Anita L. Sherman
When Blaine Pardoe was 4, he was living in Marshall, a small, rural town in Michigan.
On the morning of Aug. 18, 1967, Nola Puyear was in the Tasty Cafe when the postman delivered a package to her addressed in red ink. She thought it a gift from her son, John.
Moments later, as she unwrapped the brown, book-shaped package, it exploded with a force that ripped out sections of the building and left her body mangled and scattered.
It was a horrific act that rocked the town and, while vague, left images with this four-year-old that would later prompt him to pull them from his memory bank and write about that fateful and tragic day.
Listening to sirens, seeing the crowds race to town and watching his grandmother lock the doors, Blaine Pardoe’s peaceful life as a toddler in a quiet town was changed forever.
Now, decades later, Pardoe’s book, “Secret Witness,” delves into the untold story of that bombing perpetuated by the sinister act of Enoch Chism. In his true-crime investigation published earlier this year, Pardoe pulls back the layers of a seemingly picturesque and quaint community to reveal its unsavory underside and less than pristine private lives of some of the town’s citizenry.
Conducting countless interviews, reviewing police files, newspaper articles and court documents, Pardoe has crafted an edgy and suspenseful whodunit that will keep you turning the pages.
Not fixated on any one particular writing genre, Pardoe’s foray into recreating true crime events reveals a versatile author who continues to take great delight in his avocation – writing.
Perhaps best known for his sci-fi series and, most recently, his nonfiction military histories, Pardoe writes from his heart about subjects that captivate his interest.
The citizens of Marshall, Mich., were rocked to the core that August morning and, as Pardoe reveals, there are still unanswered questions circling the characters in this plot that muddied the soul of this charming town.
Stopping on his way home from work recently at the Starbucks in Warrenton, Pardoe had only been back a few days from a Michigan book signing for “Secret Witness.”
“I write about stuff that I like to read,” said a buoyant Pardoe, “. . . subjects that resonate with me.”
As for the writing of “Secret Witness,” Pardoe found great satisfaction in visiting the friends and family of the victim. Now older, they appreciated Pardoe’s historic eye for detail and a sense of closure on a subject that was perhaps easier to revisit.
“When a crime is fresh, it’s much harder to talk to people,” said Pardoe. “There is too much emotion and the facts are continuing to reveal themselves.”
Going back 40 to 50 years and re-examining a crime gives the author and the audience the luxury of perspective and time.
Recreating unsolved or unresolved crimes requires intensive and meticulous research which Pardoe undertakes with excruciating accuracy. Once he has all the pieces assembled, he puts them together in a narrative style that takes the reader, in this instance, to the sights, smells and sounds of East Michigan Street on that humid morning when one customer was having coffee, another eggs, while a middle-aged church going lady wearing a rumpled apron is blown apart by an unsuspecting package from the postman.
While receiving royalty checks a few times a year, Pardoe’s financial gains from writing haven’t prompted him to give up his job as an associate director with Ernst and Young, where he works in IT.
“I think I’d hate it if it were all that I was doing,” said Pardoe, who readily admitted that when he’s not working, he’s writing. For him, it’s fun with no stressful strings attached.
“Oh, I have the television on,” laughed Pardoe, “but I don’t watch much of it . . . it’s background noise while I’m typing.”
“You have to be organized and disciplined . . . best if you have an outline that you follow,” continued Pardoe, who with a slight smile, revealed the subject matter of his next book – out this fall in time (appropriately) for Halloween.
“It’s called ‘Virginia Creeper’ . . . and it’s a horror story set in Fauquier and Culpeper County,” said Pardoe. “People will recognize the areas talked about . . . sort of think ‘Blair Witch Project’ . . . it’s not what you see but what you don’t see that is terrifying in this book. It’s all in your head and I’ve written it in first person.”
Pardoe grinned sheepishly.
“It’s set in 1998. It’s good . . . it’s scary . . . and it’s here.”
Pardoe attended college at Central Michigan University in the early 1980s. He majored in business administration but found a niche as an editorial columnist for the university’s award-winning newspaper, the CM Life.
Pardoe chuckles again. “They paid me about $5 per column and wanted to know what journalism classes I was enrolled in.”
“It was funny . . . I told them I wasn’t enrolled in any.”
Pardoe has a gift with words and in eliciting emotion. He writes about what he feels like writing about and has no qualms that he isn’t pigeon-holed into one type of book.
“Lost Eagles: One Man’s Mission to Find Missing Airmen in Two World Wars,” also published by the University of Michigan Press in 2010, takes you into the perilous world of young pilots in World War I who had the choice of going down with their planes or jumping if the plane was hit.
Whether it’s computer books, gaming books, military history, novels, true crime or business management books, Pardoe is a prolific writer with more than 50 titles to his bibliography.
And, he couldn’t be happier.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Amissville, Pardoe commutes to his job in Northern Virginia and then home to the country where he can visualize his next book.
“I love what I do . . . I enjoy these books . . . they make me happy.”
“Secret Witness” is available at major bookstores or through Amazon. Learn more about Blaine Pardoe and his writings on his website at blainepardoe.com.
And be sure you’ve got a blanket to cuddle in as you read “Virginia Creeper.”
Pardoe will be discussing and signing copies of “Virginia Creeper” at 2 p.m. Oct. 27 at Culpeper County Library, 271 Southgate Shopping Center.