Mrazek, Robert J. 1945-
MRAZEK, Robert J. 1945-
Born November 6, 1945, in Newport, RI; son of Harold Richard and Blanche Rose Mrazek; married Catherine Susan Gurick, March 31, 1971; children: Susannah Rose, James Nicholas. Education: Cornell University, B.A. (government), 1967.
Home—RR 2, Box 195, Broadway, VA 22815. Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
Congressman, writer. Special assistant to U.S. Senator Vance Hartke, Washington, DC, 1969-71; Town of Huntington, NY, special projects coordinator, 1971; member of New York state legislature for Suffolk County, Hauppauge, NY, 1975-82, minority leader, 1979-82; member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Third District, New York, five terms, 1983-93. Youth Development Association, Huntington Village, NY, board of directors, 1971-76, president, 1972-74. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1967-68.
Stonewall's Gold: A Novel, maps by Martie Holmer, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Unholy Fire: A Novel of the Civil War, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Stonewall's Gold was adapted for audio (six cassettes), read by Jeff Woodman, Recorded Books, 1999.
Robert J. Mrazek's books have been published in the years after his time spent in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served five terms, representing his constituents on Long Island, in New York's Third District. Mrazek was scrutinized on a number of occasions, once, as Forbes contributor Edward Giltenan wrote, because he was "identified as the incumbent who overdrew his House bank account the most times, with almost 1,000 overdrafts over twenty-three months." Questions also arose over the purchase of St. Pierres Island in the Bahamas, which Mrazek acquired in partnership with a number of other Democratic congressmen.
Mrazek was coauthor of a bill to prevent the Manassas Civil War Battlefield from being turned over to developers, and his interest in, and knowledge of, the Civil War period is reflected in his writing. His first book, Stonewall's Gold: A Novel, is presented as a manuscript discovered in a Harrisonburg, Virginia, courthouse, and "irresistibly combines the classic motifs of Civil War, buried treasure and romantic heroism," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. The setting is Shenandoah Valley during the final winter of the war. Fifteen-year-old Jamie Lockhart's father has gone to fight, and his mother takes in a boarder to earn the money they need to survive. When the man attempts to rape her, Jamie kills him, after which they find a map of a treasure site called "the Mouth of the Devil" among the dead man's possessions.
The treasure is several crates of gold that was seized by the Union from the Confederates in 1861, then stolen back by a group of Confederate officers who kept it hidden, hoping that by the time the war ended, it would have been forgotten. Jamie, now the only one with a map to the gold, is pursued by the last remaining member of this group, along with his band of cutthroats. Another group that wants the gold intends to use it for the betterment of newly emancipated slaves. Jamie, who wants to deliver the gold to General Robert E. Lee to help the rebel cause, is joined by Katherine Dandridge, whose father has been killed by the Confederate deserters who are pursuing Jamie.
The Publishers Weekly writer concluded by saying that Mrazek's tale "possesses a compelling narrative drive. His sense of landscape is expert, and his cast of heroes and villains is complete." A Kirkus Reviews critic called Stonewall's Gold "a deft and fast-paced historical adventure" and "a gripping, well-researched, and vivid debut."
Unholy Fire: A Novel of the Civil War is about Union officer John "Kit" McKittredge, a Harvard senior who enlists and is commissioned as a lieutenant. When Kit receives what seems to be a mortal stomach wound, the doctors decide to ease his pain during his last days with laudanum. Astonishingly, Kit survives but with a serious drug addiction. He is reassigned to investigate corruption and crime in Washington, D.C., but when he delves into his first case, involving companies who sold defective ammunition to the army, he is warned by a stranger, then a congressman, not to pursue the case. He ignores them and continues, but is soon involved with the murder of a prostitute with ties to members of government and who was last seen with Union General Joseph Hooker. Kit is buying opium on the black market to feed his addiction but is saved from self-destruction by Colonel Valentine Burdette, who believes in him and joins him in investigating crooked military officers and politicians. Central to the plot is Kit's love for a friend of the dead woman, also a prostitute.
Booklist's Margaret Flanagan wrote that Mrazek's story "underscores the brutal nature of both the physical and psychological casualties associated with war." A Kirkus Reviews writer called Unholy Fire "tautly gripping, with vividly malevolent characters and some excellent historical color." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "Mrazek's portrayal of Civil War battle is stark, graphic, bloody and exciting, and is only exceeded by his memorable description of Washington, D.C., as a Gomorrah on the Potomac."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of Stonewall's Gold: A Novel, p. 1481; March 1, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of Unholy Fire: A Novel of the Civil War, p. 1147.
Forbes, April 1, 1991, James R. Norman, "Shrewd Timing?," p. 46; April 13, 1992, Edward Giltenan, "Mrazek's Folly," p. 14.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1998, review of Stonewall's Gold, p. 1627; February 1, 2003, review of Unholy Fire, p. 171.
Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1998, review of Stonewall's Gold, p. 57; March 17, 2003, review of Unholy Fire, p. 51.
School Library Journal, April, 1999, Molly Connally, review of Stonewall's Gold, p. 161.*