DOWN A DARK ROAD is a heart-wrenching historical fiction novel based on the true story of Lieutenant Jim Thayer. As WWII in Europe draws to a close, the young Army lieutenant finds himself and his platoon on the point of the American advance into Austria. Jim and his men are no strangers to the horrors of war, but what they find hidden in the forests of western Austria is beyond anything they have yet experienced. They come face to face with the cruel brutality of the Nazi regime and bear witness to the fields of death left in its wake. Determined to hunt down the architect of this atrocity, Jim dispatches an unlikely team of allies to go in pursuit of the instigator. The war may be ending, but for these strange comrades in arms, the final mission has only just begun.
“In Down A Dark Road, veteran historical novelist H.W. “Buzz” Bernard grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go. Set in waning days of WWII, three diverse warriors embark on a final mission against the Nazis—a mission which carries them into the very heart of darkness. Whatever horrors these combatants have already experienced pales in light of the malevolence awaiting them—haunting images that linger forever. Such is the grotesque residue of war.” – Jedwin Smith, author of Fatal Treasure and Our Brother’s Keeper
“Bernard’s Down A Dark Road is a gut punch of a novel. A tale of war’s end, when the bill comes due in blood, and what honorable people are willing to do to right unspeakable sins.” – Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of Sleepless City
H. W. “Buzz” Bernard recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest thriller, DOWN A DARK ROAD.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
My wife, Barbara, as a high school student, had worked for Jim Thayer (the book’s protagonist) in his office supply business about ten years after the war. But she had no knowledge at that time of what he’d been through in that conflict. She went on to live her life, and Jim, his. They reconnected many years later, and only then did she come to realize what a remarkable life he’d led. She began keeping a scrapbook of newspaper and magazine clippings about Jim and his accomplishments and background—among other things, he’d been the Oregon State Defense Force commander—which she passed on to me saying, “There’s a great story here.” I followed up with my own research and that eventually gave birth to DOWN A DARK ROAD.
A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?
I had access to some unique material—personal notes, interviews, and a video one of Jim’s sons shot of a trip he and his father made in 2007 retracing Jim’s adventures in western Europe during the closing days of WWII. Jim related stories that I knew could be the basis of a powerful novel.
Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
I couldn’t help but think of BAND OF BROTHERS, both the book and the TV series, and the film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.
When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
My protagonist, Jim, had already been created. He was a real person. But I wanted to surround him with other characters, ordinary soldiers from both sides—young Americans and Germans—who would be profoundly impacted and repulsed by what they witnessed in the death camp. Not only repulsed, but driven to action to find the perpetrator of the atrocities they saw.
In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
That the Americans who fought in WWII truly were the Greatest Generation. Going in they were young, innocent, and maybe a little cocky—just like we all were at that age—but they endured bloody combat, fiery missions, and performed stunning heroics that few of us can imagine. The bravery of these ordinary men and women was something akin to that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Bible.
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
I’m returning to my WHEN HEROES FLEW series and trekking back to WWII China, Burma, and India–back to the jagged Himalayas where pilots flew over “The Hump,” befriended Burmese headhunters, and followed the Ledo Road as it was being carved out of the jungle. Oh yeah, and it will chronicle the adventures of a veteran aviator as he embarks on a desperate search for an army nurse he’d fallen for . . . but for whom the military strangely has no records.
H. W. “Buzz” Bernard is a best-selling, award-winning novelist.
His debut novel, EYEWALL, which one reviewer called a “perfect summer beach read,” was published in May 2011 and went on to become a number-one bestseller in Amazon’s Kindle Store. Three of his next four novels won EPIC eBook awards in the suspense/thriller category.
In 2020, Buzz switched from writing suspense/thriller novels to WWII historical fiction. His first two novels in that genre—WHEN HEROES FLEW and WHEN HEROES FLEW: THE SHANGRI-LA RAIDERS—were awarded Gold Medals by the Military Writers Society of America.
Buzz is currently finishing up work on his fourth WWII historical fiction novel, DOWN A DARK ROAD, scheduled to be released in May 2023.
Before becoming a novelist, Buzz worked at The Weather Channel as a senior meteorologist for thirteen years. Prior to that, he served as a weather officer in the U.S. Air Force for over three decades. He attained the rank of colonel and received, among other awards, the Legion of Merit.
Buzz is a past president of the Southeastern Writers Association as well as a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, the Military Writers Society of America, and International Thriller Writers.
Although a native Oregonian, Buzz lived for 35 years in Atlanta, and now resides in Kennewick, Washington, with his wife Barbara and their fuzzy Shih Tzu, Stormy . . . who doesn’t live up to his name.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.