“Blackmail” by Rick Campbell is an entertaining military thriller. The action is fast paced and the issues are relevant to today. But, don’t expect this to be typical of the genre where small Special Forces teams handle the issue at hand. This book as well as the previous one has America fighting a limited war with its adversaries, which makes the story even more interesting.
On the heels of defeating the Chinese, America is struggling to get its armed forces up to speed. Attempting to take advantage of this situation, Russia decides to invade Lithuania and the Eastern Ukraine. To test the waters, Russia attacked the U.S. aircraft carrier patrolling the Western Pacific Ocean, damaging it with a surprise salvo of cruise missiles. The Russian government officially apologizes, claiming it was the result of a fire control accident during a training exercise, although in actuality it is a calculated provocation. Because the US has not responded they become emboldened to take further action by moving their fleet into the Mediterranean Sea, mobilizing its Baltic and Black Sea fleets, making a pact with Iran, trying to influence China and India to become allies, and wiring every major oil and natural gas pipeline with explosives. But as so many adversaries have done in the past, they underestimate awakening America, the sleeping giant. In response to this blackmail, the U.S. attacks Russian naval forces. With the limited war waging readers feel they are fighting alongside the characters in the midst of the battle.
The best books are the ones where readers can learn something without being hit over the head. Campbell does this expertly. The questions explored include why is Russia so paranoid about the west; is NATO obsolete since it is fearful to make any commitments; and what will push the US to go it alone?
The characters are extremely well developed. Christine O’Connor, the National Security Adviser, is impulsive, beautiful, intelligent, and can stand her own against very powerful men. Not afraid to defend herself she has been known to kill a few enemies in the name of revenge. What gnaws at her is that she had to sacrifice a friend’s life to save her own and the mission. In this book she is coming to grips with her survivor’s guilt and her motivations.
Campbell is hoping that Christine can become involved in a relationship with her lover from afar, Jake Harrison. “The ultimate plan is to get her and Harrison together, but I have the problem that he is still married. I need to solve that problem and I will tell the readers it will not be a simple divorce.”
Interestingly females also run some of the other national security agencies. The Secretary of State is Dawn Cabral and the CIA Director is Jessica Cherry. What Campbell tries to do is “balance fairly the male and female advisors. Today, we do have strong women in leadership positions. Let’s not forget there were three female secretaries of states, and two female national security advisors. I was not the first to have a female CIA Director. I believe Vince Flynn did it with his iconic character Dr. Irene Kennedy. I don’t think I am ground breaking with my characters.”
Readers will have a hard time putting “Blackmail” down. By the end of the book they will be convinced on how America and Russia could actually fight a limited war. The plot is a realistic representation of how events can unfold with believable strategies and tactics.