Good Guessers: Local Authors Publish New Thriller 'Paperclip'

Nealy Corcoran, photos by Andrea Paulseth

MYSTERY MEN. Local writers Walter Rhein, left, and Dan Woll collaborated on Paperclip, a thriller inspired by real-life weirdness, including MKUltra.
MYSTERY MEN. Local writers Walter Rhein, left, and Dan Woll collaborated on Paperclip, a thriller inspired by real-life weirdness, including MKUltra.

Long-time Chippewa Valley residents and local authors Dan Woll and Walter Rhein have released their newest novel, Paperclip. Published by Burning Bulb, the book is a thriller based on historical events such as MKUltra and the Stanford acid tests. Paperclip follows the three main characters – Carlie, Mickey, and Mort – from youth to adulthood. 

“I have two daughters, so a lot of Carlie comes from them. Carlie is more of a complex figure than characters you typically find in her role in a book, much more intelligent and powerful.” -Walter Rhein, co-author, Paperclip

At the height of the Cold War, the United States government feared that Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean agents were using mind control to brainwash American P.O.W.’s in Korea. In response, the CIA approved Project MKUltra, a covert operation to develop techniques that could be used against Soviet enemies to control human behavior. The experiments involved administering psychedelic drugs, paralytics, and electroshock therapy to more than 150 people. Sometimes the test subjects knew they were participating in a study, but at other times they couldn’t even tell when the hallucinogens started taking effect.

To this day, it is uncertain how many people were involved in the tests. The program officially ended in 1973, and the agency destroyed most MKUltra documents. In 1975, details of the program become public during a congressional investigation into widespread illegal CIA activities within the United States and around the world; this is the information Paperclip is based on.

Mickey and Carlie meet at an early age as grade school classmates who develop a kind of unspoken connection. They are separated after a short time, but are brought together during different times in their lives. The three main characters share a supernatural – perhaps psychic – gift that allows them to see things before they actually occur. It serves as a guiding force in all of their lives, and continually brings the characters together.

After working on the story for about five years, Woll passed the manuscript on to Rhein, who spent another year working on it. Rhein expanded on the historical information, references, and character development. The main characters were based on experiences the authors have had.

“I have two daughters, so a lot of Carlie comes from them,” Rhein said. “Carlie is more of a complex figure than characters you typically find in her role in a book, much more intelligent and powerful. Mort’s a fun character, too, he started off more of a psychopath, but I thought he’d be scarier if his motivation at least made sick sense every now and then.”

Woll currently lives with his wife Beth and Bernese mountain dog, Emmett, in River Falls. He is a retired school teacher, principal, and superintendent, and father to three grown daughters. During his career, Woll spent time teaching at inner-city schools, an experience he draws upon as an author for both subjects and characters.

Rhein was born in Wisconsin and graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a degree in English. In his 20s, Rhein moved to Lima, Peru. While there, he supported himself by writing, teaching, translating, and editing. He currently lives in Chippewa Falls with his wife and children and splits his time between Wisconsin and Peru.

With Paperclip now available, the authors are excited about reviews the book has received. Dave Wood, former books editor for the Star Tribune and past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle, describes Paperclip as unsettled, stirring, and drama-laden. “How can you resist a book that opens with a guesser who is always right?” he said. “Paperclip begs for a read, a sequel, and a movie.” 

For a limited time, Paperclip is available for only 99 cents on Kindle.

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