A clandestine group of soldiers battles terrorists in Stephens’ debut thriller.
An explosive, bloody raid on an isolated cave results in the capture of a Muslim fundamentalist leader. But the extraction of the 12-man team is less successful, as gunfire and a rockslide trap half of the unit and a helicopter pilot inside the cave; they’re erroneously presumed dead. Capt. Thomas “Hawkeye” Marshall considers this turn of events fortuitous because it affords the team an opportunity to engage in covert ops without political interference. Calling itself Paladin, the group is funded and aided by Hawkeye’s wealthy brother, Jack. A nuclear assault in Philadelphia made selecting their first target easy, and Paladin’s counterattack exposed terrorists’ identities, planned strikes against the U.S. and the location of weapons of mass destruction. The soldiers of Stephens’ novel are fortified with distinctive backgrounds: Dino is protective of his sister and Bulldog reminisces about former football days. The characters’ nicknames are provided almost immediately, and the book commits to these names, even when using call signs during missions. Some members of the team are disposed to verbose speeches, often about the country’s need for change: Jack spends two chapters speaking at the National Press Club about rampant terrorism, corrupt media and the “weenies in Washington.” These monologues are keen and discerning, but they feel tangential as they decelerate the story’s otherwise steady pace. Action sequences otherwise permeate the pages. While Paladin incursions and Air Force raids—featuring Hawkeye’s pilot brother, Charlie—are compelling, readers will equally relish descriptions of the team in preattack stealth mode. The story is enhanced with scenes told from the terrorists’ perspectives and depictions of recruiting nonsoldiers into Paladin.
The book’s political discourse is at times didactic, but solid action scenes will linger with readers.