May Day – Book One of American Sulla

by Thom Stark


The detonation of a nuclear explosive in lower Manhattan throws first the Northeast then the US and finally the entire world into chaos. President William Orwell Steele and his cabinet must cope with mounting crises: thousands of refugees from the Fallout Zone, economic collapse of Wall St and the banking and insurance industries, political machinations, a rising militia movement, and world-wide financial ruin.

Theme of the Book

American society is both highly connected and highly divided. Mr. Stark shows the interconnected systems of money, power and politics as well as the strong divisions within US society. His reference to Sulla in the title of the book is, I think, a reference to the Roman Sulla who was accused both of defying the Roman constitution and saving Rome itself. In May Day, we see this seeming contradiction played out on a modern-day stage.

What I Liked About the story

This novel is well plotted, well written, and well researched. The amount of research Mr. Stark must have done to write this book is amazing. He demonstrates a deep knowledge of economy, politics, the military, geography, and medicine. But most of all, what impressed me was his understanding of the divisions in US society.

There are frightening portraits of far right militias egged on by talk radio host Melvin Friend and of cold-blooded intelligence officers ready to bend or break the law to further their ends. There are public servants and members of the military putting their lives in danger to assist survivors. The Tea Party politicians evoke little sympathy as they refuse to pass a law offering assistance to refugees because it involves a tax increase. These are facts of American life and Mr. Stark presents them beautifully.

But not all characters in the book are treated negatively. One of the most sympathetic is Donell, an escaped convict searching for his girlfriend and her daughter. Although he is a member of a powerful prison gang, Donell is presented as a loving, caring man and earns the reader’s sympathy early on. A second sympathetic character is Sean Halloran, one of the thousands of refugees, who becomes an FBI informant to protect his wife and child.

The plot and the action move relatively quickly and every reader will find one or more of the subplots to enjoy.

What I Didn’t Like About the story

One of the major difficulties with this novel is the huge cast of characters. There is a list of characters at the end of the book that runs to over twenty pages. Except for a few stand-outs, I had a very hard time keeping track of who was who. It is hard to care about any of the characters when there are so many. Yes, there would be hundreds of people involved in the aftermath of a crisis like this one, but naming, and describing each is overwhelming for the reader.

Mr. Stark could also profit from a good editor. In places, the narration becomes repetitive: scripts for Melvin Friend’s radio broadcast are nearly the same each time they are included; details of deaths from radiation poisoning don’t need to be repeated over and over; describing each character’s clothing to include brand names is tiresome. May Day would benefit from cutting at least 100 pages.

Because of the structure of the book, action seems disjointed. Chapters tend to be very short and the plot skips from character to character without any tie-ins. The ending was also a disappointment. Since this is Part One, the reader is left hanging and is basically forced to buy the next book to find out what happens. Writers who end an installment with a cliff-hanger always seem to me to be looking for a way to sell more books and not necessarily to satisfy readers.

Final Say

Fans of thriller writers like Clancy and Ludlum will most probably enjoy May Day, though it is not as tightly constructed as either Clancy’s or Ludlum’s books. I often found myself reading the first sentence of a paragraph and then skipping ahead simply to avoid the over-long descriptions. While it has great potential, it did not entertain me enough for me to consider reading the sequel.

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