Azalea Bluff

Paris Book Festival Honorable Mention

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A mysterious object has crashed onto Olivia’s high school football field. She sneaks to the cordoned-off site and views the odd, bell-shaped object. To her disbelief, she is abducted. As Olivia fights madness in captivity, her father risks everything to find his daughter and unlock the secrets behind her disappearance.

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Paris Book Festival Honorable Mention for Best Fiction

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A strange object lands on a football field.

A young reporter vanishes without a trace.

Olivia Claven lives in the Carolina beach community of Azalea Bluff. She’s trying to regroup, but a flooding tide of setbacks has dashed her dreams.

The love of her life has died in a mysterious crash. Saddled with debt, she’s back in her parents’ house after losing multiple media jobs. The local news website she started in her hometown could fail at any time, too.

Then she gets a tip that could turn things around. A mysterious object has crashed onto her high school’s football field. The authorities have sealed the area and cut communications, but she knows how to get close without being seen.

She gasps as she views the odd, bell-shaped object that sits on the 50-yard line. Then she vanishes.

As Olivia fights madness in captivity, her father starts a relentless search for answers, stepping into danger as he stumbles upon secrets buried in bizarre UFO stories and the rubble the Nazis left behind in the closing days of World War II.


Dennis Hetzel








6 x 9

Year Published


1 review for Azalea Bluff

  1. Cynthia Conrad for BookTrib

    Speculative Thriller “Azalea Bluff” Explores the Human Costs of UFO Cover-Ups

    On a muggy night in the North Carolina beach town of Azalea Bluff, an object crashes onto the football field of the local high school, and life as Olivia Claven knows it will never be the same again. A struggling journalist reeling from a string of job losses, a growing mountain of debt and the untimely death of her fiancé, Olivia toils at a faltering local news website while staying at her parents’ house — temporarily, she hopes. Little does she know how temporary it really is.

    Though the local authorities speculate that the crashed object is a small plane, they can’t know for sure; the feds have swooped in and sealed the area and aren’t telling them much. Instructed to set up roadblocks that back up traffic for hours and miles around, the Brunswick County Police and its sheriff are pushed to the sidelines of the investigation, and they don’t like it one bit.

    But while other residents grapple with inconvenience and frustration, Olivia smells a story. One that could maybe become regional or even national news. And she’s determined to get it. Slogging through the thick, swampy woods surrounding the high school, she reaches the edge of the football field and is stunned and perplexed by what she sees there — a strange, bell-shaped craft. Minutes later, she blacks out and disappears without a trace.


    Azalea Bluff (Headline Books) is political thriller writer Dennis Hetzel’s foray into speculative fiction territory. It’s a tense and suspenseful novel that explores the secret machinations of the U.S. government to cover up the existence of alien technology … and the price people pay for knowing too much — authorities and civilians alike.

    The themes of “knowing” and “not knowing” play out in many ways throughout the book. The story follows the viewpoints of several key characters on their quest for answers — including Olivia herself. What they don’t know is just as dangerous as what they do know. Each discovers different pieces to the puzzle, some of which they share with other characters to fill in the missing picture, and other pieces that they cannot or dare not share. And then there are characters who know much more than the point-of-view characters — knowledge that is only tantalizingly hinted at.

    In this way, Hetzel plays with which bits of information to reveal to the reader, and what to leave to our speculation. It’s a challenging technique, but Hetzel pulls it off masterfully. And while in the end there are still some questions without answers, he provides enough of them to make this a deeply satisfying read that lingers in the mind with possibilities long afterward.


    Azalea Bluff has much to offer readers who are fascinated with UFOs, conspiracy theories and just what the Nazis may have been working on in their secret underground labs during World War II. For this, Hetzel credits the late broadcaster Ed Galloway, whose radio play “Incident in Mint Hill” forms the basis of the plot. It was at Galloway’s request that Hetzel began writing a book treatment of the story, which eventually morphed into a novel with more scope than (and many departures from) the original.

    “Ed passed away from a heart attack just as I completed the first draft,” explains Hetzel. “His widow, Carolyn, has been inspiring in her desire to complete the project. So, I hope people see it as a great tribute to Ed, who was known throughout the country, especially the Southeast, for his radio shows and voiceover work.”

    It is Hetzel’s own voice as a writer, however, that turns Galloway’s speculative tale into a human one — a story about characters in deep conflict with themselves: the struggle to connect with others while grieving an unspeakable loss; the psychological torture of isolation; the burdens of guilt and self-loathing when we are forced to go against our deepest convictions and better judgment; the thorny ethics of the “greater good.” And perhaps most poignantly, the painful sacrifices we must sometimes make for those we love.

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About the Author

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As a journalist and media executive, Dennis Hetzel has won numerous awards for writing, industry leadership and community service, including the 2003 Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for leadership in coverage of race and diversity issues. Since 2010, he has been president and executive director of the Ohio News Media Association in Columbus, Ohio, and president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government.​

He began his career as a weekly newspaper sports editor in the Chicago suburbs and has been a reporter, editor, general manager and publisher at newspapers including the Madison, Wis., Capital Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the York, Pa., Daily Record, where he was editor and publisher for 13 years. Under his leadership, the York paper won national awards from the Scripps Howard Foundation in public service journalism and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He also has taught journalism at Penn State and Temple universities.​

Hetzel grew up in the Chicago area and inherited his lifelong affection for and frustration with the Cubs from his late father. He has a degree in political science and a minor in journalism from Western Illinois University, where he met his wife, Cheryl, a school psychologist and guidance counselor. They have three grown children and a home they love in Holden Beach, North Carolina, where he does much of his writing. He welcomes opportunities to do manuscript editing and critiques.

Season of Lies is Dennis Hetzel’s second novel, following the award-winning Killing the Curse in which events precede those that unfold in the latest novel.​

Hetzel also plays guitar and bass in an acoustic trio, “Phil’s Five & Dime,” which includes fellow author Rick Robinson on mandolin. He’s still hoping “this guitar thing” works out when he grows up.

Zoom Into Books Presentations

Not Fake News! Weaving facts into fiction and why it’s so important for thrillers that work. Available on Zoom Into Books YouTube Channel – Click HERE 

  A thriller writer’s search for his birth parents. How Dennis Hetzel solved a lifelong puzzle and what he learned that can help others. – Available HERE on Zoom Into Books YouTube Channel