Sometime in the early 1970s, New Canaan's Ken Oxman was visiting Colombia when he heard about "a sleazy bar" in Cartagena frequented by militia members. That young blue-eyed British man, who always was curious and fascinated by fear, decided to check the place out, even though he was alone and did not speak Spanish.
While drinking a gin and tonic at the bar, which was filled with "all these tough-looking" Colombians, a man sitting next to Oxman pulled a gun on him.
"I must've given him a look that he did not like," Oxman said. "It was the biggest gun I had ever seen. ... He started waving it near my face, laughing, and then he stuck the gun in my mouth."
Oxman, who has been through many dangerous situations in his life, including the one in Colombia, recently decided to use his adventures as inspiration for an action-filled novel. "Reluctant Assassin," his first book, is slated to be published in July and tells the story of a U.S. Navy lieutenant who deals with fear and several dilemmas throughout the story, which takes place shortly after America's entry into World War II.
Oxman drew from his time as an officer cadet in the British Merchant Navy, where he served for four years in the late 1960s, and a few of his father's tales from World War II to tell the story of Nathan Blake.
The character is an expert in killing targets at close range, but wants to be a seagoing officer.
"I have never been an assassin, but I knew that if you're going to kill somebody up close, you're not doing it for the government, you're doing it because you're a psychopath," he said. "There's got to be a certain type of mentality. There's got to be a certain type of attitude toward fear."
Amid many dilemmas and action-filled tales, the key theme in the novel is fear, he said. Nathan Blake's personality comes from Oxman's father, Oxman himself and much imagination.
Oxman is an actor, director, teacher and voice and public speaking coach, and served as a broadcaster for BBC local radio.
While he had a gun in his mouth at that Colombian bar, Oxman asked himself, "If you're not James Bond, what do you do in a situation like this?"
As he has done at other times in his life, Oxman tried to control his fear and the man eventually let him go.
"He actually yanked it out of my mouth," he said, "and I still have the scar."
Though he admits it was not a good idea to go to such a badly reputed bar, Oxman values the experience, which taught him how to deal with his fear. He's faced similar dangerous situations, including a time when he jumped off a cliff in an old-fashioned hang-glider that was "more like a kite" after a weekend-long course in England and when he was almost sold as a white slave in Mozambique.
"Reluctant Assassin" moves through historical events in a fictional way. The story begins on Dec. 10, 1941, -- two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor -- and ends on Feb. 16, 1942.
"The underlying theme throughout the story is his conflict within himself, thus the `Reluctant Assassin,' " Oxman said. "He wants to fight the war as a sea-going officer, but they won't let him, so he's sent out on these various missions."
Blake, who's a native of Madison, Conn., is then sent to a number of countries and ends up in Singapore, at a time when that country was about to cede to the rampaging Japanese. In Singapore, Blake fights to stop an enemy agent from damaging the allied war effort while he's also trying to find a woman with whom he fell in love and who is now somewhere in the country.
There lies one of his many dilemmas throughout the novel, Oxman said. Should he complete his mission or should he first search for the woman?
Oxman said he's always read thrillers and wanted his novel to be filled with action and questions. In fact, the book begins with tension.
"Nathan Blake is drowning," the first page reads. "Alone and adrift, gasping and battered some 300 miles off the English coast. The mighty and bone-achingly cold sea with all its brutal power pounds down on him, lashes out with stinging spray while all around banshee winds howl at the approaching darkness."
On the next page, he's getting ready to kill a Nazi in New Orleans.
Oxman said his interest in World War II started when his father, who served in the Royal Air Force as a navigator on Mosquito's & Sunderland Flying Boats, would tell him stories.
One of the many lessons he learned while writing the novel is that the characters "take over the story."
"I realized they write their own solutions to things," he said, "because once you created the character in the situation they're in, because they have certain abilities and traits, they will do certain things."
Oxman recently has directed a series of plays for National Public Radio, where he also has written and presented weekly commentaries.
The new author, who said writing the novel was one of the most enjoyable experiences of his life, already is working on a sequel.
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