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She’s out there stalking the Great Lakes, vintage fleet submarine USS Silversides.  Sixty years ago she sent 90,000 tons of Japanese steel to the bottom.  Now mercenaries have re-commissioned her in a bloody campaign, and Secret Service agent Dylan Reese must find out why before the assassins reach their deadly end game.

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DESCENDING FROM DUTY is my third novel to date and, I think, the best of the lot.  It's set entirely in my home state of Michigan and on the Great Lakes so there's a strong regional flavor present.  I had a fun time researching fleet-submarines and meeting with veterans while writing the story.

I can't say enough about the board members, staff, and volunteers of the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum who helped me with questions and guided my tours through Silversides.  The book would not have been possible without their kind assistance. Special thanks to Paul Kidd and Charley Roesch for their efforts. I've done my best to get the technical details right, but as this is a work a fiction some "poetic license" has been taken.

That being said, if any grievous technical inaccuracies have slipped through the editorial process it is not the fault of my advisers but rather the fault of a thick-skulled author (me) pandering to his story concerns. 

Please explore the rest of this page for in-depth information on the story, the premise, and what the reviewers are saying so far.

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Here's what reviewers are saying about DESCENDING FROM DUTY


"A crisply-paced military thriller which steams full speed ahead around Lake Michigan."

Dave LeMieux, Muskegon Chronicle


Descending From Duty is very strongly recommended for its realistic military fiction, conceptual understanding of the intricate works of national security, and the threat such an event [the theft of Silversides] would pose for the nation.”

            - Midwest Book Review


"This is a wonderful action story...Descending from Duty is a smooth and exciting read."

R. Alfred Schneider, Great Lakes Historical Society


"Those looking for a thriller with a local twist need look no further than Descending from Duty...This is well-written, taut and a good read."

Ann Byle, Grand Rapids Press


“The action and dialog, moving at a crisp clip, are seasoned with dashes of humor and a hefty ration of political intrigue. It’s a real page-turner, so don’t start the book an hour before bedtime.”

Scottie Dayton, Contributing Editor, Seaways’ Ships in Scale Magazine


“I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  As good as Clancy.”

Dr. Charles Roesch, Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum board of directors


“Set in Michigan, full of familiar names and places, Fenzel has written an absorbing, edge-of-your-seat thriller that you will want to devour in one sitting.”

Maria E. Schieda, Michigan Library Association


"Fenzel has managed to weave a seafaring yarn, political intrigue, and a detective story into one enjoyable read."

- C. Williams Coane, Rear Admiral USN (Ret), Exec. Director of Naval Reserve Association


“An interesting cast of characters and an unusual story combine for the kind of excitement that will remind you of Tom Clancy’s classic novel.”


          - Alan Caruba, Bookviews.com


“[Descending from Duty] is an exciting book with an interesting plot which kept me turning page after page.”

            - Jonathan Harley, ASTA Race Director (Tall Ships Challenge)


Descending from Duty is the perfect read for those who enjoy mystery and intrigue.”

            - Jan Rynearson, Tri-County Times


 “An engaging book!  Gripping story line with heroic characters, suspense, and accurate military detail make Descending from Duty hard to put down." 

Michael Brown, STS2SS, Fast Attack Nuclear Submarine USS Whale


 “Just completed the reading of your novel and found it to be quite entertaining...As we say in the Navy: Bravo Zulu! (Well Done.)” 

E.B. Caraway, Jr, former LCDR, USNR, fleet-boat submariner and Annapolis alumnus


          “Descending from Duty...is an engaging novel.  The great story line and references to local Michigan landmarks really made the book hard to put down.” 

Barney L. Smith, MSG U.S. Army (Ret).



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Descending from Duty has received the following special honors by book review publications


  • Bookviews.com Pick of the Month (April, 2006)  Book reviewer Alan Caruba sifts through a multitude of books each month from large and small publishers alike.  From this vast array of titles he posts his top picks on his website.  It's quite an honor to have my book posted alongside "the big guys" of the industry.


  • Independent Publisher Highlighted Title - Independent Publisher is a book publishing and review organization that receives hundreds of titles for review each month.  Of these submissions only a few are selected as Highlighted Titles.  This distinction is made for books "exhibiting superior levels of creativity, originality, high standards of design and superior production quality."


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What would happen if an armed submarine prowled the Great Lakes?  I asked myself this question while touring USS Silversides, a World War II submarine now on display at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum in Muskegon, Michigan.  The thought occurred to me because Silversides is kept in remarkable condition.  Her hull paint is fresh, her teakwood deck refurbished, her brass polished.  Every Memorial Day her Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines are fired up and she rumbles in the channel, alive again.

 What if?

 I talked with museum staff and volunteers about the boat, picked their brains about her.  I researched fleet submarines and their capabilities.  I dug into the types of Coast Guard vessels that patrol the Michigan coast.  I discovered the existence of a treaty signed with Canada that forbids “warships” from traversing the Great Lakes.  I put it all together and realized that if Silversides was out there, armed and dangerous, it would be a big problem.

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  With an intriguing premise in mind I began to work on the framework of a story.  Given the plot idea the default setting would be Michigan.  That made me happy because I’d wanted to write a regional novel for some time.  Having lived in the Wolverine state most of my life I knew it had a lot to offer in the way of setting:  Three thousand miles of coastline, the ocean-like expanse of the Great Lakes, the Victorian charm of Mackinac Island, the frequent parade of Tall Ships around the Lower Peninsula, the urban grit of Detroit, the laid-back resort-feel of west coast towns.  I used them all.

  As far as characters, Michigan has its share of high profile residents too: Kid Rock, Eminem, Bob Seager, Henry Ford, Jeff Daniels, Madonna, Elmore Leonard, etc., etc.  However, the name that sparked an idea was Gerald R. Ford, former U.S. President.  A political angle.  I felt those cogs in my heard turning.  My key story elements were taking shape.

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  I had a premise I liked and wanted a strong story to go with it.  It had to be more than a through line with flash-bang action.  With a former president as a lead character I got to thinking about the people that would be around him.  Secret Service of course.  I wondered about that, about what protecting agents thought of their protectees, about the relationship that might develop in such a situation.  Dylan Reese was born.

  Dylan Reese is the lead agent of former president Warren McCallum’s security detail.  Dylan admires McCallum, not just because of his popular two term tour in the Oval Office, but for the man he sees in private retirement.  His sense of duty to protect McCallum is strengthened by this relationship, but there is a problem.  Six years prior Dylan was nearly killed in an assassination attempt on McCallum.  Dylan has had six years to ponder his near-death experience, and with all that thinking his confidence has faltered.  He’s begun to doubt his ability to put himself in the line of fire for the president a second time.

  While Dylan battles his confidence crisis, McCallum is being haunted by a phantom from his past.  Someone is sending him angry letters, dredging up dark history that nobody should know about.  Determined to keep the past in the shadows, McCallum conceals news of the letters from Dylan.  But ignoring these anonymous threats becomes harder to do when Silversides goes missing from her berth and people start dying.

  Every good hero needs a strong partner, and Dylan has FBI Special Agent Rebecca Matthis.  Coming off a high profile kidnapping case that has given her unwanted notoriety, Rebecca is dispatched to the Resident Agency office in Grand Rapids to allow a media frenzy to simmer.  Upon arrival, however, she is assigned to investigate the disappearance of Silversides.  Tenacious and brusque, not to mention beautiful, Rebecca sifts through sparse clusters of evidence and pieces together what she believes is an ambitious assassination plot.  When she learns Dylan is thinking along the same lines they team up to uncover who is out there terrorizing the Great Lakes, and who the next target will be.

  Of course there wouldn't be a problem for my heroes and heroines if not for the villain, and he is found in the person of Owen Keyes.  Keyes is a former U.S. submarine commander with an immense chip on his shoulder.  Obsessed by re-written history, he has orchestrated a complex scheme to correct the books regardless the cost.  Keyes has hand-picked a brood of mercenaries to implement his plan with all the subtly of a sledgehammer, and will stop at nothing to see justice, his justice, served.

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 J. Ryan Fenzel © 2010                 • Home • Novels • Series • BIO • Contact •