Ken Webb: Carolina journalist-turned-novelist writes debut novel about duty and honor

Published 9:49 am Monday, November 24, 2014


By Mark Schmerling

Ken Webb didn’t set out to write a novel.

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But, once the award-winning former newspaperman with fifteen years of writing experience with various South Carolina publications, including Columbia’s The State, began composing, the text nearly created itself.

Webb spends most of his time in Saluda.

Webb’s son was serving in a Ranger unit, and Webb was naturally curious about his son’s activities.  But, the younger Webb was not permitted to divulge exactly what he did and where he did it, so he suggested some reading for his father, who’d served in the National Guard in the Vietnam era, but did not serve in Vietnam.

“The reading,” Webb recollected, “was just for my own education, but I started taking notes. Next thing I knew, I was a hundred pages into the manuscript.”

That text became Mr. Carter’s Sword, A Story of Honor and Retribution, a book woven around circumstances that could have happened in Vietnam, with the characters appearing in a murky quest some forty years later. It also incorporates much of the geography of North and South Carolina, and a cast of subjects based on individuals Webb had met in the region.

Initial writing to publication took some eight years, Webb noted. Along the way, on a friend’s suggestion, Webb posed the idea of a film based on the book. A Hollywood official liked the basic premise, and made some suggestions to improve the story’s flow. In addition, Webb had read short sections of his manuscript at South Carolina Writers workshops, where other writers made suggestions.

“I got some great ideas there,” Webb said of his workshop experience.

Based on this input, Webb essentially re-wrote the manuscript, thus delayaing completion.

Mr. Carter’s Sword is set in the present day Carolinas, a land with which Webb is familiar from boyhood. His debut novel reconnects aging U.S. Army Rangers with a haunting incident from their Vietnam past. Four Rangers were killed, and others were seriously wounded when North Vietnamese regulars overran two Tango Company Ranger teams. Four decades later, emotions explode when an old Ranger’s deathbed letter claims black marketers–a U.S. Army captain and a South Vietnamese liaison officer—had put the Rangers in harm’s way for personal gain.

Fueled by the revelation, the surviving Rangers call on a flamboyant CIA agent-turned college professor and a South African mercenary to devise a plan for retribution and revenge. The linchpin is a daring amphibious raid on a billionaire’s compound near Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Serious problems arise as Webb takes his cast of complex characters through twists and turns toward a thrilling and unexpected climax.

Webb’s novel is available on and Kindle Direct Publishing Select.  A printed version is also available on, Webb said.

“This didn’t start out as fiction — much less a novel,” said Webb, who is a former award-winning journalist for weekly newspapers and The State.

Webb turned to the South Carolina Writers Workshop for help, and a multi-dimensional story emerged with a cast of complex, and in some cases, very flawed characters.

“The good guys are far from perfect,” Webb said, “but a couple of the bad guys in the story are really bad. Interject them and their story into the beautiful landscapes of the Carolinas and with the character of its people, and, I am told by readers, that the mix is quite compelling.”

“It’s complicated, but it’s a simple story,” Webb noted.

One reader began his five star review on Amazon, with five being the highest number of stars, as follows:

“Every once in a while a debut novel comes out that is so darn good I begin thinking it needs a sequel even before I’ve finished reading the original. Mr. Carter’s Sword, by Ken Webb, is that kind of a book . . . ”

Of 18 reader reviewers on Amazon, 15 gave “Mr. Carter’s Sword five stars out of five; the other three awarded it four stars each.

“I didn’t mean for this thing (the book) to be a travelogue,” Webb admitted. It began in the South Carolina low country, where Webb grew up, which adds to its authenticity.

“I knew some people like those guys,” Webb said, pointing out that a certain North or South Carolina character type is recognizable.

Webb said he admires writer Frederick Forsythe, author of, among other works, The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Fourth Protocol, and The Dogs of War.

Webb will work on a sequel to Mr. Carter’s Sword. He is about two-thirds finished a series of short stories on cars. After his journalism career, Webb was in the automotive business.

“I just wanted to get back into the writing,” he said. Webb related that someone told him that writers have it made, because what they write gets left behind for others.

“I enjoy writing,” Webb admitted. It can be lots of fun. I love the people part. The marketing is hard.”

Copies of Mr. Carter’s Sword are available in the Saluda, Tryon and Columbus public libraries.