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Cleveland lawyer Pete Kirsanow continues W.E.B Griffin WWII series

Author Pete Kirsanow and the book cover of "Zero Option"
Matthew Huested
Penguin Random House
Pete Kirsanow has authored a handful of military thrillers, including two for W.E.B. Griffin's Men at War series.

Years of writing legal documents has helped Cleveland lawyer Pete Kirsanow also write novels. He considers the latter “recess.”

“Fiction writing, in my estimation, is a lot more fun. It's the Wild West,” Kirsanow said, who specializes in employment law as a partner at Benesch and serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Kirsanow’s latest novel out Tuesday, “Zero Option,” is a WWII thriller carrying forward the late W.E.B. Griffin’s Men at War series. In “Zero Option,” U.S. agents must stop a suspected assassination plot, which is based on a real alleged plan against the Allied leaders.

“I'd always been interested in it because there's conflicting views of it,” Kirsanow said.

It’s Kirsanow’s second novel published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House, for the popular Griffin series he was invited to continue as ghostwriter after penning a couple of his own military thrillers.

“They had said, ‘You don't have to emulate his style, but you have to use his characters,’” he said. “That gave me a little bit of latitude. I probably have a little bit more action than W.E.B. Griffin.”

The action follows agents Dick Canidy and Eric Fulmar, sent on highly risky missions to protect President Franklin D. Roosevelt and U.S. interests. Writing from multiple characters’ perspectives, Kirsanow imagined how the agents, their enemies and world leaders jockeyed for control during the war.

While not a veteran, Kirsanow said his military fiction is influenced by his family members who have served as well as his own interest in history.

“You kind of extrapolate from the known realities of those historical figures, maybe draft a little bit of color around them that's consistent with what's known about them in history, and take off from there,” he said. “It's a little bit of a cheat, but at the same time it's a challenge too, because you've got to be consistent.”

Readers write to Kirsanow when they think he’s erred on a detail or part of history. He said he welcomes the critiques, and on occasion they are right. For instance, after his first Griffin novel, “The Devil’s Weapons,” he heard from a reader he had the fire rate wrong for a specific machine gun.

“I didn't know if people would be that invested in it, but they are, which I appreciate, because that means that you've got people who are really interested in what you're writing about. And I learned from it too,” he said.

Kirsanow will discuss “Zero Option” Wednesday at the Barnes & Noble at Eton in Woodmere from 5-7 p.m. He said one of the most interesting characters to write in the book was the German operative Otto Skorzeny.

“I was just amazed when I did the research on him. He he's a combination of Rambo, James Bond, you name it - but was real,” he said.

Kirsanow isn’t sure yet if he’ll write another book in the Griffin series. He is currently working on his own contemporary series, the Black Russian, about a former Russian intelligence agent who comes to work for the U.S., but it isn’t clear if he has really defected from Russia or not.

“They really want to use him. He's an extremely effective guy, but they assign an American agent to kind of watch over him and make sure he doesn't go off track,” Kirsanow said.

Imagining the missions of secret agents is “playtime” that dates back to his childhood. It continues to be fun, he said, and now brings in some money too.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.