By Brad Thor
Atria, $27.99, 384 pages
Long past the point by which most authors have produced all the best works they’re capable of and are coasting or waning, Brad Thor keeps on getting better and better.
“Backlash” is certain to be hailed as his best-ever thriller. Look for it to be his 19th mega best-seller.
Fans who have for years followed the remarkable exploits of his Scot Harvath character were flabbergasted by the jaw-dropping, cliff-hanger ending in last year’s “Spymaster.” On the last page, with curtains falling in the calm aftermath that followed a pulse-pounding adventure, in the final five sentences — pow! — he dazed us with a stunning surprise.
The startling ending of “Spymaster” makes “Backlash” Brad Thor’s most-anticipated thriller ever. Its last five sentences left us wondering exactly what was happening at that remote spot in New Hampshire where Scot Harvath was relaxing with two colleagues he greatly admires and the woman he loves.
We could only sense something horrendous was about to happen — didn’t even know if he will live or die — and we’d remain in suspense waiting a year for “Backlash” before we’d learn full details.
He’s alive. We also learn that the woman he loved and his colleagues were murdered at that secret spot the U.S. government had deemed to be safe.
That attack was conducted by Russians acting on orders from the president of Russia. Such an attack against American citizens on U.S. soil constitutes an act of war, but Russia is confident that the United States can’t prove it was them.
Scot Harvath is alive only because the Russians want him to be — for now. They’ve captured him. And they’ve whisked him away to Russia where they intend to greatly intensify the torture they began during the flight over.
The hard-hitting former Navy Seal is, in effect, the president’s lethal secret weapon for espionage and counterterrorism. The Russians risked so much to capture him because for years he’s been such a dangerous nemesis possessing an astonishing skill for thwarting their military and intelligence operations. And because unless they stopped him he would continue to be one of the greatest threats they face.
But especially they want him their captive because he possesses incredibly invaluable knowledge they covet regarding America’s covert operations and network of spies — and they have ways of getting everything he knows out of him.
Upon landing in Russia he is put on another plane heading to a special place where he is to be brutally tortured until they break him and then kill him. The Russian president has retained for himself the honor of executing him.
The only good news for Scot Harvath is that the piece of junk aircraft in which the Russians are transporting their prize captive crashes.
What follows is a tale unlike anything we’ve seen before from Brad Thor — but every bit as good — as against all odds Scot Harvath fights to survive and escape capture.
That plane went down in one of the world’s most-challenging locations — a remote desolate spot on the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s freezing far-northwestern Arctic/Lapland area. He has no idea where he is and neither does anyone who might be able to trigger a rescue attempt.
He does know that as much as Russia risked capturing him, America will risk even more to get him back. He desperately needs to discover where he is and find a way to signal his location to the right people.
Heartbroken by his loss of those three persons so dear to him and consumed with guilt blaming himself for it, he relentlessly pushes himself to prevail. Driven by rage and craving for revenge, he promises himself that no matter what it takes he will make everyone responsible pay an excruciatingly painful price.
Enough said. There’ll be no spoilers here. If you’ve read “Spymaster” before you read “Backlash,” great — but it makes no difference. If after reading “Backlash” you read “Spymaster” then, sure, you’ll know there’s a surprise at the very end, what it is and what comes afterward — but that really doesn’t matter all that much because what precedes the final five sentences surprise is one of the best thrillers ever written.
Best advice about reading either one: Brace yourself for one hell of a read. There’s good reason why since 2002 The New York Times best-seller list has included a Brad Thor thriller every year except the one in which it included two and why there are more than 15 million copies of his books in print.
The daunting challenge Brad Thor faces as America’s greatest thriller writer is trying to best himself — yet he keeps right on doing it. Which is another way of saying that “Backlash” is Brad Thor’s best-ever thriller. But probably only until his next one.
• Fred J. Eckert, President Reagan’s U.S. ambassador to Fiji and to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, is a former Republican congressman from New York.