By J. H. Bográn
R. J. Pineiro’s new novel, HIGHEST LAW, centers on a sensitive subject—the lives of soldiers after their fighting days are over.
It’s said that the hardest battles for our veterans are fought within, but what would you do if you discovered that a widely-available PTSD medication designed to help our military heroes cope with the horrors of war had a very uncommon but quite violent side effect? Just how far would you go to expose the truth? In HIGHEST LAW, Lawson Pacheco’s moral compass is put to the test.
The concept for this story, which combines PTSD with a pharmaceutical conspiracy, began several years ago, during the writing of Without Mercy, a military thriller coauthored with Colonel David Hunt, who served his country for 30 years in the US Special Forces. He deepened Pineiro’s understanding of PTSD beyond what one hears in the news or sees in the movies.
“While we injected a good dose of that into that story, HIGHEST LAW takes a serious deep dive into the topic,” Pineiro says. “The topic is too important not to talk about it. According to the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, between the years 1999 and 2010, the average suicide rate for US males was 19.4 out of every 100,000. That number increased to 24.8 in 2018. For a death to be recorded as suicide, medical examiners must be able to confirm that the deceased meant to die. Sometimes that’s difficult to establish. And to me, that all means that the actual number of suicides is much higher.”
During his research, Pineiro discovered a harsh reality: As far as PTSD medications go, there are no medications that have been specifically designed to treat PTSD. However, there are a variety of well-established medications currently in use to treat other psychiatric conditions—like depression and anxiety disorders. They’ve been found helpful in managing PTSD symptoms.
“But that’s the thing,” Pineiro says. “They are just managing the symptoms, not treating the actual illness, and believe me, it is an illness. While doing this research, I asked the question that fiction writers like to ask: what if? What if one of those PTSD medications had a violent side effect? And what if the government and Big Pharma were trying to cover it up? And the plotting starts.”
Commander Lawson (Law) Pacheco is a US Navy SEAL who comes from a family with a strong military tradition. His grandfather was a SEAL in World War II, and his father a SEAL in Vietnam. Both died in combat. Law is a strong warrior but he’s also a simple man who is first and foremost concerned with his team, his comrades-in-arms. He will do anything for them.
While on a routine mission in Kandahar Province, Southern Afghanistan, Law witnesses what he thought was the use of biological weapons by American civilian contractors on Afghan noncombatants. The next day, he and his team fall victim to the violence of a US gunship unleashed accidentally on a mountainside where he was operating, shredding his back and tearing off his left leg.
Losing a limb is a part of warfare as much as death itself. Sadly, there is a price tag attached to both. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the average lifetime cost for the loss of a single arm for a veteran runs north of $800k. Also prosthetics in general will need replacements due to normal wear and tear during a patient’s lifetime.
“I looked into prosthetics and their availability to veterans,” Pineiro says. “The cost of a myoelectric prosthetic up to the middle of the lower arm is around $20,000. Up to the shoulder is around $61,000. The more advanced prosthetic arms can reach up to $100,000, and thought-controlled arms that are surgically implanted and interfaced to nerves—and they do exist—reach $5-6 million, but are not widely available.”
Pineiro writes, and especially rewrites, between 12 and 16 hours every day. When he’s not writing, he’s thinking about the plot conflict, setting up unexpected twists, and sometimes figuring out how to escape from a corner he wrote himself into.
“It’s all done on a laptop, which I take everywhere I go,” he says. “I can tune out the entire world and get completely drawn into my work, so I can write in restaurants, bars, parks, trains, airplanes, etc. I once even wrote while in court on jury duty, which I don’t recommend doing.
“I don’t plot much but I do have a clear view of the conflict, how the story will start, and how it will end. But above all, I spend most of the effort on the characters, on showing the story to the reader through their eyes. Once the characters are really defined, I throw them into the story and let them work through the various conflicts/twists.”
HIGHEST LAW falls in the category of a military suspense-mystery with a touch of a psychological thriller—and there’s a love story in there as well. But when it comes to writing the few scenes that involve romance, he’s glad his wife for the past 36 years helps him out. “She keeps those scenes real and honest,” he says.
The attention to detail doesn’t stop with the writing. HIGHEST LAW will be released on the week of Valentine’s Day, which is traditionally also the National Salute to Veteran Patients Week. “My editor, Todd Barselow from Auspicious Apparatus Press, was instrumental for this story,” Pineiro says.
In addition to the Law Pacheco series, Pineiro is currently writing the third book in the Hunter Start series with Col. David Hunt.
Number 2 in the Law Pacheco series, titled Broken Law, is written, edited, and in the formatter’s hands. It picks up six months after HIGHEST LAW ends and it’s written in the same style. It’s a murder suspense-mystery involving war crimes and the opium trade.
“No title yet, but it will include the word ‘Law’ in it,” Pineiro says.
Born in Cuba and raised in Central America, R. J. Pineiro spent several years in the midst of civil wars before migrating to the United States in the late 1970s, first to Florida to attend Florida Air Academy in Melbourne. There, R. J. earned a pilot’s license and high school diploma in 1979 before heading to Louisiana for college.
R. J. earned a degree in electrical engineering from Louisiana State University in 1983 and joined the high-tech industry in Austin, Texas, working in computer chip design, testing, and manufacturing.
In the late 1980s R. J. began studying to become a novelist. Reading everything from classical literature to contemporary novels, his love of storytelling became uncontrollable. Using an aging personal computer, R. J. decided to launch a writing career.
R.J.’s first published work, Siege of Lightning, a novel about a sabotaged space shuttle, was released by Berkley/Putnam in May of 1993. A second novel, Ultimatum, about a second Gulf War scenario, was released the following year by Forge Books, which went on to publish R.J .’s next 12 novels over the following 13 years.
R. J. is married to Lory Pineiro, an artist and jewelry designer. They have one son, Cameron, a daughter-in-law, Sarah, and two crazy dogs, Coco and Zea.