When it comes to the political and military thriller genre, Brad Taylor is one of the biggest names in print today. His Pike Logan series has been a juggernaut on the New York Times bestsellers list since the first book, One Rough Man, came out in 2011.
Sticking to a grueling, two-book-per-year schedule, Taylor delivered his fans ten bestselling novels in just five years–which is unprecedented in this genre. Beginning in 2017, Taylor has throttled back to just one book a year. Ring of Fire, this year’s explosive novel, came out back in January. Taylor’s next book, Operator Down, hits bookstore shelves on January 9, 2018.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, August 29, Taylor’s tenth novel, Ghosts of War, comes out in paperback. Ahead of its release, we caught up with Brad Taylor, who was kind enough to answer questions about this book while also dishing on next year’s thriller.
See the brief Q&A below, then keep scrolling to learn more about Operator Down, the next Pike Logan adventure, and quite possibly Taylor’s best work to date!
TRBS: This is really your first book where Pike Logan and the Taskforce deal with Russia. Were you ready to do something new after nine novels, or did current headlines play a role in you changing things up a bit?
Taylor: “A little bit of both. This was the mighty tenth Pike Logan book–a milestone–so I wanted to do something different, moving away from the Taskforce’s core mission of counter-terrorism. At the time I started kicking ideas around, I was on a security contract and running into a lot of folks who were coming and going to Europe, specifically to assess NATO’s conventional capability force-on-force after a decade of fighting in Afghanistan. Turns out, every assessment stated that Russia could overrun NATO in short order, seizing the Baltic states and/or Poland. Today, that’s pretty much all over the news, with us restocking old Cold War armories and dusting off old OPLANS, but at the time, it was pretty novel. I decided to explore that–and the more I dug into the open source reporting, the more the story wrote itself. Ghosts of War ended up being a much bigger tapestry than the other Pike Logan novels, and it took a little juggling to get it right.”
TRBS: Where did you come up with the idea for this book–which features a plot where Pike and Jennifer are hired to verify artifacts that were hidden for decades in a fabled Nazi gold train?
Taylor: “I’d seen the reporting of the fabled Gold Train in Poland, buried deep in a hidden Nazi tunnel, and originally, it was going to be the centerpiece for an Aaron/Shoshana-centric short story. Once I started looking at Russia and the fault lines of the Cold War, it provided the perfect opportunity to bring them back in Ghosts of War. It’s such a wild story it was too good to pass up. Truth is stranger than fiction.”
TRBS: What’s your writing process like? Do you outline before sitting down to write, or make the story up as you go?
Taylor: “I don’t outline per se, in the sense of ‘Chapter one…Chapter two…’ but I do build what I like to call a ‘framework.’ I’ll know the threat, and I’ll know the arc of the plot and about fifty-percent of the terrain I’ll use, but I don’t know exactly where the story is going to go. Once I get on the ground doing research, things will pop out at me and sort of dictate where the story’s going. Other times, it’ll be the characters themselves. Little known fact: I created Aaron and Shoshana for a single book–Days of Rage–and the plan was to smoke them at the end of it. By the time I was done, I just liked them too much. They’ve come back several times since, and have become fan favorites. About 85% of the time, I’ll know how the story’s going to end from the start, but sometimes that changes. For instance, I had no intention of ending Ghosts of War in Vienna, but I was passing through on my way home from Poland and Slovakia, and I saw a pretty good opportunity in the form of an Irish pub.”
TRBS: You’ve talked, on social media, about some of your research trips you’ve taken while writing. What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you while researching a book?
Taylor: “After twelve books, there have been quite a few. I just finished Operator Down, and while researching in the country of Lesotho, Africa, I was rolled up as a spy and interrogated for six hours by a counter-intelligence unit. I probably deserved it. Since the book’s about a coup in Lesotho, none of the actions I’d done or pictures I’d taken were touristy. I looked like I was planning a coup…
“The funniest thing that has happened was while researching The Polaris Protocol. A lot of the book is set in Mexico City, and there’s a barrio there called Tepito, which is where the bad stuff happens. It’s off-limits by the US Country Team and has a large market spanning blocks where one can purchase hand grenades, rifles, drugs, you name it. Naturally, I wanted to see it, because it would be a place one of my characters would use–but I didn’t want to get killed. The USEMB is usually overly cautious, so I called a SEAL friend of mine working in the embassy and asked if I would get smoked if I–as a gringo–went. He hooked me up with a journalist from Texas that had been down in the city for two decades. My intrepid guide. He hailed an unregistered taxi (ANOTHER thing the USEMB said not to do, but he said a registered cab would never travel to Tepito. Which should have been a clue…) and off we went. Before I knew it, we were trapped inside a gigantic flea market surrounded by a swirling mass of glaring men, the cab inching forward two feet at a time and people banging on the hood. The driver shouted something in Spanish, and I asked what he said. The journalist said, ‘Lock your doors.’ At that point, I thought we were screwed. When an unregistered cabby from the area is telling you to lock your doors, it’s usually not going to end well. All I had for defense was a camera I could throw at them. Eventually, after the longest one-hundred meter, two feet at a time, white-knuckle ride of my life, we made it out, and I said, ‘Man, I have to tell you, I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, but that was on another level.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’d NEVER go there by myself. Thank God you were in the car.’ My mouth fell open. I only went because he was the ‘trusted’ guide, and HE only went because of my background. We had a margarita and laughed afterward, but that was probably the dumbest thing I’ve done (outside of looking like I was planning a coup). Although every bit of that ride made it into the book–as did my interrogation in Operator Down.”
TRBS: Lastly, Ring of Fire was quite possibly your most timely thriller yet. What can fans expect from Operator Down, the new Pike Logan novel, which comes out on January 9th, 2018?
Taylor: “Yeah, unfortunately, Ring of Fire became real in the headlines after the Moroccan terrorist cell attacked recently in Spain. Operator Down is a little different. It’s the first book I’ve written where I began with a blank slate and a plan instead of relying on a news story or other sources to spark an idea. I have gone from furiously typing two books a year to having some time to actually ponder, and I used it. I wanted something different. I wanted to move away from trying to chase the latest headlines, and just type a story that resonated. That required doing something I’ve never done before: finding a story that would never make the US news cycle, but was still real. Which was liberating. At the outset, I had three goals: One, make it personal, vice some world-ending terrorist attack. Two, bring back Aaron and Shoshana (just because I love them), and three, set the story somewhere I hadn’t before. I might be a little biased, but I just finished the copy edits, and it’s hitting on all cylinders.”
First of all, special thanks to Brad Taylor for taking part in our Five Questions segment.
To the readers, if you’re a fan of Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, or Daniel Silva, you have to check out Brad Taylor’s books. Those who don’t know about Taylor’s background, well, let’s just say that unlike the vast majority of the authors in this genre, Brad Taylor writes with a been-there-done-that approach.
A former Delta Force commander, Taylor writes some of the most heart-pounding and authentic action sequences in the game today. Beyond that, he offers a lot of insight into what’s happening in the world politically, which gives his books a timely feel to them. They’re fiction, sure, but Taylor’s books have a history of playing out pretty close to real-life events.
While I personally loved Ghosts of War, I thought Ring of Fire was a touch better. What I am sure of, though, is that Operator Down–which I just finished last week–is the best Pike Logan book yet. For those who’ve read the series, it’s right up there with No Fortunate Son, another of my personal favorites.
When I’m reviewing books, I typically rotate four or five titles (switching books every fifty pages) until one of them really grabs hold of me and I can’t put it down. Once I got and tore into my review copy of Operator Down last week, there was no stopping. It grabbed me from the beginning and, come January, it’ll grab you too. Trust me!
Stay tuned for my full, spoiler-free review of Operator Down. In the meantime, pick up Ghosts of War, available in paperback tomorrow.