By Dan Levy
Odds are you know someone who is, or was, part of American age that former journalist/anchorman Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation. One of the many noteworthy characteristics of this generation is that, when its (mostly) men returned from World War II, they didn’t share their experience—didn’t want to burden their families with the pain they’d felt and the suffering they’d witnessed, didn’t want to glamorize war; they knew better. They were simply men, and women, who loved their country, and who answered the call when America needed defending. They did a job they would soon learn was dirty and ugly, but they did it—and then put it behind them.
New York Times bestselling author Ralph Pezzullo describes today’s Navy SEALs with the same adjectives and reverence saved for the Greatest Generation. “These are guys who want to do the right thing. They’re very patriotic, but they don’t go crazy (expressing it),” says Pezzullo. “They’re not superheroes. They bleed, they cry, and they suffer just like the rest of us.”
But the one thing the SEALs have that perhaps some of us lack, is an unwavering belief in each other. And that’s what makes Pezzullo’s Hunt series, including the latest installment, HUNT THE FOX, different from the military (or former military) protagonists you’ll find in other thrillers. According to Pezzullo, “The concept of ‘team’ is key. Their teammates are probably the closest people in their lives. They go through hell together. They have one another’s backs. And, they know that. They completely depend on one another. I try to underline that all the time.”
In HUNT THE FOX, written with former Navy SEAL Don Mann, Pezzullo’s lead protagonist, Captain Thomas Crocker, notices he’s being tailed. He suspects the men tracking his movements are members of Syria’s intelligence agency, the Mulhabarat—and their presence is a sign of the region’s increasing volatility.
Syria’s government is unraveling, with the alliances between rebel groups increasingly complex, and ISIS dangerously in the mix. Farid al-Kazaz, aka the Fox, leads the most threatening of the ISIS factions. The Fox believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered the murder of the Fox’s brother, and has vowed revenge, planning a Sarin gas attack that would wreak havoc across not just Syria, but the entire Middle East. It’s up to Crocker and the rest of SEAL Team Six to stop a ruthless killer, and keep an explosive plot from detonating.
While Pezzullo doesn’t like his characters to get political or have an agenda beyond “protecting the sheep from the wolves,” he’s not afraid to take a deep look into the human side of war. When asked about a scene in HUNT THE FOX that Pezzullo found to be particularly poignant, he described an incident where Crocker and his team, under the guise of a fictional Doctor’s Without Borders-like organization, were stopped at an ISIS roadblock. The leader of the ISIS group took Crocker, the most skilled medic of the group, away on a motorcycle without explanation. Crocker soon found himself healing the leader’s son who had been shot in the face. As Crocker worked on the boy, the symbols on the uniforms, geographic boundaries and political ideologies melted away. Pezzullo says that by the end of the scene, “The ISIS leader is very human and very moved by what he’s seen Crocker do. He’s very appreciative and ends up helping them out.”
Pezzullo’s readers should also expect a deeper than normal writer-protagonist connection in HUNT THE FOX. In addition to the natural character evolution that comes from developing Captain Thomas Crocker over five novels, Pezzullo started his writing career as a playwright. “I’ve always been a character-focused writer. I found as a playwright, when you really start to hone in on a character, and you start to see him in your mind’s eye, voice and personality will emerge.”
The son of a diplomat, Pezzullo brings more than the real-world experience of a Navy SEAL team to the pages of his novels; he brings an insider’s view to many of cultures and regions of the world that he writes about. “We live in a certain world with certain cultural norms and ways we do things. We think that’s the way everybody else does it,” Pezzullo notes. “Then, you go to another country and find a completely different culture and a completely different way of looking at things, and it’s normal to them. I realized as a kid that a lot of people don’t recognize (differences across cultures). It’s something I’ve always wanted to communicate.”
Once Pezzullo’s fans have consumed HUNT THE FOX, Pezzullo teases that they’ll soon be able to devour Hunt the Dragon, the next in the series. “It has a lot do with North Korea,” says Pezullo. “I started writing it before the hacking incident with Sony. It starts with something similar. They do a lot of electronic espionage, counterfeiting, and things like that.”
As a bestselling author, playwright, and screenwriter, Pezzullo has achieved a lot in his career. And, like all writers, he’s had his doubts, too. But some sage advice early in his writing career has served him well over the years. Pezullo says, “I went to a mentor for advice. He asked me, ‘Are you sticking your ass in a chair everyday and writing?’ I said ‘yes.’ Then he said to me, ‘You’re doing the right thing. You have to just keep doing it.’”
Ralph Pezzullo is a New York Times bestselling author, and an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His books have been published in over twenty languages and include Jawbreaker (with CIA operative Gary Berntsen), Inside SEAL Team Six (with Don Mann), The Walk-In, At the Fall of Somoza, The Chopin Manuscript (winner of the 2008 Audio Book of the Year), Plunging Into Haiti (winner of the 2006 Douglas Dillon Prize for American Diplomacy), Eve Missing, Blood of My Blood, Most Evil (with Steve Hodel), the SEAL Team Six thrillers Hunt the Wolf, Hunt the Scorpion, Hunt the Falcon, Hunt the Jackal, and The Navy SEAL Survival Handbook (also with Don Mann).
To learn more about Ralph, please visit his website.