It’s time to review a classic of the genre. In my opinion, it’s a deserved classic. It’s time to review Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee.
Team Yankee is outright stated to use the backdrop of Hackett’s Third World War (although in practice the most important thing to come from it is the Birmingham-Minsk nuclear destruction). That of course was one of the genre definers. And the book itself remains mostly formulaic and dated in hindsight as a genre-definer itself. So yes, there’s a lot that’s familiar. Not just viewpoint characters but also the general gimmick.
But familiarity and even being too formulaic are not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Team Yankee manages, likely unintentionally, to actually use this quality to its advantage.
In my first impression, I stated that the book can get a little too “Herman Melville but for tanks”. I stand by the impression. At the time and/or for an audience that didn’t know as much about tanks or the way they they were used, it wouldn’t be as bad. So like with a lot of infodumpy fiction, I can forgive Team Yankee for that.
Here’s where it gets weird, but not in a bad way. See, in theory it should have all the issues Hackett had with contrivances-plotnukes, the setup, and so on. But….
Ok, here’s how the book becomes more than the some of its parts. It manages to flip the zombie sorceress over her head in a judo throw, turning what might have been a weakness into a strength. The book moves very fast and starts very fast, using Hackett as a convenient plot-filler. The war starts at the end of the first chapter, a relief compared to some other tales with excessively long, ill-handled setup segments.
There’s bumps of course. The wife subplot gets in the way somewhat, there’s still a few too many viewpoint characters, and the Soviet characters exist to twirl their mustaches. But it manages to have something a lot of other thrillers don’t-coherence.
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Coherence makes Team Yankee more than the sum of its parts. A lot of other stories feel like bowls of ingredients. This feels like a cohesive meal. A lot of the theoretical dislikes are still in place (viewpoint characters, etc…), but it feels like a steady, cohesive road as the tanks roll through Europe. That’s sadly something I can’t say for too many other stories in the genre. Team Yankee is still ultimately a cheap thriller with tanks exploding, but it’s a good cheap thriller with tanks exploding.
But Team Yankee is not just good on its own terms. It’s one of the two books, alongside Ralph Peters’ Red Army, that I’d recommend to any aspiring WW3 author. The two are night and day. Team Yankee is a triumphalist star-spangled American victory, Red Army a grittier Soviet win. They both give an idea of how to make an effective World War III story using two very different tones.