Mercenaries haven’t really been a staple of mainstream thrillers since the ’80s. Tom Clancy introduced Jack Ryan, an analyst, as the hero of his techno-thrillers, and it seemed to set the tone for much of the genre to come. Harold Coyle’s heroes were mostly tankers. Dale Brown’s were bomber pilots. As the GWOT got started, even the more shadowy operatives, like Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp and Brad Taylor’s Pike Logan were still directly operating within the government apparatus, if so black that they “didn’t exist.”
So, why did I go with mercenaries for the Praetorian series, Kill Yuan, and the Brannigan’s Blackhearts series? Well, I think that has several answers.
The most immediate one is flexibility. Anyone who’s done time in the military knows that your every move is closely scrutinized when in combat, and it’s just gotten worse with the advance of technology. You don’t get to pick your targets, and when you find actionable intel, it has to go up the chain for a decision, then back down to you, by which time the target might not be there anymore (true story). You could even know that that guy’s a bad guy, be poised and ready to move on him, and get told, “No.”
For the sake of authenticity, if my characters were still in the military, they’d have to abide by the rules, regulations, and ROE. Doable, but when you want to tell fast-paced adventure stories, it’s a restriction that can interfere with the story, and turn it from semi-plausible to, “There is no way in hell that would ever happen.” Having mercenaries as main characters gives the writer elbow-room, so to speak.
The other reason, I think, ties into the above, as well as the reason that mercs featured so heavily in ’70s and ’80s Action Adventure fiction. I think a lot of us GWOT vets got frustrated in much the same way many Vietnam vets did. Afghanistan is a never-ending quagmire where much of the time our guys have to stand by and watch either the Taliban retake the southern part of the country, or simply accept that their “allies” often are corrupt as hell, not to mention pederasts and sexual predators. Iraq is a fractured mess, largely dominated by the same Iranian government that was shipping EFPs across the border to kill Americans during the height of the war. It’s hard not to look at the GWOT as similarly mismanaged and abandoned as Vietnam was.
There were quite a few Vietnam vets who headed to Africa (most notably Rhodesia), to fight Communists in the ’70s and ’80s. Others, who didn’t go that far, vented their frustration by telling stories. Don Pendleton wasn’t a ‘Nam vet (WWII and Korea), but he started The Executioner series as a reaction to what had happened during and after Vietnam. Others joined in. I think we’re seeing more of the same now, with my own series, Jack Murphy’s Deckard series, Jack Silkstone’s PRIMAL series, the Black Powder-Red Earth graphic novel series, etc. We got tired of the BS in the mil, though we still might want a piece of the action. Which is why I often term my stuff, “Shooter Wish Fulfillment.”