A Book Spy Review: ‘Red Specter’ by Andrews and Wilson

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Following the events of their last book, Andrews and Wilson bring back American badass John Dempsey—who finds himself mixing it up with a lethal shadow organization that’s able to match him step for step. 

Years back, Dempsey was a Navy SEAL named Jack Kemper. He had a wife and a child, friends and family. But that was in another life, one that he gave up in order to become a ghost—the kind of killer who’s able to get down into the shadows with the bad guys and take the fight directly to them, on their turf. Now, he’s the most trusted—and the most battle-tested—operator working with Ember, the United States’ most covert counterterrorism entity, and the president’s deadliest secret weapon when all-out war and diplomatic solutions are no longer viable options. 

Picking up several weeks after where American Operator (2018) ended, Dempsey and his gang are still in pursuit of a Russian assassin named Malik, whom they crossed paths with last time out. Considered Dempsey’s equal when it comes to the art of killing targets, John’s Russian counterpart is gunning for Ember, hellbent on exacting revenge for the way things went down last time—with the Russian squad failing to kill the president of the United States. 

Not only is Malik able to go toe-to-toe with Dempsey, but he also has a secret, off-the-books organization with unprecedented funding and connections backing him. Arkady Zhukov, the brainchild and director of Spetsgruppa Zeta, better known simply as Zeta, has built his operators into tough-as-nails agents capable of stunning violence. 

Like Dempsey, Zhukov is believed by many to be dead, a mere casualty of a Russian transfer of power under President Petrov. Instead, he’s dialing up diabolical attacks from the Kremlin, and it’s up to Ember to find him and put a stop to his schemes before it’s too late. What they don’t know, though, is that Zhukov has managed to penetrate America’s foreign intelligence service, and in a deadly game of chess, he’s playing the board with the finesse and precision of a seasoned pro, slowly placing his pieces in a strategic manner designed to box in his opponent.

Unaware of the traitor among them, Dempsey and Ember follow a lead they believe links Malik to an arms dealer, and pressed for time, John goes undercover hoping to gain entry to Russia’s criminal underworld. Instead, he finds himself walking right into a trap set by Zeta. Worse yet, Dempsey and his Ember team learn the hard way that Zhukov’s reach extends further than they realized.

Checkmate

Ordered to eliminate Zeta, Zhukov, and Malik—along with their entire outfit—Ember prepares a bold counterstrike, but doing so takes Dempsey to Russia, which quickly proves to be the most dangerous battlefield he’s stepped foot on yet . . .

One of the things that makes this series so unique is how Andrews and Wilson have structured their stories. Each book has its own storyline and conclusion, though every three books function as a separate trilogy within the series—continuing the same overall arc. Last year’s American Operator kicked off a new storyline for them to explore, and they continue that shadow war between Ember and Zeta here, delivering another action-packed plot that moves at breakneck speeds.

Dempsey, who doesn’t get enough credit as one of the best heroes in the genre today, is tested in ways we haven’t previously seen. That leads to more character development, something the authors have done a phenomenal job with since introducing him in their 2016 novel, Tier One

While Dempsey is the unquestioned star of the show, Andrews and Wilson have built a great supporting cast around him—including Grimes, the team’s designated sniper who, thanks to her unparalleled abilities with the long gun, has been given the callsign: God. The ever-watchful eye in the sky, Grimes does more than just back up Dempsey and the gang from afar. Flush with a sarcastic personality and plenty of quick one-liners to boot, she brings a real presence to the page, stealing scenes on her way to becoming a sure-fire fan-favorite, and one of the most kickass female characters on the thriller scene today. 

Andrews and Wilson have done it again. Red Specter is another can’t-miss, must-read thriller that delivers one massive blow after another . . . just when you think they couldn’t possibly raise the stakes anymore, these guys find a way to top themselves yet again.

Book Details

Author: Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson 
Series: John Dempsey #5
Pages: 432 (Paperback)
ISBN: 1542091527
Publisher: Thomas & MErcer 
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Book Spy Rating: 8.5/10

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Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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