Book Review: Contracted II: America’s Terror Trackers, by Kerry Patton

As you may remember, I reviewed Kerry Patton’s first book, Contracted: America’s Secret Warriors, and enjoyed the hell out of it.  It wasn’t much of an action novel, but more of a novelization of real-world operations in Afghanistan.

Well, I have to say, for his second book, Kerry has dialed things up a notch.  This is more of a globe-hopping espionage novel, though it retains the same authenticity and realistic tone of the first book.  This time the target is not the Taliban, but rather Hezbollah.  US intelligence has become so Al Qaeda fixated in recent years that Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist group prior to 9/11, has largely dropped off the radar.

I won’t go into the twists and turns of the plot, mainly because I don’t want to give anything away.  It is twisting and turning, too.  Determining who is friend or foe, or simply dealing with foes out of necessity is constant throughout the story.  There’s not a huge amount of action, but there’s tension a-plenty.

Kerry has a way of hitting the reader with sudden changes in the situation, hard and fast.  The mission also becomes personal for Declan in a way that somewhat reminded me of Patriot Games.  Don’t worry, this isn’t a rehash of a 20-year-old Clancy novel.  There’s a lot more going on here, sometimes even beneath the surface of a few words in a short conversation.

Kerry researched Hezbollah extensively, both professionally and for this book.  There’s some information in here that is not common knowledge.  It’s well worth reading for that insight alone.  The fact that it’s a tense, well-written spy novel just helps it along.

You can pick it up on Kindle and Paperback on Amazon.

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A Silver Cross and a Winchester Snippet 3

I uploaded the interior file for A Silver Cross and a Winchester to Createspace today.  We’ll have a cover soon, and shortly after that, it will be out.  In the meantime, here’s another short snippet.

*********************************

The Senator’s body hitting the grass didn’t let down her sacrificial victim.  He still hovered in the air, bound with the unnatural cords, his eyes still rolled back in his head.  Only now his head lolled around to stare at me with unseeing eyes.  “Too…late…” croaked out of his open mouth, without any movement of his lips or jaws.  “Mine…now…

            I levered another round into the Winchester’s chamber, and leveled the gold bead sight on his heart, reciting a prayer of exorcism.  The body jerked and danced like a puppet, but did not lower, and the black tendrils only tightened.  “No…mine…

            “Go back where you came from,” I demanded.  “Or I’ll send you there with a quickness, and it’ll hurt a lot more.”  I didn’t really want to shoot the poor sucker who was the chosen vessel for this thing, but if that was the way to keep the demon in the Abyss, you’d better believe I’d drop the hammer on him.

            Of course, the security detail chose that moment to come racing around the corner in response to the gunshot.

            The first guy skidded to a stop in shock, his Glock held out in front of him but completely forgotten as he stared at the young man floating in the air over the table.  The victim’s head swiveled around unnaturally quickly—and further around than a human head should be able to—to face him.  A thick tendril of the same spiky, oily black smoke-stuff that was bound around the young man shot out of the open mouth like a tongue, and wrapped around the guard’s neck.

            No choice.  I fired, smashing another huge, silver-jacketed bullet through the boy’s heart.

            Now, there was a fifty-fifty chance that things had progressed far enough that the thing didn’t need a living body to possess.  That’s rare, but it does happen.  I’d never seen it, at least not up to that point.  With an unearthly scream that had the guards falling on their hands and knees, vomiting, the unnatural cords evaporated, and the corpse fell to the tabletop with a sickening dead-meat noise.

            The guard who had been attacked was insensate, staring up at the sky.  He was still breathing, but he wouldn’t come out of his shock for a long time.  I suspected that when he did, he wouldn’t be entirely whole anymore.  The others were starting to pick themselves up, shaking, wondering what the hell had just happened.

            By the time they looked around, I’d scooped up my shell casings and was gone.

You Can Preorder My First SOFREP Ebook

My first SOFREP ebook, “Operation Red Wings,” about the recovery effort for Marcus Luttrell and his team in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, in 2005, is now up on Amazon for preorder.I wrote this for SOFREP about a month ago.  It’s short, but to the point.  There’s some stuff in here that hasn’t been told before.Image

Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Operation-Red-Wings-Survivor-ebook/dp/B00F8HCAQW/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_d_1

A Request

Okay, folks, I’m really not all that good at asking for help.  It took two weeks to force myself to write this post.  But here it is: I can’t sell these books by myself.  I need you guys to help out.

Now, I’m not asking for you to trumpet this post to the four corners of the earth, or buy extra books (though if you haven’t bought my books, you totally should).  No, I just need some help with Amazon.

You see, as an independent author, I get the most visibility on Amazon through reviews.  The more reviews, the more it fits into Amazon’s algorithms, and the more visible it becomes.  Since this blog and the FB page are really the only outlets where I promote my stuff, you can see how important those reviews can be.

So here’s all I’m asking: if you’ve read my books, and liked ’em, please take five minutes, go on Amazon, and write a review.  It’ll help me out a lot, and help get more Praetorian ass-kickery coming down the pipe in the future.

A Silver Cross and a Winchester, Snippet 2

I finished the first draft of A Silver Cross and a Winchester last night.  So, in honor of finishing, here’s another snippet.

**************

            The cliff curved around the back of the house, with about a hundred yards of tall firs between it and the yard.  Firelight was flickering through the tops of the firs.  I could just hear voices on the wind, unintelligible but definitely there.  I didn’t dare stop and listen yet, though; I had to put some distance between myself and the skinny’s corpse.  If our suspicions were correct about what was going on tonight, though, I didn’t really want to hear what was going on down there.

            Actually, the presence of skinnies did a pretty good job of confirming our suspicions.  You didn’t have skinnies as watchdogs unless you were already pretty far down the wrong road.

            What had brought me out here in the first place was an unexplained death.  One of the Senator’s constituents stood up in a town hall meeting and accused the Senator of corruption and misuse of public funds.  What’s more, she had the documents to prove it.  Two days later, the constituent, by the name of Linda Robinson, was found dead in her house.  All the windows and doors were locked, there was no sign of forced entry, but her head was missing, and there were some strange symbols scratched in the blood-spatter on the ceiling.

            Motive was pretty clear.  To those of us in the know, the method was pretty clear, too.  So I found myself out in the woods, contending with monsters from the Otherworld (albeit the slow and stupid ones), hoping not to run into any of the really dangerous things that go bump in the night, and really, really hoping not to encounter anything actually demonic before the night was through.

            I got to the end of the cliff, ignoring the faint rustling behind me that might just be the wind, but sounded like the faint sounds of a corpse being rent to pieces by scavengers.  The skinnies had gone for their dead comrade.  Easy meat.  Like I said, they aren’t that smart.

            Finding where the finger got a little less steep, I started down.  I could still hear voices, faintly, but they seemed to just be talking.  No chanting, not yet.  That was good.  Maybe I wasn’t too late.

            I quickly realized that this particular route was a little steeper, rockier, and more treacherous than I’d hoped.  I almost knocked the butt of my Winchester on a rock more than once—that wouldn’t have been good, as I was already close enough that I definitely would have been heard.  Then I slipped.

            My boot flew out from under me with a rattle of loose rocks, and I skidded downhill, grabbing my rifle with one hand while the other flailed for a tree, a bush, a jutting rock, anything to arrest my slide.  I bounced off a few rocks and sent what sounded like half a landslide down the slope before I grasped a pine sapling and gripped it, bringing myself to an aching stop.

            For a few moments, I just lay there against the hillside, trying to gasp as quietly as possible, not moving a muscle, just listening.

            The conversation down by the house hadn’t changed.  It was slightly louder, now that I was closer, but still indecipherable.

            Upslope, I could just make out a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye.  The skinnies were coming.  I had to get off the mountain, fast.  I’d ambushed that first one, but the rest of the pack would be more cautious.  If they came at me all at once, they’d tear me apart.  I had to get to the Senator.

            Unslinging my Winchester, I started to half-jog, half-skid down the hillside.  It sounds a lot noisier than it was—this wasn’t my first rodeo, and I was determined that it wasn’t going to be my last.  Behind me, the skinnies didn’t make any more sound, but I knew they’d sped up.  They smelled blood, and they wanted me.

            I couldn’t run a straight line; I was back down in the trees, and there was plenty of deadfall to worry about, too.  It slowed me down in a way that the skinnies wouldn’t have to worry about.  Dumb they may be, but they are inhumanly agile.

            Fortunately, I only had about fifty yards left to get to the back yard.  It looked like the Senator’s human guards had focused all their attention on the road, ignoring the cliff behind them.  Either they were too used to working in cities and didn’t think anyone would be coming from the woods and the mountains, or they were relying on the skinnies up there.  I couldn’t imagine too many mortal security guys trusting their rear to monsters, especially since no one of sound mind believed in such things anymore.  I guessed it was either complacency, or the Senator didn’t allow them out back.

            I was starting to be able to see more.  The back of the house was lit up with outdoor lamps, and the bonfire was putting off quite a bit of light of its own.  It was just enough to see the symbol carved into the trunk of the tree as I slipped past it.  I didn’t recognize the symbol itself, except that it made me a little queasy to look at it, but I recognized what it was supposed to do.  The Senator had a spirit fence up around the house, to keep the skinnies from getting too close.

            It didn’t work on humans, though.  I got past it without much more than a slightly nauseated feeling, though that could have been from the smell of the incense she was burning, that was overpowering even the smoke of the fire.  And now I didn’t have to worry so much about the skinnies at my back.

            I just had to worry about the Senator, anything she was calling up, and her goons.

            I eased into the shadow of a low-lying spruce, taking care not to stir the branches too much.  I peered out through the gaps.

            The bonfire lit the backyard quite well, revealing the Senator in a bathrobe, a young man apparently unconscious on a picnic table, and various symbols written on rocks surrounding the table in a circle.  It looked like she was trying to summon something.  There was another, younger man in a suit standing nearby talking to her, but there was no sign of her bodyguards.  They probably weren’t allowed back here, for obvious reasons.

            “I’m just trying to say that maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” the guy was saying.  He sounded scared stiff.

            “It worked before, didn’t it?” the Senator demanded.  Her voice was as shrill and unpleasant as her face would suggest.  “Stop worrying.  I know what I’m doing.”

            I highly doubt that, I thought.

            She waved the younger man away and turned toward the picnic table.  That was when I noticed the hunting knife in her hand.  Crap.  I was probably not going to get through the night without shooting, and that was going to bring her security detail.  Dammit.

            I was preparing to push through the branches and put a stop to this, when something grabbed me by the ankle.

            It looked like a root, but it was wrapped around my boot, and starting to squeeze.  Shifting the Winchester to my off hand, I drew the Bowie and started to hack at it.

            In response, about a dozen of the grasping roots, or whatever they were, lashed out of the ground and tried to grab me.

            I found myself in a fight for my life, hacking and slashing with the Bowie.  No sooner would I sever one tendril than two more would grab me.  I was dragged down to one knee, and three of the tendrils grabbed me around the arm, trying to pry the Winchester loose.  I cut two of them away, and was hacking at a third, as more and more wrapped around my lower leg, pinning me to the ground.

            As I fought, trying to get free of the thing or things attempting to drag me into the ground, the Senator began her ritual.  I’m fairly certain she was entirely aware of the thrashing spruce tree just beyond the firelight; I had already come to the conclusion that she was better prepared than I had given her credit for.

            I only caught scraps of what she was saying or chanting.  Added to the smell of the incense, which had a tang of burned blood to it, what I could hear made my head hurt and my stomach clench.  It didn’t help my fight.

            A flurry of hacking chops and an invocation of St. Michael, and the remaining tendrils let go and slithered back underground.  I staggered as the pressure was lifted, and turned my attention back toward the house.

            I wished I hadn’t.

            The young man who had been unconscious on the table was now upright, his bare feet about six inches above the surface of the table.  What looked alternately like black smoke or barbed wire, depending on when you looked at it, was bound around his wrists, ankles, and throat.

            His mouth was wide open as if screaming, but no sound was coming out.  His eyes were rolled completely back in his head, leaving only bloodshot whites showing.

            The Senator pronounced a name that made a sharp pain start behind my left eye.  How she managed to make that sound I didn’t know, nor do I want to.  That way lies madness.

            She had doffed the bathrobe, and was standing naked in front of her impromptu altar, with the knife in one hand and some kind of small animal in the other.  It wouldn’t have been pretty even if she hadn’t painted herself with the animal’s blood.

            She repeated the name, and the pain in my head intensified.  Time to end this.  I stepped out of the branches, this time without the strange tendrils trying to stop me, and brought the Winchester to my shoulder.

            The .45-70’s boom echoed off the house and the mountainside behind me.  The 300 grain bullet smacked the Senator off her feet, pulverizing most of her vital organs.  She dropped to the ground like a sack of meat, which by the time she hit was exactly all that was left of her.

            There are those who would question the fact that I shot her without saying anything.  They don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.  The Otherworld is dangerous.  The Abyss is infinitely worse.  There is no room for screwing around when a summoning is happening.

An Interview

My friend Hank Brown, over at Two Fisted Blogger, has just put up an interview we did a month or two ago, going into a little more depth on the development of the American Praetorians series.  Go check it out.

http://twofistedblogger.blogspot.com/2013/09/interview-with-peter-nealen.html

Hank’s a hell of a writer himself; I’ve read and enjoyed both of his paramilitary thrillers, Hell and Gone and Tier Zero.  If you enjoy my books, go and check out Hank’s.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

First Look at “A Silver Cross and a Winchester”

I realized I’m almost finished with this project, but haven’t put much out about it.  It’s a bit of a departure from my earlier stuff–more horror/fantasy.  Think Larry Correia‘s Monster Hunter series with a little bit of Dresden Files, all with my own touch.

So, without further ado, the first snippet from A Silver Cross and a Winchester.

*****

Leaving my old truck parked a half mile away, I slipped through the dappled shadows toward the house.  The woods were thick, which under most circumstances would mean I had plenty of concealment to make my way unobserved.  Tonight, I had no such illusions.

The house (house, hell, it was a multi-million-dollar mansion set in the hills above the tiny town of Morton) had state-of-the-art security, both electronic and human.  This was only to be expected, since it was, after all, a Senator’s private getaway.

Yes, you heard that right.  I was on my way to break into a Senator’s vacation home.  Wait until you hear the good part.

The physical security wasn’t what I was worried about.  I was a ghost in the woods even before I started this job, and that was a long time ago.  The alarm systems and the government guards were a threat, certainly, but they weren’t the threat I was most worried about.

I immediately moved away from the road, heading up the mountain behind the house.  The shoulders were cloaked with tall firs and spruces.  There was enough rain in this part of the country to make the undergrowth plenty thick, so it was slow going.  Add in the fallen trees that hadn’t been thinned out, and it was even slower.  I could have moved faster, but I was trying to be quiet.  My pack wasn’t making it any easier to hike uphill, either.

I checked my watch.  It was almost ten.  I had less than two hours.  I started pushing a little harder.

As I came over the top of the ridge just south of the house, I slowed down, creeping from tree to tree, staying in the shadows as deeply as possible.  That was when the hackles first started to rise on the back of my neck.

I froze, watching and listening.  There was nothing to be seen but the faint moonlight filtering through the evergreen branches onto the ferns and deadfalls beneath, punctuated by the impenetrable blackness of the shadows under the trees themselves.  There was no sound aside from the whisper of the mountain breeze through the treetops.  But there was something there.  Something was watching me, something malevolent.  Given what I knew about what the Senator was up to, there were probably several somethings.

Time was slipping away while I watched and waited, crouched beneath a towering spruce.  If I rushed in, however, there was no telling what creative nastiness would ensue.  I sure wouldn’t make it to the target, that was for certain.  There was a reason these things were lurking up here in the dark, and it wasn’t to greet chance hikers and show them the way to the road.

I reached into my collar, drew out the small silver crucifix that hasn’t left my neck for over a decade, kissed it, then tucked it back under my shirt.   As comforting as the big Winchester 1886 in my hands might have felt, the crucifix was a lot more powerful in that particular situation.

I wasn’t searching with my eyes so much as I was watching my peripheral vision.  Not only do you see better at night that way, but that’s usually where you can catch a glimpse of these things.

This time was no different.  I caught the flicker of movement and whirled, bringing up the rifle.  There was nothing there, but the ferns were moving, and not with the wind.

I really didn’t want to fire a shot up here.  That would alert the Senator’s physical security long before I could get close.  I realized I was assuming that whatever was up on the ridgeline with me was fully physically manifest.

I sniffed the cool night air.  Under the usual scents of evergreen needles and rotting wood was something else, something putrid.  It was a scent I recognized.  It didn’t make me relax any, but it did tell me what I was dealing with.  Slowly, I continued up the mountainside, my senses straining to see or hear my stalkers before they struck.

That’s the rough part of this job; a lot of the things I hunt can see me long before I can see them.

The thicker firs dropped away abruptly, as I came out onto a narrow, grassy shelf atop a steep cliff that had to be almost fifty feet straight down.  The trees on the ridgeline continued their upward climb, forming a dark wall to my right.  Through the treetops that came just barely above the top of the cliff, I could see the lights of the house, and a bonfire that had been lit in the backyard.

There was another flicker of movement, barely seen out of the corner of my eye.  It was gone again as soon as I looked, but there was no longer any doubt in my mind that I was being hunted.  Time to put a stop to that.  I slung the Winchester, drew the Raider Bowie from my belt, and waited.

Now, ordinarily I prefer a slightly more moderately-sized knife, but occasionally having a blade the size of a short-sword comes in handy.  This, I was pretty sure, was going to be one of those times.

The third time I spotted a flicker of movement I didn’t react immediately, but waited until it came at me.  Then I turned, bringing the heavy blade up with a wicked slash.

The pale, scrawny thing danced back, only catching the tip of the blade across its chest.  It’s wide, lamp-like eyes were filled with hatred, reflecting enough moonlight that they almost glowed.  Of course, I’d never seen any expression on a skinny’s face besides hatred, so that wasn’t anything new.  Its stench made me want to gag.

I lunged forward, keeping my balance but pressing it as hard as I could.  I did not want to give this thing the space or the time to claw my eyes out, bite me, or scream for help.  Its scream could paralyze a man for a few precious seconds, and would bring every corporeal and non-corporeal nasty up to the ridge in heartbeats.

It was scrambling backward as I struck at it, putrid brown blood that looked black in the silvery light oozing from the cut I’d given it.  It was quick, but it was paying too much attention to the blade, and not enough to what was behind it.

If I’d steered it into a tree, it would have only bought me a half a second or so.  Pushing it into a thornbush gave me a lot more of an advantage.

It jerked as a thorn poked it in the back, and I pounced, getting a hand past its flailing claws to clamp on its scrawny, rubbery neck.  I stabbed it once, twice, three times under the ribs, angling the blade up to get at its heart and lungs.  It kept fighting me long after a man would have succumbed to the pain and shock, not to mention died from having his heart impaled on a three-inch wide blade.  I had claw marks on my face and upper arms that were going to require some attention before they festered.  If I survived the rest of the night, anyway.

Skinnies aren’t demons, per se.  They may look like it to a lot of people, but they’re as corporeal as you or I.  They are part of the Otherworld, but they’re still essentially physical beings.  They’re also some of the dumbest of the monsters lurking around the shadows of the world.  Vicious as hell, though.  I’d once referred to them as “the white trash of monsters.”  Inquisitor Thornton hadn’t been amused, and had said something about my “irreverence.”  I proceeded to rip him a new one about even thinking about being “reverent” when talking about these creatures.  He didn’t speak to me for weeks after that.

It was glorious.

I left the corpse after wiping my knife on its ratty, filthy trousers.  Where there was one skinny, there were more.  They were dumb enough that they’d probably descend on the corpse to eat it before they’d come after me.  I said a quiet little prayer of thanks that they hadn’t attacked as a pack.  I probably wouldn’t have made it if they had.