Thomas W. Young wrote one of last year’s best thrillers, an edge-of-your-seat tome titled THE MULLAH’S STORM. The best way to describe protagonist Michael Parson is to say that if you were to look up the phrase “the right stuff,” it would be illustrated with his picture. Parson is the modern-day equivalent of Bill Mauldin’s “Willie and Joe” characters, notwithstanding the fact that he is an officer. As was illustrated in the previous book and again, very dramatically, in SILENT ENEMY, Major Parson will not send a subordinate into a situation to perform a task that he would not do himself.
"The story is as lean and mean as they come; it jumps from one disaster to another, leaving bodies and parts of bodies along the way."
Young’s latest takes place approximately four years after the events of THE MULLAH’S STORM. We learn early on that Parson, though he left parts of himself in the Hindu Kush mountains, has obtained a medical waiver to go into pilot training and done what he needed to do to earn his wings. As SILENT ENEMY opens, Parson is about to leave Kabul, flying a giant, Vietnam-era C-5 Galaxy to Germany. His mission, though, is quickly changed when Islamic jihadists unleash a bomb attack on the Afghan National Police training center, resulting in a great number of casualties. The wounded are put aboard a number of nearby planes, including Parson’s, for medical treatment in Germany.
Army translator Sophia Gold is among those to be transported. Gold, now a Sergeant Major, played an important role in THE MULLAH’S STORM with Parson, and the two shared a decoration ceremony in recognition of their brave and valiant actions under fire. But Gold and Parson barely have time to become reacquainted after departure when the crew receives some horrific news. It is revealed that the jihadists responsible for the initial blast have also planted bombs on some of the planes leaving Afghanistan. The bombs are especially insidious in that they are designed to go off when the aircraft descends to a certain altitude. Additionally, each bomb is loaded with a number of air-dispersible contagions. To put it simply, Parson cannot land.
Does this sound like a pitch for a film along the lines of Speed meets a dark and murderous M.A.S.H.? Oh yes, indeed, but it is much better than that. Don’t think for a second that SILENT ENEMY is a one-trick pony with lots of padding. The story is as lean and mean as they come; it jumps from one disaster to another, leaving bodies and parts of bodies along the way. Everything that can possibly go wrong on and with Parson’s C-5 Galaxy does. From the nuts and the bolts to the weather and the passengers, it seems as if the earth and all that is above it is conspiring against Parson and the crew charged with the sacred duty of getting their injured passengers where they are supposed to go.
Young, an Air National Guard flight engineer, knows the ins and outs, fronts and backs of the territory covered here, and he recounts it in riveting, terrifying detail. You will probably never want to climb aboard anything that travels higher than a carousel horse after reading this book, but if you do, you will pray that someone like Parson is at the helm.
A word of warning: Don’t get too emotionally invested in any one character. Not everybody makes it through to the end of the book. As is noted here, we are not guaranteed tomorrow, or even the next five minutes of life. Parson is as unforgettable a character as you are likely to encounter in thriller fiction. You will not hear or see a plane flying overhead without thinking of Parson, holding together his C-5 Galaxy with guts, duct tape and baling wire, trying to complete his mission.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 8, 2011