Task Force Desperate
Task Force Desperate is Peter Nealen’s first novel in his American Praetorians series. It’s the same kind of gritty merc story that he would perfect in his later Brannigan’s Blackhearts series, one of my favorite cheap thrillers. This has some of the rough spots expected of a first-in-series, but is still a very good thriller.
This is a classic “few mercs” story with a welcome hint of some, but not too much grounding. This sort of tale is as old as writing, and it has had a flexibility to it that the outright “technothriller” lacks.
This is the kind of story that goes into great detail about what type of firearm each character is using and what accessories are on said firearm. Thankfully it doesn’t get in the way too much.
By far the biggest contrivance is why, after a huge incident, the task of resolving it goes over to a few private contractors. The book’s explanation is budget cuts and wearing down of the regular US military, to the point where it’s compared to 1990s Russia.
While that made me somewhat skeptical, I could understand why that decision was made for storytelling reasons, and it didn’t really interfere. Some contrivance like this is inevitable in most small-unit stories.
The action is very good, managing a good balance of “just spectacular enough” along with plausible grit. Two things get in the way, besides prose that’s still being “broken in”. They’re contradictory to boot. It has a mixture of both first person narrative that I don’t think works as well as the author’s later third person books and the “look how the world changed” infodumps that seemed a little too tell-not-show.
That being said, the first person characters were good enough for a cheap thriller and the pacing, though not up to the level of Nealen’s later works, still worked well enough.
The Only Score That Really Matters
Task Force Desperate is a good cheap thriller by an author who would go on to write great cheap thrillers. I’d recommend going to the later Brannigan’s Blackhearts series if given a choice, but the American Praetorians books started with Task Force Desperate are still perfectly readable action stories.