Book Review: The Terminal List

“The Terminal List” by Jack CarrA first-time author seeking to break into the thriller game can hardly hope for a better leg up than having his book appear in the hands of a character in a novel by a thriller grandmaster. That’s how I came across this book: it was mentioned in Brad Thor’s Spymaster, where the character reading it, when asked if it’s any good, responds, “Considering the author is a former SEAL and can even string his sentences together, it’s amazing.” I agree: this is a promising debut for an author who’s been there, done that, and knows his stuff.

Lieutenant Commander James Reece, leader of a Navy SEAL team charged with an attack on a high-value, time-sensitive target in Afghanistan, didn’t like a single thing about the mission. Unlike most raids, which were based upon intelligence collected by assets on the ground in theatre, this was handed down from on high based on “national level intel” with barely any time to prepare or surveil the target. Reece’s instincts proved correct when his team walked into a carefully prepared ambush, which then kills the entire Ranger team sent in to extract them. Only Reece and one of his team members, Boozer, survive the ambush. He was the senior man on the ground, and the responsibility for the thirty-six SEALs, twenty-eight Rangers, and four helicopter crew lost is ultimately his.

From almost the moment he awakens in the hospital at Bagram Air Base, it’s apparent to Reece that an effort is underway to pin the sole responsibility for the fiasco on him. Investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) are already on the spot, and don’t want to hear a word about the dodgy way in which the mission was assigned. Boozer isn’t having any of it—his advice to Reece is “Stay strong, sir. You didn’t do anything wrong. Higher forced us on that mission. They dictated the tactics. They are the [expletive] that should be investigated. They dictated tactics from the safety of HQ. [Expletive] those guys.”

If that weren’t bad enough, the base doctor tells him that his persistent headaches may be due to a brain tumour found on a CT scan, and that two members of his team had been found, in autopsy, to have rare and malignant brain tumours, previously undiagnosed. Then, on return to his base in California, in short succession his team member Boozer dies in an apparent suicide which, to Reece’s educated eyes, looks highly suspicious, and his wife and daughter are killed in a gang home invasion which makes no sense whatsoever. The doctor who diagnosed the tumour in Reece and his team members is killed in a “green-on-blue” attack by an Afghan working on the base at Bagram.

The ambush, the targeted investigation, the tumours, Boozer, his family, and the doctor: can it all be a coincidence, or is there some connection he’s missing? Reece decides he needs another pair of eyes looking at all of this and gets in touch with Katie Buranek, an investigative reporter he met while in Afghanistan. Katie had previously published an investigation of the 2012 attack in Behghazi, Libya, which had brought the full power of intimidation by the federal government down on her head, and she was as versed in and careful about operational and communications security as Reece himself. (The advice in the novel about secure communications is, to my knowledge, absolutely correct.)

From the little that they know, Reece and Buranek, joined by allies Reece met in his eventful career and willing to take risks on his behalf, start to dig into the tangled web of connections between the individual events and trace them upward to those ultimately responsible, discovering deep corruption in the perfumed princes of the Pentagon, politicians (including a presidential contender and her crooked husband), defence contractors, and Reece’s own erstwhile chain of command.

Finally, it’s time to settle the score. With a tumour in his brain which he expects to kill him, Reece has nothing to lose and many innocent victims to avenge. He’s makin’ a list; he’s checkin’ it twice; he’s choosing the best way to shoot them or slice. Reece must initially be subtle in his actions so as not to alert other targets to what’s happening, but then, after he’s declared a domestic terrorist, has to go after extremely hard and ruthless targets with every resource he can summon.

This is the most satisfying revenge fiction I’ve read since Vince Flynn’s first novel, Term Limits. The stories are very different, however. In Flynn’s novel, it’s a group of people making those who are bankrupting and destroying their country pay the price, but here it’s personal.

Due to the security clearances the author held while in the Navy, the manuscript was submitted to the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review, which redacted several passages, mostly names and locations of facilities and military organisations. Amusingly, if you highlight some of the redactions, which appear in solid black in the Kindle edition, the highlighted passage appears with the word breaks preserved but all letters changed to “x”. Any amateur sleuths want to try to figure out what the redacted words are in the following text?

He’d spent his early career as an infantry officer in the Ranger Battalions before being selected for the Army’s Special xxxxxxx xxxx at Fort Bragg. He was currently in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command, xxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxx xxxx xxxx xx xxxx xx xxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxx xx xxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xx xxxx xxxxx xxx xxxxx.

A sequel, True Believer, is scheduled for publication in April, 2019.

Carr, Jack. The Terminal List. New York: Atria Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5011-8081-1.

Here is a Stratfor interview (audio only) with the author about his career and the book.

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Terminal List

  1. John Walker:

    “This is the most satisfying revenge fiction I’ve read […]”

    Pardon me, Sir, for this slightly off-topic remark, but as for one of the most satisfying revenge fiction I know of (and possibly the best one, even taking Poe into account), there’s “La vengeance d’une femme” (“A Woman’s Revenge”) in *Les diaboliques* short story collection by Barbey d’Aurevilly, a very Dead White French Male XIXth century Writer only a few right-wingers still read today — this is really an alien world now, much more than most S.F.’s works are. Barbey is one of the dead writers Jean Raspail admires most.

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  2. 10 Cents:Is there anyway we can get book characters looking at Ratburger.org?

    Unfortunately, we didn’t get a mention this time.  From the start of chapter 66:

    Katie Buranek’s story went live on a lesser-known, though legitimate, news site at 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time.  Her more mainstream outlets wouldn’t touch it, fearing backlash from the administration in the name of limited access and IRS audits.  Drudge picked it up by 6:00 a.m. and it was on all the morning political talk shows an hour later.

    Of course, I suppose we are a “lesser known, though legitimate, news site”.

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  3. Blumroch:
    as for one of the most satisfying revenge fiction I know of (and possibly the best one, even taking Poe into account), there’s “La vengeance d’une femme” (“A Woman’s Revenge”) in *Les diaboliques* short story collection by Barbey d’Aurevilly, a very Dead White French Male XIXth century Writer only a few right-wingers still read today

    Les six nouvelles des Diaboliques de Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly sont disponible librement en forme PDF ou EPUB depuis la Bibliothèque électronique du Québec.

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  4. Blumroch:

    John Walker:

    Les six nouvelles des Diaboliques de Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly sont disponible librement en forme PDF ou EPUB depuis la Bibliothèque électronique du Québec.

    Just in case, Sir, I’ve found an English translation of *Les diaboliques* here :

    https://archive.org/details/WeirdWomenBeingALiteralTranslationOflesDiaboliques

    *Weird women* is not bad a title for this archive file “au format PDF”.

    In English “Weird women” sounds strange. I would come up with a different translation but I want to be on the Supreme Court some day.

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  5. 10 Cents:

    Blumroch:

    Just in case, Sir, I’ve found an English translation of *Les diaboliques* here :

    https://archive.org/details/WeirdWomenBeingALiteralTranslationOflesDiaboliques

    *Weird women* is not bad a title for this archive file “au format PDF”.

    In English “Weird women” sounds strange. I would come up with a different translation but I want to be on the Supreme Court some day.

    Aren’t women an *alien* and *weird* species ? 😉 There are many S.F. short stories about this point, including this one I’m fond of : *The Misogynist* by James Gunn.

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