Brad Taylor’s books never cease to amaze me and last year’s book in his franchise was one of the best thrillers I read early this year. Hunter Killer is an emotional, smart, fun, and thrilling turning point in the Pike Logan series and impacts the characters heavily. Though the plot is exciting, the real story in this book is about the characters on a personal level. This book is a mix of an action packed revenge thriller, adventure story with a deadly crew of main characters who are like a family, a geo-political and economics related shadow coup story with targeted assassinations and mercenaries, a techno thriller loaded with real world intrigue and fun geographical detail, and good humor along with doses of darkness.
Pike Logan has been through a lot of gradual character development through the books of this series, but this thriller brings back the ghosts of the previous book on a vendetta against him. A miscalculation from the villains ends up killing Pike’s superior officer, a major character in the series and Pike’s mentor / father figure, right outside Pike’s doorstep in an explosion that was targeted at Pike. Now, with all his friends and allies connected to the secretive black ops unit known as the Taskforce under attack, Pike’s out for blood without knowing the bigger conspiracy he’s stepping into.
The story has Pike Logan and his partner in crime Jennifer Cahill almost domesticated as a family, while trying to get legal citizenship papers for Ameena who they’ve fatefully adopted through the events of the previous book in the series. When the plot explodes into their doorstep, Pike’s paranoid mind goes back to a dark place, fearing that he’d lose his family again. At the same time, two other members of the Taskforce are caught in a hostage situation on a ferry in Brazil. These characters, accidentally caught in the wrong place at the wrong time stay in cover to not expose the existence of their unit, when the hostage situation is actually a cover for a targeted assassination of a corporate power-player in the petroleum industry.
Incidentally, the team of Russian mercenaries orchestrating the situation indirectly in Brazil, are connected to the Russian covert team still in Charlston to finish off their revenge op on Pike Logan. Now, without a boss and with his Taskforce disbanded, Pike calls in favours from the fan favorite Isreali assassins of the series – Aaron and Shoshana. The duo play along with Pike, in his game to eliminate the assassins lurking in his hometown before teaming up with Pike and Jen to resolve the situation with their friends stuck in Brazil.
The actual plot involves Russian meddling with the elections in Brazil, the petroleum industry in Brazil and its involvement with Russia, social media and marketing industry in the US with its connections to Russia and its involvement in lobbying and political influence. Yet, both the antagonists and the protagonists care about something else; their mutual obsession with taking revenge on the other.
In terms of the techno intrigue, Hunter Killer stays very realistic, detailed, and scarily smart. The techno awe shines in scenes like where the characters remotely hack into an Alexa device and use it as a listening bug, or in a time centric operation near the end where an explosive micro drone, the size of a large fly, is directed towards a mercenary to blow his head off in order to save many lives.
The villains, who are the Russian state owned private military company – The Wagner Group – is a trending real group used in action thrillers these days as an exciting antagonistic entity, but Brad Taylor’s writing again excels in portraying kill squads with a believable sense of realism by humanizing them and exploring the logistics and management issues with covert operations. Some of the major Wagner killers in this story are a deadly adversary who make Pike and his team work for it within the maze of disinformation and chaos.
Pike himself isn’t a rampaging action hero like other generic ex-Delta protagonists in the genre. He and his gang use a lot of tricks, deceptions, smart tradecraft, and cunning tactics to outsmart and outfight their adversaries. Pike’s dangerous, but he’s also humanized with his flaws, fears, and emotions, along with his smart operator mind which keeps the action as realistic as possible. Veep, the millennial in the Taskforce and also the fictional President’s son( not a Jack Ryan Jr. ripoff) gets his own action scenes against Wagner mercenaries where he’s teamed up with his boss, an aging former CIA operator, and the thirteen year old Ameena who tries to outsmart the mercs and helps Veep take them out. Just like the previous book in this series, Ameena might be the most fun, smart, and dangerous character in the Pike Logan franchise which is filled with assassins, terrorists, and mercenaries.
The highly weaponized tactical raids and assaults, the detailed and smart spycraft and tradecraft, the jokes and character dynamics, the dark psychological elements, the light but believable real worlds geo-politics and economics, kill squads and covert operations, political tension and extortions, the descriptive and cinematic real world locations, and emotionally charged thrilling narrative makes Hunter Killer a must read for the fans of this genre who want a fun, unique, and thought-provoking smart thrill-ride.