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Monday, June 10, 2013

Have You seen Your Mother, Baby, Hunting in the Shadows?

Sorry, but the title makes me want to modify and sing Rolling Stones lyrics. Like a good Patient Zero, I have spread this virus as far as I could, in hopes that it's contagious enough that others will be afflicted with this compulsion.

Peter Nealen is a former Recon Marine and a recently-debuted author of military fiction, starting with his Task Force Desperate, and now followed up by Hunting in the Shadows, about a private military company operating after the economic collapse in our near future.

In the paramilitary adventures being published now (including my own), I can't think of any protagonists I'd be comfortable calling "mercenaries," though technically that is what they are. Money is a secondary motive for these "soldiers of fortune." Bringing some semblance of justice to a given situation is the primary driving force, and there are interests they won't fight for (or take money from). Today we have the option of calling mercs "contractors" or "PMCs," thus outflanking the stigma associated with that dreaded M-word. So be it.

If there's anything that even remotely resembles a plot device in Nealen's military fiction, it is what Pentagon brass refer to as "mission creep." His novels unfold the same way unconventional warfare does. The mission parameters in effect yesterday may not be what you're guided by today. The roster on your side and the enemy's side keeps changing as guys die, just as in "normal" warfare, but nothing else is constant, either. Those who thrive in this kind of existence adapt quickly and often, constantly considering various contingencies, variables and caveats. We know this because, as in Task Force Desperate, the tale is told in first person--so we are right there inside Jeff's head as he navigates more dangerous turf and an intricate, complex (if not convoluted) political/military minefield in the Middle East.

Jeff is a Team Leader in Praetorian Security now. The shooters waxed in the last mission have been replaced, and Praetorian is on a headhunting crusade this time--taking out known terrorist leaders during a near-future conflict involving Iraqis, Kurds, Iranians...and a rogue's gallery of terror organizations (some of which you've heard of, others maybe not).

Nealen has ramped up the action from his debut novel, and it seems like Jeff and his buddies are a bit more comfortable with their roles in the chaotic new world they're wading through. And just as in his first book, the author knows enough to get the military/paramilitary details right without bogging the reader down in the minutia. Little phrases or sentences here and there triggered my muscle memory, like how you have to rock in and tilt back on the magazine of an M14/M1A (a superb MBR, in my opinion) to lock it in the well. And in one of the firefights he depicts...this is weird, but ears deadened and rang as I read it, remembering how small explosions sound like a dull thud after experiencing a bunch of large ones in quick succession. That's some savvy, zeroed-in prose right there.

For the last couple years the Clancy-esque millitary thrillers and techno-thrillers have acquired some competition in the form of a "second wave" of military fiction. In the Second Wave, authors (many of them veterans of Iraq and/or Afghanistan) are combining adrenalin-pumping action with a degree of authenticy sadly lacking in much of the First Wave. I'm glad to have been involved in this renaissance and I recommend Hunting in the Shadows as a fine representative of it.

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