This latest novel is Alex Berenson’s first venture into a tale with an extensive military storyline. The book begins with the stereotypical phone call – the head of the CIA thinks that there is a mole in the agency’s station in Afghanistan. The CIA boss calls on ex-covert agent John Wells to head across the world to see if he can root out the traitor. In doing so, Wells discovers a nest of murderous soldiers turned drug smuggler. Wells must avoid fighting a rogue Delta force sniper head-on to finally get the name of the CIA’s turncoat.
This novel has the Wells character interact frequently with the active duty Army. In a speech John Wells gives to a group of infantrymen deployed in Afghanistan, he encourages the troops with reasoning that boils down to “you soldiers are here because you are here, so just deal with it”. A soldier asks if the US should just pull out of Afghanistan. The landlocked desert country with almost no natural resources is too important to the powers that be is Wells reply. The military are heroes because politicians on both sides of the isle decided the mission in Afghanistan is ok, and soldiers will keep fighting for each other. (Now that part is right – at the point of the spear, you do your mission, keep your buddy alive, and remember that it is my team/squad/platoon against the world, but especially those illegitimate clowns over in A Company) Another infantry lad asks, “How come we don’t seem to be winning?” Wells answer amounts to Well, with limited options, those generals setting the strategy are doing the best they can. With this answer Berenson comes across as unauthentic in this situation.
Also present was some commentary about how the Strykers are worthless and the Army shouldn’t have selected them. For sure the Stryker is no Buffalo or MRAP, but for the mission it was designed for, I haven’t heard too many Stryker soldiers complain about the vehicle. (Full disclosure – I was a M2 Bradley platoon leader, so my experience is mainly with the heavier IFV)
Finally, there was little positive interaction with the military. Attention was focused on four individuals who were the “nest of murderous soldier drug smugglers” mentioned earlier. This is understandable, since they were needed to move the plot line forward. However, the downright amoral actions and despicable integrity of these two infantry leaders is hard to believe outside the extremely independent operations this rogue leadership element was allowed to work under.
Overall, I give this book a C. The best passages of the story are the initial chapters describing how a Taliban suicide bomber infiltrates the CIA mission in Afghanistan. I found the plot resolution at the end shallow and unsatisfying. And that resolution is perhaps the most realistic part of the book – who can really know why people do the things they do if they don’t tell you?
The first chapters of The Shadow Patrol are available from alexberenson.com here.