David Morrell,
The Protector
(Warner, 2003)

The Protector has a couple of extended action scenes that had me searching way back in my memory for comparable nerve-wracking excitement. I came up with Charlton Heston's chariot race (Ben Hur), Gene Hackman's car chase (The French Connection) and the sea-battle descriptions of Patrick O'Brian. Morrell's ability to induce an adrenaline rush rivals anyone not actually waving a blood-stained knife in your face.

Cavanaugh is an ex-Delta Force ranger now with Global Protective Services, an outfit that provides elaborate, state-of-the-art protection for those with potentially lethal enemies. He has been assigned to interview Prescott, a prospective client who says he is being pursued by a drug cartel because he discovered an incredibly addictive substance that could generate huge illegal profits. But something else must be going on, as Cavanaugh suddenly finds himself defending Prescott from the onslaught of violent men with everything from the latest portable assault weapons to military helicopters. Who are these people and why are they really after Prescott? As Cavanaugh finds out what Prescott is actually involved in, he experiences fear for the first time in his life, and it doesn't help that in spite of a long-standing personal rule, he has no choice but to expose his own wife Jamie to danger.

The plot has all the high-tech action you could ask for and secret government conspiracies to go with it. Along the way we learn much that will be useful in our future careers as soldiers-of-fortune -- which handguns to buy, how duct tape can be part of a first-aid kit, why bullets should be cleaned of fingerprints before being used and where to hold your flashlight when searching for a killer in a pitch-black basement (to the side, away from your body to encourage shots at the wrong target). And you thought all you had to do was know karate and sit with your back to a wall in public places.

Morrell's characters are more believable than usual for this sort of thing, though it's good the pace is fast enough that you don't have too much time to consider plausibility. How, for example, did Cavanaugh's wife learn to stay cool when kidnapped by mysterious and brutal bad guys? But it's all more realistic than your average James Bond thriller, so sit on the edge of your seat, stay up all night and enjoy.

Final word to action junkies -- after whetting your appetite with Morrell, try the more complex Patrick O'Brian, author of the best historical action novels ever written. Nobody does it better. The first of his series of 20 Captain Jack Aubrey books is Master & Commander, now a movie starring Russell Crowe.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 31 January 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.