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It is always a pleasure to read a thriller novel by an author with a working knowledge of how the world works. Add Matthew Betley to the shortlist. Betley’s background includes a 10-year history with the Marine Corps, which included combat-era deployments to Djibouti and Iraq. He gets all of the technical bells and whistles right, and the plotting down perfect, but what really makes his debut novel a winner is the characters, who will stay with you long after you read the last page of what is hopefully the first of a long-running series.

OVERWATCH is the good stuff featuring a hero with the right stuff, a one-sit read that is set very much in the real world, as that world existed in 2008. If it were revealed at some point down the road that everything that takes place here actually occurred, I wouldn’t blink an eye. Betley writes with an authoritative air that shoots through the book from start to finish. The beginning introduces Logan West, a former enlisted Marine who, when we meet him, is 1) coming off of a major drinking binge, and 2) being attacked in his own home. Number one is a problem that he needs to get a handle on, and he starts to do so as the novel proceeds; number two is more easily resolved, in what leads to one of the best opening sequences I have read this year.

"[W]hat really makes [Betley's] debut novel a winner is the characters, who will stay with you long after you read the last page of what is hopefully the first of a long-running series."

The attack on Logan is part of a larger operation to retrieve an Iraqi artifact that contains information that, if recovered, is intended to ignite a conflagration in the already war-torn Middle East. Given his extensive expertise, Logan is quickly recruited to assist the FBI --- and Special Agent Mike Benson, his former brother-in-arms --- in battling the operatives who are executing this mission. The mission also puts him back in touch with ex-enlisted Marine gunnery officer John Quick, who has an unwitting tie to the artifact that the operatives will stop at nothing to obtain. The chase and the battles range from Maryland to northern Mexico and finally to Iraq, where a cat-and-mouse chase occurs in a desert hellhole and ultimately unfolds in a deadly urban maze.

Along the way, a series of flashbacks at irregular intervals give the reader some background on the 2004 Iraq combat mission that launched the demons that Logan struggles to control and, ironically enough, have a connection to what is occurring in the book’s present day of 2008. By the end, you’ll feel wrung out in the best possible way.

OVERWATCH has everything a thriller should have. Logan West is a believable and extremely capable protagonist, while Mike Benson and John Quick establish themselves as invaluable team members, the kind you want with you because they would stand shoulder to shoulder with you while watching your back. There are plenty of explosions and hand-to-hand combats, a mother lode of suspense, and some extremely capable --- and, in some cases, not entirely unsympathetic --- antagonists. Betley also incorporates a bit of a mystery in the proceedings --- what makes this particular Iraqi flag so important as to justify an operation of this sort? --- and teases the answer just long enough to get us interested.

As a bit of a lagniappe, Betley includes a brilliant and timeless quote from the brilliant and timeless Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Puller. Does it get any better than this? Not really.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 29, 2016

by Matthew Betley

  • Publication Date: January 31, 2017
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • ISBN-10: 1476799237
  • ISBN-13: 9781476799230