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John M. Danielski

Authors on Characters

Penmore Press authors offer a rich and entertaining array of short reflections on characters and how they were created in the novels.  READ

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The Pennywhistle Series

John M. Danielski

Napoleonic Techno Thrillers

A historical novel should act like a bag of Cheetos: engaging the gene that demands you immediately consume the whole damn thing.

John Danielski trained as a historian at the University of Minnesota, specializing in Tudor-Stuart England. After acquiring a suitable number of degrees, academic honors, and a Phi Beta Kappa Key, he taught history at the secondary and university levels. At one time, he worked as a weekly newspaper editor where he learned the thirty second rule: you have that long to grab your reader before the hunger for breakfast overpowers the hunger for news. That “engage immediately” philosophy is reflected in seven novels and twenty non-fiction articles that can be viewed at

He learned the art of story-telling and character-building from historians long dead: Suetonius, Edward Gibbon, and Francis Parkman. He still consults Lives of the Twelve Caesars, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Montcalm and Wolfe when a writing dry spell sets in. The works of journalist turned historian Bruce Catton, who won the 1955 Pulitzer for the magnificent A Stillness at Appomattox, guided his writing toward a more approachable, cinematic style. Catton also inspired him to infuse his work with the empathy that comes from seeing participants on both sides of a war as players in a grand tragedy. C.S Forester and Ian Fleming taught him how a strong central character could dominate a book as well as the importance of fast pacing. George Orwell admonished him that “sloppy writing encourages slovenly thinking” while Raymond Chandler supplied a maxim that has never failed. “If your narrative slows down, bring in a guy with a gun.” Or in the case of the Pennywhistle series, a sword.

Danielski agrees with E. L. Doctorow that, “while historians explain what happened, historical novelists tell us how it felt.” That translates to creating lively characters that think, act, and speak in harmony with the values, beliefs, and customs of the Napoleonic Era, not those of the 21st century. Ensuring accuracy demands thorough and painstaking research: two hours of scholarly investigation generally precede every hour of writing. An obscure bit of information frequently resolves a thorny plot problem and allows a novelist to explore a “could have been, should have been,” moment of history. “Sweating the small stuff” also gives the reader confidence that the author’s reservoir of knowledge is wide and deep, even though, like an iceberg, only the tip is showing. Lord Chesterfield was right when he stated, “knowledge is like a pocket watch. You should never flourish it about but if someone asks you the time, you should be able to tell him.” Substituting uninformed conjecture for disciplined research results in products like the Bridgerton TV Series: costume-based fantasy masquerading as history.

Danielski has allied his scholarly training to practical experience. As an undergrad, he spent four summers portraying a US soldier of 1827 at Fort Snelling, the birthplace of Minnesota. He wore a black shako and blue tailcoat, demonstrated volley fire, and mastered the marching and maneuvering evolutions of Baron von Steuben’s Drill Manual, inspiring a lasting interest in musket-based warfare. He has fired originals or replicas of most of the weapons mentioned in his works with live rounds, six- and twelve-pound cannon included. The effect of a twelve-pound cannonball on an old Chevrolet four door must be seen to be believed.

While he detests gore porn, his battle scenes are gritty, detailed, and realistic. War is anything but glorious and only by knowing its true face can the reader understand that it is something to be avoided at all costs.

The Prime Directive of a good historical novelist should be to provide realistic escapism: high adventure with history smuggled in the back door. The author should give his reader the chance “to explore strange new worlds:” worlds as alien to the newcomer as those encountered by the crew of the USS Enterprise. Yet if the historical novelist does his job right, the dead live again, the obscure becomes understandable, and the past ceases to be prologue and becomes riveting reality. A novelist may count himself a success if at the end of one of his books, the reader utters three simple words. “I had fun.”

New Penmore Press Author’s Note

Who is the tall, enigmatic stranger in a smart scarlet uniform gripping a cutlass in one hand and a rifle in the other? Tom Pennywhistle, at your service: Royal Marine officer, diplomat extraordinaire, and the rare soul granted the chance to see Shakespeare’s “undiscovered country,” but return from its embrace. A battle-hardened soldier with a philosopher’s cast of mind and a scientist’s analytical ability, he defies easy categorization but is the perfect choice for those missions which require quick thinking, fast improvisation, and deft maneuver. Whether trading sword cuts on the pitching decks of a ship in a gale, storming an enemy castle, or word fencing with treacherous diplomats, Pennywhistle is first into the fray and the last out.

The Pennywhistle Series chronicles his adventures during the Napoleonic Wars. Bellerophon’s Champion represents his baptism of fire at Trafalgar.  Active’s Measure takes him to the Adriatic. The King’s Scarlet finds him trapped behind French lines in Spain. Blue Water, Scarlet Tide transports him to America during the Washington Campaign of 1814. Capital’s Punishment continues his American adventures, as he witnesses the capture of Washington and the burning of the White House. Bombproofed returns him to England to face spies and his brother’s murder.  Attaché Extraordinaire finds him assigned to the Congress of Vienna as the British Naval Attaché.

While the books are fictional, Pennywhistle is loosely based on a real Royal Marine of the period, Captain Thomas Inch. A tall Scotsman frequently mentioned in dispatches, he was the kind of man who in today’s world would find his way into the Special Air Service.

Bombproofed by John M. Danielski

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Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle Series — Death limits a man’s future opportunities, but for Royal Marine Major Thomas Pennywhistle, death expands them. After a near death experience, he sees the world with enlightened eyes and enhanced perceptions. He will need them, because he has a code to break, a murder to solve, and spies to outfox. He will be entering a world of international intrigue, confronting a conspiracy to undermine the British monarchy. His capacity for guile, quick thinking, and decisive action have served him well in combat; now he will exercise his talents in the arena of politics.
Pennywhistle has a staunch ally in his resourceful American bride, but Sammie Jo is a fish out of water in Regency England, struggling to find her footing in high society. Marriage is an undiscovered country for both of them. Will they lose their way or trust their hearts’ compass?
From the battlefield grime of Tidewater Maryland to the elegant halls of St. James Palace, Pennywhistle’s courage will be tested, and he will be asked to serve his country in ways that he could never have imagined.

Blue Water Scarlet Tide by John M. Danielski

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The King’s Scarlet

Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle Series Book 2 — Chivalry comes naturally to Royal Marine captain Thomas Pennywhistle, but in the savage Peninsular War, it’s a luxury he can ill afford. Trapped behind enemy lines with vital dispatches for Lord Wellington, Pennywhistle violates orders when he saves a beautiful stranger, setting off a sequence of events that jeopardize his mission. The French launch a massive manhunt to capture him. His Spanish allies prove less than reliable. The woman he rescued has an agenda of her own that might help him along, if it doesn’t get them all killed. A time will come when, outmaneuvered, captured, and stripped of everything, he must stand alone before his enemies. But Pennywhistle is a hard man to kill and too bloody obstinate to concede defeat.

“Once again Danielski’s exceptional gift for matching a rollicking good adventure story with significant historical and period details makes this second novel a genuine page-turner … a writer whose facility and ingenuity brings to life in vivid but accurate detail the colours and wildlife of the high Spanish Sierra de Francia as he guides his heroes to the culminating Battle of Salamanca. The Peninsular War is one of the lesser-known areas of the Napoleonic era and is ably realized for us through Danielski’s insight and powers of believable recreation as we follow the exciting exploits of this small but dangerously powerful party of undercover British marines.” —George Odam, Professor Emeritus, Bath Spa University, Bath, England

“Mr. Danielski knows his subject with a confidence that allows him to write in a style that enhances the story and engages the reader. It is like a first rate adventure story with an elegance of writing we do not often encounter.” —James Kraft, editor of Prose Pieces: The Works of Witter Bynner.

“Once you open the pages of The King’s Scarlet, you will immediately escape to the Iberian peninsula of 200 years ago. All your senses will be fully stimulated by the rapid paced descriptions of war through the eyes of vividly drawn characters…You are there seeing the worst of mankind, but the indomitable spirit of human goodness is never quenched and well represented by the hero, Tom Pennywhistle. A great novel which pulses with life and is soulfully satisfying.” — James A. Taylor, Isabel Herson/Casino Rouge Endowded Professor, Southern University and A.&M. College


Bellerophon's Champion: Pennywhistle at Trafalgar by John M. Danielski

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Bellerophon’s Champion: Pennywhistle at Trafalgar

Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle Series — Deep within each man, lies the secret knowledge of whether he is a stalwart or a coward. Three years an un-blooded Royal Marine, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Pennywhistle will finally “meet the lion,“ protecting HMS Bellerophon at the Battle of Trafalgar. Not only will Pennywhistle be responsible for the lives of 72 Marines aboard Bellerophon but their direction will fall entirely on his shoulders since his fellow Marine officers consist of a boy, a card shark, and a dying consumptive. If he has what it takes to command, it will take everything he’s got. In the course of battle, he will encounter marvels and terrors; from valiant foes to women performing miracles, from the skill of acrobats to the luck of the ship’s cat, from a dead man still full of fight to a coward who has none. Pennywhistle and his Marines will meet enemy élan will with trained volleys and disciplined bayonets. Most of all, he will meet himself; discovering just how dark his true nature really is. Europe will be changed forever by Trafalgar, and so will Pennywhistle.

Blue Water Scarlet Tide by John M. Danielski

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Blue Water, Scarlet Tide

Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle Series Book 3 — It’s the summer of 1814, and Captain Thomas Pennywhistle of the Royal Marines is fighting in a New World war that should never have started, a war where the old rules of engagement do not apply. Here, runaway slaves are your best source of intelligence, treachery is commonplace, and rough justice is the best one can hope to meet—or mete out. The Americans are fiercely determined to defend their new nation and the Great Experiment of the Republic; British Admiral George Cockburn is resolved to exact revenge for the burning of York, and so the war drags on. Thanks to Pennywhistle’s ingenuity, observant mind, and military discipline, a British strike force penetrates the critically strategic region of the Chesapeake Bay. But this fight isn’t just being waged by soldiers, and the collateral damage to innocents tears at Pennywhistle’s heart.
As his past catches up with him, Pennywhistle must decide what is worth fighting for, and what is worth refusing to kill for—especially when he meets his opposite number on the wrong side of a pistol.

Capital's Punishment by John M. Danielski

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Capital’s Punishment

Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle Series Book 4 — The White House is in flames, the Capitol a gutted shell. President Madison is in hiding. Organized resistance has collapsed, and British soldiers prowl the streets of Washington. Two islands of fortitude rise above the sea of chaos–one scarlet, one blue. Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle has no wish to see the young American republic destroyed; he must strike a balance between his humanity and his passion for absolute victory. Captain John Tracy of the United States Marines hazards his life on the battlefield, but he must also fight a powerful conspiracy that threatens the country from within. Pennywhistle and Tracy are forced into an uneasy alliance that will try the resolve of both. Together, they will question the depth of their loyalties as heads and hearts argue for the fate of a nation.

Attaché Extraordinaire

Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle Series Book 5 — It’s a real game of Thrones that changed Europe
Lies, intrigue, betrayal: An average day at the Congress of Vienna. Kings, Czars, and Emperors dance a diplomatic minuet what will determine the fate of Europe for a century. Officially, Royal Marine Major Thomas Pennywhistle is the British Naval Attaché. Unofficially, he is on a covert mission to protect the prince Regent. Because the man who murdered his brother is the same one who threatens his prince, Pennywhistle must decide if justice should come by gavel or a gun.
Facing spies, assassins and an impenetrable cliff topped by an impregnable castle, Pennywhistle must confront a ruthless adversary fully as resourceful as he. A serious misstep could explode a conference desperately seeking to repair the damage done by Napoleon. Success will never add to his reputation, while failure could smash it forever

Destination Waterloo

Royal Marine Captain Thomas Pennywhistle Series Book 6 — The Battle of Waterloo will pit the two greatest commanders of the age against each other for the first time and will mark the climax of 22 years of incessant warfare. For Royal Marine Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Pennywhistle, it will mark the end of a dozen years of struggle against Napoleon. Working as the Naval Aide to the Duke of Wellington, Pennywhistle will battle smugglers, outlaws, renegade soldiers, and French sharpshooters. Along the way, he will steal a prototypic submarine, help defend a besieged fortress, and witness a cavalry charge. He will go from the elegance and splendor of the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball to the mud and stench of a rain-soaked ridge, whose possession will decide Europe’s destiny. He will be accompanied by a dangerous aide that he doesn’t trust, a combative wife determined not to stay safe, and an 11-year-old stowaway with more guts than wisdom. He will be given a unique mission that makes him a participant in the battle’s turning point, which changes him and Europe forever.