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A Trio of Black Ops Thrillers

It looks like the special forces will be featured in a couple of new TV shows this fall.? This has always been a popular type of thriller whether it is seen on TV, film or in books.? I have recently completed three military/Tier One/Black Ops thrillers each of which will appeal to a big segment of the thriller audience.

The oldest of these is “Tier One” by Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson, published in 2016 by Thomas Mercer.? Wilson and Andrews are both U.S. Navy vets and it is clear they know the weaponry and the lingo.? “Tier One” is about a former Navy SEAL in one of the Tier One, “black” units who’s team mates are killed as the result of an Iranian mole within their tactical operation center in Djibouti.? He is given a new identity and becomes part of an even blacker operation with even fewer checks and balances on their actions as they go after the ones responsible for the mole operation and stave off another major attack on New York City.? “Tier One” makes one look at certain ethical questions surrounding black operations encompased in a quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower that appears at the beginning of Part III: “‘The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defent from without.'”? Good question.

A new “Steve Stilwell Thriller” called “Sapphire Pavilion” by David E Grogan is perhaps my favorite of the three.? “Sapphire Pavilion” was the name given a highly classified mission in Vietnam in 1968.? While this is fictional, it reads as total plausible.? The operation starts out with a C-130 cargo plane, its crew and a mysterious passenger which is torpedoed out of the sky over Vietnam in January 1968.? The plane and the bodies were MIA until 30 years later when the son of the pilot took a trip to Vietnam with a retired Navy JAG advisor to look for the wreckage.? They found graves for the crew, but were sabbotaged in Ho Chi Minh City when they returned from the bush.? The son of the pilot was found dead in his hotel room with a prostitute waiting for the return of the former Navy attorney and luggage full of heroin.? The authorities hold the former JAG officer, Ric Stokes, for murder and drug trafficking, capital offenses.? The officer’s wife asks Steve Stilwell, an attorney in Williamsburg, VA and former Navy JAG officer, to take the case.? At times the case looks hopeless, but with good legal support from Steve’s new assistant attorney, Casey Pantel, they discover who at the State Department can unlock the mystery behind “Sapphire Pavilion” that will lead to Ric’s freedom.? This book is a page-turner and hard to put down until the very end.

The third book is to be published Sept. 5, “Into a Dark Frontier” by John Mangan.? Like the other authors, Mangan has military experience having retired as a decorated combat rescue pilot. This book has an interesting dystopian premise that most of the African continent has fallen into chaos because of the blockage of ports, closure of refineries, and loss of power.? The governments have disintegrated and roaming bands of brigands, despots and soldiers of fortune rule and make existence impossible for natives as well as would-be pioneers from other parts of the world.? Millions have been brutally killed.? “Into a Dark Frontier” is extremely graphic as it tells the story of a disgraced former Navy SEAL named Slade Crawford who joins up as security advisor for a Christian cult called the Judeans who set off from the U.S. to South Africa with a vision of resettling in Malawi.? All the Judeans follow the fate of the members of several other settlements and are either skewered alive on stakes, burned to death or taken into Nairobi to serve as sex slaves.? The real villains of “Into a Dark Frontier” are the “One World” proponents, according to the author, who seems to believe that organizations like the UN and NATO are out to remove individual freedoms.? I find it hard to be as cynical as the author or his protagonist, Crawford.? Still, I give it at least a one thumb up because this book will appeal to a certain segment of the population who deeply suspect government and feel pessimistic about the retention of our civil liberties as we have them today (or think we have them.)

Reviewed from supplied copies.

Liz Nichols


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Courier by Terry Irving

Terry Irving, long-time writer and producer for television and radio news programs, has written a real corker of a political thriller in “Courier”  published in April by Exhibit A Books.  On Irving’s website, he claims he fashioned the main character, a motorcycle courier for a television network office in Washington DC, after a young Nicholas Cage.  I could see a scruffed-up Ryan Gosling playing the part in what would could be a first-rate thriller movie.

Rick Putnam, the central character of “Courier,” is a Vietnam vet determined not to be swallowed up in an alcoholic haze following his stint in the service.  His nerdy roommates tolerate Rick’s loud PTSD-induced nightmares and his thrill-seeking lifestyle.  Putnam’s bosses at the television network take full advantage of his dare-devil motorcycling through the streets of Washington DC to bring them canisters of news feed faster than anyone else in the network’s courier pool.  The book is set in 1972, a particularly significant era for Washington DC news because of the Watergate hearings on election fraud and bribes going on in the Nixon White House and re-election campaign committee and Kissinger’s failed attempts to end the war through negotiation. Irving does a masterful job of setting the reader in the middle of this era of Washington intrigue.

Things go wrong in a hurry for Putnam and everyone connected to him when he picks up a camera that includes some news feed and supporting documentation that could blow the Watergate story sky-high.  The material is so hot that suddenly Rick is subjected to several attempts to run him off the road.  These incidents, combined with the sudden death of the whole news crew that gathered the story, and an apparent attack on Rick’s roommates at their rented house, make it clear that none of these situations are tragic accidents– they are attempts at assassination.  Irving’s description of all these connected incidents makes for nail-biting reading.

All of the characterizations in the book are little gems that leave vivid pictures in the reader’s mind.  So many vets and their family members will identify with Rick and his thrill-seeking, PSTD behaviors and yet he never asks for pity or to be cut any slack because of his horrendous war experiences. Many will also identify with Rick’s early experiences leaving home to join the Army to get away from an alcoholic mother.  Even minor characters, and the bad guys are memorably described in this book.  The computer-geek roommates are very memorable and play a pivotal role in breaking open the conspiracy behind the attempts on Rick’s life. Even the Vietnamese thugs who relentlessly pursue Rick, and the woman who controls their actions, Mrs. Jin, are described in a way so that the reader can understand the rationale behind their villainous actions.

The conspiracy behind this political thriller is chillingly plausible.  Irving’s fictional account posits that there was a conspiracy to thwart the Vietnamese War peace talks on the part of the Thieu government that involved flooding the Committee to Re-elect the President (Nixon campaign committee) with illegal contributions from Vietnam.  That is the secret Rick discovers is on the films he carries in his courier’s pouch and that the Vietnamese assassins want to destroy.

Courier” is without question one of the best thrillers of the year and a very good candidate for turning into a highly entertaining movie.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols


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