B&H Books, 2009
400 pages, Fiction/Christian/Suspense
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Captain Jeff Struecker is a very interesting guy. If you haven’t read Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down (you should), or seen the movie (you should), Jeff Struecker was one of those Army Rangers stuck neck-deep in that intense, and now legendary firefight in Mogadishu. I urge you to check out his website and read his impressive bio. He did a lot more than fight in Somalia, A LOT more, including writing a pretty engaging military thriller called Certain Jeopardy.
It starts as six Special Ops soldiers are plucked from their lives and families by an ominous cell phone call and sent on a recon mission to observe a suspected terrorist training operation in Venezuela. Six guys, traveling in pairs, leaving at serpate times to regroup in unfriendly territory. Right away we have the makings of a great military thriller reminiscent of the old Tom Clancy novels (remember those books? the one he wrote before he got so rich and famous he could hire someone else to do his writing for him?) Unlike Clancy, Struecker is writing what he knows, from firsthand experience, with credibility that is never in question.
I was immediately engaged by the stories of the soldiers’ wives and families, whose struggles were just as compelling as the high-stakes international mission. With parallel stories of men sent on their secret deeds while their families are left behind to hope is speckled with some familiar cliches, but it works quite well. There is a kidnapped wife of a nuclear scientist, a mom with a rogue teenage son who won’t listen and doesn’t care, and a Special Ops wife confronting a miscarriage, then a possible abortion. And it also has terrorists and machine guns and helicopters!
Yes, there is a lot of compelling story packed into this book, and at times there are so many characters that it’s easy to get confused but it unfolds quite nicely, with sharp writing that is crisp and engaging. Tense is some places, with a captivating, action-packed finale that moves so fast you’ll finish in one sitting. For the guys, there’s plenty of shooting, lots of blood, and enough military hardware to make you wish you could pop the movie version of this book into the DVD player. The female characters are strong and resourceful and while they yearn for their husbands, they are not hopeless without them. We know they will find a way to go on, and we admire them for that.
The dialogue, at times, is exactly what you’d expect. How many military/cop stories have a character (probably played by Keanu Reeves) proclaiming the following:
I didn’t choose the Army for the money. I didn’t choose it for the excitement. I enlisted because I’m an idealist. I believe I can make a difference in the world. I hate to see the little guy get kicked around, especially when I can do something about it. I can’t change the world, and I can’t save everyone; but I can save a few along the way. It’s why I wear the uniform. It’s why I’m here.
Other than that the dialogue sharp, with lots of witty, light-hearted banter between the soldiers. The abortion storyline feels a little contrived, as if it was inserted more to make a cheap political statement than to move the story along. It almost becomes a non-issue and leaves itself disappointingly unresolved. But this books is patriotic without being patronizing. Classified as Christian, its religious characters are reverent, never preaching, and seemingly at peace amid unimaginable circumstances. I commend Cpt. Struecker for handling these sensitive issues in a way that will satisfy both the faithful and the secular reader.
The ending is a solemn reminder that there are men and women who guard us while we sleep, and who do incredible things – and make unthinkable sacrifices – to keep us safe. I thank them for that.
Certain Jeopardy is available on amazon but I’m sure the authors want you to grab it from the official website. Please remember to check out Cpt. Struecker’s website. He frequently makes appearances and is probably worth checking out. You can bet he has a lot of amazing (and true!) stories to tell.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, December 2009