||Jan 1 2001
"A terrorist with a little technical know-how and twenty pounds of smuggled plutonium could make a bomb powerful enough to destroy a city. That's what we should be worried about."
US Pentagon official, New York Times,
May 13, 1996
Can terrorists hold a nation hostage? Should a military officer follow orders regardless of consequences? If you and everything you knew were going to be destroyed in an hour, and you were powerless to stop it, would you want to know?
These are just some of the questions Gerd Balke tackles in this fast-paced thriller of international espionage. Born in post-war Germany, he brings keen insightfulness and a unique perspective to his writing. A founding member of the Hong Kong Writer’s Circle, Gerd is a multi-published novelist who has traveled the world, and who can bring all the places he’s seen to life through the written word. A truly unforgettable novel.
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Brian looked across the room. Every face was directed at him. He spoke with grave seriousness.
"Gentlemen, if we do not comply with the instructions, a nuclear device will be detonated in the city of London."
Now everyone breathed heavily. Brian could see their breaths pushing into clouds of smoke that had evaporated from certain areas of the table and had begun to fill the room like a physical materialization of a dark terrible fear. The thought of a nuclear attack on the city of London was indeed so outrageous to most of these men, so ridiculous in fact, that some almost burst out laughing but swallowed their notion quickly. Within seconds, total silence fell once again.
"What makes you think the threat is real, Brian?" someone asked.
The speaker ran his hands through the strands of his hair once again, using both hands this time. He looked carefully from man to man as he spoke. "We're treating this with such concern because of what was included with the message. Gentlemen, together with the letter a small item was delivered, properly packed and sealed—one gram of highly enriched, weapons-grade plutonium."
Soon the half-empty streets filled with colorful motion—deep purple dresses mixing with turbans of yellow and red. They moved quickly, a little frantic perhaps and filled with as much fear as curiosity and inquisitiveness. Psychedelic patterns formed, people dressed in yellow, blue and even pink moved frantically between white or curry-colored walls like the tinted glass pieces in a kaleidoscope.
Together they ran back to the desert as if time were of the essence, as if the girl's terrible fate could be undone and her young soul could be stopped and returned from her journey to Brahma's palace. Soon they began songs of lamentation—screaming, shouting and crying. Women raised their arms against the sky, begging, pleading, as if to pull her little spirit back from between the white clouds. But the young soul had already departed for the heavens.
The men were a little more concerned with practical matters. "This was no accident," said an angry young man. "Look!"
Indeed, when they looked where he pointed, a little further up the road, they saw tire marks that didn’t run straight; they turned, bending inward towards the edge of the road, as if the driver had deliberately aimed for the figure walking along its grassy edge.
"He fell asleep at the wheel," someone suggested, but his argument wasn’t heard; it was far too excusable. A young life had been lost and only the most punishable of crimes would justify such a deprivation.
"Look what I found," yelled another. He held the item high up in the air, for all to see. It was a scarf, a brown piece of cotton used by Muslim men from beyond the great desert to keep the dust out of their faces. How, they wondered, did it get here?
"Only a Muslim would leave a Hindu girl out in the street to die." The men looked intense. Was this indeed a sign from the gods as to the identity of the killer?
"It must be his," the man yelled. "Look, it's right here at the end of the track. The bastard stopped and left her to die."
"Death," someone screamed. "Death to Muslim Pakistan." Others joined in, shouting with voices of anger and frustration, but there was no doubt that the sentiment was truly heartfelt.
Suddenly there was more screaming. The girl's mother had arrived. Several women held her up, physically supporting her to prevent her from dropping to the ground. She waved her arms wildly, like someone attacked by a seizure. The other women had to constantly pull her back on her feet. She directed her eyes to the heavens and, blinded by grief and pain, didn’t stop screaming. The women who held her screamed too. Among these people, it was common, even for strangers, to openly share grief.
A great number of people gathered. Small fires were lit. Dancers comforted the young spirit on its way to the heavens. Slowly, the area turned into a sacred place, a place where a young innocent life passed to the beyond. Through the noise, the screaming, and the deep silence of the night, another sound was heard. Faint at first, it quickly grew in intensity. The men heard it first. It was a plane, flying lower than usual, its engines screaming with the same intensity and anger that the villagers felt.
An unexpected ally?
The plane flew in from the north, flew over the village twice as if to indicate its sympathy and knowledge of the painful event, and then suddenly, and without warning, its belly opened and a series of big umbrellas formed in the air, one after the other. Like giant mushrooms they fell. Like divine sunflowers, they made magic circles in the sky. Like invisible stones thrown into a star-covered lake, dancing as they fell, like silk shawls drifting in the wind.
The villagers stood and watched, even stopping their screaming temporarily. To some of them, the event seemed unbelievably timely, as if Brahma himself had taken pity on the fate of the young girl and, although he didn’t chose to reawaken her, he'd decided to give something back in her place. But what was it? As the mushrooms from the sky drifted down and came to land near by, they saw strange shapes attached to them. They were large wooden boxes, tattooed with numbers and letters, silently bedded under parachute silk.
"A miracle," someone shouted. The crowd remained silent. If this was indeed a miracle, it was difficult to see its merit. They opened the boxes and found nothing but heavy pieces of metal, polished to a shine. Pretty to look at, but without identifiable purpose.
If they had been familiar with the image of death, known that the innocent face of Lucifer was able to unleash the terrible wrath of Brahma, if the destructive power of nuclear energy had meant anything to them, perhaps they would have abandoned the site in haste, abandoned everything, even the girl. They might even have considered one life a fair trade for the horrible power to kill millions. But they did not.
"Look at this," a young man called out. He'd opened one of the other boxes. Assault rifles, a whole stack of them. Was Brahma indeed telling them something?
"We're neither soldiers nor hunters," an old man proclaimed. "Why would we need those things?"
"We are warriors, old man," cried a youth. "Every Rajasthani is a warrior. God has chosen his people."
They gathered up the boxes, the guns, the shiny objects, and the girl’s body and took it all back to their village. One man had discovered a possible use for the shiny objects. When he struck it with a metal object, it rang out with a high pitch, like the sound from a harp. A sophisticated instrument perhaps? Part of a divine declaration of war? A message from the gods, with such an absolute guarantee of victory that it even included the musical instruments of triumphal celebration?
They would hail the dead young girl as a heroine, who had given her life for a cause, the most honorable cause there is—that her people might prove themselves worthy, that they might rediscover true glory within themselves and evolve through their action. But today that day lay in the future. Today sadness prevailed. Even the oxen looked grief-struck, as if dulled by deep mourning. The new day's sun would be sad and terrible. Ahead lay a day of crying and pain. There was a funeral to be arranged.
SKULL DANCE by Gerd Balke
Reviewed by John Ling
Rating: 4 out of 5
The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the
post-Cold War era is perhaps the greatest fertile ground when it
comes to creating high-concepts in blockbuster films, computer
games and the novels of the techno-thriller genre.
Having said that, nothing has stirred the popular imagination
quite like nuclear armaments. Like no other weapon in history,
this one has given mankind the horrifying ability to destroy
itself in a sea of fire.
So begins the premise of Gerd Balke’s novel SKULL DANCE, a
thriller that delves into a world where the former Soviet Union
is getting sloppy with the essential ingredient of nuclear
Enter the protagonist, Christian Ramsdorf, a German former
military man who has seen life on both sides of the Berlin Wall.
With the collapse of Soviet superpower, he has become a
freelancer, using his knowledge in military armaments to make
ends meet in the new global economy.
His loose affiliation with British MI5, along with his messy
personal life, leaves him dissatisfied. This leads him to sell
his expertise to an enigmatic employer he knows little about.
The task is simple: join a team assigned to take apart a nuclear
weapon and transport the plutonium to an undisclosed location.
Soon, everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Betrayed
and stripped of his dignity, Chris soon finds himself in the
middle of a crossfire that might just degenerate into either the
first terrorist detonation of a nuclear device or the unleashing
of military warheads on an unsuspecting country.
While all the above sounds like the standard cookie-cutter plot
with red herrings so distinctive of the techno-thriller genre,
readers will be pleasantly surprised. Gerd Balke has fashioned a
novel that completely destroys commonly-held expectations of
what is possible in the genre. It’s completely unlike anything
ever done before by the likes of Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum or
The suave technical detail on the technology, geopolitics and
bureaucratic crisis management only form the basis for something
much deeper. Through the emotions, uncertainties and human fears
of his rich cast of characters, Mr. Balke explores issues such
as redemption, morality & even spirituality!
The author does it with such depth & power that his conviction
literally jumps off the pages. It is the human dynamic that
propels things forward.
Is it right to disobey military orders for the sake of morality?
Is there something more to life than superficial materialism or
money? Does man’s puny place in the universe allow him the right
to play God?
Gerd Balke’s novel is a techno-thriller on the surface only.
Once you look past the time-ticking suspense and wonderful
pacing, you will find him raising the most important philosophy
of all: how would ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances
find it within themselves to do the right thing under fire?
The answer, despite whatever expectations you have when you
first approach this novel, is in equal turns mind-boggling and
By the time it draws to its breathtaking climax, it is clear
that an overwhelmingly positive message abounds: the human
spirit CAN triumph over cold hard machinery.
And that is what makes Skull Dance a unique read. It is
techno-thriller with a big heart. Highly recommended!
SKULL DANCE by Gerd Balke
Reviewed by Patricia Spork
Freelance Writer and Photographer
Christian Ramsdorf--once a Volksarmee officer (border guard) in East Germany before the Berlin wall came down--is fired from his British Intelligence agent position. Jobless, he uses weaponry knowledge to gain employment in nuclear arms dealing. Twenty-nine-year-old Chris returns to Germany where he is hired to dismantle a road-mobile nuclear missile in Russia. He's to pack the plutonium, deliver, and then reassemble the missile at its final destination.
Needing a place to stay and hoping to regain employment with MI5 (British Secret Service), Chris shares information about the mission. Sting operation underway, Chris embarks to Russia. But once the packaged missile is in-flight and over India, Lathi, an Indian Hindu, hijacks the plane and dumps the arsenal cargo by parachute. Soon after, Indian Air Force forces the plane to land and all are arrested, or so it seems.
Dismayed that British Intelligence allowed his arrest and twenty-five-year internment in an India prison, Chris wonders if the British government is involved in underhanded nuclear dealings. While in the foreign prison, he meets cellmate Kumar Makesh, an Indian freedom fighter who becomes a philosophical mentor to him, helping Chris survive confinement. But when Kumar is released, Chris is raped, starved and tortured, and plans an insanely dangerous escape.
The escape is amazingly successful and Chris finds his way to Kumar's village where he settles into Indian ways. Later, Chris learns the New Asian Frontier (Indian terrorists) has demanded a British nuclear sub be delivered to the Indian Ocean or they will detonate a nuclear device in London. Lathi becomes the prime suspect as Chris is drawn again into international espionage, this time with motivation for revenge against the Hindu that escaped incarceration and threatens the livelihood of not only two nations, but also the world.
The late Gerd Balke leaves his author's mark in the world by the writing of SKULL DANCE before his demise. Strong plots and subplots entice the reader to each new page. The well-developed characters and powerful dialogue are masterful displays of a hierarchy in writing style. Gerd Balke brings the customs and culture of India to life, and international intrigue and espionage to magnificent proportions. SKULL DANCE is a diamond of a thriller-a thriller of dynamic quality. I very highly recommend SKULL DANCE to any person that seeks an exceptional read.
This is a timely tale of intrigue, terrorism and greed. It is packed
with "edge of your seat" action and soul searching realism. Given the state of the world today as we sit on the brink of war and so soon after the
September 11 attack, I was skeptical at first to review a book about terrorists
stealing nuclear weapons. But the masterful writing and human insight the
author used to tell his story soon had me captivated and oblivious to my "real
An ex-spy/agent has turned to stealing weapons for the highest bidder,
yet his conscience gets in the way when he is commissioned to steal nuclear
weapons. He tries to warn his ex-employers of his mission and lands in jail for his efforts.
The indignities and torture he suffers in a foreign jail would cause a
normal man's mind to crumble to insanity, but he survives--partially because he is befriended by a strangely calm and self contained fellow prisoner.
The action is fast paced and real as he endeavors to escape from prison. During his adventure, he discovers his own inner strengths and comes to
terms with his past and future. His attempts to stop an eminent nuclear
holocaust lead to his regaining his own humanity.
This is a book worth reading even in today's troubled times. It offers
true insight into the minds of terrorists and those who fight against them. I highly recommend this book to anyone with a taste for adventure and
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