Book review: Assault on Saint Agnes by Joseph Courtemanche

I first saw Joe Courtemanche in early 2014 in a class at a writers’ conference in Colorado Springs. I recognized him as an Operation First Novel contest finalist for his thriller, Assault on Saint Agnes. With Tennyson’s hairstyle and Longfellow’s beard, Joe already wore the look of an author. I had read he lived in Saint Paul, so after class, I threaded my way over to him and introduced myself as a fellow Minnesotan. Then he invited me to join his writers' group back home, promising good speakers and chocolate at every meeting.

Over the months, Joe talked about the travails of publishing, but as a man of faith and laser focus, he pounded the rocky path anyway. He shared his manuscript with many beta readers—his wife, patrons of Mickey’s Diner, homeless folks, and more. And he listened to them and polished his writing to a glossy sheen. By 2015, Assault on Saint Agnes won the Genesis Award, and by early 2016, Joe’s baby was published.

Joe had served as a former police officer and Middle East/North African analyst and Arabic linguist in the United States Navy. His expertise informed his writing, and I couldn’t wait to find out how. I snapped up my autographed copy at the March writers’ group meeting and hustled home.

“I’ll read to you,” I said to Husband. “Like I did back in the day when our love was new and the kids weren’t around.”

He settled into a chair. “Yeah, let’s go.”

The first chapter plunged us into Bobby Kurtz’s world, the air pungent with burnt gunpowder and the floor strewn with shattered glass in Saint Agnes Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Minutes earlier, a team of terrorists, including a suicide bomber, had rained down horror during Mass. But they hadn’t counted on Kurtz—in the right place at the right time—ruining their day.

After the attack, Kurtz is dragged away—as a suspect and not a hero—but is soon pulled back into his former life as a "spook" (intelligence operative) where he helps a shadowy government agency in its plans to crush terrorist cells bent on destroying the Twin Cities’ power grid. But will Kurtz and his team obliterate the evil before it destroys them all?

As the book progressed, I increased my reading speed, flipping the pages in a race against time along with Bobby Kurtz. Husband hollered out a “Nice!” here and there, and the mounting tension made me forget all about my cup of coffee. I waited until the end to rub the knots out of my neck and shoulders; the last time I had needed a massage after a book was when I read Andy Weir’s The Martian.

In this debut novel that hits the ground sprinting, Joe Courtemanche serves up snappy dialogue that helps take the edge off the layered crises, but the familiar Twin Cities locations and plausible details about Homeland Security and the military made me wonder if the author knows something the rest of us don’t.

Husband read my thoughts and chuckled. “Don’t worry. It’s just fiction.”


*Joseph Courtemanche's novel Assault on Saint Agnes launched on April 18, 2016. Get your copy from Amazon here today. (And listen to the audio sample, read by Joe.) 

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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.