Reviewed by Gerard Healy
This is an action story on steroids by Mark Greaney. He’s the American writer whose book The Gray Man has recently been made into a Netflix movie starring Ryan Gosling.
Armored starts in Beirut where we meet our all-American hero Josh Duffy, an ex-Army sergeant now working as a mercenary employed to protect a Lebanese Presidential candidate. In Greaney’s words, “It was the job of these men to meet violence with superior violence, and they stood at the ready.” This story has plenty of deaths and serious injuries through gun battles and ambushes, which are told in believable ways. Whether our hero could survive such lethal odds is problematic, but that’s Hollywood scriptwriting for you.
It’s while defending the Presidential candidate’s wife, Rafka Khabbaz, that some of the elements of Duffy’s hero status are established. The minor, but significant detail, that he tries to speak some of the local languages puts him in a better light for starters. Then when under heavy attack, he remains focused on his mission and helps settle his fellow soldiers. When finally cornered, he refuses to surrender Rafka, even when ordered to do so by his cynical paymasters. Perhaps the icing on top of his good-guy persona is his wife Nikki’s tattoo on his chest which we find out about as he’s wheeled into surgery.
Duffy suffers a serious leg injury which consequently reduces his employment options as a mercenary. Three years later, we find him down-hearted at working as a low paid mall cop with two young children. He is thrown an apparent financial lifeline by a former combat buddy named Mike Gordon, to join a dangerous convey into cartel country – Mexico.
The convoy is an UN-backed peace mission to the so-called Devil’s Spine area of western Mexico. The local gang, Los Caballeros Negros/ The Black Knights, hold deadly sway here and they are a growing threat to the government. So the Mexican Army is ready to enter and wage war, unless peace talks succeed.
Duffy’s motley crew are riding shot-gun on this delegation, which includes a Mexican woman Dr Gabriella Flores, whose expertise is local languages and customs. She warns them there is no law where they’re going and turns out to be a vital member of the team.
Greaney seems to have done his homework on Mexican gangs. Fuelled by massive profits from illegal drug running into the United States, they’re described as fiefdoms, each ruled over by a padron of ruthlessness and rat cunning. There is an uneasy balance of power among the groups, with territorial rights loosely observed. Any signs of weakness are fatal, as competitors wait for opportunities to strike.
They are also hierarchically structured; low paid, low skilled and expendable peons at the bottom and more vicious, talented killers higher up the chain. They all rule their turf with brutal authority and the hundreds of deaths each year make Mexico one of the most dangerous places on earth.
A key character, who can move and negotiate between the gangs, is Senor Cardoza aka the Consultant. He is fluent in Spanish, skilled in playing sides off against each other and ruthless enough to survive. In probably the story’s boldest credibility leap, it turns out he wears another hat entirely. All is not what it seems in this double-crossing affair.
Another credibility leap involves Duffy’s wife Nikki. She was a top Army helicopter pilot in Iraq, where she met Duffy. That part is okay, but her involvement in the final rescue scenes in Mexico are a stretch, I thought.
One feature that was done well was the gradual and subtle transformation of Duffy as a team leader over his battle-hardened crew. Having never been an officer and hiding his secret injury, he slowly earns their trust as the odds against their success dive. Greaney has called on his real-life experiences training with military and police units to give some credence to the roles of leaders, when their troops are under attack.
The story’s strength is when the action is fast-moving and high stakes, but the characters are either a bit hard to believe goodies or violent, double-crossing baddies. The back-up crew are mostly forgettable. There are some interesting geo-political angles to this story that elevate it somewhat from the ordinary action thriller.
I would recommend this action story for fans of Tom Clancy. Mind you, in the right hands, it might make a good movie.
Mark Greaney was born in 1967 in Memphis, Tennessee where he still lives. He has a degree in international relations and political science. He has written twelve books in the Gray Man series and before Tom Clancy’s death in 2013, Greaney co-authored three books with him. Afterwards he wrote seven others based on characters created by Tom Clancy such as Tom Clancy Commander in Chief . Greaney has also done Red Metal, with retired Marine Colonel Ripley Rawlings. Armored is soon to be a major film by Michael Bay.
by Mark Greaney
ISBN: 978 075158 359 5