"Without Sanction" by Don Bentley; Berkley (373 pages, $27)
It's become a familiar trope of authors writing about veterans - a damaged soldier haunted by the war as he tries to live as a civilian. Don Bentley latches onto that background in his debut, but succeeds in making "Without Sanction" an original and fresh story that inspires empathy for his characters and plot.
Matt Drake considers his career finished as an operative for the Defense Intelligence Agency following a mission to Aleppo, Syria, during which a Syrian family he promised to protect was killed and his best friend was maimed. He can barely function with his PTSD. He is literally dragged back into service to extract an ISIS-connected Pakistani chemical weapons expert who has created a particularly effective new poison.
Matt becomes the center of a political firestorm when his mission interferes with that of Peter Redman, the U.S. president's chief of staff. Peter is trying to keep quiet a CIA mission that may cause an international incident and result in his boss losing the election.
Bentley imbues the action-packed "Without Sanction" with plenty of vivid battle scenes and military details that keep the plot churning. But the real strength of "Without Sanction" is the perceptive look at its characters, their motives and how war has affected each. Matt's visions of the dead family are handled realistically, as is his longing for his wife and a normal life. He needs to forgive himself before he can move forward with his own life as well as helping others.
"Without Sanction" should be just the beginning of a satisfying series.
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