Jack Murphy definitely has a way with titles. Gray Matter Splatter is a title that few could pull off, particularly in a day and age of nonsensical buzzword thriller titles like True Faith and Allegiance.
But Jack pulls it off, somehow. Gray Matter Splatter is a breakneck bloodbath in the Arctic, a bit of a change of pace from the last couple Deckard installments.
Samruk International, Deckard’s PMC of former Western SOF soldiers and Kazakh mercenaries, has been contracted to secure oil installations in the Russian Arctic against Russian Mafiya elements that are muscling in on the oil companies, not unlike the Mexican cartels have been doing with Pemex in the real world. What they find themselves up against on the Russian tundra, however, is a paramilitary force far better prepared and advanced than a bunch of Mafiya thugs. What follows is a deadly chase across the Arctic from Russia to Canada to Greenland.
The sheer distances in the Arctic, most of them utterly devoid of much more than occasional animal life, presented a challenge as far as pacing, but Jack managed to balance it deftly. Some of this is due to the global repercussions of what is going on (which I’ll leave deliberately vague, since Jack reveals the mystery in a slow burn that definitely keeps the reader guessing for a while), which keeps Deckard engaged on several levels.
While the action is the centerpiece (and as well-written as ever), there’s a lot of intrigue and geopolitics going on behind the scenes. In addition to the harsh realities of Arctic warfare, there is a background of open-source warfare, terrorism, proxy war, and deliberate misdirection of knee-jerk public reaction to further the enemy’s objectives.
There is also a lot of high-tech stuff, some of it presently available, most of it plausible, and a little bit still very much in the realm of science fiction. In fact, Gray Matter Splatter sits in an interesting middle ground between contemporary military thriller and military science fiction. This also puts it slightly within the realm of certain James Bond stories and with a hint of GI Joe (though in a good way).
There’s some definite character development stemming from the previous books in the series, both with Deckard, who is starting to have to take a step back and be more of a commander than a front-line door-kicker (though he gets plenty of that in, as well; Deckard is still very much a “lead from the front” sort of commander), but also with Nikita, the rather sullen Kazakh sniper.
Jack does a good job of slow-burning the background plot, though his method could seem a little weird to a first-time reader. All I can say is, as strange as things might seem, stick with it. It all becomes clear in the end, as Jack draws the various threads together, and results in a very satisfying mil/milSF thriller.