The drug war. Gun-running. An alarming fusion of the private sector with the government apparatus. Strange bedfellows. All of these are hot-button topics in politics at large and specifically in regards to foreign policy. As an action writer, I can testify first-hand that hot-button topics are what make our plots flow. Our curiosity makes us wonder, “What if X or Y were to happen? How would this go down?” We pick a topic or two, combine fact and speculation to come up with a narrative that entertains and, if the writer is worth their salt, makes the reader wonder which is which.
That is, of course, unless you’re Jack Murphy.
Murphy takes all four of those touchy subjects, gives each of them enough research to put a modern journalist to shame, and links them together through brutal, gruesome action in his sophomore print novel, Target Deck. The amount of action in this outing puts his first novel, Reflexive Fire, to shame, which anybody who read it would assure you that they would find the notion impossible.
The novel starts with a daring hostage rescue inside a drug lord’s compound and literally does not let up until the final third of the book…at which point, Murphy generously allows the reader to catch their breath long enough to prepare for the barrage of twists and action that await them in that final section. From relentless house-to-house fighting against cartel bad boys to sneak-and-peek ops that resemble real-life versions of certain stealth action franchises (including an appearance by technology I was unaware existed outside one of those franchises!) and beyond, Murphy again plays to his strengths as a former Ranger infantryman and Special Forces soldier. The authenticity is there in spades, and for the uninitiated, he even includes a glossary of military jargon.
With the action, Murphy has also done a better job with adding a little more depth to the characters. Where it was strongly hinted in Reflexive Fire that Deckard was a highly principled man, Target Deck definitely puts it out there, both in deed and through words. Despite being war-weary and in a profession dominated by those with money signs in their eyes, Deckard is definitely motivated by justice.
There are several incidents throughout the book where Deckard is justice incarnate, delivering comeuppance to those who perpetrate heinous acts. It makes for an incredibly satisfying read when Deckard encounters something that seems so strange and wrong that one would think it does not exist outside the realm of fiction, and then he terminates said thing with extreme prejudice. Perhaps that is something within the reader acknowledging that such things happen everyday without that delivery of justice and we have to settle for a fictional tale of righting wrongs?
I digress, though. To touch on the opening line of this review, Murphy entwines all those controversial subjects: the drug war, private sector infiltration of government, gun-running, and the fallacy that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. A lesser author might have dropped the ball, made the transitions less smooth, made the connections seem convoluted. However, through a combination of research and a creatively analytical mind, Murphy takes the fruits of his research and presents a narrative that forces the reader to wonder about what is being presented, and even spurs the more curious readers to go forth and seek out that information for themselves. Every time somebody buys Target Deck, I’m sure there are those in the Beltway who get worried somebody might learn more about the gun-running, about the drug war, about cronyism, about the bedfellows we keep, than they are comfortable with.
There were grammatical errors that needed addressing, but that’s so minor and I only caught them on the basis that I’m a grammar fascist. Target Deck was so enjoyable that I can’t even bring myself to dock points from Murphy over that. All I can do is bring it up so that when the next Deckard book is released, it’s the perfect action thriller novel.
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill post-9/11 action thriller, though. No, this is a new genre. This is a novel that spares no detail about the brutality of war. It does not shelter the reader from the evils of the world. It refuses to turn a blind eye to the corruption that runs rampant, on both sides of the border. To steal Murphy’s term for it, this is the full auto military action genre.
Kit up and lock and load, because Target Deck is one hell of a ride!