FINE REVIEW: “The Railroad” by Neil Newton ~ Courageous Book Steeped In Gravitas


The Railroad by Neil Newton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Available at Amazon

There are times it takes great courage to write, especially when the events are personal—a major human-made catastrophe. Add to it a fictional focus is on the bleaker side of the human condition, and you have a book steeped with gravitas. This certainly is the case in author, Neil Newton’s tough novel, The Railroad. Unflinchingly he takes on two biggies: First, the devastating destruction of the Twin Towers. This shattered the psyche of a nation, a city, and countless individuals, including the leading character at the epicenter of the story. 9/11 was an impersonal attack by virulent strangers, tainted with a flawed ideology that showed no concern for their victims. But the author also faces down another scourge that is immensely more personal. The abuse of spouse and child by someone who intimately knew them, someone bound by marriage vows and decency to protect them under his roof, but chose instead to be their intimate predator.

The decision by Mr. Newton write this intriguing book in the first person is extremely effective. It gives the novel an inescapable sense of immediacy, and doesn’t allow our protagonist Mike Dobbs to hide his flaws. Unflinchingly through his eyes we experience each misstep, each misgiving and every hangover. This is consistent with Dobbs’ emotional decline as a result of his narrow escape down in the depths of the subway system when the Twin Towers collapsed about him. The once go-go ambitious New Yorker is instantly a shell of his former self, echoing much of the dislocation experienced by his fellow Manhattan dwellers.

From the perspective of Dobbs we witness the unrelenting decay of his life, an understandable consequence of his dramatic 9/11’s near death experience—but his wife and friends don’t quite get it. Too much drinking, fractured relationships and spiraling depression become his pattern. Not pretty.

Then circumstances deliver two strangers to his doorstep; there stands a mother and her seven year old daughter, both on the run from a narcissistic man who was meant to have protected them, instead he’d abused them. Though never invited into the cesspool Dobbs’ is compelled to get involved. Dobbs finds himself now facing an immediate villain, immensely more tangible compared to the faceless terrorists that had harmed his nation. With a new sense of purpose Mike Dobbs’ discovers that by necessity his reclusive ways are a thing of the past. As strangers seeking shelter under his roof, the mother/ daughter pair had given Dobbs a gift; they’d reignited his interest in life. Yes, Mike Dobbs had finally begun to care again.

All that was wonderful, until one day Eileen and Megan disappeared.

Without being heavy handed, author Neil Newton allows the pall of post 9/11 New York City to permeate the pages of the book—cleverly. In order that the reader would better appreciate the suffocating portrayal of abuse he uses the 9/11 catastrophe to embody the collective violation we as a nation had felt that ghastly day. In this way, though thankfully never explicit, the author succeeds in atmospherically giving us a sense of Eileen and Megan’s horror and desperation. And it’s through this veil of horror and the bottom of a bourbon glass, the ill-prepared Dobbs, is driven to right the awful wrong inflicted on the two girls he has learned to love. And so his quest begins to find the missing Eileen and her daughter Megan—and combat the unwanted attentions of an intimidating and dangerous ex-husband.

Sometimes nightmarishly Kafkaesque, the hunt takes Mike Dobb’s up along the East Coast seaboard where he confronts cagey lawyers, hired thugs, suspicious small town citizens, and an apparent murderer systematically hunting down the female victims of abuse. Compelling stuff! I strenuously encourage other readers to join Mike Dobbs on his gritty mission to find Eileen and Megan before it’s too late. I certainly found it well worth the journey.

Available at Amazon

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Or, How my messed up knees contributed to my new vocation as an Author…

It was my MRI, but the mournful expression on the face of the white-coated orthopedic surgeon suggested he was grieving for his own legs. “Bone-on-bone on both knees,” he said. “You have craters where you once had cartilage.”  Now I had an explanation for the excruciating pain that had robbed me of my mobility.

“Okay, doc. What would you suggest I do next?”

1471-2474-11-167-1 (1)

Would you like this bionic cyborg device in your body?


Ever so proudly, as if he presenting me with a Grammy award, the surgeon handed me a gleaming replica of the Stryker Scorpio knee replacement system. I took one glance at this bionic, slash cyborg, device—more like a prop from the Terminator  movie franchise—and fled, or more precisely flopped away on my two gimpy knee’d legs.


I was terrified. Knee replacement surgery seemed akin to gross amputation. Why the necessity for this traumatic procedure, twice—on each knee, I wondered? Surely this is a simple patch job; the biological equivalent of filling in a pothole?

With certainty I knew this was something I wouldn’t do, but as I searched for an alternative solution the pain persisted and my universe shrunk. No more tennis, and no more walks on the beach, no more soccer games, no more travelling, and even obligatory visits to the grocery store became too taxing. In fact, only vanity prevented me from applying for a disabled placard to allow me to park my car a few yards from my destination.

Inevitably I resigned myself to a future marooned on my bum. At least my bum didn’t hurt…at least not yet.


No! This is NOT a picture of MY bum.

So, what’s a poor guy to do stranded all day on his butt? Watch TV? Tried and done that. And then an absurd notion entered my head, “Why not write a book…”

Now I am not a Luddite. I’m well aware that the earth is round and technology is crazy cool. My resistance to bionic knees was not a foolish quest to invalidate the wonders of modern medicine. Quite to the contrary, I admire medicine. But in this instance, to me, “the punishment did not fit crime” and the recommended remedy was far too draconian. Hence I began the first tentative steps into ‘authordom.’ With computer in hand (or hand on mouse) I now used the wonders of modern technology as my primary research tool.


Bound to a chair I travelled through the universe and the ages; and visited the arcane and cruel laws of South Africa’s apartheid regime (the topic of my book)—without ever leaving my desk. Google and Bing replaced the library and index card system of yore, and brought all knowledge to my desk seemingly at my bidding. And from this foundation of dedicated research, my romantic-suspense, historical novel “The Zebra Affaire” began to take form and reveal its true shape.

ZA Kindle and Paperback Mock up copy

Here’s the obligatory plug of my novel. You are welcome to buy it at and other fine retail outlets. Thank you 🙂

Now we’ve reached the heart of this story; a “circle of life” thing—that still fills me with wonder—kind of happened. You see the book owed its very existence to the plight of my poor knees, and seemingly in a selfless act of gratitude this same book chose to show pity on my knees and reciprocated in kind.


One day when researching the specifics of the bloody massacre of black school children during 1976 Soweto Riots—I was suddenly transfixed by the search engine’s seemingly arbitrary highlight of something called stem cell regeneration of knee cartilage. And so I followed these crumbs of information that my grateful book had offered me. Apparently I had finally found the asphalt patch I’d been seeking for my pot-holed knees.

An innovative medical group, a modest two-hour drive from my home, was pioneering the procedure. They instructed me to bring my MRI (which I then pried from the grasp of the protesting orthopedic surgeon) to the initial appointment.

Anxiety skyrocketed. It was vital I qualified for the program. Fortunately both knees did; I experienced a similar euphoria as if my two knees had graduated college magna cum laude.


Now I will spare you the gory details (as there were none: no scalpel, no chain saws, no staples, and no sutures). But there were lots and lots and lots of needles (and some sedation). It would be fair to describe my needle-sprouting knees as living pin cushions during the meticulous stem cell “seeding” procedure.

An intimate portrait of one of my two prickly knees. And yes, it did hurt. I was awake during the process…


Twenty months have come and gone since stem cells harvested from my own body were carefully inserted beneath each knee cap. I used the time well, finishing off my novel, and designing both the front cover and the book’s interior. And as I labored the stem cells did their share of the work.

All now is well! “The Zebra Affaire” continues to receive splendid reviews (76 of them to date, Thank you!) for which I continue to be both humbled and grateful:

I see Pulitizer Prize material here…” readerJeanne Mary Allen

“Intensley dazzling!” Elizabeth Newton, author of “The View from the Sixth Floor”

“Scorching!” Charlie Flowers, author of “Hard Kill”

“If I could, I would give it six stars!” reader Enrico Grafitti

“A masterpiece at All levels…,” Ilana Edelstein, author “The Patron Way”

“A book to savour slowly…I found myself re-reading whole paragraphs, such was the quality of the writing. One of the best books I’ve read this year.” Jean Gill, author of ‘Song at Dawn’.

Clearly my pen is well indebted to my long suffering knees! As for my ability to walk—it is now a joy to be fully engaged, zooming about,  speaking at book clubs and book signings—with barely a twinge in either knee.

A little more about me: here

Introducing you to a remarkable woman of Africa, THANDI LUJABE-RANKOE

Introducing you to a remarkable woman, THANDI LUJABE-RANKOE; Freedom fighter, Senior South African Diplomat and Author. 

Exiled for 33 years during South Africa’s liberation struggle (at the time Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island).

Finally, she came in from the cold and President Mandela appointed, now Ambassador Lujabe-Rankoe, as her free nation’s High Commissioner to Botswana, and then Mozambique.

 “Now it is time for justice to be applied to all.”Thandi quote

Needless to say this courageous woman’s kind words regarding  The Zebra Affaire means a great deal to me. She has lived it, and continues to devote her life to the idea that “it is time for justice to be applied to all.”