Published by Dutton on June 28, 2016
In the wake of the events described in the last Taskforce novel (during which a Taskforce member pursued a personal vendetta), an investigation threatens to reveal and shut down the Taskforce, an organization that has always operated illegally. A government official’s death has made the Oversight Council skittish (none of the members want to go to prison) so Taskforce missions have been placed on hold. What, then, is there for Brad Taylor to write about?
Well, there’s a fabled Nazi ghost train buried in a tunnel in Poland, although that plot thread is just a setup. He also writes about Putin and his plan to take over Belarus with the help of a motorcycle gang known as the Night Wolves. And then he imagines a Russian named Simon who, having been put in charge of orchestrating a coup in Belarus, decides that orchestrating Putin’s removal from office would enhance his life expectancy. To cap it off, the plan involves starting World War III. In other words, just another day for Pike Logan and his Taskforce pals.
Aaron and Shoshana, who have turned into series regulars, play a central role in Ghosts of War. They need Pike and Jennifer to help them recover a Torah that was stolen from the ghost train -- and to grab it before it is stolen again. Of course, the mission doesn’t go as planned, giving Pike and the gang a chance to get mixed up in the competing shenanigans of Putin and Simon.
About a third of the way into the novel, an unlikely world-changing event occurs. I got the impression that Taylor succumbed to the thriller writer’s temptation to make the events in each new novel a little more outrageous than the last one, as if readers won’t continue with the series otherwise. When a series like this one depends on credibility, I think that’s a bad choice. Fortunately, the stories are still fun.
Ghosts of War also seems a bit off. It lacks the consistent narrative voice that characterizes the other Taskforce novels. It also has the feeling of being rushed, which hasn’t been true of Taylor’s past efforts despite the speed with which he churns out new novels. More polishing of the prose would have turned this into a better novel.
As usual, Taylor has a more subtle understanding of world affairs than most authors who write thrillers of this nature. He lampoons military commanders who think that the United States should respond to every provocation with war. He makes clear that even a show of military strength is likely to begin a needless war. Of course, the real world doesn’t have Pike Logan jetting around to solve problems, but Taylor nevertheless makes a persuasive case against saber rattling as a primary instrument of foreign policy.
The crisis resolves more easily than I expect from Taskforce novels. The level of tension that Taylor creates in most of his other books is absent in this one. While I enjoy this series and had fun reading the book, I regard Ghosts of War as a weaker installment than most of the earlier novels in the series.