Overall, One Rough Man is one terrific book. While there’s very little situationally new leading up to our protagonist’s epiphanous moment, that’s where the entire book changes. So a word of warning; Once you’ve reached page 175 or so, take a break. Eat a good meal, use the bathroom, do any chores you’ve put off, because once you resume reading, you won’t get any of these things done before you turn the final page! From around page 175 you need to fasten your seat belts ‘cuz you’re in for one helluva ride!
Pike, the protagonist in this first book by Brad Taylor, is a member of a little-known military unit called The Taskforce. Their specialty? Impossible, high-risk situations. As the saying goes, “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little while.” It’s a familiar scene with most GIs: the long hours, the days or weeks at a time away from the family; the discord, the difficult conversations; the broken promises — not for one’s own benefit, but ‘for the greater good.’
It’s a familiar mantra with any GI who’s tried to balance family and the job. It’s especially difficult for anybody in a job in which you’re not permitted to tell the family where you’re going or how long you’ll be away. In Pike’s case, all that was multiplied by the fact that his wife and daughter were killed while he was on a mission, a mission he’d told his wife he wouldn’t go on, a mission about which he’d said he’d rather hang up his spurs first.
A typical GI, especially one in a high-risk job, a job where fatalities are a given most of the time, adapts. He adapts by putting a friend’s death out of his mind, by talking about any subject in the world but his own vulnerability. Or sometimes he doesn’t say anything at all. But when tragedy hits home the equation changes. You lose a spouse, a child, you try to tough it out and a few lucky ones manage to do so. Most of us, however, fall off the tightrope somewhere along the way. A misstep, an ever-so-slight zephyr of wind blowing the exact wrong way, and we’re on the way to perdition, the most common symptoms of which include drink, drugs, and/or erratic and irresponsible behavior — the polar opposite of what we trained thousands of hours to be.
With a fortuitous run of luck, Pike manages to crawl out of that hole with the initially unwitting help of a college student who’s in deep kimchi without even being aware of it, for the most part. She realizes she’s in trouble, but not to the degree it turns out to be. Pike steps in, then steps in it. La merde hits le ventilateur, and the adventure is on! We’ve got Central American bad guys, Arab bad guys, and good ol’ home-grown bad guys, all going after two people, Pike and the coed. How hard can that be? The tendrils of the American bad guys reach all the way to the highest offices of the U.S. government, which makes things… more interesting, let us say.
I can’t say much more of the plot since I don’t want to allow any spoilers to creep in, so you’ll have to take my word that this is one helluva read.
OK, now the downside. My only real complaint about the book is the first 175 pages. I felt it needs some serious editing to eliminate inclusions unnecessary or not integral to the plot. Also, there was a small amount of repetition, particularly in how Pike is beating himself up over the loss of his wife and child. Yes, it’s a horrendous tragedy, but the reader doesn’t need more than one or maybe two reminders.
There were also a couple of situations that didn’t seem to make sense. For instance, in one situation, Lucas, one of the home-grown bad guys, is speaking to himself of his boss, one of the chief bad guys in this book: “A weasel like every other politician. No honor. No belief in something greater than himself. Just whatever favor could be gleaned based on which way the wind was blowing.” Then, on the next page the author says of Lucas: “He had been working the civilian side of the defense industry for over a year now, and was beginning to hate it. Everything was about the almighty dollar. Nothing was about a cause, a goal greater than the individual. It disgusted him, and he wanted out.”
To me, this soliloquy is rather incongruous, coming from the bad guy, Lucas. This is the very same bad guy who is responsible for torturing and killing a husband, wife, and two children, for no reason other than simply trying to find Pike. And he’s the guy harping about the greater good? Plus, he’s the guy doing it for no greater good that I can see, and he’s doing it for that same ‘almighty dollar’ he’s whining about.
I’m calling One Rough Man a terrific read, even if the first 175 pages need trimming to maybe 75 or 80 pages. The action chapters stand out, especially those where most of the dialog and actions are clear, well-defined, and masterfully told — even though they’re complicated and necessarily include many different characters. I don’t have anything less than terrific to say about them. Taylor is clearly in his element here and couldn’t possibly tell the story any better.
It’s refreshing to read an account, especially a fictional account, that rings true — with the situations, the complications, the reversals, the denouements — such as those in One Rough Man. Taylor clearly knows of what he writes.
I’m very much looking forward to reading Taylor’s second book, All Necessary Force, which I’ll also review on Blogcritics soon.