The Widow’s Strike by Brad Taylor

The-Widows-StrikeBy Michael F. Stewart

It’s fitting that Brad Taylor was born in Okinawa, Japan. If writers are made not born, then Brad Taylor was forged in the more than 21 years he spent in U.S. Special Operations, folded like the jewel steel used to fashion Samurai blades in the crucibles of Iraq and Afghanistan as a Delta commander until he retired as a Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel.

He’s honed and polished his skills since, trading a weapon for a pen, and the strategy of the field for the plotting and tactics of an author. As a NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY bestselling author he’s undoubtedly earned his authorial stars, but best of all, Brad Taylor’s briefs are no longer classified.

We have the benefit of his expertise and, as they say, the pen is mightier than the sword. We needn’t look far for proof:

“Readers of novels set in the world of Special Forces have many choices, but Taylor is one of the best. His obvious insider knowledge, combined with a well-constructed narrative, make all his work…a delight for fans of the subgenre.”—BOOKLIST

“…clever plotting and solid prose set this above many similar military action novels.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Fresh plot, great action, and Taylor clearly knows what he is writing about…when it comes to tactics and hardware, he is spot-on.”—Vince Flynn

From the back cover of THE WIDOW’S STRIKE …

In the fourth thriller in Brad Taylor’s NEW YORK TIMES bestselling Pike Logan series, the Taskforce must stop a suicide bomber intent on triggering a global epidemic.

Invented by nature but genetically manipulated by man, a mutation of a deadly virus has fallen into the wrong hands. Angered by sanctions placed against its nuclear program, a rogue state is determined to release it. Their chosen method: one of the Black Widows—female suicide terrorists of Chechen descent with a deadly reputation for slaughter that rivals any other group.

The only thing standing in the Black Widow’s way is the Taskforce, an extra-legal counterterrorism unit. Racing against time to prevent a global pandemic, Taskforce operator Pike Logan and his partner Jennifer Cahill follow the trail across Southeast Asia to the United States, only to learn that the enemy they face may not be the enemy they should fear.

THE WIDOW’S STRIKE ties together government-sanctioned terrorist activities, nefarious multinational conglomerates, and frighteningly plausible science. Infused with authenticity from Brad Taylor’s decades of service as a Delta Force commander, it’s an explosive ride alongside America’s counterterrorism operators that will leave readers breathless.

Thanks for joining me, Colonel; I want to first ask you to tell us a little more about THE WIDOW’S STRIKE. What’s the story?

Currently, H5N1 – or “bird flu” – has a bad news/good news flavor.  It’s horrifically deadly, but can’t easily pass from human-to-human, because it’s not airborne, like the typical flu.  Last year a European laboratory genetically modified H5N1 so it could easily be passed from human-to-human.  Its purpose was to study such a mutation in order to prevent a pandemic, but the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity immediately became alarmed because the researchers were about to publish a recipe for a biological weapon in the name of science.  I saw that, and thought, Hmmm…now that’s a story.  THE WIDOW’S STRIKE was born.

In your earlier novels, Pike Logan faced moral dilemmas. For example in ALL NECESSARY FORCE he must decide whether to obey the law or use the force required to thwart the enemy. What’s the dilemma in THE WIDOW’S STRIKE?

I don’t want to delve too deeply into the plot, but a moral component threaded throughout the book deals with the push – pull of an individual’s rights versus the rights of the community.  How much is an individual life worth with respect to a pandemic? In Southeast Asia H5N1 is extremely deadly and contagious to poultry and other domesticated birds.  When an outbreak occurs, they solve the problem by scorched earth – basically killing every bird near the outbreak in order to contain it, sometimes killing millions. Would we do the same thing with humans?  From the comfort of our couch, reading a book, we say no, but what if a pandemic were on the verge of destroying our way of life?  If the ravages of an airborne H5N1 capable of infecting humans were about to rip apart our land, and we suspected someone was infected?

Samurai swords are made with steel that has varying levels of carbon, the inner core-steel and outer skin-steel. What seems to impress your readers most is your ability to blend the core plotting, tactics, and action of a military thriller with the character development of the best suspense novels. What’s the secret in your approach?

Really, no secret.  To me, the characters come first. Counterterrorism is obviously a big part of the setting, but that’s only because of my background.  I write an action-oriented series, but getting the reader to associate with the characters – both on the “good-guy” side and the “bad-guy” side—is what really matters to me. It’s the heart of why I write. Bullets flying around and bombs going off are great, but they mean nothing unless someone is viscerally affected by the action. That’s what brings the story to life, and it’s the hardest thing I struggle with. I know—and use—a lot of current counter-terrorism methods in my writing, but at the end of the day, it’s the impact of those events on the characters that makes a reader want to continue.

My favorite review of one of your books asked a very telling question. “So, when are Pike and Jennifer Cahill going to hook up?” I’d be remiss if I didn’t follow up. So?

Wow.  You sound like my mother-in-law. I’m not giving anything away. Suffice to say that Jennifer suffered a pretty traumatic event in ENEMY OF MINE, so she’s in no mood to rush things, but you’ll have to read THE WIDOW’S STRIKE to see what happens.

THE WIDOW’S STRIKE deals with genetic modification. Is part of your message a cautionary tale? 

It’s not intended as such, but it does have that theme.  Not cautionary specifically against genetic modifications, but that anything man does for good can also be used for evil.  The Nobel Prize itself was created because Alfred Nobel invented dynamite for peaceful purposes and was horrified at its use in war.  History is replete with events done for the greater good that, decades later, end up the precursor of something much, much worse than the original benefit.

The concept of a female terrorist cell, the Black Widows, is intriguing. Are the Black Widows for real? Are they female led, or are the women only being used due to their ability to pass more easily into enemy territory?

The Black Widows are definitively real, and currently still causing havoc in Russia.  They aren’t a group so much as a phenomenon.  The press created their name, like many such names, because they thought it sounded cool.  It’s not something they call themselves.  At the heart, they are female suicide bombers of Chechen descent, employing their lethal skill as vengeance for the loss of loved ones at the hands of Russian security forces. In the maelstrom of the fighting in Chechnya, a particularly brutal conflict, many of their relatives were killed, hence the name Black Widows.  They were first seen at the Beslan School massacre in 2004, and since then, they’ve shown a particularly deadly skill, conducting attacks that have done everything from bringing down commercial airlines to blowing up metro stations and government structures, along with a plethora of other attacks.  Nobody’s quite sure why they’re more lethal, but statistically, they are.  Some say it’s because they’re female.  Others say it’s for different reasons.  Elina, the Black Widow in the story, became one for very personal reasons and is a little conflicted at the target chosen for her.  Make no mistake, she’s a killer, but she’s also a very complex character whom I think will surprise the reader.

Is THE WIDOW’S STRIKE a standalone? As a writer how do you balance bringing new readers up to speed without slowing the pacing for ardent fans, especially four books in?

It is a standalone, and you’re absolutely correct – it’s a balancing act.  The only issue with reading THE WIDOW’S STRIKE first – or any of the books out of order – is that they contain small spoilers from the previous books.  Little references that have no effect on the plot, but if the reader is paying attention, he or she will know a few things that they wouldn’t have known otherwise.

THE CALL SIGN and GUT INSTINCT are both Taskforce short stories you recently released. What’s it like writing short fiction versus full length novels? What are the challenges? Do you think the short stories are beneficial to holding fans over?

It’s a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be.  The stories have to complete a distinct arc, just like a full-length novel, and that’s one of the hardest things to manage no matter the length.  It’s also a reflection of the question above – namely, that with a short story I don’t have any space at all to rehash the basic background and layout of the Taskforce or Pike and Jennifer’s history.  I can give little teasers, but for the most part the reader just has to assume.  As for beneficial, I don’t write them so much to “hold fans over” as to explore different aspects of the characters or the Taskforce that I don’t have a chance to do in the novels.  It’s a little added bonus.  For instance, GUT INSTINCT, the short story currently out, starts at the very end of ALL NECESSARY FORCE, specifically because I received a lot of emails from fans saying they’d wished I’d put on the page what happens between Jennifer and her ex-husband.  I couldn’t – nor would I want to – go back and rewrite ANF, but I could put it in a short story.  So I did.

I know you go to great lengths to ensure classified materials are not released to the general public even at no fault of your own. Do you think terrorists read U.S. military fiction?

I’ve been asked this before, and I honestly don’t believe so.  Think about it: If English was your second language, would you read fifteen novels on the off chance you’d find an idea you could use? I wouldn’t, especially given the lack of accuracy in most for the sake of the plot. I’d come up with my own ideas based on specific weaknesses I found in the open press that I could exploit, which is exactly how I come up with my plots in the first place.  I had a reader mention DEBT OF HONOR, a 1994 book by Tom Clancy involving a hijacked aircraft used as a weapon, as if that were a precursor to 9/11.  The truth is that scenario had been a threat for some time. Israel, in 1973, went on red alert because they believed a hijacked aircraft was going to crash into Tel Aviv. It wasn’t a new idea, and Tom Clancy didn’t create 9/11. It was a weakness that was exploited. A better question is whether there’s anyone on the good-guy side who’s reading fiction and then plugging holes from the weaknesses that are shown.

In a recent interview you said that Pike Logan’s quote “Then I went to work,” meant everything to your novels. What did you mean, and is that true still of THE WIDOW’S STRIKE?

I was asked in the interview to pick one sentence that encapsulated ENEMY OF MINE, and the choice was easy.  I responded, “Then I went to work.”  I’m not going to say here what I meant by that because it would involve basically explaining a host of things and providing spoilers, but trust me, if you read the book – especially if you’ve read the first two – you know exactly what I mean.  The first three books ended up completing a trilogy.  I didn’t plan it that way – I had no idea there would be a first book sold, much less three – it just became one.  The words carry some weight in THE WIDOW’S STRIKE because the reader will have inside skinny on Pike and Jennifer’s relationship, but it’s not the same meaning as it is for ENEMY OF MINE.  In the end, it’s the line that closes a significant chapter in Pike’s life, allowing him to move forward, which, of course, he does.

 

Thanks for the interview, Brad, and good luck with the release of THE WIDOW’S STRIKE on July 16th! Hooah!

*****

Brad TaylorBrad Taylor is the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of three previous Pike Logan novels. He served for more than twenty years in the U.S. Army Infantry and Special Forces. He retired as a Special Forces lieutenant colonel and now lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

To learn more about Brad Taylor, please visit his website.

Michael F. Stewart

Michael F. Stewart is the author of several graphic novels published by Oxford University Press Canada. 24 Bones is his debut supernatural thriller, and The Sand Dragon is his first horror novel. His next novel, Hurakan, will be released in Fall 2010. Michael lives and writes in Ottawa, Canada.

Visit Michael at www.michaelfstewart.com.

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