If you’re a fan of Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Mark Greaney, or Brad Taylor . . . you’re going to want to check out newcomer Don Bentley.
Bentley, who spent a decade as an Army Apache helicopter pilot (receiving a Bronze Star Medal and the Air Medal with “V” device for valor) before working as an FBI special agent focusing on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence, is the author behind the year’s best debut action thriller, Without Sanction.
I’ve been really high on this book for years. Way back, I read an early draft before Bentley had found a publishing home for his terrific new hero, Matt Drake, and was totally blown away. New writers just don’t deliver like this. Ever.
Without Sanction follows Drake, who when readers first meet him is still battling PTSD and survivor’s guilt following a botched operation in Syria, as he is forced to go back to the place that haunts him in order to track down a new chemical agent that’s unlike anything the world has ever seen.
Trust me, if you love smart, action-packed thrillers—you’ll devour this one in a hurry.
Just before heading out on his first book tour, Don Bentley agrees to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the plot idea for this one to what advice he has for new and aspiring authors.
Check out the full Q&A below, then make sure to pick up your copy of Without Sanction, now available wherever books are sold.
TRBS: First and foremost, congrats on the highly-anticipated release of your phenomenal debut, Without Sanction. I was fortunate enough to read this book way back and was totally blown away. I cannot wait for readers to finally get their hands on this one! What was your publishing journey like, and what advice do you have for new or aspiring authors?
Bentley: Thank you, Ryan! That’s very kind of you. My first piece of advice would be to become friends with The Real Book Spy. Okay—that’s a joke. Sort of. I really do appreciate everything you’ve done to help Without Sanction, including reading an early version of the book before it had even found a publishing home. But more than that, I think your ability to connect writers across the Thriller community has been invaluable.
People like Brad Taylor, Mark Greaney, Kyle Mills, Matt Betley, Josh Hood, Sean Parnell, Nick Petrie, Bill Schweigart, John Dixon, Graham Brown, Jack Carr, Simon Gervais, AJ Tata, Andrews & Wilson, Kathleen Antrim, Mike Maden, and KJ Howe have been huge sources of encouragement. Some of these folks I met through the excellent ThrillerFest conference that KJ Howe runs, but many others came through your great work as The Real Book Spy.
I think one of the best things an aspiring author can do is join the Thriller community and then soak up all the great stuff these generous authors share. My publishing journey was a long one. I wrote three novels over seventeen years which did not sell before my fabulous agent, Barbara Poelle, sold Without Sanction in a two-book deal to my dream editor, Tom Colgan. My second piece of advice is don’t quit. It may sound trite, but it’s true.
TRBS: About the book, how did you come up with the plot details for this one?
Bentley: The plot came from a couple of different places. As an FBI special agent, my job was to run and recruit what we called sources and what the intelligence community refers to as assets. I knew that I wanted to incorporate this experience into my novels, so my protagonist, Matt Drake, is a case officer charged with running and recruiting assets for the DIA, or Defense Intelligence Agency. The relationship between handler and source, or asset, is a fascinating one, rife with opportunities for conflict, and these conflicts drive the plot of Without Sanction.
TRBS: For readers who don’t know much about your background, can you touch on that just a bit here, and then, what sort of research did you have to do before writing Without Sanction?
Bentley: Sure. Like most writers, it took me awhile to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. After college, I spent ten years as an Army Apache helicopter pilot and then a couple years as an FBI Special Agent and SWAT team member. As you might imagine, this experience provided great fodder for writing Without Sanction!
For the last eight years, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with a number of folks with a Special Operations background. These men have provided me with a very unique vantage point into an extremely tightknit community. Because of them, Matt Drake is a veteran of the Army’s storied 75th Ranger Regiment.
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite authors, and what are some recent books you’ve read that you really enjoyed?
Bentley: There are so many excellent writers in this genre, and I feel lucky just to be able to share shelf space with them. People like Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, and Vince Flynn built the modern version of this genre, while authors like Brad Taylor, Mark Greaney, and Kyle Mills have brought even more readers into the fold.
I’m also thankful for writers like Alistair MacLean and Jack Higgins who were their predecessors. The Eagle Has Landed is still one of my all-time favorites, and I grew up wanting to be Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie version of Where Eagles Dare. Still, of all the great authors I mentioned, Nelson DeMille and Daniel Silva have been particularly impactful to me. Nelson DeMille’s witty, first-person protagonists gave me the courage to my protagonist’s distinct voice. In the same vein, I think that Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series has some of the best storytelling the genre has to offer.
TRBS: Lastly, now that Without Sanction is finally set to hit bookstores, what’s next for you?
Bentley: Thanks for asking! Book two in the Matt Drake series should hit shelves in about a year. In addition to that, I’ve got some more cool news I hope to announce soon. Once I’m allowed to share it, you’ll be the first to know! Thank you so much for having me!
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.