An American soldier’s death during a mission in Afghanistan seems to be part of a government conspiracy in Ireland’s debut military thriller inspired by the life of Pat Tillman.
Matt Crystal left behind his new wife, Melissa, and a promising NFL career so he could join the military, but his time is cut short when he’s killed by friendly fire from his own platoon. Fellow soldier John Ryan delivers a coded message to Matt’s high school football coach and mentor, Bob Heller, which Bob interprets as a call to investigate the death. After John goes AWOL, Bob starts to suspect that the military-industrial complex is orchestrating a coverup of a tragic accident or, even worse, Matt’s murder. The author deftly handles the story’s conspiracy angle; in addition to a cryptic message from Matt (relayed by John), Bob learns that Matt was vociferously opposed to the war in Iraq and that he befriended an Afghan Military Forces soldier who was also killed. Matt also kept notebooks—possibly with incriminating evidence—one of which mysteriously disappeared. Ireland smartly provides a perspective from Bob, as well as Matt’s family. With no clear-cut villain, readers might, like Coach Bob and the family, view organizations, namely the government and MIC, as villainous. For instance, Lt. Col. Coffee, who stonewalls the family’s questions with vague responses, is more a representative of government than an individual. There’s a great deal of back story to coincide with the main plot, including Bob’s divorce and Matt’s aspirations to play football as a high school freshman, but some of the stories feel like tangents: Matt’s uncle Ronnie, psychologically tormented by a corporal who heads PsyOps in Vietnam, has very little to do with the botched Afghanistan mission. And there are numerous character names and plot points to recall as Bob and others continue to look into Matt’s death. Ireland nevertheless excels at keeping the various plot elements in line, with helpful touches such as Matt’s mom, Jenny, explicitly listing “at least eight issues” that she wants clarified (like the drone that troops claimed to have heard soon after her son was killed). But Ireland does lose track of a few of the names: Matt is inaccurately called Pat several times, and his brother, Vince, is occasionally referred to as Kevin.
A conspiracy-filled thriller that works by hinging on the family’s struggle for answers and by not providing the easy ones.