Local resident’s new novel combines high seas adventure with legal drama

By Joe Tash

V. Frank Asaro brings together many of his areas of expertise — philosopher, lawyer, inventor and composer — in his new novel, “The Tortoise Shell Code.”

Asaro, a Carmel Valley resident, wanted to tell the dramatic story of the sinking of a commercial fishing boat off the coast of Central America, while putting forward his theory of “co-opetition,” in which both cooperation and competition are essential elements of every type of human endeavor.

“I wanted to promote the theory and I thought the novel was a good way to do it,” said Asaro, who practiced law for nearly 50 years in the areas of real estate, business and admiralty — or maritime — law. He is now “90 percent retired,” taking on a small amount of legal work but focusing on writing and other business ventures.

Last year, he published his first book, a non-fiction work that lays out his theory, called, “Universal Co-Opetition: Nature’s Fusion of Cooperation and Competition.”

Both the non-fiction book and the novel were published by Del Mar-based Bettie Youngs Books, and can be ordered through or

The novel is part high seas adventure and part legal drama, as the main character, an attorney, seeks to disentangle himself from the case, which hinges on the cause of the tuna boat’s sinking, and the determination of who was responsible. Asaro has also woven in threads of revolution and international diplomacy, as rebel fighters use the tuna boat to smuggle weapons, and later as parties to the conflict meet in secret in an effort to settle their dispute.

“The book is truly exciting,” said Youngs, noting that a big market exists for sea-related stories.

Currently, she said, her team is getting the word out about the novel, and also seeking to interest foreign markets. Asaro’s first book has already been translated into two languages and more translations are expected.

Even during his legal career, Asaro said, he enjoyed writing scraps of stories and novels. “I’d do it to get my mind off the pressures of litigation,” he said.

If he woke up in the middle of the night thinking of the legal case he was working on, he would pick up a pen and pad to relax his mind. In fact, pieces of “The Tortoise Shell Code” were written over the past 25 years, he said.

His theory of co-opetition also developed over many years, beginning several decades ago.

While the two ideas might seem to be diametrically opposed, he said, they actually work together in many areas, from music to economics to politics to chemistry.

Rather than a Darwinian competition for survival, he said, capitalism itself is a merger of both competition and cooperation. The key is to strike a balance between the two that results in a balance that works for all parties.

As an example, he cited an outrigger canoe, which uses a small float attached to the canoe by a cross-bar. If the outrigger is too small, the canoe is unstable and could tip over. If it’s too large, he said, it will drag down the canoe and impede its progress through the water.

“The system I want to see in the economy and politics is an ordered liberty, a moral liberty,” he said. “This concept is an antidote for polarization that allows reason to get into the argument so it’s not just based on emotion.”

He equates cooperation with order — too much cooperation, he said, results in a dictatorship or police state. Competition is akin to chaos, and too much of that results in anarchy, or no government at all, he said.

“You’ve got to find the synthesis that works really well,” said Asaro, who put himself just to the right of center on the political spectrum.

Asaro has a couple of other novels and screenplays in mind, some of which reside in file drawers, waiting to be dusted off. He’s also a jazz drummer and composer, and has put out a CD of his compositions with noted San Diego jazz guitarist Peter Sprague. In addition, he holds several patents for his inventions, which include a device that allows eye-drops to be administered with one hand.

“He’s just a very talented person,” said publisher Bettie Youngs.