Up Close: Andrews and Wilson
Grounded in Reality
In the world of military thrillers, authenticity is key. And you won’t find a book better tuned in to today’s geopolitical reality than the latest Tier One novel from Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson, RED SPECTER.
The story kicks off with shadow warrior John Dempsey, a former Tier One Navy SEAL, going undercover to meet with an arms dealer. While he is setting up to infiltrate the Russian criminal underground, he walks into a trap set by Zeta, the secret Russian task force. Dempsey is the kind of field operator who’s not big on chatting and doesn’t do cocktail parties.
“The euphemism ‘actions speak louder than words’ is John Dempsey in spades,” says Andrews. “He’s the antithesis of a talking head. In a world dominated by television hypocrites and paid-for pundits, John Dempsey embodies those characteristics we all yearn for in a hero. He is steadfast, leads by example, and has an unwavering moral compass. And like most heroes, Dempsey does not see himself as a hero.”
Of course, he sees his teammates as heroes. His self-image is of a man just trying to follow orders and do his job. In this case, that means destroying the Russians who trapped him, which pulls his team, Task Force Ember, into a deadly battle. Ember and Zeta leap into a game of strike and counterstrike sanctioned by both Moscow and Washington, but invisible to the rest of the world. As extreme as it may seem, the authors verify that this military fiction is grounded in reality.
“Do nation-states engage in false flag operations to disrupt and influence geopolitics? Absolutely,” Wilson says. “Do countries like the United States, Russia, China, Israel, and others have nameless, faceless black ops task forces operating in the shadows? Most definitely. Organizations like Zeta definitely do exist and they are working tirelessly to wreak havoc on our domestic politics, our international relations, and the stability and security of our defense-industrial complex.”
The authors say that they start each book of the Tier One series by asking one question grounded in today’s geopolitical reality and then exploring the possible effects.
“In the new book, RED SPECTER, we ask what would happen if Russia had a mole operating at the upper echelon of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence?” Wilson says.
In this book the lines between espionage, counterterrorism, and special operations become fuzzy. These writers work hard to make their thrillers as realistic as possible, and they clearly enjoy pulling real world events from today’s headlines to build their plots. At the same time, they take Operation Security very seriously.
“We’ve both had the honor of serving our nation and working alongside men and women very much like the characters we write,” Andrews says. “And although these brave soldiers, sailors, and operators inspire and inform our audience, we would never do anything to jeopardize the warriors and friends still downrange, still fighting the fight.”
That means that the tactics, sources, and methods their characters use are purely part of their fictional world, and never undermine real world operations. That said, these authors have such depth of experience in this area that they have the comfort of “writing what you know” and creating characters who are amalgams of people they’ve served with. Writing action scenes and the normal banter of operators is easy for them. Still, there is always research required.
“There is always work to do to make sure we get geopolitics, settings, and technology correct,” Wilson says. “Our goal is always that friends of ours from the community can read our books and smile and say, ‘Yeah, that’s how I would have done it.’”
You won’t find James Bond-style supervillains in RED SPECTER or any of the Tier One books. The series is built as a set of trilogies, each of which has its own cast of villains.
“When creating a cast of characters, we always use a hierarchy—with POV characters at the top, middle, and bottom of the ladder—so that the reader is treated to a 360-degree perspective of the issues and conflicts at stake,” Andrews says. “From the President in the Oval Office, to the task force director in the Tactical Operations Center, to the special operator in the field, our novels cover the full spectrum of decision-making and job activities that is covert operations in the modern era. Then we take things to the next level by pitting our protagonists against matching villains in a mirror-image antagonist hierarchy—President versus President, Director versus Director, Operator versus Operator—with these multiple subplots unfolding simultaneously.”
In RED SPECTER, the villains’ team starts with Arkady Zhukov, a legendary spymaster squaring off in a game of wits against the director of national intelligence, Kelso Jarvis. There’s Valerian Kobak, a Russian assassin who has a vendetta to satisfy against John Dempsey. And there’s Russian secret agent Catherine Morgan, who’s pitted against Petra Felsk of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“As the novel unfolds, the reader learns the personal and professional histories of these three Russians with the same degree of intimacy shared on the American side of the story,” Andrews says. “They’re real people, with skeletons in the closet, emotional baggage, and uncertainty in their relationships and future. During the course of the novel, all three antagonists—Arkady, Valerian, and Catherine—experience crises of identity, purpose, and self-preservation.”
The exciting climax of RED SPECTER is not the end of the story for John Dempsey and Task Force Ember. The threat from Russia’s Zeta team continues. But to get in at the start of this classic military match-up, you need to read RED SPECTER.
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