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First Strike


First Strike

Ben Coes has been on my “must read” list since the publication of POWER DOWN, an edge-of-your-seat-thriller that contains one of the most claustrophobic scenes I’ve ever read and introduced Dewey Andreas, an elite U.S. government operative with a Special Forces background. Coes, who is seemingly incapable of writing badly, has developed his protagonist over the course of five books, exceeding his own high standards with each successive novel. FIRST STRIKE, his sixth and latest work, continues on that trajectory, combining strong characterization and almost non-stop action with a plot that could be ripped from tomorrow’s headlines.

"[FIRST STRIKE] combin[es] strong characterization and almost non-stop action with a plot that could be ripped from tomorrow’s headlines."

FIRST STRIKE begins with a short but intense prologue that illustrates how the best of intentions, though ill-conceived, sow the seeds for the future’s (in this case, the present’s) disasters. More on that in a moment. The story proper kicks off with a vignette in which Dewey takes care of a bit of unfinished business in Cartagena, Colombia while supposedly on vacation. However, there is plenty in the rest of the world to keep him busy. That prologue I just mentioned? It involves a meeting some three years ago between Mark Raditz, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Tristan Nazir, an influential Egyptian political prisoner. The purpose of the meeting is to strike an off-the-books “arms for influence” agreement between a new Islamist group seeking power and the United States. The terms are clear, and include the provision that Israel and the United States are left alone. Naturally, the agreement goes up in smoke after the U.S. fulfills its end of the deal. The new group, now known as ISIS, begins...well, you know the rest, or you should.

What does this real-world problem have to do with Dewey Andreas? Nazir decides to go to the well one last time, blackmailing and extorting the hapless Raditz into supplying one more major weapons shipment. At approximately the same time, Dewey is sent to Damascus, tasked with uncovering the source of ISIS’s funding. It seems, though, that he no sooner discovers the hip-deep involvement of the United States than everything goes totally wrong. Even with his life entirely on the line, Dewey manages to get word back home in time for what is supposed to be the “last” shipment to be intercepted. The story ends, and everyone is happy.

Except that’s not what happens. Instead, Nazir is furious and launches a terror strike at one of the United States’ most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Hundreds of students are held hostage, with the demand made that, unless and until the shipment is released, one student will be executed per hour. It is a Hobson’s choice for the government. The shipment cannot be released, but a frontal assault on the terrorists will result in unthinkable carnage. But there is a wild card in the mix, one that recently returned from Syria...and it’s fun to watch Dewey work, even if an element of his past, revealed at the beginning of the book, catches up with him at the conclusion in a most unexpected manner.

There are enough action scenes and divergent plotlines in FIRST STRIKE to fill a couple of books, with more left over for another. Ben Coes has walked and worked the halls of government. This is another major offering from an author who has quickly become a critical and commercial favorite, with more on the way.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 30, 2016

First Strike
by Ben Coes

  • Publication Date: June 28, 2016
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250043174
  • ISBN-13: 9781250043177