When five Marines cross from Kosovo into Serbia to rescue a kidnapped comrade, they launch an international incident—and what might the best suspense novel of the year.
Five reservists from New York City: a firefighter, a toy-store executive, an auto mechanic, a computer nerd, and a commodities trader. But that hardly does them justice. They are, in fact, something of a new breed: a carefully selected, superbly conditioned reconnaissance team (the Pepperdogs), highly trained to infiltrate enemy lines and cause maximum chaos wherever they operate. Things in the Balkans are relatively quiet post 9/11, which is how US policy wonks much prefer it. But lotsa luck. Captain Tyler Cosgrove, an American marine a day away from shipping home to be with his dying mother, is whacked on the head and hijacked by a brutish Serbian soldier who covets his motorbike. Faster than you can say Semper Fi!, and without the formality of specific orders, Captain Mark Lang mounts up. “Get gear and pull ammo,” he tells his team, partly because Cosgrove is Lang’s best friend and partly because marines don’t leave marines to un-tender mercies. So begins an improbable two-day journey as the Pepperdogs walk a hundred miles and fight eight pitched battles, by then having enraged the Serbs, tickled the Muslims, annoyed their own brass, and made headlines all over the world, laudatory and condemnatory in about equal measure. As for the mission, well, they’re marines, aren’t they?
First-novelist West, himself a former marine captain (The Villager, 1972) takes on complex themes here—duty, loyalty, and what to do when they conflict—and deals with them capably. Mostly, though, this is a story about warriors, told authoritatively and brilliantly.