This marks the fourth time in a row that I am touting Brad Thor’s latest thriller as his best ever. I would worry that this could strain my credibility — but the simple truth is that it’s astonishing how the undisputed king of the thriller just keeps getting better and better.
It’s no accident; it’s the result of the passion that drives him. He once told me in an interview, “I work for the readers so I try to make sure I’m their favorite author and that each year they get a better book than they did the year before.”
His latest release is #20 in his Scot Harvath series about this hard-hitting former Navy Seal who is, in effect, the president’s personal lethal secret weapon for espionage and counterterrorism. “Near Dark” is not only Brad Thor’s best novel, it is also very different from any of his others.
His early works mainly focused on the threat to America from radical Islamic terrorists. Readers came away from Brad Thor novels with a much better grasp of the nature and extent of the threat America faces from radical Islam than they learned from the mainstream media.
“But while the September 11 attacks had demonstrated the asymmetric threat of Islamic terrorism, another threat — one far greater and far more powerful - was looming on the horizon,” Brad Thor wrote a few years ago when he switched the focus of his novels to the threat America faces from Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
With his eerie ability to make you feel you might be glimpsing at news from the future, he set off another alarm for his dozing countrymen with a scary scenario in which Russia plans to recapture all territory that the former Soviet Union lost.
With only one thing — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — standing in Russia’s way of stage one — recapturing Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — the cunning Russian plan to break NATO that Brad Thor wrote about is both brilliant and ominously plausible, with facts and evidence from the lessons of recent history skillfully woven in that strongly suggest it could work, giving Russia a rousing victory and America a mortifying defeat.
Scot Harvath thwarts the Russian scheme — but at a horrendous price when at a remote secret spot in New Hampshire that the U.S. government had deemed to be safe, an attack is conducted by Russians acting on orders from the president of Russia in which two close colleagues he greatly admires and the woman he loves and had just secretly married are murdered.
And Harvath is captured — and whisked away to Russia where they intend to torture him until they break him, yielding them invaluable knowledge they covet regarding America’s covert operations and network of spies before they then eliminate one of the greatest threats they face by killing him, the Russian president retaining for himself the honor being his executioner.
A freak plane crash leads to his escaping and eventually being evacuated from Russia by a U.S. force, whereupon once safely home, driven by rage and craving for revenge he promptly returns to Russia and makes everyone connected with the attack that killed his loved ones, including the president of Russia, pay an excruciatingly painful price.
This is the brutal hell that has marked Scot Harvath’s recent past as “Near Dark” begins. While he keeps in great physical condition, emotionally he’s a wreck. Heartbroken by the murders of the persons most dear to him and consumed with guilt — he blames himself for the deaths — he’s passing his days trying to drown his sorrow with alcohol.
He is the most vulnerable he has ever been at precisely the worst possible time. The world’s largest bounty — $100 million — has been placed upon him and some of the world’s most deadly assassins are competing to win it. No one on his side knows who is behind the bounty or who might be among those coming for him. It’s the greatest challenge he’s ever faced, and he must do so while putting himself back together and without knowing just who he can trust or depend upon for help.
As in any Brad Thor novel, the action is fast-paced; surprises abound; it’s pulse-pounding exciting; it’s plausible; the suspense keeps you on edge anxious to discover what’s next and how it all will end — and it’s supremely entertaining.
And this one introduces in a semi-starring role a fascinating new character whom I expect we’ll see a lot more of in the future — a beautiful, smart Norwegian intelligence operative named Solvi Kolstad who is every bit the deadly, skilled operator Harvath is. What a team they make!
Given Brad Thor’s standing as the best of the best thriller authors, saying that “Near Dark” is his best ever book is saying this is as good as thrillers get.
• Fred J. Eckert, President Reagan’s U.S. ambassador to Fiji and to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, is a former Republican congressman from New York.
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NEAR DARK: A THRILLER
By Brad Thor
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, $28.99, 349 pages