A disconnected, bloodied and world-weary Matt Drake has returned to try to save the world, his marriage and himself along the way. His reappearance is more than welcome.
Readers first met Drake in author Don Bentley’s powerful debut Without Sanction. Don’t pass up Drake’s sophomore outing, The Outside Man (Berkley), if you like military thrillers. The Outside Man continues where Without Sanction ends, though you don’t need to read the books in order. The story gets moving like a howitzer shot (pretty much literally) as Drake is mysteriously attacked by a highly trained assassination team on the streets of Austin, Texas. “The assassin’s help had just arrived, and I was outgunned, outmanned, and out of ammunition,” Drake recounts. “In other words, just another day at the office.”
Only his instincts as a trained operative save him from death; as Drake notes, “rounds snapped past my head like rabid hornets.” Afterward, Drake has a lot of explaining to do to the authorities. Most hauntingly, he has no idea why he was targeted, but eventually, the brazen nature of the attack forces him to one conclusion: It has to have something to do with the enemies he left in the Middle East after returning battered from Syria in the events chronicled in Without Sanction.
OLD HABITS DIE HARD …
Drake is in the midst of readjusting to civilian life, dealing with his PTSD tremors and trying to get out of a funk that’s threatening his relationship with Laila, his wife and the love of his life. With people trying to kill him and threatening Laila as well, he has no choice but to reconnect with the Defense Intelligence Agency and deploy again. He returns to the Mideast shadow world where it’s hard to know who to trust. As he pursues an old foe named “The Devil,” who seems to have nearly unlimited power and resources almost on par with a James Bond villain, Drake himself may be forced to do The Devil’s bidding.
Two key relationships drive the plot of The Outside Man. The first involves one Virginia Kenyon; Drake’s probing eventually connects his attack to a human trafficking operation, and Kenyon is an expert who can help him learn more about one of the young female victims. What she discovers both disgusts and motivates Drake, and she courageously travels with him to the Mideast. It would be a spoiler to say too much, but let me note that the scenes showing the two of them at a human trafficking auction are among the most powerful and unnerving you might read this year.
After Drake lands in Iraq, we meet his Syrian friend, Zain, the second key foil to the protagonist. The two share a long-term relationship, but is their bond simply transactional or is Zain a real friend who will have Drake’s back when the chips are down? The ripples of that question determine everything that happens from that point forward.
… BUT LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEXT MISSION
Drake’s politics are clear in The Outside Man, and he’s not scared to voice them. “Contrary to what you might think, I love the Constitution,” he says. “I just don’t love it when we try to apply our founding principles to the world’s scumbags.” His solution is to operate above and beyond the law when he decides it’s necessary, but Bentley shows us how the Drakes of the world pay a personal price for living in the gray areas of unregulated patriotism.
It’s a world Bentley knows at least something about; he was an Army Apache helicopter pilot who served multiple tours of duty and won a Bronze Star before joining the FBI as a special agent to work for a SWAT team in Dallas.
He’s also the author of Target Acquired, a Jack Ryan Jr. novel from the Tom Clancy universe, reinforcing Bentley’s status as a fresh and worthy entrant into the top tier of military-political thriller authors such as Brad Thor, the late Vince Flynn, James Haig and others. You can count me among those looking forward to Matt Drake’s third mission, wherever he lands.