Saturday, May 10, 2014

Seal Team Six: Hunt the Jackal by Don Mann with Ralph Pezzullo

Title: Seal Team Six: Hunt the Jackal
Author: Don Mann
Publisher: Little Brown
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Don Mann is a retired chief warrant officer with the US Navy, who has actually been a SEAL. This is what attracted me to this novel because I felt it would be authentic, which is what I like in a military novel. I'm sorry that it didn't feel at all authentic once I began reading it. The Hunt for Red October aside, I'm not a Tom Clancy fan (where every novel reads like a training manual), but neither am I a fan of novels in that genre which offer no military details. I like the Goldilocks novel: the kind where there's enough to make it feel real without it being a dry recitation of weapons and tactics, but this novel just didn't do it for me. Donn Mann has a series of "Hunt the [Despised Animal]" novels. I'm guessing from this one that they're very formulaic, and therefore uninteresting to me.

I'm not sure why this novel had to begin by stating a woman's age: "Forty-two-year-old Lisa Clark", but it's one of those novels which starts with the first few words in larger font, so we're actually yelling it out, and those words which are announced so loudly happen to be: FORTY-TWO YEAR OLD! Like pay attention: this woman is old and therefore useless! Note that we get no ages given for any of the men! This seems like a journalistic thing to me, where ages, no matter how irrelevant they are to the story, are always reported. There was no reason at all for her age to be rolled out because it played no part whatsoever in the story. Indeed, neither did she, really. The parts featuring Lisa as the hostage held no interest whatsoever and were boring as hell.

Mann has been helped in writing this by Ralph Pezzullo, so I have no way of knowing which of them contributed what to the writing or who to blame for the poor take on women. And poor take it is. There is another woman appearing in these first few pages, and none of the descriptions suggests that we should be remotely interested in women as anything other than sex toys for men. Who cares if she has a mind or what that mind is like? Yeah, I get that these are supposed to be 'rough and tough' novels aimed at a certain male demographic, but that's still no excuse for demeaning or objectifying women. I immediately felt that I was not going to like this novel because of that. Nevertheless, I pressed on, and while that attitude wasn't as prominent in subsequent pages as it had been at the start, the novel became a tedious and uninviting read for other reasons.

Note that there is a huge difference between having a character in a novel demean women, and having the actual tone of the novel itself being demeaning. I don't like it any more when a character objectifies a woman, but there are people like that and it's plainly stupid to rail against a writer who depicts real life. Such a case is an excusable use of this approach, but actually writing the objectification into the tone and narrative of the novel is a different matter entirely, and there is no excuse for that. It's particularly noticeable here because we can contrast it with a quote that's given later (supposedly up on the wall in the Seal Team Six training room), from Mia Hamm, which appears in her book Go For the Goal. This token nod to the value of a female perspective is an insult given the derogatory milieu in which we find it.

Back to the story in progress! In the "galley" copy I read, page numbering starts with the cover as page one, so the novel starts on page eight, which is a bit weird, and yes, I know this is a 'galley proof', but in this electronic era, there really is no excuse for sub-standard or non-standard proofs. Anyway, we start on page eight with Lisa being kidnapped from her bathtub by some new (and evidently quite youthful) terrorist group who identify themselves as La Santísima Muerte (that's 'The Blessed Death' in English). Next we move, still in the same chapter, to the Middle East, where Seal Team Six is trying to recover a predator drone which has unexpectedly gone down, but even though they're in northern Syria, the mission starts going south really quickly.

I have to ask what happened to the other five Seal teams?! How come no one ever talks or writes about them?! Funnily enough, these authors do mention Seal Teams One and Two, but only in passing.

This action on Northern Syria was when the novel started feeling realistic to me. We have brave and dedicated men putting their lives on the line and this part felt gripping and very readable (if a little overly dramatic), because we know that men and women of the armed services do this on a daily basis, and whether or not you agree with their mission takes nothing from their skill, dedication, sacrifice, and guts.

There's a serious error in the text where they talk about M47 grenades. I think they mean M67. The XM47 is a riot control grenade. The M67 is what's military issue. I'm not sure about an M67 grenade explosion lifting a pick-up truck into the air however! I suppose it's possible if it detonated a full fuel tank, but grenades are fragmentation devices no different from a pipe bomb or an IED. One of them is likely to perforate a truck and anyone in it (with sufficient proximity), but it's more likely for the shrapnel to rip through it or put serious dents in it than it is to lift it off the ground. This isn't Hollywood, where every explosion is larded up with gasoline to create that spectacular orange and red plume (and resultant pollution)! Note that M47 is also the designation of the Patton tank produced by the USA in the early fifties. Now that M47 would lift a truck!

Here's another error: on page 42, I read that "stars died and broke up into asteroids". What? Someone needs a serious education in cosmology. Stars do die, but they shrink to dwarf stars, or neutron stars or black holes (dependent upon their initial size). In this process, some of them explode as supernovas, spewing gas, dust, and elemental particles (not asteroids) into space to feed other stars. Yes, those particles might eventually end-up in asteroids, or in planets, but 'breaking up into asteroids' is nowhere near an accurate way to describe this process. Some of those elements created in a supernova are actually inside you right now. We're quite literally made of 'stardust'. How cool is that?

You would think a novel like this would be able to hold my interest, but in the end it simply wasn't very good. Seal Team Six is reduced, in this novel, to rescuing hostages in Mexico from a drug lord masquerading as a an acolyte of the Aztec religion, and it's just not that exciting, not even when they get into a pitched battle with the Mexican federales. In fact, that part just seemed like far too big of a stretch, and for me it lacked credibility. Something like this would have ended up triggering a massive international incident. I found myself skipping more and more pages, which of course meant that some of what I did read made no sense.

Far from getting the engrossing military yarn I'd hoped for, I got an uninteresting mess which I honestly cannot recommend.