Steel Fear

Mysterious Book Report No. 457

by John Dwaine McKenna

Try and imagine being 12,000 miles away from home, aboard a 6,000 person naval fighting ship in a war zone, where there is activity, stress, grueling and dangerous work that never slows down or stops . . . then add to that heat, stress, cramped quarters, poor morale and an arrogant, detached and incompetent Captain . . . and it would be a formula for certain disaster.  But then—what if a serial killer began a murder spree in the midst of that kind of a closed and inescapable environment.  Terror would ensue, beyond a doubt.

Such is the premise behind the most kinetic, exciting and psychologically tense sea yarn since Tom Clancy authored The Hunt For Red October almost forty years ago.  And yes, it’s that good because it has the ring of truth to it.  The authors have seen it, done it and lived to tell the tale.

Steel Fear, (Bantam, $28.00, 448 pages, ISBN 978-0-593-35628-9) by Brandon Webb and John David Mann, opens in the Persian Gulf, where a dispirited crew aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, is set to leave for home after a long and dangerous tour in the Middle East.  The constant launch and recovery of FA-18 Hornet jet fighters and helicopter recovery missions have taken a toll on personnel and machines, but it was the loss of a rescue helo and its entire crew a few weeks earlier, that has drained the morale of everyone aboard ship.

Then, as the Lincoln is ready to steam for home, a mysterious US Navy SEAL is plucked from the beach in Yemen during the middle of the night and brought aboard.  His name is Finn.  He is cloaked in secrecy, shrouded in controversy, and the object of intense curiosity.  He’s a strange standoffish individual. . . weird even for “One of those arrogant, asshole SEALS . . .” according to one crew member.

Only days later, the first apparent suicide happens—followed by another, six days after that.  Then comes a flood of three more deaths while the Captain dithers, ignores the situation and goes into deep CYA mode.  Blame is directed at Finn, a man with an ugly past that he can only recall fragments of, as well as being dogged by a last operation in which his team failed to prevent a massacre.  Finn, whose point-of-view drives much of the narrative forward with his uncanny observational skills, tries to help.  He doesn’t think he’s the murderer but can’t be sure, because he has had blackouts while the deaths aboard the carrier were taking place.

Thereafter, the pace never slackens, the surprises never stop and the intrigue never lessens in this intelligent and diabolically well-plotted mystery and thriller.  If you’ve mourned the loss of Clancy and Ludlum—as we have—you can rest assured that Messrs Brandon Webb, who was an actual SEAL, and his writing partner John David Mann, have risen to fill the void.  Steel Fear has all the makings of an instant classic!

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