Into Darkness by Richard Fox
Genre: Spy/Military Thriller
Rating: ***** Five Stars
Estimated word count: 95,000 words
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“Upon graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Richard Fox began his decade-long service in the US Army as a Field Artillery and Military Intelligence officer. During that time, he served two fifteen-month tours in Iraq and was awarded the Combat Action Badge, the Bronze Star, and a Presidential Unit Citation.
Drawing upon his personal experiences, Fox infuses authentic details regarding the people, customs, languages, and ever-present threat of death that US Soldiers encountered while serving in the Iraq War.
He lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona, with his incredible wife and two-year-old son, an amazing child bent on anarchy.”
“A deadly ambush leaves two Soldiers in al-Qaeda hands. With few leads to follow, a covert arm of the CIA called the Caliban Program charges Captain Eric Ritter to help rescue the missing men. Despite his reservations with the CIA’s “by any means necessary” methods, Ritter accepts the mission.
Once embedded with an infantry company deep inside enemy territory, Ritter must keep his true allegiance hidden from his brother-in-arms, Captain Greg Shelton. Shelton leads the search for his missing Soldiers while maintaining the high moral standards required of every Army officer, standards at odds with Ritter’s mandate. Deceiving his comrade is Ritter’s first step down a dark road paved with good intentions.
The terrorist responsible for the kidnappings, Mukhtar, is Ritter’s old enemy—an enemy Ritter thought was dead. Mukhtar is the local emir for al-Qaeda, and has enough fighters and willing suicide bombers to rule his piece of Iraq with a bloody fist. When Mukhtar learns that Ritter is within striking distance, he vows to settle the vendetta he’s carried against Ritter for years.
War and politics make for strange bedfellows, and Ritter finds an unlikely ally in Abu Ahmet, an Iraqi insurgent. While Abu Ahmet proves useful, Ritter suspects he may have American blood on his hands.
The harder Ritter tries to uphold the honor and integrity of the United States Army, the more he finds himself betraying those who are closest to him—and turning to more and more extreme methods of extracting information to track down the kidnapped Soldiers. Torture, murder, and ugly compromise push Ritter further from his oaths as an officer and into the arms of the Caliban Program.
Written in the brutally honest voice of one who has lived it, Fox’s experiences bring an edge of pathos to the book reminiscent of All Quiet on the Western Front, The Things They Carried, and The Yellow Birds.”
My Two Cents:
Spy thriller, war story, mystery adventure- all those labels fit this tale, but still don’t do it justice. Perhaps, as a vet myself, I’m somewhat biased and overly impressed by the author’s attention to detail and willingness to tackle tough subjects. Into Darkness pulls no punches and sharply contrasts “Big Army politics” with the field realities of fighting a 21st century insurgency.
This is no jingoistic, “America rocks” story. Due to the complicated nature of each character, I’m still not sure who really was the bad guy. The Al Qaeda warlord or the supposed hero? The author neither glorifies nor laments modern war; he simply shows it how it really goes down. The tongue-in-cheek writing style and the shadowy organization pulling strings behind the scenes prevents the reader from becoming lost in the war though. This also helps keep the story fresh and racing along.
I found the ending a little too dark for my personal tastes. The main character’s personal development arc is also incredibly steep. To the point where you get annoyed with him for becoming an extremist. Of course, isn’t that a hallmark of great writing? These aren’t simple characters; both the “good” and “bad” people truly come alive. It’s very hard to stay emotionally disconnected!
Of all the military fiction I’ve ever read, none has captured the realism and immediacy of this book. The writer struck a fine balance between appealing to veterans and lay-folk alike. Details of weapons and tactics are watered down enough so as not to drown people in acronyms, but the meticulous detailing of every minor aspect of day-to-day deployment life gives vets that “he gets it” flavor they crave.
By the way, if you feel you’re missing the back story, check out the author’s short story prequel: