Silent Enemy

  • Thomas W. Young
  • Putnam
  • 304 pp.

On a routine flight out of Afghanistan, a military pilot discovers there’s a bomb on board his cargo plane.

Reviewed by Linda Adams

A routine flight from Afghanistan to Germany turns into a pilot’s worst nightmare when Air Force Major Michael Parson discovers he has a bomb on board his C-5 Galaxy cargo plane.

Thomas W. Young’s Silent Enemy is the second outing for Parson and Army translator Sergeant Major Gold, introduced in Young’s first novel The Mullah’s Storm. In this novel, set four years later, terrorists attack the Afghan National Police Center in Kabul, Afghanistan, leaving many people, including Gold, injured. With some of the injuries life threatening, aircraft commander Parson must evacuate everyone in his cargo plane. Once the plane is airborne, he receives word that terrorists may have planted bombs on planes that left Bagram Air Base that day. This information is confirmed when another plane is destroyed, and Parson renews his efforts to find out if his plane is affected. A search turns up a well-hidden bomb that may pack more punch than just an explosion.

With seriously injured patients on board, Parson must make decisions that put their lives at risk.  The patients need medical attention, but he can’t risk descending because the bomb might explode. Parson is forced on a journey more than halfway around the world because no country wants a bomb flying in its airspace. Without any help from the ground, it’s up to Parson, Gold, the air crew and patients to work together to figure out a way to get the bomb off the plane or everyone will die.

Author Thomas W. Young is an aviator in the Air National Guard, having served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s flown over more than 40 countries and logged more than 4,000 hours of flying time, including combat missions. If you’ve ever been in the military, you know that anything can go wrong — and sometimes the rules don’t cover it. He brings this experience to his novel about a military mission gone very wrong.

This same experience could have put Young at a disadvantage. It is so easy to overdo military jargon, particularly when dealing with such technical expertise as flying a military plane. But Young wields the language with a deft hand, seamlessly folding it into the story. It’s just the right mix. A reader interested in military fiction will get enough to satisfy, but at the same time, a reader unfamiliar with the military won’t become overwhelmed by the ranks, abbreviations and terminology. Young also uses Gold, who is not an Air Force pilot, to bring a different perspective to being on plane during military operations.

Despite the confined environment of a C-5 Galaxy, there’s plenty of action for any thriller fan.  However, the action is where Silent Enemy also takes a misstep. Missing is the emotional connection to heighten the excitement and bring the reader into the experience of being trapped in the air. Though experienced soldiers will react differently to a crisis than a civilian, here they don’t react enough to add drama. For each new crisis, the characters simply deal with it and move on, not showing any of the fear, anger and frustration that would be expected. Just a little would have seasoned the story and supercharged it into a riveting page-turner. Instead of building to a crescendo at the end, the action falls a little flat. Still, the lack of emotional connection isn’t something unusual for thrillers.

Wisely, Young stays away from any commentary about the war. That would have been easy to slip into the story and would have distracted from the perils facing the Parson and Gold. Instead, Young simply presents military service members working together to accomplish their mission in a tough environment.

As a former soldier, I’ve read a lot of novels that use the military as part of the story. Most commonly, they don’t understand the military and make mistakes obvious to service members. And writers with military experience sometimes don’t take into account that not everyone knows or understands the military culture. Silent Enemy gets it right. The book has a satisfying military flavor. It is an exciting thriller.

Linda Adams is a veteran of the Army, Army Reserve and National Guard and served in the first Persian Gulf War. Her writing has appeared in Vision: A Resource for Writers. She is working on a contemporary fantasy novel.

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