I mostly read mysteries and domestic thrillers, but sometimes I’m in the mood for an international thriller with a grand plot. You know, writers like Robert Ludlum and Clive Cussler. Books filled with action, with a hero who traipses around the world pursuing or being pursued by bad guys.
At one time, broad-scope thrillers were pretty much all I read. But at some point, my primary interest turned to mysteries. In recent years, while I’ve had my head buried in works by Henning Mankell, Jim Thompson, et al, a whole new bunch of writers have arisen. You’ve got Steve Berry, Alex Berenson, Joseph Finder, Doug Preston, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, and various others–writers largely unfamiliar to me. I’ve read one Berenson and one Finder, but that’s it.
But when I’m browsing a bookstore or Sam’s Club, and read the jacket description of an international thriller, my heart kind of leaps. I guess I’m always in the mood for mindless, mayhem-filled escapism.
So it was that I bought “One Rough Man” (2011), the debut novel by Brad Taylor. The title comes from the George Orwell quote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” In this case, the rough man is Pike Logan.
Ex-Delta (like the author), Logan heads an elite unit of the Taskforce (one word), a secret group working directly under the President whose job is to pursue and kill terrorists. Don’t worry about what’s legal; just find and kill.
When Logan’s wife and daughter are brutally murdered, he goes on the stereotypical Hollywood self-destructive spiral–living on a boat in squalor, drinking heavily, picking fights.
Then he meets a damsel in distress, and gets pulled back into the game. What starts out with a Guatemalan smuggler expands to include two Al Qaeda operatives, an unusual Weapon of Mass Destruction, a duplicitous National Security Advisor, a psycho ex-SEAL, and trips to Norway and Bosnia. The aforementioned damsel, of course, remains with Logan throughout.
It’s an interesting plot (as is the case with most international thrillers), perhaps a bit unusual and creative, and the writing moves along at a brisk pace, with more than sufficient action. Which is why I read such books. Mysteries usually force me to think, to keep track of characters and motives and clues. A thriller is a roller-coaster ride, and you just hang on to your hat and enjoy the journey. “One Rough Man” was a pretty good rollercoaster.
It was also, clearly, a debut novel. I could, if so inclined, identify a variety of weaknesses, none of them fatal. Let me just mention one thing. Three times (at least; I sometimes skim over parts), Taylor used the cliche “pregnant pause” in the midst of dialogue. Like, “There was a pregnant pause.” A good editor would have caught this and deleted two of the pregnant pauses. But, since Taylor was a newbie, and maybe the publisher figured the thriller world already had a Brad (Thor), perhaps “One Rough Man” got assigned to an inexperienced editor.
Well, that won’t happen again. With this book, Taylor will rocket to the big time. I don’t know how Taylor compares to veteran guys like Vince Flynn and Brad Thor (with whom Taylor is typically compared), but Taylor can hold his own in this genre. He’ll do well, and will keep getting better (especially with a higher-calibre editor). Plus, with 21 years in the military, apparently much of it in Special Forces and Delta conducting classified operations, he knows the terrain.
And what of Pike Logan? Most of these writers use a continuing protagonist. Tributes on the book speak of Pike Logan being, you know, the ultimate tough guy, and there’s the requisite comparison to Jack Reacher (and to Jason Bourne, and to Jack Bauer).
Yes, Logan is an action hero. But I found nothing particularly distinctive about him. Very generic. Jack Reacher’s got the unusual, off-the-grid, used-clothes lifestyle. Jason Bourne’s got the whole Who Am I? thing. Spenser cooks and wisecracks. Dirk Pitt collects cars. But Pike Logan? He needs a hobby or quirk or something.
I’ll definitely read Taylor’s next Pike Logan book, “All Necessary Force,” now in hardback. I’m not gonna rush out to get it. But when it arrives in paperback at Sam’s, it’ll go in my cart.