Exploring Obscure Moments of WWII in 'Altar of Resistance'


If you're looking to pursue a 21st-century career as a self-published author, Samuel Marquis' suspense novels offer a good blueprint. By day, he's a VP-Principal Hydrogeologist at an environmental consulting firm in Boulder and he's found success as an author of suspense thrillers that have attracted fans that include former Colorado Governor Roy Romer.

His latest novel Altar of Resistance is the second in his World War II trilogy. Set in Rome during the Nazi Occupation of 1943-44, it sets out to tell the epic story of one (fictional) family's role in the Allied liberation of the Eternal City. It's available now on Amazon. One of the advantages of being his own publisher: he sets his own price and the eBook (also available on iTunes and Kobo) costs only $3.99.

Another example of publishing your own work: Marquis is a student of history and he gets to dig as deep as he likes into odd corners of WWII history. If he was working with an editor who was aiming to see his book at airports, they'd want him to trim away many of the most interesting details in hopes of making it more commercial. A good comparison might be Tom Clancy, whose first novel was published by the Naval Institute Press and they let him keep all the detailed description that a mainstream house would've seen as too complex.

In Altar of Resistance, Marquis is working out his obsession with Pope Pius XII's role in the resistance. For generations, the pontiff has been painted as a borderline Nazi sympathizer but the author draws on a lot of new scholarship that details the pope's endorsement of German attempts to assassinate Hitler (including Operation Valkyrie).

The family at the center of the novel is a tangled mess.  SS Colonel Wilhelm Hollman is SS General Karl Wolff's diplomatic liaison in Rome. He changed his name from Wilhelm Kruger and had extensive plastic surgery after his wife shot him in the face more than a decade before. That ex-wife is Marchesa Bianca di Domencio and she's now married to Italian resistance Colonel Giovanni Di Domenico. Their son is Captain John Bridger, spy in the American-Canadian First Special Service Force. He emigrated to the USA to get away from the family curse. Their daughter is Teresa Di Domenico, who abandons her Royal heritage to join the Partisan underground. Plus she's Colonel Giovanni's biological daughter and both men treat Teresa as their child.

Each character in the paragraph above  is loosely based on actual historical figures (except Wolff: he's 1oo% the actual guy) but the family connections are entirely a product of Marquis' imagination. He's after an epic Doctor Zhivago tale and it would take an entire 10-episode miniseries to film all the entanglements introduced in the novel. It's all very Falcon Crest: the dialogue gets soapy at times but the author is always advancing his plot.

His previous WWII novel Bodyguard of Deception, set in at the Camp Pershing German POW camp in Colorado, has zero characters in common with Altar of Resistance but also explores a little-known facts about the war. It's more of a straight-ahead thriller than the new novel: a German spy tries to share intelligence about the impending D-Day invasion with headquarters before it's too late. Most of the German characters are obsessed with the German author Karl May's popular cowboy novels set in the American southwest, a trait that carries over to some of the Germans in Altar of Resistance.

Historical thrillers that get this particular about detail are rare. Marquis' work is always creative, never boring and it'll be interesting to see what WWII incident inspires his next tale.


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