A summertime thriller binge
Last updated 6/20/2023 at 11:40am
You'd think that Sisters' winters would be the most amenable time for going on a reading tear, but for me, summer seems to be the season when I really get on a roll - especially with fiction.
Part of that is technologically enabled. With audiobooks downloaded to the phone, I can listen to a novel while I'm throwing down a couple of hours of work in the yard, read-tripping with Marilyn, or chucking newspapers on porches through downtown Sisters on a Tuesday night. Part of it seems to be a simple hunger for thrilling yarns when the days grow long and the mountains beckon.
This spring and summer, I've been bingeing on the thrillers of Jack Carr.
From his youth, Carr had two ambitions in life: to serve his country as a U.S. Navy SEAL, and to write thrillers in the vein of the books that tripped his trigger when he was a young and voracious reader. He accomplished the first mission as a sniper and SEAL officer during the darkest days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he's accomplished the second in a fast and efficient assault up the bestsellers lists that shot his newly released tome "Only the Dead" to the number-one spot for the New York Times.
His first novel was adapted into an Amazon Prime Series, "The Terminal List," which was the sleeper hit of 2022 for the streaming service. The series protagonist is James Reese, a SEAL plunged into desperate circumstances by a cabal of government officials, financiers, and a Big Pharma player desperate to cover up a misuse of an anti-PTSD drug. As shocking as the scenario is, it is only an amped-up version of a phenomenon that has played out with dangerous effects in the past two-plus decades of war.
Carr has studied the craft of the thriller as assiduously as he studied the history and tactical problems of insurgency - and the work shows. These are well-crafted, well-wrought thrillers that pack a punch, given weight by the depth and range of Carr's personal experience. He is adhering to the writers' dictum to "write what you know" in a way most writers of thrillers simply can't. He's clearly dedicated to honing his chops. The writing is solid from the get-go with the debut "The Terminal List," and it gets stronger through the subsequent books. "Only the Dead" is number six in the series.
I almost never run straight through a series - but these novels are propulsive, each working a theme. Carr has a sophisticated understanding of geopolitics, and of the machinations of the military-industrial complex and the nexus of the financial, intelligence, and policy apparatus that drives decision-making that is often not in the national interest, at least as folks like you and I might understand it. Carr has a few axes (actually, a Daniel Winkler tomahawk) to grind, but if you make assumptions about where the former SEAL is coming from, you might be surprised.
The books are most definitely not for everyone. The tales - riffing off of real-world events and trends - are intense and violent, and executed graphically. Many terrible deeds are done, some of them by Reese himself. But if you value a well-wrought tale with strong, authentic foundations in real-world events, Carr delivers in spades.
"Only the Dead" and Jack Carr's other novels are available through Deschutes Public Library or Paulina Springs Books in Sisters.