Ambassadors, lock up your sons, because Captain Joe Harding is back. He may still be stuck in the abyss of Libya, but he gets into more danger and stickier situations than men half his rank. Last time it was Captain Harding’s Six- Day War, and Elliott Mackle isn’t yet ready for a cease fire, coming on strong with its sequel Captain Harding and His Men.
This second book of Harding’s exploits finds him still at Wheelus AFB with the redoubtable “top cop” Captain Jeff Masters and Colonel Opstein as his friend and superior, respectively. It also finds him still in love with the American ambassador’s son, Cotton. This time, however, they’re dealing with mysterious cargo shipments that involve munitions. Someone, of course, ends up dead—which spirals into more death and destruction and uncovers a plot that threatens American interests in the entire region.
Mackle’s characters are well-rounded, with enough quirks to make them interesting. No one, however, is more interesting than Joe Harding. Like Henry Thompson in Mackle’s Hot Off the Presses (Lethe Press, 2010), Harding clearly knows what’s best for him in any given situation. He sometimes has trouble following that route, however, and takes the path of most resistance. Also like Thompson, Harding has a healthy disregard for the structure (and strictures) that provide him with a paycheck. Both characters turn on their self-destructive streak, if doing what is right instead of best is self-destructive.
The strongest, most interesting character outside of Harding is American ambassador Elizabeth Boardman, Cotton’s mother. Somewhat of a cipher in Six-Day War, Mackle deepens her considerably here, finding her will, her determination and even, at times, her softer side. Also noteworthy is Harding’s fuck buddy, Major Hal Denham—a scrappy minor character who plays a major role in the denouement.
And what a denouement it is—solidly written and grippingly plotted, outfitted with sex, violence and death. Mackle tells this bit like a master, effortlessly finding the emotional center of the conflict and working that last nerve until it frazzles. If the military jargon mystifies you (as it did someone I know), suck it up, call it atmosphere and read for context. You won’t be disappointed with where Mackle takes you.
In short, Captain Harding and His Men is an absolutely top-notch sequel to Captain Harding’s Six-Day War—and one that will stand admirably on its own merits.
© 2012, Jerry L. Wheeler