A good chunk of the middle of the book is devoted to the Red Cell’s planning, suiting the book’s title, The War Planners. These people, from various intelligence and defense agencies, as well as private contractors, are getting into the weeds on not only military defenses, but psychological warfare, economic warfare, information operations, and infrastructure attacks and weaknesses. Watts clearly put some research in, and understands at least some of not only the Chinese model of “Unrestricted Warfare,” but also something about how Chinese intelligence agencies work.Getting into the rest of the book might be getting too far into spoilery territory. Suffice it to say that not all is necessarily as it seems, and it becomes a very Ludlum-esque thriller…
I first read Cauldron in high school, and at the time, I remember that it didn’t make as much of an impact on me that Red Storm Rising, Red Phoenix, or even Vortex did. A new war in Central Europe seemed somewhat more far-fetched at the time than chaos in Africa or East Asia. (I was in high school; I didn’t know nearly as much as I might have thought that I did.) But in prep for Maelstrom Rising, I picked Cauldron back up. And I’ve got to say, Larry Bond was a lot more prescient than he seemed, back in ’93. While the general scenario in Cauldron is the French and Germans enforcing their economic hegemony over Eastern and Central Europe by force of arms, effectively forming the European Union at gunpoint (referred to as the European Confederation, or EurCon in the novel), the fault lines that lead to the scenario are even now playing out, only slightly differently.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that in many ways, the Brannigan’s Blackhearts series is a bit of a throwback to the glory days of Men’s Adventure fiction, most exemplified by The Executioner, Phoenix Force, Able Team, the SOBs, and similar series. Mark Allen’s Warlock is the same thing, if in a slightly different direction. The cover should be a dead giveaway, too; it looks like a Mack Bolan cover.
I was initially a bit leery about this one, noticing on MackBolan.com that it was written by Robin Hardy. My last go-round with Hardy was Show No Mercy, which was really, really poorly written. But, a weird, double-entendre back cover notwithstanding (a double-entendre which has no bearing whatsoever on the story), River of Flesh turned out to be surprisingly solid. Hardy still has some odd descriptive flourishes in this one (not to mention an overly high opinion of the lethality of 5.56mm), but the writing is generally a tier above what came in his last standalone SOBs title.
So, it took me a while to get through this one (sorry, J.T.!). J.T. Patten did warn me that he considered the second novel, Primed Charge, to be much better written. While I can see why, this book is no slouch on its own. Sean Havens is a spook’s spook. He doesn’t have a formal cover; he doesn’t even directly work for any agency. He’s a contractor, who goes to various countries as a corporate drone of some kind, blends in, learns the human terrain, and then manipulates it to a desired outcome. Somewhere nearby, people die, and he goes home to his family, completely unconnected. Except that, despite his paranoia (which is impressive, by the way), there are still people who know who he is. And they know where his family is. That leads to a personal tragedy that draws Havens into something far darker than anything he’s been involved in yet (and he’s been hip-deep in some pretty dark stuff, as you discover as the book goes on).
Since there’s a lot of inspiration from the SOBs series behind Brannigan’s Blackhearts, I’ve been slowly working my way through the series, in part as research to see how Gold Eagle ran a long-running action series. I slowed down a bit, due to missing a few volumes in the middle, but since those gaps have been filled, I’ll be getting back to it. Red Hammer Down is SOBs #6, following directly on from Gulag War. In a very real sense, they form a two-parter; Red Hammer Down goes into the backlash from the mission to Siberia in Gulag War.
It’s been a while for one of these, but I’ve slowed down a bit, since I have yet to get my hands on #7, River of Flesh, and #8, Eye of the Fire. I’ve admittedly been a bit reluctant to continue with #7, given that Robin Hardy wrote it, and my last outing with Hardy, Show No Mercy was…less than thrilling. But Michael Mercy, over on the SOBs Fan group on Facebook, assures me that the problems with Show No Mercy were corrected with River of Flesh, so I’ll be getting back in the swing of things soon(ish).
Over on Steemit, Ben Cheah has posted his review of the entirety of the American Praetorians series. It’s mostly praise, with some critiques. Read it here. I can’t say I disagree with any of his critiques, though I’ve seen the opposite comments on the Jeff-Mia thing. Needless to say, there’s a reason I’m not a romance author. But I learned a lot writing that series, and they are lessons that I hope I’m applying well to the Brannigan’s Blackhearts series.
Been a bit behind on these posts; it’s been a busy couple months. While I don’t have the complete series, I have a good chunk of the Soldiers of Barrabas, and I’ve been working through them. While Stony Man was kind of my gateway drug to the Gold Eagle paperback scene, the SOBs series is generally, in my opinion, slightly better (in no small part because it becomes evident early on that none of the team members–except maybe Nile Barrabas himself–have plot armor). There are a number of influences in the Brannigan’s Blackhearts series, but the SOBs are a big one, in large part because I’ve adopted some of the storytelling tricks of a short, team-based, fast-paced action adventure story from them. (Introducing each of the team members in the first couple chapters as the team gets rounded up is one of the main points I’ve adopted, as opposed to the in media res, on-the-fly intros we got in the Praetorian series.) So, let’s get started.
This was my first SOBs novel. And at the time, I was simply interested in the premise. Iran goes nuclear. It was a pretty high-profile concern a few years ago, and has been simmering in the background ever since. There was even a documentary made about it, Iranium. With Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an avowed “Twelver” as President of Iran, the likelihood of Iranian nukes soon being used against the US and Israel seemed to be pretty high. So imagine my curiosity when I found out that an obscure, 1984 Gold Eagle pulp mercenary story had been written about just that: stopping Iran from launching a nuclear attack.