Sometimes, the world we live in just won’t cooperate with a novelist’s needs. Such was the case with Brad Taylor’s latest Pike Logan thriller Enemy of Mine, which takes the former Delta Force operator’s heroes into the gnarly geopolitical schemes of the Middle East.
Specifically, much of the plot of Taylor’s down-and-dirty revenge thriller takes place in Syria, a country whose fate is impossible for even the most gifted analysts to predict. With President Bashar al-Assad under siege by his own people, Taylor had himself a very interesting writing exercise under way.
“The truth is that I wish I knew everything that was going on,” Taylor laughs over the phone from his home in Charleston, S.C. “For the next book, I have to get away from the Middle East because I cannot predict what is going to happen there. Every time I write about a country, it goes to pieces.”
This is the third go-round for Taylor’s protagonists Pike Taylor and Jennifer Cahill, two gifted intelligence operatives who work for the Taskforce, a shadowy anti-terrorist outfit that performs its grim work outside the boundaries of U.S. law. To cover their tracks, Pike and Jennifer are partners in Grolier Recovery Services, a private company that facilitates archeological work around the globe. They’re close—perhaps not as close as some readers would like—but Logan still grieves for the family he lost in Taylor’s debut, One Rough Man.
Taylor knows a great deal about his subject. The retired Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel served in the U.S. Army for 21 years, including eight years in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, and continues to consult as a security specialist from time to time. But writing isn’t just a run-and-gun exercise for Taylor. The author was determined to create a flesh-and-blood warrior who continually faces intense challenges.
“Too often in the movies or television, these guys are always superhuman,” Taylor says. “They’re trying to get the bureaucracy off their back, and if they decide to drill some guy’s kneecap, it’s always for the right reasons and it’s completely black-and-white.” Reality is more complex, Taylor explains. Operators like Taylor’s characters know that they have to live with the lethal repercussions of the decisions they make. “I wanted to show a guy who has a bent moral compass who is working through those issues. He realizes what is right and wrong but a golden opportunity for revenge presents itself in Enemy of Mine and he’s wondering if he’s becoming the man who killed his family.”
Taylor also faces a tough tightrope every time he writes Jennifer Cahill, who has become a fan favorite and a keenly tough female character in a typically testosterone-laden genre.
“That’s been a hard road,” Taylor admits. “Pike recognizes characteristics in Jennifer that she doesn’t always recognize in herself. That said, I have some female readers who took a significant liking to dinging me on my depictions of women. Some readers first said, she’s a crybaby, give her a spine—so I do—next thing I hear, they’re saying she’s not a man, she wouldn’t do that. I’m constantly going back and forth trying to get Jennifer right.”
Taylor is also well-versed in writing villains; there are some real killers at the heart of Enemy of Mine, including an Arab terrorist called the Ghost and the other an American mercenary, Lucas Kane.
“Specifically for this book, I wanted to veer off from the holocaust guy with a nuclear bomb thing,” Taylor says. “I wanted it to be more personal. I’m not writing about Tatooine and Jedi Knights here. I’m writing about the real world so you try to figure out who is actually out there in it. Lucas Kane is a sociopath with some skills and he’s using them. Everything he does is for himself and if someone gets harmed along the way, it has no emotional impact on him.”
Character is clearly important to Taylor. While the tactical details and geopolitical instability of his books do place them squarely in the tradition of post-9/11 thrillers like those from Brad Thor, Daniel Silva, and Vince Flynn, Taylor believes that character is a more pressing concern than redefining the genre.
“In my mind, the characters always come first,” he says. “If you can’t get the reader to care about the characters, you’re dead in the water whether you’re writing about Beowulf, James Bond, or Smiley’s people. The truth is that there is always conflict going on in the world. There will never be a time when there is not. Sure, there are different threat vectors and methods of attacking, but at the end of the day, it’s still just another threat.”
While Enemy of Mine may feel like the end of an arc, there are still plenty of threats out there. Taylor recently completed the first draft of his next entry, Widow’s Strike, after returning from a whirlwind research trip through Southeast Asia.
“What happens to Jennifer in Enemy of Mine is very much a catalyst for what happens next,” Taylor teased. “I saw a news story on avian flu, which has a deadly mortality rate. If it goes human-to-human, it becomes a pandemic that we can’t stop. There was a follow-up story that revealed that a think tank mutated the virus in order to study it, and the bioterrorism authorities pleaded with them not to share their research. That’s the genesis of the next chapter in Pike’s story.”
No doubt the next novel will continue to be infused with the bleeding-edge knowledge and tactical veracity that has become a hallmark of novels like Enemy of Mine, which Kirkus raves, “Satisfies from start to finish.”
“One of my problems is that I know how certain things work,” Taylor admits. “I understand how the military and intelligence community operates. I can easily paint myself into a corner by thinking, ‘Okay, I have to go find a terrorist. This is how I would do it in the real world.’” So Taylor seeks out ways to resolve the plot without disclosing classified information. “This is one of the reasons the Taskforce is a fictitious unit, because I’m not going to give up any classified information about real organizations. But the other side of that equation is that I have the knowledge to create a fictional unit that looks and feels real."
Clayton Moore is a freelance writer, book critic, and prolific interviewer of other writers. Based in Boulder, CO, he is currently building his new site at www.claywriting.com.
Photo credit Rob Pasibe.