Carsten Stroud is on the U.S. Army's recommended reading list and Fidel Castro's forbidden list; I'm not sure which is the greater honor. Still, he ought to be on every thriller fan's can't-miss list.
Stroud has conquered just about all of the manly genres-a great true cop book ("Close Pursuit"), military nonfiction ("Iron Bravo" which is officially recommended reading for Army non-coms), police procedurals, and international thrillers (such as "Cuba Strait," which got him on Castro's banned list).
But in this age of niche marketing, that diversity is likely the thing that has kept him off the best-seller list and from becoming a brand-name author like Stephen Hunter or Michael Connelly even though his work is of comparable quality.
Stroud takes on the international terror network and its unexpected allies in "Cobraville," which ranks with his best fiction so far.
Cole Langdon is the leader of a five-man CIA paramilitary unit. His cover is so deep that even his father, Drew, a pampered baby boomer and moderately liberal member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes (with relief) Cole's story that he quit his promising military career to work for the International Monetary Fund.
Cole and his father are so far apart in their points of view that they wouldn't talk much even if they weren't separated by half a planet and several layers of security.
His latest mission is to repair an National Security Council relay station hidden in the jungles of the Philippines, which also happens to be a hot spot for conflict between guerillas sponsored by al-Qaida and the Filipino government. U.N. troops, mostly German, have been called in to restore order, and Cole's team must avoid them as studiously as the terrorists - the blue helmets are as hostile to the Americans as the rebels, but Cole is not allowed to shoot back at them.
Drew is drawn into the picture when Gunther Krugman, a family friend who is heavily involved in covert operations, hands him a top-secret file about a terrorist leader operating in the Philipines, then disappears.
As half the federal government searches for Krugman, Drew and Luna Olvidado, his beautiful and ambitious Secret Service bodyguard, are drawn into a plot that points to a betrayal of Cole's unit from within the government and terrorist complicity by a prominent German businessman from without.
A terrorist bombing meant to kill Cole's team and a large number of civilians puts the unit on the run, while Drew and Luna scramble to uncover the conspiracy just a step ahead of some nasty hired killers.
Soon, Cole's team is being portrayed as rogue perpetrators of a massacre of civilians, while Drew's own legal standing may be in doubt-but his only hope to save his estranged son is to go even further outside the law. In doing so, he finds out that his son's view of the world is far closer to the truth than his post-Vietnam-era angst about the overuse of American power.
In "Cobraville," Stroud combines the knowledge of weapons and warriors of a Stephen Hunter, the sympathy of a Ralph Peters for the fighting man slogging away in the hellholes of the world, the intelligent interaction of politics and war of a James Huston and the slam-bang excitement of Vince Flynn.
The book is an effective reminder that U.N. peacekeeping forces, with their neutral attitude toward all combatants, provide just as much protection for the bad guys as they do for the innocent. Sometimes, violence really is the answer.
With "Cobraville," Stroud again proves he is essential reading for fans of realistic, exciting thrillers that illuminate current events at the same time as they entertain. Don't miss it.