“I think we’ve found the new Vince Flynn. His name is Don Bentley.” I wrote that about two years ago for BookTrib after reading Bentley’s debut novel, Without Sanction. I’m now on my fourth Bentley book. Allow me to renew my assessment that Bentley belongs in the top tiers of today’s military thriller authors.

His latest, Hostile Intent (Berkley Books), is Bentley’s third adventure with DIA operative Matthew Drake. Meanwhile, Bentley also has joined the Tom Clancy thriller universe, authoring books that feature Jack Ryan Jr., including last year’s Target Acquired and Zero Hour, which releases in June.

Beyond what Bentley could possibly have predicted, the timing for the release of Hostile Intent is sadly perfect. In this story, Drake has moved from his normal settings in the Mideast to first Vienna, Austria, and then the Ukraine. It’s a twisted mess (in the best sense of a good thriller) that features Irish terrorists, war-mongering Russians, a beautiful, brainy and snarky Mossad agent, Ukrainian freedom fighters, and compromised, self-interested politicos in Washington. All that’s at stake is preventing the start of World War III. 

Vienna is sometimes referred to as “the city of spies,” and Bentley turns this historic European capital into a distinctive character in the story, portraying Vienna as sort of a neutral-state playground for deep-state mischief as long as the various spies and agencies stay within the usual boundaries of decorum.

FOLLOWING THE TRAIL OF A KIDNAPPED IRISH OPERATIVE

A one-time operative of the Irish Republican Army, Nolan Burke, walks into the U.S. embassy with a claim to critical intelligence about a Russian operation aimed at Ukraine. He calls himself the Irishman and asks for Drake by name, knowing that Drake owes him a huge debt for saving the life of Drake’s wife. The embassy staff isn’t quite sure what to do, so Burke leaves and doesn’t get the attention he deserves.

However, it quickly becomes apparent that Burke is someone to take seriously, so Drake’s superiors dispatch him to Austria. It’s too little, too late, as a Russian team kidnaps Burke. Drake’s search activities shred the usual rules that spies follow in Vienna. Indeed, Drake gets booted from the country for causing too much mayhem.  Instead of heading home, he follows the trail Burke has left — all the way to the Ukraine, where the rivalries and tensions between Ukraine and Russia threaten to explode.

 For Drake, it’s a matter of both national security as well as the debt of honor he owes Burke. Once in the Ukraine, Drake must figure out the heroes and villains in a hunt for a loose nuclear weapon that could be used to start World War III. 

Bentley’s take on the tensions in Ukraine is both entertaining by all the normal measures of a good thriller and eerily resonant. As a former Army Apache helicopter pilot in South Korea, Germany and Texas, Bentley knows the military and special-ops worlds well. He also deployed to Afghanistan and later worked as an FBI special agent and a SWAT team member in Dallas. Oh, he also holds an engineering degree and a master’s degree in popular fiction. If you’re going to write military thrillers, you can’t get more well-rounded than that.

The audiobook version of Hostile Intent is voiced by Scott Brick, one of the best-known and skillful thriller narrators in the business. Brick does his usual fabulous work. If your publisher lands someone like Brick to voice your story, it’s more evidence that Bentley is a safe bet. 

But one thing I hope Bentley doesn’t do is play it safe and become formulaic. 

Drake becomes a more conventional military hero in this story. He’s filled with witty quips but is rarely lacking in self-doubt beyond the best, specific tactics to stop the bad guys. In a way, that makes sense. We all see what’s right and wrong pretty clearly in the Ukraine these days. Drake’s character development probably needed to take second place to a plot that’s as interesting, relevant, timely and wise as a thriller can get.

Still, I like my Matt Drake with more angst and agendas beyond his next mission. It isn’t a spoiler to say that the end of the book sets the table for a more complicated side of Drake to re-emerge in the next chapter of his life. This is a great series that keeps getting better.

For more on Hostile Intent, check out my interview with the author for Zoom Into Books here.

Buy this book!

Don Bentley is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Matt Drake series and two Tom Clancy Jack Ryan, Jr. novels. Don spent a decade as an Army Apache helicopter pilot, and while deployed in Afghanistan was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Air Medal with “V” device for valor. Following his time in the military, Don worked as an FBI special agent focusing on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence and was a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team member. Don lives with his family in Austin, Texas.