Dead Man's Hand - Book Review

The latest outing for Pike and Jennifer is a solid thriller ripped from the headlines.

The Pike Logan books are always grounded in real geopolitics and threats. With Dead Man's Hand, the eighteenth book in the series, author Brad Taylor takes it to a whole other level. It's as "ripped from the headlines" as an episode of Law & Order where they need a disclaimer up front to remind you it's fictional. In the author notes at the end, Taylor describes warning the publisher that real events could have torpedoed the entire plot before he even finished writing it. Fortunately they didn't, giving us another fun thrill ride with Pike, Jennifer, and the gang.

Book Description:
To finally end the war between their nations, a rogue band of Ukrainian partisans known as the Wolves teams up with members of Russia’s military intelligence to assassinate Vladimir Putin.

But Putin is aware of the traitors in his midst and assigns the loyal commander of the Russian National Guard to root them out. It’s a mission Victor Petrov is expected to undertake after he prevents Sweden from joining NATO—by assassinating a deputy minister of foreign affairs.

After receiving intelligence about the threat in Sweden, the United States sends Pike Logan to identify Petrov’s target—only for him to get caught in the crossfire between Putin’s agents and the Wolves. When the smoke clears, Pike makes no effort to stop the Wolves on their ultimate mission, believing it just, until he discovers that their operation has unimaginable consequences.

For Putin is preparing a devastating endgame: activating the Dead Man’s Hand nuclear response that will launch Russia’s missiles in the event of his death. . .

The story opens with an unlikely partnership: a band of Ukrainian partisans (the Wolves) team up with a rogue faction of the Russian intelligence service (the Valkyries, in a nod to the famous WW2 plot to take out Hitler) to kill Putin. A Russian loyalist faction (no cool nickname for them) are out to stop them. A second team of loyalists are also trying to stop Sweden from joining NATO, which is where Pike comes in.

So to recap, we've got FOUR major factions at play, each of which has multiple team members and (in several cases) separate teams, contacts, and missions. Throw in the occasional segue back to the leadership in DC/Moscow, and it was sometimes hard to keep track of who was doing what.

Pike's usual crew is back, and there's plenty of fun banter to go around. I really enjoyed the opening scene where the team was doing parachute recertification. It may seem random, but it gave some neat insight into the characters and the antics that go on in Grolier Recovery Services behind the scenes.

The action scenes are superb, as always, and some neat speculative tech gadgets make an appearance. I am always impressed by how Taylor works unique travelogue highlights into his stories. From Viking ruins to a Danish commune to an old Finnish island fortress, the locales add an interesting dimension to the story. Jennifer and Taskforce ally Shoshana have some good moments too. I appreciate the callbacks to the new bond between Jennifer and Brett.

My main issue with the story is that Pike's team spends entirely too long without a clear-cut mission. Instead of the usual progression from "Alpha" stage (figure out what's going on) to "Omega" stage (stop the badguys), it's a murky mess where it's not clear who they should be helping, or if they should even be involved at all. This is clearly by design—Pike rants about it on multiple occasions—and it does serve to subvert reader expectations. It just didn't quite come together for me. Pike and the others feel too wishy-washy, one minute complaining about how pointless the mission is, the next minute fighting tooth and nail to stay on a thread.

On the whole, it was a solid, entertaining thriller. I just wish there had been more focus on the core team, and less on all the other factions running around.


(If I had half star icons, both of these would be 4.5)

  • Princess Power: 4 Stars
  • Overall: 4 Stars
  • Bechdel Test: Pass

Learn about my Ratings System.

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Mom. Writer. Gamer. Geek.
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