Stuart Woods Critical Essays

Stuart Lee


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Stuart Woods, like many writers, is influenced and inspired by his childhood and personal experiences. His writing shows an antipathy to bureaucracy, military protocol, authority, and blind obedience to orders that may partially be the result of his time in the Air National Guard during the Berlin Wall Crisis. Though he was certainly not on a combat mission, he has hinted that he still does not thoroughly understand why the government sent him to Mannheim. His attitude may also stem from being a young American in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. In addition, he may have moved to London in the late 1960’s as an act of protest against the political situation in the United States. All of Woods’s protagonists are people who will listen to and carefully consider orders from superiors and advisers, but they ultimately will make their own decisions. Though it is important for his protagonists to work with the system to improve it, their competence and courage in the face of mortal danger often supersede the guidelines set forth by those sitting behind desks. Some of the government officials in his novels—such as Will Lee, Katherine Rule Lee, and Lance Cabot in Dark Harbor (2006) and Iron Orchid (2005) and Robert Kinney in Capital Crimes (2003)—are talented people, but Woods does not let readers forget the fact that officials’ incompetence can endanger ordinary people. In creating intuitive, talented, versatile, and ethical heroes, he appeals to the ideals of American independence and individuality and the frustrations of those who are not satisfied with the political status quo.

Woods’s childhood in Manchester, Georgia, clearly influenced his fiction. He has often experimented with the ways deep-rooted, small-town problems can have universal consequences. For example, the plots of Chiefs and Under the Lake (1987) are based on the premise that a few divulged secrets, pertaining to perversion, racism, fraud, and other sins, can shake the foundations of a small town. In these and the Holly Barker novels, if no one is interested in the truth, or if the root problems of the community are micromanaged, then the conflicts can and will reach beyond the township limits, affecting a state or even a nation. This is also how Woods’s background in sociology comes into play in the world of his fiction.

Woods’s experience in navigation and travel have helped him create dynamic characters and plots. In preparation for his novel White Cargo (1988), for example, he spent a lot of time flying over Columbia. His geographic knowledge of Florida helped to fuel the plots of Orchid Beach (1998), Orchid Blues (2001), and Blood Orchid (2002). His time in Maine helped him conceive of places for fugitives to hide and small airstrips suitable for dramatic landings and pursuits in novels such as Capital Crimes and Dark Harbor. Furthermore, his knowledge of London gave him an intriguing setting for the Stone Barrington novel...

(The entire section is 1238 words.)