When he’s not chewing gravel and exercising his jaw muscles to look better while clenching his teeth, Pete Nealen writes novels. Prolifically. Seems like every time we turn around there’s a new excerpt or full blown novel available. He also smiles once every year on his birthday whether he needs to or not. Here’s a review of the most recent American Praetorians novel. It’s YOUR WEEKEND READ.
It’s a fast, ferocious grudgefuck of a read.
The latest American Praetorians novel takes our pipe-hitting protagonists away from the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa to someplace just as vile, dangerous and smelly: the United States-Mexican border. Praetorian Solutions (they’ve been renamed from Praetorian Security) are back CONUS. This is their first mission after a year in rest, recovery and refit on “The Ranch.” In typical Nealen fashion, there’s a big-assed, meticulously crafted gunfight in the first 10 pages.
“The abused, wounded engine screamed and smoked as we surged forward and slammed into the Crown Vic in front of us. I rocked forward with the impact, recovered, and shot the dazed, tattooed gang-banger across the crumpled hood from me in the face. I shifted fire to his buddy, who was blinking blood, hair, and bits of brain and shattered bone out of his eyes, and gave him the same treatment.”
Thus begins The Devil You Dont’ Know. It doesn’t much slow down from there, which is both good and bad. It’s good if you can handle LSO (Literary Sensory Overload, I just made that up) but it’s bad reading if that’s something you have to work at. I don’t mean that in a negative way…lots of people enjoy reading but aren’t able to keep up with large numbers of characters, assorted subplots, and machinations. Like sex, a book’s pacing is important to some people. Many folks prefer sexual tension, foreplay, a buildup to a crescendo, maybe some languorous cuddling afterward — you get the idea.
Not so with Devil. The story bangs away at you from the git-go, and if the positions change a couple times the tempo never does. It’s like a one night stand with a Crossfit chick who has a grudge; fast, furious and ferocious, then it’s over and you’re left thinking, “Damn, that was awesome, but my head hurts and I think I burst a blood vessel in my eye. Did she tear my ACL?”
The fact is, you’ll have difficulty keeping track of everyone unless you’re an eidetic reader or a jot-down-post-graduate-degree-level-notes-as-you-go-along type. This will bother some people. I’m not one of them. I just relaxed and went along for the cordite-stinking literary ride.
Full disclosure: I’m friends with Nealen. I was given the pleasure of reading an advanced copy before it went to print and I correspond with him frequently (albeit inconsistently). This filter does not alter the fact that he’s a great and prolific fiction writer, for which I hate him. (This is pretty much the same reason I hate Jack Murphy, Larry Correia, Marion Harmon and Mark Lawrence, but those are rants for another day.)
Like the novels preceding it, the fiction in The Devil You Know is by no means far from the strange truth. After a brief intro to set the plot hook the whole thing moves to Mexico or even further south and as you might expect, it has a lot to do with cartels. Some of the narcos and major players are fictional (Los Hijos de la Muere and the Fusang Group) but all are based on real organizations. Their interaction involves most or all the dynamics of the 4th generation warfare currently at play in Mexico – which in the book is a failed state like Iraq or Somalia just as it is in real life. The barbaric nature of the antagonists in the novel are, if anything diluted versions of living, breathing criminals moving freely along both sides of our border. It’s more than a little cathartic to read as our good guys remorselessly remove them from the gene pool, and just as frustrating when you realize anything they do to mitigate the predations of evil people (and I mean evil in a very literal sense) is a temporary relief at best.
FYI, if you don’t think the cartels are every bit as ruthless, savage and dangerous to our national security as ISIS you really need to do some reading.
So what all is involved? Let’s see…pipe-hitting former SOF guys, Mara Salvatrucha mercenaries, Los Zetas, the Cartel de los Soles, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, some assholes from Hezbollah, a few members of a Chinese SMU (or an intel organization, or both, I lost track), bad guys speaking English, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Mandarin…yeah, it gets confusing at times.
I’ll be honest. I enjoy the hell out of the American Praetorians novels, but they are definitely labor intensive. I almost wish Pete would do some novellas once in a while, the way Brian McClellan does. I think they’d be successful, and I’m sure he could easily incorporate them into his milieu’s ‘lore.’ I think it would expand his readership too, as people who otherwise might be daunted by his full-length novels would get hooked.
“This is No-Man’s Land, dude. Nobody’s going to raise a finger south of Tucson until they know that no cartels are involved.”
The overarching plot of Devil You Know still acts within the context of The Project (a shadowy transnational organization of rogue former CIA/SMU/shadowy operator, governmental and corporate up to no good) vs. a network (the network) of military and intelligence professionals trying to stop it. There’s a reason it’s called the Cicero Group, but I won’t delve too deeply into that. It takes place in a United States still languishing in the Greater Depression, where the dollar is worth next to nothing and they’ve long since lost control both of the borders and the ability to project expeditionary military power. It seems to be not long after something called the “Gila Bend Massacre” in which a celebrity Sheriff, his family, and entourage were ambushed in a small southern Arizona town by cartel sicarios. All of them were killed, and a couple days later his head as well as his Chief Deputy’s and his wife’s) were left on the streets of Phoenix. There have also been bombings in Houston (either perpetrated by narcos or Islamists or both, depending on who you believe) and narco-related murders throughout the region. While the level and frequency of the action are improbable at best, it wouldn’t be much of an action adventure book if it wasn’t, now would it?
Distilled down, the books is pretty much gunfights, a Mexican standoff in Mexico, more gunfights, a jaunt to Nicaragua, then Honduras and Panama, some pistachio crusted salmon, more gunfights, some IEDs, lotsa CQB, many narco-guerillas, a SCUBA assault, an air assault, Islamists, some torture, a little cannibalism, at least one child-sacrificing blood cult, mags and frags and flashbangs OH MY.
What are you waiting for?
“They reacted quickly, I’ll grant them that. Their rifles hammered at us, even as we spread out from the hole in the door and returned fire. I heard Nick grunt and stumble, even as I smashed the leftmost shooters to the ground with a rapid series of five shots. He was still moving another six feet to my left, so I took the extra half second to line up his head and splashed his brains…”
Declare for Morning Wood!