A PLAGUE OF IRON

Chuck Freadhoff’s thriller novels are the most precisely detailed and yet humanely conceived I have found in recent months.  A PLAGUE OF IRON is E-published. ISBN 9780985544607

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“‘They don’t care. No one cares.’ He blew out his breath and shook his head. ‘No, that’s not right. Really, everyone cares but no one does anything.’”

This is perhaps the most resonant passage in this thriller. That is to say, Americans and probably Mexicans have the sense that gun-running and drug-smuggling will continue back and forth across the border on into eternity, because our law enforcement agencies seem to be stumbling over one another to avoid getting in the line of fire by actually addressing the problems. In Chuck Freadhoff’s version, it is hard to tell the cops from the robbers, and even the heroes are killers. The body count is brutal.

“Plague of Iron” refers to guns. The author has put a face on them with events that very well could have happened. Wade Mauer, living in Los Angeles, is told he has a small grandson living in Tijuana in very dangerous company. This revelation occurs when he is trying to find out why his son Scott, the child’s father, has been murdered. As Freadhoff explains in his promotion, “The book revolves around a simple question: How far would you go to save your only grandchild, a boy you’ve never met?” He calls it “a fast-paced book” and brilliantly labels it “grandparent noir.”

Wade was in Vietnam with Horn, who owes him his life. They worked well together in tough situations. Horn has since worked in drug enforcement and international security, which allows him to call on the services of Red, a very special agent in the consulate in Tijuana. Together these three men face down two drug cartels whose bosses are in ruthless competition. All the images you have gagged on by reading newspapers are here – crossfire in public parks, headless bodies left to rot in the streets – and more. Nannies are shot down and the missing heads are stacked on dining room tables. Freadhoff’s chilling tale also demonstrates how innocent people get involved in nasty business.

Wade’s emotive backstory that justifies putting his life at risk is eked out in spare reflective passages. He’s been an excellent mechanical craftsman but less-than-perfect as a husband and father. He needs this boy to make up for previous shortcomings. Adding to the tension is the fear he may lose his current love, a nurse who is not sure she can live with the fierce fighter he has again become. Still, with great professional brinkmanship, he carries through several challenging maneuvers, employing all the tactics and hardware of his war years plus the latest communications technologies.

Freadhoff is absolutely convincing in his descriptions of places, people, men in their relationships with machines, and (probably) how things go down in the machismo drug-gun world. As a grandmother living near the border, I was riveted by his plotline. I, too, would want to know what my son had been up to and how he got so deeply into trouble. I could appreciate his premise: a man puts everything on the line to fulfill a family obligation. Yet I came out of his construct without being able to identify Wade’s deepest fears and longings, and then my cynicism kicked in. I wondered if what really drove the character was the need to prove he still had the right stuff to take down the enemy. I would like to see Wade ten years down the road.

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