Four years after a tragic mission decimated his career and his team, Cole “Tox” Russell is persona non grata to the United States. And that’s fine—he just wants to be left alone. But when a dormant, centuries-old disease is unleashed, Tox is lured back into action.
Partnered with FBI agent Kasey Cortes, Tox has to pull together a team to begin a globe-spanning search for answers—and a cure. As their quest leads them from continent to continent, it slowly becomes clear they’re not just fighting a plague—but battling against an ancient secret society whose true goals remain hidden.
With time running out and opposition growing on every side, the key to everything may rest in an antique codex, the Crown of Jerusalem. But will Tox and his team be able to trust each other enough to break this century-spanning conspiracy of silence?
Bestselling author, Ronie Kendig, took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with The Big Thrill about her latest book:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers will have an excellent reading experience that will not make them think, but take a second (or third) look at historical events and artifacts.
By Anne Tibbets
Tony “Red” Harmon’s life is a lie. In RECALL, Red discovers the hidden truth – he’s not a construction worker and suburban father – he’s a special ops veteran for an elite military squad with a dormant memory. Now, when tragedy strikes, Red’s buried skills are put to the test and he must rejoin his old team to prevent an international incident.
Veteran, U.S. Air Force Academy grad, and author David McCaleb isn’t messing around when it comes to writing military action – his love of the genre runs deep.
“I’ve always gravitated toward thrillers and action-adventure movies,” says McCaleb. “My father held a deep regard for the military and helped instill it in me. I feel my military background is more a reflection of my personality and upbringing, as is my love of writing black ops thrillers. What specifically I love about this genre is that war – armed conflict – is one of the greatest tests of man. And to follow my characters through an operation, documenting their thoughts, actions, and emotions, is, well…thrilling. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out, so I want to hurry up and write the next chapter as much as I hope my reader wants to read it.”
Complete with action, tech, and weaponry, RECALL never lets up, taking the reader on a fast-paced ride from page one. McCaleb’s attention to detail in each scene adds to its authenticity, and proves just how seriously he takes his research – especially with weapons.
“Figuring out what tool is best for the job, learning how it works, how it performs, and how people interact with it. Does the plot call for a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile? What does it need to acquire its target? A heat signature or radar? What can throw it off? Make it fail? How reliable are they? Does the character have access to the latest model, or are they stuck with a Vietnam era weapon that may prove as dangerous to its operator as the target? All that said, weaponry isn’t what carries a thriller. Characters are, by far, the most interesting part of any novel, commercial or literary. Weapons are simply an extension of them.”
And McCaleb is quick to point out that weapons are only useful if you’ve got a solid battle strategy first.
Post Hill Press released David M. Salkin’s twelfth novel in July of this year. The fourth novel of The Team series, SHADOW OF DEATH, has reached Amazon’s Top 100 military thrillers, where the first three stories remained for almost a full year.
The Team series has been your most successful books to date. Why do you think this series has been so well-received?
The Team books are espionage/military thrillers, but they also contain plenty of action and adventure. Combine that with a cast of characters that reminds you of your friends in the military, and you have full-emersion into interesting places and exciting plotlines.
Although book one was based on a real covert CIA mission run in Vietnam, the stories are all fictional. The stories always revolve around real-world news and contemporary headlines. I think that makes readers feel the stories are more immediate and plausible, which makes them more believable and a little scarier.
So far, The Team series has taken us to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the jungles of the Tri-Border Region of South America, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Where does book four take place?
SHADOW OF DEATH opens in the Syrian Desert, obviously a hot spot in the world. It is here that deep-cover agent Apo Yessayan hears Spanish being spoken, and realizes that ISIS is dealing with the Mexican drug cartels. It’s not far-fetched. Drugs from Afghanistan go through Syria to get to Mexico, and then end up in the USA. With the current war going on in Syria, the drug trafficking has been interrupted. In recent news, the cartels have threatened to “take on ISIS themselves,” but we all know that’s blustering machismo. In real life, they don’t have fully mobilized armies and they’re much more likely to just cut a deal—drugs for cash and ammunition. ISIS has plenty of weapons, but they’re always looking for more ammo. So, while the story opens in Syria, most of the action takes place in Mexico.
Would you say that your stories tend to reflect your interest in world politics and how you think U.S. foreign policy should be handled?
As a storyteller, I try to paint a little bit of both sides of arguments and interests. That said, I’m a pretty outspoken, patriotic guy. I bleed red, white, and blue. It gets difficult sometimes to remain neutral when I see so much going on in the world that infuriates me. I think my characters get to say things that I often think myself, and I hope the scenarios I paint cause readers to think about the world in which we live as well as current foreign policy. Even when I offer the perspective of the “other side,” usually enemies of the Unites States, I think readers will understand their motivations are not in the best interests of most people in the world.
By R.G. Belsky
Scott McEwen is the co-author of American Sniper, the #1 New York Times best-selling memoir of legendary U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle that went on to become a blockbuster movie starring Bradley Cooper.
Now he writes the Sniper Elite thriller series featuring fictional U.S. Navy SEAL Gil Shannon and a colorful cast of other military heroes—with the eagerly-awaited new book, GHOST SNIPER, out this month.
So how much of Chris Kyle is there in McEwen’s thrillers?
“Chris used to tell me a lot of stories that were never able to be put into non-fiction,” McEwen said in an interview from his home in San Diego. “Gil Shannon is certainly not Chris Kyle, but there’s a lot of inspiration from Chris Kyle and others like him in the character.
“Gil Shannon is really an amalgamation of a number of guys I’ve known from SEAL teams. He’s a tough guy, can take a lot of beating and a lot of lead and keeps on moving. There’s people that say that’s outlandish; no one could do that. I point them to a particular Navy SEAL— Mike Day.”
Day was shot 27 times during a single firefight in Iraq, but still managed to kill the four al-Qaeda members who shot him, and then walk to a medivac helicopter. “Anytime people think fiction is crazier than fact, just look at that story,” McEwen said. “That’s really the inspiration for Gil Shannon—the Mike Days, the Chris Kyles ….”
McEwen’s new thriller GHOST SNIPER—like his earlier books—is ripped from the headlines of some real life current events, this time the Mexican drug wars. An American politician and her convoy are assassinated in Mexico City by a ruthless drug cartel leader. When Shannon and his Sniper Elite team go after the killer—a mysterious ex-U.S. military man known as the Ghost Sniper—they uncover political corruption at the highest levels.
McEwan said the issue is a very “personal” one with him because he lives so close to the Mexican border, spends a lot of time there, and sympathizes with the plight of the Mexican people.
Not many writers have the knowledge and experience to write authentic submarine military adventures. Rick Campbell does have the chops, and he proves it in his latest novel, ICE STATION NAUTILUS. The action starts when the newest American fast attack submarine and one of Russia’s new ballistic missile submarines collide and sink under the Arctic ice cap, which sets up an exciting plot
Life-support systems aboard the submarines begin to fail as both the U.S. and Russia rush to the aid of their crews, adapting their submarine rescue systems for the descent through the polar ice cap into the frigid waters below. Campbell is qualified to give full details of such actions. He’s a retired Navy Commander who spent more than twenty years in uniform and served on four nuclear-powered submarines. He’s quick to admit he couldn’t have written ICE STATION NAUTILUS without the experience he gained in the Navy.
“It helps me get the details correct,” he says, “as well as the broader concepts of submarine warfare and the protocols and directives the Submarine Force operates under. The scenario is pure fiction, although I did leverage the fact that submarine collisions occur occasionally, which is what sparks the nefarious Russian plot in ICE STATION NAUTILUS.”
Yes, far more is at stake than the lives of the men trapped aboard their submarines. Both sides realize that whoever reaches the sunken ships first will be able to board the other country’s submarine and get their latest weapon and tactical system technology. With the U.S. pulling ahead, Russia employs their Arctic Spetsnaz special forces to ensure they win the race and board the American submarine.
Is this all some futuristic fantasy? Campbell says no.
“My novels are present day thrillers,” he says, “as realistic as possible considering classification issues and some simplification so the average reader who hasn’t served in the Submarine Force can follow along. The goal is to tell the type of story that can occur in real life.”
By Don Helin
After graduation from college, I entered the military, serving in Vietnam and other overseas tours as well as stateside assignments, including eight years in the Pentagon. The time in the Pentagon provided me ample material for my thrillers.
When I began writing fiction, it was natural, with my military background, to feature a military protagonist. My first thriller, Thy Kingdom Come, found my hero, an army colonel, fighting white supremacists. In the second, Devil’s Den, my hero was faced with the possibility of ghosts in Gettysburg as well as a struggle with the Irish Mafia. In the third novel, Secret Assault, my protagonist dealt with antagonists driven to right wrongs from a past war.
As I developed a theme for my next novel, I happened upon an article in the paper about sexual abuse against females in the military. My research showed the problem to be far worse than I had originally thought, and it also seemed to be growing.
For any young soldier, enemy attacks like those which occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq would have been stressful. However, I read one soldier’s story that she didn’t feel respected by the men around her. She was definitely considered the weaker gender, and the men in her unit had no problem telling her that.
When another female soldier returned home from Iraq, she said she didn’t realize how much things had changed. She came home to a stack of boxes and an almost 3-year-old who didn’t know her anymore. Her son couldn’t understand his mother’s disappearance and developed self-destructive tantrums and other behavioral problems. Not only is sexual abuse a problem, but statistically, the marriages of women enlistees are more than twice as likely as men’s to crumble.
In summary, over 20 percent of female VA patients who served in Iraq or Afghanistan reported sexual assault or repeated threatening sexual harassment that had occurred during their military service. By 2040, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that women will comprise almost 18 percent of all veterans. Therefore, it appears the effects from this problem will be with us for a long time.
By David Healey
Joshua Hood may be a relative newcomer to the ranks of published authors, but he is one of those rare thriller writers who has lived more than a few of the experiences described in his military fiction.
Jumping out of airplanes? Check.
Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan? Check.
Combat experience? Check.
He served with the 82nd Airborne for five years, which included missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was decorated for valor in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Now out of the military, his day job still involves its share of excitement as a full-time member of the Memphis SWAT team.
Even while living the life of a thriller character, he never gave up on wanting to be a storyteller.
“I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” he said in a recent interview. “Very early on I developed this love for the written word. Being from the South, I think we’re all kind of natural storytellers.”
In WARNING ORDER, protagonist Mason Kane and other covert operators are in Syria, battling ISIS operatives. It is hard to know who to trust and where loyalties lie. This seems to be true among the American military operatives as well—the plot twists will keep readers off balance. Bullets fly off the pages of the urban combat scenes, described in graphic detail with the accuracy of someone who has been there. It’s worth noting that Kane has a particular skill with a custom-made combat knife.
The action is fast-paced, realistic, and tells a story that begins where the headlines end.
By David Healey
When it comes to dealing with the trouble spots of the world, the United States government must have Seal Team Six on speed dial.
In SEAL TEAM SIX: HUNT THE DRAGON, the newest novel featuring Navy SEALS from the writing team of Ralph Pezzullo and Don Mann, the main character, Thomas Crocker, goes from Russia to Las Vegas and finally to a deadly covert mission to North Korea.
Although HUNT THE DRAGON is a work of fiction, it’s built around the very real missions of SEALS all over the world. These covert operators take over where diplomacy ends and direct military action would be out of the question.
“I wanted to give some sense of how busy these guys are,” said Pezzullo, a California-based writer of fiction and nonfiction. “There is a lot of animosity in the world. We think it’s all in the Middle East but there are a lot of hotspots.”
He asked one of his military acquaintances just how busy he was, and the reply was that the SEAL had spent 300 days deployed in the previous year.
Some SEALS are running 40 missions a year, which is reflected in how busy Crocker is in the novel, pinballing from Eastern Europe to Vegas to North Korea.
“Because of the nature of the wars today they rely a lot more on these special operations teams,” Pezzullo said.
To be sure, there is no shortage of trouble spots. Pezzullo, whose father was the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua in the 1980s, grew up around some of them. One continuing trouble spot is the Middle East. “It’s a mess,” he said. He considered the failed governments, poverty, and soaring unemployment of young men “perfect fodder for ISIS.”
By J.H. Bográn
Military thrillers are fast-paced, heavy on military equipment, and often offer a glimpse of what action looks like for soldiers. Knowing that the author has a military background, as is the case with Brad Taylor, adds credibility to the tale. Of course it is fiction, but boy, what a thrilling ride!
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to catch up with him and discuss with him his new novel, THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIER.
What would be your elevator pitch of THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIER?
This is the ninth Pike Logan novel, and through them all I’ve threaded the danger that an organization such as the Taskforce can become for a democracy like America. When I was in the military, we used to fantasize about such a unit – because you’re always fighting one bureaucracy or another to get a mission accomplished – but at the end of the day we knew why those rules existed. In my fictional world, the Taskforce was created to streamline the counter-terrorist fight after 9/11, but even the creators understood the danger it posed, and threaded throughout each novel is an underlying theme that in the wrong hands, the Taskforce could become worse than the disease it was designed to fight.
In THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIER, I decided to explore that as a main theme. What do you do when you’ve trained a soldier to a razor’s edge, giving him the skills to operate covertly for the national defense, releasing him time and time again on dubiously legal missions, and then one day he ignores your orders, deciding he alone knows what’s in the nation’s best interest? How do you stop a man who, in his mind, is simply doing what you’ve trained him to do?
What can you tell us about Guy George?
Well, without giving too much away, Guy is a Taskforce Operator at the pinnacle of his skills. His brother is killed in Afghanistan, and Guy himself finds a financial thread from an organization that supported the terrorists who caused his brother’s death. Unfortunately, the organization is also an ally of the United States, and because of it, the Taskforce does not investigate the thread. Guy takes it upon himself to avenge his brother’s death – with the repercussions extending far beyond the battlefields of Afghanistan.
By Jeff Ayers
The Sri Lankan navy is unexpectedly attacked by a resurgent and separatist Tamil Tiger organization in Claude Berube’s follow up to The Aden Effect. In SYREN’S SONG, the government issues a letter of marque to former U.S. Navy officer Connor Stark, now the head of the private security company. Stark and his eclectic compatriots accept the challenge only to learn that the Sea Tigers who crippled the Sri Lankan navy are no ordinary terrorists. The Sea Tigers have created a new weapon that not even the West possesses, fueling it with a previously undiscovered element. Stark and his team race against the clock to prevent another Sea Tiger attack.
Claude Berube is the author of two novels featuring Connor Stark, both published by Naval Institute Press. But he’s also co-authored non-fiction, including A Call to the Sea: Captain Charles Stewart of the USS Constitution (Potomac Books, 2005) and Congress: Games and Strategies (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007 & 2009). He is currently writing his doctoral dissertation through the University of Leeds on Andrew Jackson’s Navy.
He took time to chat with The Big Thrill.
With your background, what prompted you to want to write The Aden Effect?
Although I write non-fiction (naval history and national security), I always wanted to write fiction as well. I was influenced by a number of series such as Bill Granger’s November Man, William F. Buckley’s Blackford Oakes, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, and others. Part of THE ADEN EFFECT was influenced by my non-fiction research on modern piracy and private maritime security companies. In 2004, I was recalled (I’m a Navy Reserve officer) on the USS Bunker Hill for six months. That deployment included tsunami relief operations in Sumatra, security operations in the Persian Gulf, and piracy operations off Somalia. A few years later I had a moment of inspiration in Scotland. Everything—the characters, the plot, and the locales—just fell into place.
Max Barrett, the protagonist of this espionage thriller, is an elite intelligence operative driven hard by events from his past. He is a member of a military unit so covert that its code name is changed every few years to remain hidden. Barrett’s new assignment is to lead a team that will secretly protect Sara, the President’s only daughter, during a U.N. humanitarian trip to Nigeria. The problem is that the Secret Service does not want him or his team anywhere near the First Daughter. Infighting ensues but soon gives way to reluctant cooperation when she is kidnapped during a deadly ambush. Worse yet, her true identity had been hidden for this trip, which gives Barrett his second bit of bad news: an insider has to be involved.
Alone and cut off from his normal resources, Barrett is forced to use all of his skills, experience, and contacts—including some shady characters outside the intelligence community—in a race against time to save Sara’s life. The trail leads Barrett on a worldwide hunt, through a labyrinth of clues that reveals a chilling truth: the kidnapping was only a small part of a much more ambitious plan. A plan with the ultimate goal of destabilizing the world.
Writing Military Thrillers That Take Flight
For more than 20 years Tom Young, a journalist with the Associated Press, was in the Air National Guard, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, flying combat missions to Bosnia and Kosovo and additional missions to Latin America, the horn of Africa, and the Far East. He put his love of flying, journalism background, and familiarity with the military to excellent use in his fiction. Young’s eight novels have earned critical acclaim, with Kirkus writing that The Warriors is “an expertly rendered tale of lingering hostilities rooted in the former Yugoslavia” and in The Renegades, Young’s “grasp of military terminology, esoteric paraphernalia and ethos are spot-on… turned into page-turning fiction.”
In THE HUNTERS, Young’s continuing characters, Colonel Michael Parson and his friend Sophia Gold, take on a mission like no other: Parson, on leave from the Air Force, plans to fly relief supplies into Somalia in an antique cargo plane. Awaiting them: An al-Shahaab leader who has declared all aid a sin against God and will direct attacks against planes and convoys to stop it.
You set your book in Somalia. Is it fair to say that is the most dangerous place on earth?
At the moment I don’t know if it’s more dangerous than Syria or Iraq but it’s certainly giving those places a run for their money.
And you were drawn to it for THE HUNTERS.
It’s a place that’s interested me for a while. The Black Hawk Down incident took place the year that I was going through basic training and certainly that situation caught our attention. I knew some people who were there around that time. I had squadron mates who flew in there, flying in relief supplies. I had never been in Somalia myself but I had been next door.
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.
By Dan Levy
While most of us have never been to the Military Academy at West Point, we can imagine what it might be like to attend. With little effort, you can visualize young men and women in perfectly creased uniforms moving about under a canopy of fall foliage, each moment of their day filled with plan and purpose. They carry a unique vision and mission for themselves, while working to fulfill a larger purpose in the defense of the United States.
Now, imagine one of the cadets, a seventeen year-old plebe, in his bunk late at night, writing by the light of a flashlight. He defies orders and routine to satisfy a need to tell stories. That is exactly how author and retired Brigadier General, A.J. Tata, spent years at West Point. “It became a balancing act between this genuine desire to serve my country and my passion to be a fiction author. I still have the spiral bound notebooks with the stories I wrote at West Point.”
Tata’s need to write didn’t stop once he graduated. If anything, for the man who commanded combat units from the eighty-second and one hundred and first Airborne Divisions, as well as tenth Mountain Division, it intensified. “My Threat series developed from a lot of late nights when I was out on deployment. I’d get back from combat missions and need to disconnect from and process everything that went on. (Writing) was helpful throughout my career. Escaping into (a) fiction world helped me, in some ways, deal with reality.”
Tata, who retired from the military in 2009, drew from his experience to create the four-book Threat series. But while the series met with much acclaim, Tata’s need to grow as a writer drove him to sideline his series protagonists (Matt and Zach Garrett), to explore a new focus. During his four-year hiatus, Tata reexamined his craft, who he was as an author, what kind of an author he wanted to become, and what mattered most to readers. “(Readers think), ‘I’m going to read the next Scott Harvath novel,’ or ‘I’m going to read the next Jack Reacher novel,’ or ‘I’m going to read the next Mitch Rapp novel,’” Tata said. “I’m trying to create that same type of character with Jake Mahegan. One that people fall in love with and want to follow regardless of the plot.”
By Karen Harper
Karen Harper caught up with one of the busiest “jack of all trades” and master of all, Gary Grossman, to talk about his new release, OLD EARTH. The man is amazingly successful in so many fields—journalist, newspaper columnist, television producer, playwright—and writer of thrillers. Readers who love Dan Brown will surely devour Gary’s newest book, OLD EARTH. Read on and hold on to your historical and thriller hats!
What is OLD EARTH about?
OLD EARTH is a geological thriller; a geological thriller that spans all time. It begins with a discovery made by an Italian mathematician in 1601 who’s testing his invention, the thermoscope. He determines that the best place to plot variations of temperatures in the middle of summer is in a cave. There, he finds a remarkable “truth” which in turn, points him to his life’s work—the stars. It also ultimately becomes, for the sake of the thriller, the reason he’s brought before the Inquisition. The scientist is Galileo.
Flash forward to today and a group of paleontologists digging in Montana’s famed dinosaur alley. During their excavations they make the same discovery as Galileo—thousands of miles and centuries apart. From there, OLD EARTH intercuts back and forth from modern times to Galileo’s trial, to other points in history that relate to the revelation. We also meet members of a 400-year-old clandestine organization hell bent on guarding the secret.
The thriller weaves history and intrigue, science and religion, and relatable characters with sprawling ideas. There’s even a nod to my political thrillers with a reference to one of the characters who first came to life in Executive Actions.
By John Raab
Anderson Harp is known for writing authentic, nail-biting military thrillers, and judging by the advance praise for his latest release, BORN OF WAR, the trend continues.
In addition, Harp is an active member of the International Thriller Writers, spearheading the acclaimed “Operation Thriller”—an initiative that takes thriller writers on a USO tour to visit troops in war-torn countries such as Iraq and Kuwait. Harp was a member of the 2012 Operation Thriller Tour with tour mates Michael Connelly, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder, and Kathy Antrim. He is one of only two authors in the history of the USO to attend multiple tours.
We interviewed Harp this month to talk about his fears, his writing process, and his new book, BORN OF WAR.
Please give us a “behind the scenes” look at BORN OF WAR.
Late in the fall of 2012 I had traveled to Salala in the far western region, Oman. It is the last city before the border with Yemen. I was there just after the monsoon season and once beyond the irrigated greenery of the airport, the land quickly turned back into the desolate rocky expanse of the desert. The road took me north, passing further into the desert. Occasionally, we would come across a small valley spotted with small groups of twisted, gnarly trees, somewhat similar to olive groves. The trees produced a sap that when dried became frankincense. This was the same land that the Roman Legions crossed thousands of years before.
It occurred to me that I was on the same road that had been used for the smuggling of weapons from Iran to Yemen and Somalia. A beaten up van, caked brown with dirt, passed. It was not unlike other vans that carried AK-47’s and RPG’s to Yemen and Somalia. The small airport that I had just left also had the likelihood of being a portal for that dissident American determined to join Al Shabaab. A sign on the road marked highway N5 to Salla and terrorism. It would be the same road that my story would take.
By Dan Levy
For many writers, the seemingly sage, “Write what you know” can be a double-edged sword. Some are leery to go through the emotional proctological exam it takes to discover what they know. Others are either bored with, or downright sick of, what they know: that’s why they write.
Then, there are authors like Rick Campbell.
After twenty-five years in the Navy, having served on four different nuclear-powered submarines, Campbell began . . . writing what he knows.
We had the chance to talk with the retired Navy Commander, via email, to learn about how he put what he knows on the page, the challenges of knowing too much, and how to keep reality from getting in the way of good storytelling. An edited version of that conversation is below.
You’re clearly accomplished in your military career. What drew you to writing?
I had a story rolling around inside my head for twenty years, and I thought it would make a great movie. However, I didn’t know the first thing about writing a screenplay, nor did I have any contacts in Hollywood. So I thought that if I wrote a book and the right person read it, I’d have a shot. I wrote what I loved and no one else loved it, so I decided to write what I know. And what was that? Submarines.
By Dawn Ius
For New York Times bestselling author Brad Taylor, almost nothing is more embarrassing than writing inaccurate information—especially when he should know better.
So imagine his horror a few books back when the former Army Lieutenant Colonel inadvertently wrote about a weapon system that fired .556.
“That went all the way to galley prints before a friend said, ‘.556? Were you even in the military? It’s 5.56.’ Of course, I knew that,” Taylor says. “That one decimal point may seem like small potatoes to just about anyone, but to a segment of readers, it would have been heresy.”
Lucky for Taylor, he’s armed with a group of pre-readers who have unique skills that go far beyond fixing typos.
Having spent twenty-one years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel, he admits he is generally held to a higher standard of accuracy—but he’s fine with that, since it means he can concentrate on the plot and characters without worrying about getting the Operator’s actions right.
Plot and character remain a central focus in NO FORTUNATE SON, Taylor’s seventh book in the military thriller series featuring Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill. The premise for the novel was inspired by the true story of Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier previously captured by Afghanistan in 2009.
“From the moment he disappeared, the U.S. government spent an enormous effort trying to repatriate him, despite the fact that he was basically a nobody with a cloud over his head about his motivations,” Taylor says. “I wondered what we would do if a military member related to someone important was captured. How far would we go?”
Tom Wither writes thrillers involving military intelligence. He draws on his decades of service and experiences in that shadowy world, bringing authenticity to the dominion of James Bond and Jason Bourne and all those agents in between, by replacing myth-building with realistic scenarios drawn from today’s news stories.
Please give us a brief synopsis of AUTUMN FIRE?
AUTUMN FIRE begins a few days after THE INHERITOR, and takes the reader back into the world of counter-terror operations as David Cain, his protégé Emily Thompson, and Shane Mathews and his Wraith Team commandos continue their pursuit of Aziz, the head of the reborn al-Qaeda, and mastermind of a series of attacks carried out against America’s electrical power infrastructure.
In AUTUMN FIRE, Aziz, through his mercenary facilitator Vladimir Repin, carries out a second wave of strikes against the United States. The Saudis, annoyed that the covert mission Mathews led into Iran to capture Aziz has failed, demand an explanation from the U.S. government. After thwarting an attack on a nuclear reactor on the east coast, Mathews is ordered back to Saudi Arabia for an explanatory audience with the King. Mathews works to allay the concerns of the Saudis, and Cain tries to fathom Aziz’s real intent in the face of the nuclear poisoning of public water supplies.
Aziz travels to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to personally oversee his next operation against the pre-positioned U.S. military supply ships, and then launches a cunning cyber-attack against U.S. airliners to lay the groundwork for achieving the first major step in restoring the Islamic Caliphate. Standing mere feet from the Saudi King, supported by traitorous members of the Royal Guard, can Cain, Mathews, and the Wraiths track down and stop Aziz before it’s too late?
Counter Terrorism, anarchist mayhem, and ruthless acts of jolting violence threaten to throw London into chaos in Charlie Flowers’s latest thriller, BATTLE COME DOWN. The fourth installment in the series featuring the unlikely protagonist Riz Sabir, BATTLE COME DOWN brings the ongoing war against international terrorism into the heart of the UK. THE BIG THRILL checked in with Charlie so he could offer readers a glimpse at what the most recent entry has to offer.
Congratulations on BATTLE COME DOWN! For those readers who may not already be acquainted with your work, what would you like them to know about your book and its main character, Riz Sabir?
BATTLE COME DOWN is the fourth book in the Riz Sabir Mysteries series. Riz Sabir is British, of Pakistani origin, who drifted into crime and then extremism as a young man. He trained with al Qaeda, was arrested by Counter Terrorism Command, and made an offer he couldn’t refuse by a murky, semi-private intelligence arm of the Ministry of Defence. He now works as their main troubleshooter and investigator. Throughout the books, he is aided (and sometimes hindered) by his wife, Holly, and the army unit she belongs to known as the Blackeyes.
All of the books in the Riz Sabir series are quite dark, depicting a harsh, violent world. How would you describe the theme of this book? And what drives you to the themes you choose?
The theme of most of the books in the series is “violence is real and the world is dangerous, but love will prevail.” The theme of this book is “be careful what you wish for,” in terms of asking the authorities how far they’d be prepared to go in dealing with urban unrest, and what could spiral out of their control.
By Don Helin
In his thriller, DAYS OF RAGE, Brad Taylor unleashes a plot so exciting that a Kirkus starred review raves, “A Pike Logan thriller filled with heart-thumping action and insane heroics…A fun, satisfying adventure.” The Taskforce is used to being the hunter, but this time they’re the hunted.
Intent on embroiling the U.S. in a quagmire that will sap its economy and drain its legitimacy, Russia passes a potential weapon of mass destruction to Boko Haram, an extreme Islamic sect in Nigeria. The Russian FSB believes the weapon, a relic of the Cold War, has deteriorated and is no longer effective, but they are wrong. Boko Haram has the means for mass destruction, which will be set loose upon a multitude of unsuspecting innocents on one of the world’s grandest stages.
Trying to solve the riddle of who might be stalking them, Pike Logan and the Taskforce have no idea what’s been set in motion; but there’s another secret from the Cold War buried in the Russian FSB, and exposing it will mean the difference between life and death—not only for Pike and his partner, Jennifer, but for perhaps millions more around the globe.
Brad Taylor served for more than twenty-one years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a Special Forces lieutenant colonel. During that time he held numerous Infantry and Special Forces positions, including eight years in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, where he commanded multiple troops and a squadron. He has conducted operations in support of U.S. national interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other classified locations. He holds a master of science in Defense Analysis from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. When not writing, Brad serves as a security consultant on asymmetric threats. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.
Chemical weapon attacks on international sites.
Jihadist holding Marines threatens to kill a prisoner a day.
Soldiers and diplomats struggling for a resolution.
Tom Young’s new novel offers a situation that sounds as real as a news broadcast.
In SAND AND FIRE, a Marine gunnery sergeant faces the jihadist in North Africa who has obtained chemical weapons. After inflicting casualties and destruction on a nightclub in Sicily and a crowded street in Gibraltar, the terrorist seizes members of a Marine strike force and threatens executions unless forces withdraw from his area.
The novel’s realistic tensions comes from former Associated Press journalist and retired senior master sergeant Young, who’s familiar with the world of which he writes. As in previous books—which include THE MULLAH’S STORM, SILENT ENEMY, THE RENEGADES, and THE WARRIORS—he offers a look inside a region and a world that continues to be a focus of international concern.
In this tale, heroes from previous books, Sophia Gold, now with the U.N., and Colonel Michael Parson, now working the United States Africa Command, join Gunnery Sgt. A.E. Blount, the six-foot-eight grandson of one of the first African American Marines. A rescue must be mounted for the Marines, and an unforgettable ordeal is ahead with the threat of a nightmarish outcome looming.
With the book due in stores and online outlets in July, Young, who logged nearly five thousand hours as a flight engineer for the Air National Guard in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, and elsewhere, answered a few questions about his new protagonist Blount, the realism of his stories, and events unfolding in the Middle East today.
By Don Helin
I arrived in Vietnam as a young army officer shortly after the United States was rocked by magazine and newspaper articles about the My Lai massacre. People around the country were shaking their heads as to how something like this could have happened. The resultant backlash fueled the anti-war movement and split the country about the war.
The Peers Report, authored by Lieutenant General William Peers, and probably the most definitive report about the My Lai massacre, concluded that first, during the period March16 through 19, 1968, soldiers of Task Force Barker massacred a large number of Vietnamese nationals in the village of My Lai, and second, that efforts were made at every level of command, from company to division, to suppress information concerning this incident.
If it were not for the letter from a young soldier, Ronald Ridenhour, to Congressional Representative Morris Udall, the incident might never have come to light. Independent investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, broke the story about the massacre on November 20, 1969 in articles carried by Time, Life, and Newsweek.
The soldiers involved in the massacre were angry because of the killing of a popular sergeant in an ambush. Conditions were difficult, as the American military was constantly on edge in this “no front” war. They never knew when an enemy, or someone they thought was a friend, would pop out of the bush and try to kill them. Many in our country argued our soldiers never should have been placed in this position. Others countered that while these were trying times for our troops, nothing could excuse this massacre or the resulting cover-up.
By Dan Levy
When you consider the recent NSA revelations, the Edward Snowden leaks, the 9/11 Commission Report, and other scandals, it’s been a tough decade or two for America’s intelligence communities. With over one hundred thousand people working in intelligence agencies across the U.S., there are bound to be individuals who get those agencies the wrong kind of media attention—as well as attention from the thriller writers seeking inspiration for an antagonist.
A former intelligence officer for the United States Air Force, Tom Wither wrote his debut novel, THE INHERITOR, to remind readers that U.S. intelligence services are filled with Americans serving their country with honor and patriotism. Wither characterized the current perception as frustrating: “As part of that frustration, I wanted to express the professionalism, the sacrifices, and the great work ethic that the vast majority of people in the intelligence business bring to the table.”
Now, before you think that Wither is using his novel as a platform to pontificate, hold tight. Wither will be the first to tell you that conflict and character are paramount. “It is a challenge to make sure that as I craft the story, I do so in such a way that I’m telling a good story, that I’m using modern-day technology, and that I’m showing what it’s like to live in the profession,” said Wither. He added that the need to compartmentalize his professional and personal lives helped as well, “When you sit down to craft a story, as a knee-jerk reaction, you don’t think about work. You think, ‘How can I build an exciting story? How can I have characters do things that will hold a reader’s attention and make (him/her) enjoy the ride?’”
Ralph Pezzullo is a New York Times bestselling author and award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His numerous books have been published in more than twenty languages and include his acclaimed Seal Team Six series. This month, Pezzullo (with Don Mann) release the latest in the series, HUNT THE JACKAL, which promises to be the best one yet.
In HUNT THE JACKAL, a senator’s wife and teenage daughter are kidnapped and Thomas Crocker and SEAL Team Six are sent to Mexico’s lawless countryside, where federal agents protect instead of hunt down violent narcotics kingpins. The two women have been kidnapped by the Jackal, a drug lord drunk on power and influence. He also happens to be a self-styled modern Che Guevara, who has undergone plastic surgery to disguise his looks and justifies his brutal methods and Machiavellian drug empire with the politics of social revolution. The Jackal is as ruthless as he is colorful, and he must be stopped.
Pezzullo graciously agreed to answer some questions about the new book, his background, and his writing career.
In your newest and fourth SEAL Team Six novel, HUNT THE JACKAL, you send main character Thomas Crocker into perilous new territory hunting narcotic kingpins in Mexico. What challenges does he face there?
As soon as Crocker and his team of SEALs (known as Black Cell) enter Mexico they face a number of very dangerous challenges. The FBI/DEA team that is coordinating the rescue of Senator Clark’s wife and daughter sends them to a raid a compound in the Zapopan section of Guadalajara. Instead of finding the hostages, they’re ambushed by Mexican Federales with heavy weapons. Two SEALs are badly injured. When Crocker and his men limp back to the FBI safehouse, they find that five FBI and DEA officers they had been working with dead and decapitated. Now, Crocker has to improvise, he can trust the local police or military, and the clock is ticking.
By Rick Reed
Brad Taylor’s life and career is reminiscent of the late Tom Clancy’s protagonist, Jack Ryan. Brad served more than twenty-one years in the U.S. Army, retiring from Special Forces with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He has held numerous infantry and Special Forces positions, including eight years with the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. He conducted operations in support of U.S. national interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other classified locations. He holds a master of science degree in Defense Analysis from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and has taught as an assistant professor of Military Science at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. These days, when not writing, Brad serves as a security consultant on asymmetric threats. He lives in Charleston.
Brad’s talent and experience shines in his latest novel, POLARIS PROTOCOL, released in January 2014 by Dutton Publishing.
In POLARIS PROTOCOL, Taskforce operators Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill are used to putting their lives at risk, but this time it’s Jennifer’s brother and countless more innocents who face unfathomable violence and bloodshed.
Pike and Jennifer are in Turkmenistan with the Taskforce—a top-secret antiterrorist unit that operates outside US law—when Jennifer gets a call from her brother, Jack. Working on an investigative report into the Mexican drug cartels, Jack Cahill has unknowingly gotten caught between two rival groups. His desperate call to his sister is his last before he’s kidnapped.
In their efforts to rescue Jack, Pike and Jennifer uncover a plot much more insidious than illegal drug trafficking—the cartel that put a target on Jack’s back has discovered a GPS hack with the power to effectively debilitate the United States. The hack allows a user to send false GPS signals, making it possible to manipulate everything from traffic signals and banking wire transfers to cruise missiles, but only while the system’s loophole remains in place.
With the GPS hack about to be exploited and Jack’s life at stake, Jennifer and Pike must find a way to infiltrate the cartel’s inner circle and eliminate the impending threat. The price of failure, for both the Taskforce and the country, is higher than ever.
There’s no shortage of excitement in this fifth Pike Logan thriller, so strap in, it’s going to be a ride you won’t soon forget.
By Jeff Ayers
Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo latest novel, HUNT THE FALCON, finds SEAL Team Six chasing “The Falcon,” an Iranian terrorist who has been stealing Libyan nuclear material. The hunt takes the team from Bangkok to Caracas in search of The Falcon’s forces. Crocker convinces the powers that be to allow him to operate in Iran, and he and the team go in full black in order to take down their mark. Meanwhile, Crocker’s estranged father–a former firefighter and hell-raiser who was kicked out of the Navy as a young seaman–reappears, forcing Crocker to recognize his life outside the shadows of SEAL life. It’s not easy when work calls over 300 days of the year, and when it’s this essential to take an enemy down.
Pezzullo took some time to answer some questions about the book and the series for THE BIG THRILL.
Could you talk a bit about your writing career before you met Don Mann?
I met Don Mann about four years ago. Before then I had written a number of fiction and nonfiction books, including JAWBREAKER with CIA operative Gary Berntsen, which was a NEW YORK TIMES bestseller. I started my writing career as a journalist and worked briefly for the NEA in Washington, before moving to New York City and becoming a playwright. I’ve written over a dozen full-length plays that have been produced in New York, Chicago, London, and other cities. To make ends meet I also worked as a freelance copywriter and a speechwriter for executives and political candidates. In 2003, I moved with my family to Los Angeles, where I have written a number of screenplays and TV pilots and have collaborated with talented directors including Oliver Stone, James Foley, Antoine Fuqua, and George Gallo.
By John Darrin
Imagine my disappointment. I’m assigned to write a profile on George Mavro and when I Google his name, I get this world-class chef and I’m thinking, maybe I can wrangle a gourmet meal in exchange for a great profile. Turns out there are two problems with that. First, it’s the wrong George Mavro. The chef is actually George Mavrothalassitis while my author is George Mavromates, both having adopted pen names.
The second problem? Convincing anyone I can write a great profile.
It all worked out well. My George (I’m not sure I should refer to him that way) is retired Air Force and writes military thrillers. I like the Air Force and military thrillers.
So let’s get the important stuff out of the way. Air Force or not, George can’t fly a plane, so all of my plans to ask him about harrowing flying stories are out. But George can write, and he’s written three novels and is at work on a fourth. The current one, WAR AND DESTINY, is a very clever story within one very important and yet little recognized aspect of WW2 – the diversion of a substantial part of the German Army to Greece to bail out the defeated Italian Army, thereby delaying Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia, by a month and forcing the Germans to fight in the Russian winter and eventually lose.
I’ll let George describe it:
“WAR AND DESTINY is an action/adventure novel that begins in the darkest days of World War 2 as seen and experienced through the eyes of a young Greek-American named Markos Androlakis who is accidently caught up in the events of the time. He ends up fighting the Nazis on the island of Crete and assists in thwarting Nazi SS officer George Mueller in his attempt to capture the Greek King. Both Markos and the King escape to Egypt. There, Markos is recruited into the OSS to help build Greek resistance groups, acknowledged by historians as probably the most effective resistance of WW2. His return to Greece interrupts a budding romance with a British war widow and places him squarely against Mueller as the Nazis effect one of the greatest atrocities of the war – the death of 500,000 Greeks, 7% of the entire population, by murder and starvation. The book is based on historical facts, and the battles and events are real.”
By George Ebey
Author David Rich’s latest thriller, MIDDLE MAN, returns readers to the exploits of Lt. Rollie Waters, a character from his previous book, CARAVAN OF THIEVES.
Lt. Rollie Waters’ expertise is going undercover to solve complex crimes involving powerful military officials and unknown enemies who are prepared to kill for stolen fortunes. In his most recent case, Rollie is recruited into the U.S. Military’s elite, covert group SHADE. His assignment is to locate and retrieve the millions of dollars taken from Saddam’s cache during the Iraq War and shipped home in the coffins of dead soldiers. When a sniper fatally attacks the team and the list of graves he recovered proves to be wrong, Rollie is given a new mission: assume the identity of wealthy investment banker Robert Hewitt to find the puppet master who initiated the whole plot.
David checked in with me recently to discuss the approach he took when creating this latest chapter in the Rollie Waters series.
MIDDLE MAN is the follow up to your previous novel, CARAVAN OF THIEVES. Can you tell us a little about that story?
CARAVAN OF THIEVES is a father/son thriller about Rollie Waters, a Marine Lieutenant just back from Afghanistan and his charming con artist father, Dan. A cabal of officers in Iraq has stolen money that Saddam Hussein stole and shipped it home in coffins containing $25 million each. Dan has raided one of the coffins and now the Marines send Rollie to find his father before the bad guys get to him. But nothing is smooth and easy when it comes to dealing with Dan, and Rollie has to follow Dan’s clues about his past in order to find the money. Along the way, Rollie finds out the truth about his past and makes an uneasy peace with Dan. And, when he gets the money, he uses it to lure the bad guys into traps.