Soft Target
Publisher: Trudel Group (2013)
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In this action-packed, rocket-paced, pistol-smart thriller, Soft Target is a harrowing journey involving high level U.S. government and military officials, the NSA, CIA, and FBI, Islamic terrorists, SEALS, NGOs and unexpected allies. Set aside any notions of how conspiracy theories begin: you’ll have a few of your own after reading Trudel’s heart-pumping tale of bio-weaponry, kidnapping, espionage and treason.

We are first introduced to Mike, a Marine General who suffered great personal losses but an overall victory in Yemen years earlier. The incursion left him in a wheelchair for a time, but he remained useful to the administration. The story is set in an era of a more conservative government.

President Hale suspects a leak from within his own congress–maybe from someone frequenting the ‘bubble’ for private exchanges. He assigns Mike the task of finding the source of the leak, which is putting an NSA project of high importance at risk. Mike is also tasked to protect the project’s manager, Gerry Patton. Both she and the project, headed by her father, have suffered under governmental bureaus that would just as soon see it, and her, disappear.

Mike is escorting Gerry from her home when the real action begins, suddenly and shockingly. Although no war is declared, a war is on: it is one that can only be won via intelligence and communication. Not that tanks, fighter planes, helicopters, and guns (some of which are described in detail) don’t play a prominent role in Trudel’s  thriller.

The Pacific Northwest sets the scene for a carefully planned infiltration of jihadists, picking on Oregon for its lax security and, what some consider, screwball laws protecting minorities from criminal investigation. Gerry’s father is in danger, and little can be done about it. Loopholes and “catch-22s” keep hands tied and responsibilities shifted until hard evidence can allow any action against the suspects.

Soft Target does not hold back when it comes to exposing bureaucratic nonsense, mountains of red tape and petty frustrations that slow progress in a time-sensitive situation, but are also not limited to the US. No one really trusts each other when they first meet, especially when they are representing different branches of government. Bonds made long ago are still strong, and respect does develop between teams forced to work together. It’s safer not to trust anyone or share any information not absolutely necessary. Gerry and Mike test each other time and again, breaking down solid ramparts in order to work as a team. Even the reader is left out of some intel—sometimes we are in the bubble with the President, and sometimes we are waiting in the wings. But, Mr. Trudel does not leave us in the lurch forever.

The story is driven mostly by dialogue, some of which delves deep into ancient history, exploring the first uses of intentional bio-weaponry, and thoughts about what really wins wars. The reader needs to pay close attention to detail to follow along in some of the more intense situations, as these details can be easily overshadowed by the whiz-bang actions of a high-consequence military action unfolding in present time.

The relationships developed in the story are believable, the key players changing both for better and for worse. I grew to appreciate the “short, ugly woman” [sic] with the abrasive personality and hard-as-nails façade. I was rooting for Mike to be the superhero: kill all the bad guys and run off into the sunset with Gerry, but this is not a predictable story with a predictable ending.

Soft Target will challenge your beliefs as to what you hear in the news, how events are spun, how perceptions are managed, and even what is moral and ethical when it comes to protecting and defending our country—no matter where on the political spectrum you find yourself.

Trudel’s Soft Target is a captivating and entertaining cyber-thriller that takes place in a future U.S.A.