“Park remained in his position, looking into the easterly darkness and willing himself to catch a glimpse of light from the mainland. The tremble of the craft’s internal twin engines barking to life vibrated the soles of his boots. Moments later, the vessel moved forward. The last time he’d checked the nose of the forty-two-foot infiltration boat, his rescue craft pointed north in the direction of the intersection of China and at their borders.

I will not fail. The world will fear my name.”

–From Dark Spiral Down by Michael Houtz

After a career in medicine, Mike Houtz succumbed to the call to hang up his stethoscope and pursue his other passion as a writer of fast-paced thrillers. A rabid fan of authors such as Clancy, Mark Greaney, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor, Mike loves series writing with strong characters, fast pacing and international locations, all of which explode into action in his debut novel, a 2017 Zebulon Award winner. When not at the keyboard, he can be found on the firing range, traveling for research across the globe, or trying out the latest dry-fly pattern on a Gold Medal trout stream.

He lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Book Description:

COLE HAUFNER is a reluctant superstar in the professional mixed martial arts world. After his latest fight, his wife and child perish in a car crash. His grief deepens when his brother, BUTCH, a Delta Force operator, is absent from the funeral and reported missing by two furtive strangers who show up unannounced at the burial. Despairing, and acting on a tip, Cole travels to his childhood home in southeast China, looking for his brother.

Butch and his teammate, HAMMER, are the sole American survivors of a gun battle between their unit and North Korean commandos, both sides fighting over possession of a stolen suitcase containing a miniaturized fusion device that could either provide unlimited clean energy or be converted to an undetectable bomb seven times more powerful than a nuclear explosion. Leading the North Koreans is the sociopath, Commander PARK. Pressed into helping the Koreans is a disgraced former CIA operative, BARRETT JENNINGS.

Cole meets with the uncle who raised him, MASTER LI, and is warned to stop his search for Butch. Barrett discovers Cole’s identity (with the help of a genius computer hacker, LILLY), which opens a twenty-year-old wound when Barrett was blamed for the disappearance of Cole’s father, along with the man’s invention. Barrett enlists the 14K organized crime syndicate to help capture Cole. Hammer, separated from Butch during the fight for the device, thwarts the gang’s attempt to kidnap Cole, and the two then set off to find Butch and the device. All parties converge on the city library where Butch, now disguised as a monk, is attempting to communicate with the Pentagon. Barrett and Park capture Butch, while the 14K gang nabs Cole.

Danger mounts as Chinese authorities begin investigating foul play within their borders. Cole fights his way free of the gang and reunites with Hammer.  Both men find Barrett’s apartment and discover Lilly (the man’s stepdaughter), who divulges Barrett’s identity and plan. Cole clashes with Hammer, who is willing to sacrifice Butch in order to recover the fusion device. Lilly offers her help in exchange for her and Barrett’s rescue from Park’s grip. Meanwhile, Barrett discovers the true nature of the case the North Koreans are pursuing and, sensing he and Lilly are to be assassinated by Park once he has the device, frees Butch. Butch, trusting Barrett was sent to rescue him, leads the turncoat to the site where he hid the device. Barrett, hoping to make a quick fortune selling it, shoots Butch before escaping with the case.

Cole, along with Hammer and Lilly, arrives at the location of Butch and finds him gravely wounded. Butch fingers Barrett for shooting him and for stealing the case. Cole wants only to save his brother but Butch makes him promise to kill Barrett and recover their dad’s invention. The revelation that the device is his father’s scientific discovery propels Cole forward to fulfill his brother’s mission. Cole is forced to abandon Butch at a hospital. Cole pursues Barrett to a remote dock where the ex-CIA man is planning to escape China by boat. With the Chinese military now actively looking for Cole, Cole confronts Barrett and Park sparking a gunfight. Barrett kills Park. As Barrett turns the gun on Cole, Hammer kills Barrett. Cole, Hammer and Lilly escape via the boat, and the fusion device is safely returned.


Welcome, Mike!  Your new thriller sounds thrilling! Can you tell us how you came up with the idea to write this book?

Mike: I’m involved with a number of Children’s organizations—particularly the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Coming across and article, I read of one dad’s heartbreaking story where his ex-wife took their son and escaped to South America. The two parents had joint custody in the U.S.  He spent every waking hour and his entire life’s savings attempting to recover his son from the illegal separation. By all accounts, he was a good father and not an abusive husband. The mother’s new boyfriend was an attorney and the courts were unsympathetic in that part of the world. With two young sons of my own, I could only imagine the pain and suffering of such a horrible act for both the dad as well as the son. I kept wishing someone would recover the boy, bring him home, and then let the rest play out in the courts. I imagined a book character performing that type of rescue. Though this first novel doesn’t follow that specific action, I wanted to establish the basis for what will come in future releases.

Can you tell us a little about the main characters?

Mike: The main protagonist, Cole Haufner, has led an interesting life. He was born in Massachusetts to a Chinese mother and German father. At the tender age of 6, he is stranded in China at a Shaolin monastery, along with his older brother. At the age of 15, he moves back to the U.S., finishes high school and college before embarking on a meteoric rise in mixed martial arts. Funny thing is he hates fighting. He prefers a quiet existence which brings him even more fame and attention. The dichotomy perplexes him.

Butch “Dragon” Haufner, the older brother, is a Delta Force team leader in the U.S. army. He’s part of a task unit that works primarily in the Pacific region and finds himself operating back on his old home soil. Unlike Cole’s introspective, calm self, Butch is aggressive and very much the protector—both suitable to his career choice.

Ron “Hammer” Thompson is Butch’s second-in-command. He’s a former linebacker for Univ. of Texas who gives up a possible career in the NFL to serve his country. He’s forced to teach Cole, on-the-fly, basic military tactics when the two meet on foreign soil. He’s the epitome of an east Texas boy.

“Lilly” is a 19 yo Chinese girl who is one of the world’s top computer hackers. She helps her adoptive father, a former CIA operative with various tasks. She’s sweet, naïve, and only wants to escape her existence in southwest China.

Barret Jennings, offspring of a wealthy railroad magnet, is a former CIA employee living in exile in southeast China because of a key failure twenty years ago. He groomed Lilly from an early age because of her extraordinary intellect and his multitude of illicit activities.

Commander Park is a notorious North Korean agent and sociopath bent on obtaining an invention capable of producing clean energy. He’ll kill anyone and anything in his way.

They say all books of fiction have at least one pivotal point where the reader just can’t put the book down. What is one of the pivotal points in your book?

Mike: People who read early copies frequently mention three spots with one clear leader among them. Without giving too much away, Cole has a scene where he’s captured by a local gang hired by the North Korean element. Initially, he hopes for a quick death. At some point he finds the desire to exact revenge before he’s killed. As one leading critic says in his review, “It was a scene I only imagined happened in movies.” I’ll just say, Cole puts his world-class skills to effective use.

Are you a detail freak when it comes to writing your books?

Mike: Not in the sense of outlining. I’ve found leaving myself plenty of wiggle room to let the story tell itself works the best for my style. Conversely, I’m obsessive with plot details. I fret over the tiniest details from scene-to-scene so that readers aren’t left with a question about something they read earlier. If a character places something in his right front pocket, I want to make sure any return action matches exactly with what’s been written before. I probably spend too much time flipping back and forth, but I don’t want to appear sloppy or oblivious for even the most in-tune reader. Attention to detail is something I’m keenly aware.

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies. Is there any truth to that? And do you need background sounds or silence when writing your books?

Mike: That varies quite a bit for me. I have very productive days when it’s just me and my German Shepard, Saber, at my feet with only the sound of a mouse click. If I have a particularly intense action chapter, I might crank up some aggressive music and beat the keyboard into submission. I’ve even pulled up pictures of my boys when they were young and imagined someone kidnapping them. I can pick out specific places in the book on those occasions. There are some bad ways to die and taking my children will bring out some very creative methods.

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

Mike: For the longest time, I wanted to play professional baseball. When I was 9, I played in the 12 yo league and was batting in the .570 range going into high school. I had it all set in my head—when I retired from baseball, I would become an anesthesiologist. I guess I didn’t mess around setting the bar too low.

Do your novels carry a message?

Mike: This release is a setup for the rest of the series where children are repatriated to their rightful caregiver and brought back to their home. I’m hoping to raise awareness that this happens nearly 400 times a year in this country. I do agree there are a few common elements/messages that naturally comes from my writing. Maybe I watched Star Wars too often back in the early days? The strength inherent in family, good vs. evil, and the power of singular purpose is something I subconsciously add to my pages. With those elements, the driving forces for all the characters are easily shown.

Is there anything you’d like to tell your readers and fans?

Mike: I can’t say enough how grateful I am for everyone’s support. I want everyone to know how seriously I take the reader’s choice in getting a copy and spending their personal time reading my material. I’ll never take for granted the decision to spend those hours with something I created. Just know I’m working for all of you, and I’ll strive to earn your satisfaction on your decision to join me. Hoping everyone finds good health and love this year.



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