After nearly three years of pre-ordering each of Brad Taylor’s “Pike Logan” novels many months ahead of their publication dates — enjoying each one more than the last — I reached out to the publisher and leveraged TTAG’s good name. This netted me a “galley,” which is apparently book publisher jargon for a pre-release proof copy, and the opportunity to talk books and firearms with Mr. Taylor. I’m actually late to this review, as Dutton was kind enough to send me another galley of the latest book in the series, Ghosts of War, a couple months ago.
It isn’t a skinny book — 412 pages — but as you’d probably expect I tore through it in just a few days. Although the action in Ghosts of War unfolded a bit more like a game of chess rather than a non-stop thrill ride, it was still hard to put down. As tensions continued to escalate between the U.S. and Russia — a departure from the primarily terrorism-related themes of previous novels — so did the level of suspense for the reader. Nail biters be warned; grab some gloves.
One Rough Man was the first in the Pike Logan series and the first book Brad Taylor ever wrote. I enjoyed it more than enough to know I’d be reading the next one right away, but like the main character it was a bit rough around the edges. Actually, nowhere near as bad as Pike was but that still isn’t saying much if you’re familiar with Pike Logan. At any rate, Taylor has come a long way. I can’t remember the last time I was taken aback — shocked, maybe — by a written work of fiction, but it happened in Ghosts of War.
All of the clues were there. I suppose I could have seen it coming. But Taylor has become very good at his new art, and dropped a bombshell that set me back on my heels. A Keanu Reeves-like “whoa” escaped my lips, and I set the book down for a moment. Re-reading the previous sentence confirmed there was no mistake, and it practically kicked off the beginning of a new novel. A war novel, in which actors are governments and multi-nation alliances, upping the scale and the consequences well beyond those of Pike Logan’s usual missions.
I read a lot of “thriller” fiction where crazy things happen, stuff explodes, gun battles ensue, people die, etc., but I’ve never become attached or emotionally involved. Much to my surprise, that had somehow happened here and I had a somewhat visceral reaction to this unexpected plot twist. Excellent.
Some of Brad Taylor’s ability to capture my attention comes from his experience, which translates to his novels. Unlike the many other writers of secret agent, black ops, adventurer, rogue vigilante, treasure hunter, general badass, armed forces adventure novels I read, Taylor lived it. Lives it. Well, some of those things. In addition to other service, he was at the pointy tip of the United States’ spear for eight years with 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment; aka Delta Force. He has a Master’s degree in Defense Analysis with a concentration in Irregular Warfare, and still does security consulting on asymmetric threats.
Basically, Taylor knows tactics, weapons, lingo, and relevant technology. Most of all, though, as an Operator who has Operated Operationally, he personally knows what it’s like. What it feels like. Taylor’s ability to put the reader in a life-or-death situation comes from experience. His novels are realistic, lacking none of the excitement but missing the mistakes, hyperbole, and silliness.
As TTAG is a firearms blog, firearms can serve as a great example. Ghosts of War introduced a new gun to Pike’s team; an AR platform rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor nicknamed the “Punisher.” It’s “…muffled by a Gemtech Dagger suppressor, leaving only the supersonic crack of the bullet something to worry about.” Not only does Taylor have intimate knowledge of what a suppressed rifle sounds like from the shooter’s perspective, but when the Punisher is later put to good use the reader is put right there in the middle of the downrange action. Bullet impacts, supersonic cracks, inability to triangulate the shooter’s position, confusion, adrenaline, close range gunfights and room clearing are all immersive, gritty, accurate (to the best of my knowledge), and plausible.
In contrast, I just finished reading a really great book from a different author that included this gem:
I flicked off the safety lever near the slide action, something you might not know to do if you were unfamiliar with the weapon…
Funny he phrased it that way, as I am familiar with the subject of this sentence, the SIG SAUER P226, but it doesn’t require much more than basic familiarity with Google to know that they don’t actually have a safety lever at all. This specific mistake is fairly popular, in fact, as I’ve read books that included manual safeties on GLOCKs, HK P7s, and other guns that simply aren’t available with them. To one author I read, SIGs are for good guys and GLOCKs are for bad guys and there has been zero deviation in this over the course of a dozen novels. Oh, and good guys make head shots all the time every time. Firearms in general, let alone specifics of features, function, and use (accurately portraying a niche caliber like 6.5 Creedmoor? Forget about it!), are areas in which most authors find themselves way out of their depth. I don’t encounter that in Brad Taylor’s books.
Unlike his thriller writer peers, Taylor has no need for consultants. Weapons, tactics, military, war, gunfights; he is a subject matter expert. But make no mistake, he can write, too.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Plot * * * *
On its own, the plot of this novel is five stars all the way. It’s a game of chess with growing tensions and global consequences. There’s also an exciting, fast-paced sub-plot interwoven into the main story line. Still, I picked off a gold star from 800 yards with my 6.5 Creedmoor since I haven’t been able to believe the ongoing plot theme of The Taskforce’s impending disbandment. It’s like every detective movie ever — “you’re suspended, turn in your badge and gun!” then go on to save the world and get reinstated as a hero. I wanted to buy into this part of the suspense, but it felt a little too manufactured for me to fall for it.
Characters * * * * *
Brad Taylor takes his character development to the next level in Ghosts of War. Both Pike and Jennifer have been growing in amazing ways over the last few books as they learn from each other, take on more of each other’s traits, and seemingly move toward a centered balance as a team. From the President on down, though, nearly every character in the series becomes deeper and richer in Ghosts of War.
Overall * * * * *
Taylor’s a real operator, but he’s also a real writer. Ghosts of War was a great read and I’m excited to see how this series progresses in the future as characters and plots become deeper and more complicated and Taylor continues to refine his new craft.