumstance that the U.S. was in. The political parties that were at each other’s throat before the short-lived nuclear war were no different in the bunker. The president and vice-president had been killed when the electronics in their planes had failed, resulting in crashes. Shortwave radio operators had communicated that information. The Speaker of the House was next in line, but what political authority did he really have here in the bunker?

Adam Emerson had not burned with the military academy, so he had set off with a girlfriend to Mountain View. His mother and brothers were in Ortho. How is that going to work? This new series has potential. Maybe you want to get on board right away.

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