Eau Claire native’s novel follows the search for a Nazi-hunting killer
So far, the reviews for Eau Claire native Steven Turk’s new mystery crime novel, Solomon’s Executioner, have included phrases like “first rate thriller” and “a damn good read.” Turk grew up in the “Bloody” Ninth Ward on Bellinger Street on the west side. He recalls it as “wonderful,” reminiscing about the part of town that once hosted neon-signed taverns that made it not uncommon to see “a bar fight tumbling onto the street or a drunk being hauled away in a paddy wagon.” While he has since moved out of state (Florida is home now), Turk still thinks fondly of his hometown speaking dotingly of snowmobiles, lutefisk, the Packers, numerous taverns, and the friendly, genuine people of Wisconsin.
Turk began writing while stations with the U.S. Air Force in the Mojave Desert during the Vietnam War. With not much else to keep him busy during his down time, he immersed himself in literature and read voraciously while learning to appreciate good writing. After completing his service, he briefly returned to Eau Claire before he began an extremely successful 40-year career in advertising writing and design, with his client list featuring big names such as The Wall Street Journal, 3M, and American Express.
Even though Turk has written two other books (Harvest of Stone and The Phoenix Agenda), Solomon’s Executioner, which he began writing about three years ago, is his first published novel. The story, partly set in Eau Claire, begins when a murder victim is discovered in a quiet Midwestern town and eventually follows two police detectives, Michael “Copper” Donovan and Brian Scully (to whom Turk claims to relate on the basis of carrying too much weight, having a taste for butter burgers, and insisting on cramming himself into sports cars). The detectives are on a mission to stop a serial killer with a very specific mission: to hunt down and execute World War II war criminals that his father failed to bring to justice. The investigative chase leads the characters on an incredible adventure bringing them to a frozen Canadian lake, an abandoned warehouse in Chicago, a bear pit in a run-down zoo in North Carolina, and many more obscure locations where they hunt a “madman who leaves a string of increasingly bizarre executions.”
“Due to my experience writing advertising, I try to give every word
a reason for being on the page, and because of my background in art, I try to create a strong sense of place both for myself as well as the reader. I’ll agonize over finding that one, just right, quirky physical element that brings a character to life. It’s as important to me as telling a good story.” – Steven Turk, Eau Claire native and author of Solomon’s Executioner
“I have always been fascinated with the hate and collective insanity that seemed to be at the heart of the Nazi movement,” Turk says. “So, I became enthralled when I read an article several years ago about a Polish Jew and Auschwitz survivor living in New York. He devoted his life to identifying and tracking down Nazi war criminals living in the United States who came here under (President) Truman’s 1948 Displaced Persons Act.” The true standout aspect of this novel is its ability to blend historical characters and facts into the story of a fictional protagonist. Turk said that the research he did for Solomon’s Executioner was fascinating and surprising, especially when viewing the personal accounts of death camp survivors recorded by Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust Project. He called it an eye-opening experience. Although the novel takes on an understandably dark tone, Turk stresses that he strived to create positive elements as well and added a thought-provoking component that leaves readers questioning their own moral compasses.
The author described his writing style as economical and very visual. “Due to my experience writing advertising, I try to give every word a reason for being on the page, and because of my background in art, I try to create a strong sense of place both for myself as well as the reader,” Turk says. “I’ll agonize over finding that one, just right, quirky physical element that brings a character to life. It’s as important to me as telling a good story.”
Turk draws professional inspiration from classic authors, such as “Hemingway for his economic style, Steinbeck for the sheer loveliness of his prose, Twain for his skill at spinning a yarn and creating characters, John Sanford for his pacing, John Updike for his honesty and insight into human condition and for never looking away” (he says he’s still working on the latter). His family played an understandable role in inspiring him, as did a junior-high teacher, Clarence “Immy” Imislund, who taught him a love of words, a lesson that left a clear impact. Turk promises that his writing will take you on a ride that will give you a few hours of escape and entertainment – a promise well satisfied by Solomon’s Executioner. The overall message the author hopes to communicate is to “Rise above hate. It’s a terrible, destructive burden to carry around.”