Man Of War: A Novel
By Sean Parnell
William Morrow; hardcover; $27.99; avaialble Tuesday, September 11
U.S. Army Ranger Sean Parnell, a recipient of two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, was 24 years old when he was named commander of a forty-man elite infantry platoon, which came to be known as the Outlaws. He was tasked with rooting out Pakistan-based insurgents from a mountain valley along Afghanistan's eastern frontier.
They became one of the most feared American units the war, and Parnell gave gripping, personal account of those sixteen months in his New York Times bestseller, Outlaw Platoon. The story also focused on how close combat reshaped the lives of Parnell and his men, and how the love and faith they found in one another kept them alive. Parnell's story of brotherhood painted an intense portrait of war that has rarely been so realistically captured in a memoir or novel.
Parnell makes his fiction debut with Man Of War, which will be available on Tuesday, September 11, the 17th anniversary of the attacks in 2001 that led the United States to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Steele is the best of the best, an Alpha, an elite clandestine operative assigned to a US intelligence unit known simply as the "Program." A superbly trained Special Forces soldier who served several tours fighting radical Islamic militants in Afghanistan, Steele now operates under the radar, using a deadly combination of espionage and brute strength to root out his enemies and neutralize them.
When a man from Steele's past attacks a military convoy and steals a nuclear weapon, Steele and his White House superiors are blindsided. From Washington, DC, to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, Steele must use his vast skills to hunt down this rogue agent, who is a former brother-in-arms and a friend, and locate and capture the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) before it can reach the United States and forever change the world.
Parnell writes of one of Steele's missions, "Four thousand miles to the east, Eric Steele turned into the alley, the headlights of the stolen Mercedes playing across the cinderblock wall. He cut the lights, and before stepping out of the car made sure the dome light was disengaged.
"Steele was an Alpha - a clandestine operative assigned to a unit known simply as 'the Program.' It traced its lineage to World War II and existed before there were enemies that the President of the United States couldn't handle with diplomacy or all-out war. In these events the Commander in Chief needed a third option, and that was why Steele was in Beirut.
"Eric gingerly reached back and touched the throbbing lump at the back of his skull. It felt like someone had embedded a golf ball beneath the skin and even the lightest of touches sent a shard of pain radiating along his jaw.
"The blood staining his fingers looked black in the dark. 'That sucker-punching bastard,' he muttered while wiping his hands on the leather upholstery. The center console rattled when it hinged open, and after futilely pawing around for a bottle of aspirin, Steele settled on the FN Five-seven instead.
"Most of the time Steele carried a modified Colt 1911. The .45 was an old gun, and the only thing his father left at the house before he disappeared. It was Steele's most cherished possession, but not the right weapon for what he had planned.
"The FN, on the other hand, was designed in Belgium around the SS190 5.7x28 mm round; hence the name. Its sole purpose was to punch through body armor, and it was the cartel favorite. Steele press-checked the pistol and after ensuring it was loaded, screwed a suppressor onto the threaded barrel. When it was snug, he pressed a wireless earpiece into his ear, stepped out of the vehicle, and eased the door shut behind him.
"In the darkness the only sound came from the raindrops on the roof and the gentle swishing of traffic that drifted from the highway. Steele let his eyes adjust to the darkness.
"'Radio check,' he said, stepping around the car and angling for the building to go to his right. At six foot two, he moved with a predatory grace that seemed impossible for a man of his build.
Steele hadn't seen the inside of a gym in years. His physique, like his light, measured step, had come from the mountains of Afghanistan, where he had hunted terrorists as a Green Beret.
"'Took you long enough,' came the response.
"The voice on the radio belonged to Demo, Steele's handler. They had been together since Eric became an Alpha and it was a tight bond, forged y countless operations.
"'Traffic,' Steele replied. It was the understatement of the year. The ride over had been a white-knuckle nightmare. Rain in Beirut is like snow in Florida, and it didn't matter if it was an inch or a foot - it made the locals drive like maniacs.
"Steele paused at the door and tested the knob. It was locked. He had the picks ready in his shirt pocket and went to work. Sweat beaded up on his forehead - it was hot, and the rain had made it worse.
"Lock picking was a perishable skill, one that Steele knew he had neglected. During phase two of the Program's selection course it would have taken him thirty seconds. 'Damn you, lock,' he hissed through gritted teeth.
"'Take forever, mano,' Demo quipped.
"Steele gritted his teeth and fought the urge to just kick the door in, but a second later the last tumbler clicked into place and he was able to turn the knob. 'I'm in.'
"He cleared the house, fully aware that he could be walking into a trap. He took his time, slipping from room to room. The street side of the structure had a row of windows, and now and then a passing car cast its oblong shadow across the wall. Most of the buildings in Beirut had been built in a rush after the civil war ended in 1990. The fighting had been close and personal and the city had taken a beating. Steele had seen the same damage in Fallujah, and he knew that tanks and artillery had destroyed eighty percent of the structures in Beirut."
With Man Of War, Parnell brings readers right into the action of an international crisis that could threaten the safety and freedom of American and he weaves in modern-day conflicts such as the Benghazi attack into a fully realized fictionalized read that showcases his experience and expertise.
Sean Parnell spoke to Publishers Weekly about Man of War, and here is a sampling of what he said:
On why he created Eric Steele: I wanted to make an action hero who embodies what makes the American warrior so special. Our nation's warfighters are lethal but also compassionate. And even though those two things seem diametrically opposed to one another, they make up the core of why the U.S. military is the greatest the world has ever known. Those two traits make Eric Steele who he is. Yes, he destroys America's enemies with extreme prejudice, but he will deviate from the mission if he thinks he can save even one innocent life, and to me the thriller genre desperately needed a hero like that.
On what he feels he can best convey through fiction: Every battle can be a little bigger, every operation larger than life. On the surface, stories are about entertainment. But what I enjoy the most is creating something that speaks to the world we live in today. When this is done effectively, it can make a story more meaningful and emotionally resonant. There's a moral argument in Man of War, and you'll see hints of it in every choice Steele makes, but I'll leave it up to readers to decide what it means to them.
If he felt writing Man of War was easier or harder than writing his nonfiction account of his experiences in Afghanistan, Outlaw Platoon: Writing Man of War was so much harder. Looking back, writing Outlaw Platoon was cathartic for me. It was as if I was taking the war out of my mind and putting it somewhere else outside of me. It seemed to flow easily for me. Fiction, on the other hand, is a whole new ballgame and style. It's not just about strength of writing. It's about learning how to tell a great story. And the learning curve on my first novel was steep.
On what he believes America's policy in Afghanistan should be: There needs to be a dramatic shift in strategy from counterinsurgency to counterterror. This would mean fewer troops, less nation-building, lower cost, and most importantly more surgical direct action strikes against High Value Targets. When I was in Afghanistan, this was the policy, and we implemented it to great effect. We built schools, district center, government buildings. In essence, we were winning. And that's what the mission needs to be focused on today - killing the enemy so their government can function properly.