Local authors’ spy series rereleased as ‘cozy’ thrillers
The tales of retired CIA operatives are now available for all ages
“The Grand Conspiracy,” a creative nonfiction book written in 2001 by William Penn, starts off with a bang — literally. The book’s heroes are Buck and Dolly Madison, a married couple living quietly in Grand County. But since Buck is a former U.S. military paratrooper and Dolly is a former CIA linguist, their retirement ends when their private plane is shot down while flying over the Continental Divide. They must outwit terrorists who are intent on destroying the Lake Granby Dam, which the American and Russian presidents are visiting.
“The Grand Conspiracy” is the first book in a four-part series, which was just rereleased in large print. Even readers familiar with the series may not know William Penn is the pen name of husband-and-wife authors Bill and Penny Hamilton.
Cozy thrillers offer clean entertainment
In addition to being offered in large print for older readers, the books have been edited to join a new genre.
“We wanted the spy novel series to appeal to a wider variety of readers. Without changing any of the historical facts that were known when each novel was written, all four novels are now cast in … the ‘cozy’ genre of spy-fiction thriller,” said Bill Hamilton.
Cozies are suitable for all ages because characters don’t curse, there are no R-rated scenes and any violence takes place mostly off stage. The four-part series consists of “The Grand Conspiracy,” “The Panama Conspiracy,” “The Berlin Conspiracy” and “JFK: The Umbrella Conspiracy.”
“These books are good, clean, fun entertainment. … A teenager could read this with their parents and not feel uncomfortable,” Bill Hamilton said. “But that still leaves room for exciting, spy-thriller events to take place in fascinating locations around the world.”
Penny Hamilton added that the most entertaining parts of the books are “the mystery and the story and the travel … the description of the locales are what gets people. So in ‘The Berlin Conspiracy,’ of course (Buck and Dolly) have to go to a beer hall!”
For Grand County residents, the book settings will offer both the comfort of familiar places and the thrill of more exotic locations. Each novel begins and ends in Grand. Protagonists Buck and Dolly are proud Grand County residents, but their spy work takes them everywhere — from the Panama Canal, to Europe, to China. The Hamiltons know these locales firsthand — Bill Hamilton is a retired U.S. Army Officer who also served two years in the Air Force. Penny is a pilot and former journalist.
“The novels are a travelogue of the places where we have been blessed to live or have visited,” said Bill Hamilton.
They say the only country in the series they haven’t been to is Afghanistan.
The Hamiltons say the action scenes in their novels stay true to reality, thanks to their own adventurous lives. They write from their experiences flying aircraft, parachuting, rappelling and skiing. They have also occasionally borrowed from the experiences of military colleagues and friends.
In one book, Buck and Dolly must land their plane on an aircraft craft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“We have not landed on an aircraft carrier, but we got a lot of help from Admiral (Dennis) Wisely,” said Bill. “He used to head the Blue Angels and command aircraft carriers.”
In another scene, Buck and Dolly dine with the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace. The Hamiltons haven’t had this honor (“Our invitation must have been lost!” Penny said), but friends who met the royals described their experience to the authors.
While Buck and Dolly make a good pair, so do Bill and Penny Hamilton. Bill does most of the research and writing, while Penny takes care of proofreading and character development.
“We start out at the breakfast table with an idea,” said Bill. “We do the plotting … then word processing goes on during the day. At the end of the day, we check to see how things turned out.”
Each book leads into the other, with details sprinkled in each book to give readers hints about what might happen next. Still, the Hamiltons say each book can stand on its own, so they can be read in any order.
“We did four years of research before we wrote ‘The Grand Conspiracy.’ There was a lot of engineering and hydrology that needed to be correct,” he said. “But, after we got the hang of it, we could do a novel in a couple years.”
Their works are not serious literary fiction, but are meant to be fast-paced thrillers in the likes of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton stories.
“We hope to entertain others and, for sure, we often amuse ourselves in the process,” he said.
The Hamiltons came up with the plot for “The Grand Conspiracy” after moving from Europe to Grand County. In Europe, infrastructure such as train tunnels and water plants are protected, but this wasn’t the case in Colorado.
“When we got here, we thought, oh my goodness, there’s no protection for the electrical grid, Adams Tunnel, the Moffat Tunnel,” said Penny.
What if someone attacked this infrastructure? This question prompted their first novel. Buck and Dolly take on terrorists intent on destroying several important much of Grand County’s water resources and infrastructure, which are also some of the most important in the state.
“Some people said, you wrote a cookbook about how to blow up everything in Grand County,” Bill said.
The book came out seven months before 9/11 and Bill said local law enforcement actually used it for reference as they ramped up security.
“It was really useful to the sheriff because he knew where to put his troops for about six or seven weeks,” he said. “They were camped on the Moffat Tunnel, Adams Tunnel, the Grand Ditch, the Granby Dam, the (Farr) Pump Plant, so (the book) turned out to be a public service.”
The Hamiltons research included visiting places to see how a would-be terrorist plot could be carried out in reality. An engineer for the Moffat Train Tunnel took them onto the catwalk as trains roared by. Bill also took the elevator down to the bottom of the Lake Granby Dam.
For “The Panama Conspiracy,” the Hamiltons drew from a cruise ship excursion they’d taken through the Panama Canal. They noticed that Chinese workers were operating the canal’s locks from control towers, which sparked the idea for the book. The Hamiltons returned to the breakfast table to write. In this novel, the Chinese plan to cripple the U.S. Navy by closing the Panama Canal, shortly after the events of 9/11. Buck and Dolly are caught in an international power play that takes them from Hong Kong to Afghanistan.
In “The Berlin Conspiracy,” Buck and Dolly embark on a mission to stop al-Qaida. They travel to a secret terrorist headquarters in Berlin. For this book, Hamilton drew from his experience in military intelligence. Penny also lent knowledge from her time in East Berlin during the Cold War.
Buck and Dolly’s last adventure is on American soil, as they take on one of the country’s greatest conspiracy theories: the death of John F. Kennedy by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald.
While factfinding for the book, Hamilton visited Dealey Plaza in Texas, where Kennedy was shot during a motorcade. Using this on-the-ground research, Hamilton wrote the scene of JFK’s death from the perspective of Oswald, the convicted killer. But in the book, Oswald is not the killer in this scene; another, much-more experienced sharpshooter is.
About the authors
The Buck and Dolly series is by no means the couple’s only books. Bill also writes on military and international affairs. Penny writes about aviation, Grand County history and women’s history. They also co-run the Emily Warner Field Aviation Museum at Granby Airport. They say their fictional works require as much research as their nonfiction projects, with lots of creativity sprinkled in.
“We’re not in this to make money,” said Bill Hamilton. “We do this for fun, something we can do together.”
Most of the proceeds from book sales go to the Disabled American Veterans charity.
To learn more about the book series, visit BuckAndDolly.com. To learn more about the author team, visit PennyHamilton.com or Center-View.com. Readers can purchase books at Rocky Mountain Interiors and Picture Framing in Granby, or Amazon.com. Books are also available in all Grand County Library District locations.
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