I think we’ve found the new Vince Flynn. His name is Don Bentley.
As a Flynn fan, I don’t say that lightly. Bentley’s novel, Without Sanction (Berkley), is a stunning debut that’s as good as military-political thrillers get.
MASTER WRITER’S MEMORABLE STYLE LIVES ON
Flynn, who died at age 47 from cancer in 2011, transcended the genre with great plots, fast-moving stories and, most importantly, rich characters that linger in your psyche long after the final chapter. Most memorable was the world Flynn created around counter-terrorism agent Mitch Rapp. These are books you might read more than once and enjoy more the second or third time around.
Also reminiscent of Flynn, Without Sanction unfolds in both the Mideast and Washington as a military thriller with political overtones. The settings and characters are drawn with nuance and complexity. They feel real, as do the high, dangerous geopolitical stakes.
The soul of Without Sanction resides in Drake’s sense of brotherhood and need to complete unfinished business. He’s battling inner demons as well as the typical “bad guys” who populate military thrillers. The driving force in his life comes from the credo of Army Rangers to never leave a brother behind.
In the opening chapters, we meet a damaged, anxious man. Drake, an operative in the Defense Intelligence Agency, is back in the States in near exile with an uncertain future. He’s married but living alone except for a guitar that keeps him company as he builds his fretting callouses and teaches himself Eagles songs.
PAST TRAUMA IMPACTS DRAKE’S ASSIGNMENT
Adding to Drake’s stress are strange, hallucinatory experiences related to Syria. He has recently returned from an assignment in that war-torn nation, which would inflict PTSD on anyone. He couldn’t keep a promise to defend a source that cost three people their lives, including a woman and a child. He also blames himself for the crippling injury suffered by “Frodo,” his best friend and Ranger brother.
Now the DIA wants him back after a Pakistani scientist, working in Syria for a terrorist splinter cell, wants to defect with his secrets after developing a terrifying new bioweapon. The catch is that he’ll only surrender to Drake, who failed in earlier efforts to turn the Pakistani to our side. With deep reservations but a chance for some closure, Drake returns.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Jorge Gonzales is America’s first Latino president, a smart, likable and well-intentioned man getting undermined by power-hungry underlings. Drake becomes a sacrificial pawn in high-stakes political chess. His efforts in Syria have low odds of success, and an intelligence failure could doom Gonzales’ re-election chances. Drake finds it’s even harder to prevail when those above you don’t have your back. So much for the Ranger creed.
BENTLEY’S MILITARY BACKGROUND PACKS A PUNCH
It’s a great story with terrific twists at the climax that probably prepare us for the next book.
Bentley’s background equipped him well to create Matt Drake. He spent a decade as an Army Apache helicopter pilot and earned a Bronze Star and a valor medal in Afghanistan. Following his time with the military, he worked on a SWAT team as an FBI special agent focused on counterintelligence.
And, somewhere along the way, Bentley certainly learned how to write. When Matt Drake returns to action, I’ll be one of those reporting for reader duty.