The Knife

Ross Ritchell. Blue Rider, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-399-17340-0
Former U.S. Special Operations Command direct-action soldier Ritchell mines his own experiences on the ground in the Middle East in this debut novel about a close-knit squadron deployed to hunt down and eliminate members of al-Ayeelaa, a secretive and increasingly volatile terrorist cell in Afghanistan. Now on his 10th deployment in “Afghanipakiraqistan,” team leader Shaw no longer pines for normal civilian life, especially because he’s romantically unattached and the grandparents who raised him are dead. Instead, he prefers horsing around with the guys in the oppressive desert heat, listening to fellow soldiers Hagan and Dalonna’s stories (the former obsesses over women with “huge tits” and the latter has G-rated memories of his wife and kids back home). The soldiers’ crass jokes and chummy banter verge on stereotype, but tension-filled scenes of raids on enemy combatants offset the stale mood. When Shaw loses men in an especially brutal confrontation, the questions he asks himself in the aftermath (Does he feel like a murderer? Were his kills worth it? Would anything ever change?)—despite being old hat and too rushed—resonate. Overall, however, the novel lacks cohesion: a few pages supplying background on the al-Ayeelaa leader, for instance, are inadequate and read like an afterthought. Agent: William Callahan, Inkwell Management. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/08/2014
Release date: 02/05/2015
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