If you are even an occasional fan of espionage and/or military thrillers, you simply have to be reading Andrew Britton’s novels. If you are not, you are cheating yourself.
Britton, who was born in England and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was seven years old, joined the United States Army immediately after his graduation and served as a combat engineer in the United States and in Korea. His books, which feature former operative Ryan Kealey, are loaded with descriptions of up-to-date weaponry and other technological toys of warfare, which reflect that knowledge without getting bogged down in it. Instead, Britton focuses on crisp and clear-headed plotting, sympathetic and memorable characterization, and action that begins flowing within the first few pages and never lets up thereafter.
"As is the case with the best novels of this type, Kealey is three-dimensional, so much so that it is not difficult at all to imagine that he or someone like him stands ready, however reluctantly, to guard against such incidents or to bring their perpetrators to a rough and final justice should they be successful."
Britton’s latest offering in the Kealey canon is perhaps the best of the lot so far, with Kealey again reluctantly returning to the clandestine wars at the behest of John Harper, the CIA’s Deputy Director. Actually, Kealey isn’t quite so reluctant this time. At the beginning of THE OPERATIVE, he appears at long last to have settled into the peaceful life that he has sought for so long and indeed has rightfully earned and deserved. But the tranquility that he has acquired with admittedly bitter and painful coin is interrupted when a large gala in downtown Baltimore (if you live in a medium or large size city, you know exactly the type) is horribly interrupted by a terrorist attack that is successful in every way.
The attack is exquisitely planned, well-organized, and deadly in the extreme. By the time the smoke clears and the dust settles, dozens of Baltimore’s more noted citizens are either dead or critically injured, including Harper’s own wife. Harper, who is effectively blocked from investigating the who, what and how behind the attack, seeks out Kealey. Kealey, who is no stranger to black operations with total deniability being a key element, is the only individual who Harper is able to turn to in order to pursue the truth, wherever it may go. The action proceeds from Baltimore to White Sands, New Mexico, to New York, to, of course, Washington, D.C., with Kealey pursuing a troubling trail that is full of surprises and terrible danger, not only for Kealey himself but for the nation as well. By the time Kealey completes his clandestine mission, he either will be more jaded than ever with the violent world he had left behind, or he will be terminated. Neither outcome is a palatable desire.
In some ways, THE OPERATIVE could be labeled a horror novel. One gets the feeling that if the attack contemplated within these pages were to be carried out, it would be done in a manner very similar, if not identical, to the one described within. As is the case with the best novels of this type, Kealey is three-dimensional, so much so that it is not difficult at all to imagine that he or someone like him stands ready, however reluctantly, to guard against such incidents or to bring their perpetrators to a rough and final justice should they be successful. Hopefully, that will never be known, other than within future volumes of the Kealey saga, which will be very welcome, indeed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 29, 2012