Friends from Damascus – Ebook Review

I don’t read.  Well, I read occasionally.  And when I read – because I am a movie freak – I see each page as a film scene laid out in my mind. So, let me treat this book review much like a film review and let you know how Friends from Damascus played out in my mind’s ‘unblinking’ eye.

First, I need to offer a disclaimer:  Cliff Happy was my drill instructor (DI) in 1993.  He put me through the harshest physical experiences I have ever had to endure. And when I say he was tough, I don’t mean Hollywood tough – I mean the real deal, in your face, tough. He was less than ‘happy’ – demanding, and yet, somehow compassionate.  Friends from Damascus is no exception, that delicate balance is exactly what he delivers.  The story is a page-turner with lots of gore and meaty violence, yet the romantic passages were full of depth and passion. 

I felt a bit weird reading it, to be honest, because it has so much depth . . . I was expecting it to be more GO! GO! GO! And it is actually paced incredibly well.  The action is intense, and the romance is handled with aplomb.  The two love interests both have something to hide and something to share.  With each unable to trust a soul, they are eventually forced to trust each other, but testing this loyalty may put others in jeopardy as well.  And, in a world where betrayal has lethal consequences, these lovers have to come together and defeat a more sinister evil than we would care to admit exists. 

With an imagination for bad deeds, Happy creates a seemingly implausible scenario that is actually as equally terrifying as it is somehow believable.  The plot is simple in design: a bunch of bad guys are trying to release a nerve agent that is so nasty most special operators haven’t even met it yet.  The CIA will stop at nothing to prevent the gas from being released, which is what you would hope – unless you are some kind of pacifist who believes that talking to the bad guys gets results.  If that is you, you probably aren’t going to enjoy reading this one, because quite a few terrorist scumbags meet their maker.  Or as Happy used to say in a popular Marine cadence, they get turned into, “Bodies, bits of bodies.”

But that is just the plot. The story is interesting and globally complex.  While Friends from Damscus is a short read, the characters are developed enough that you want to know more about each, but you aren’t left feeling like you’re cheated out of the essence of who they actually are, what makes them all tick, and how they each completely relate to the overall plot. 

Mona Carlotti is, to be blunt, a CIA assassin, who has been put on ice for a year following a mission where she was compromised and was hoping to put the sordid life behind her.  She is trying to atone for her past, but her creator, Colonel Merrick, needs to pull her back in for one last job.  This might be a little cliché, but Happy does a good job of adding enough nuances to the Carlotti character to make this, oft-used, cliché permissible.  You will find yourself hoping that she takes the job to make the story interesting, and as she grows on you, you will feel guilty for wanting her to take the job in the first place.  Carlotti is one of those characters that won’t leave you immediately.  Maybe some of her actions come across as pushing the suspension of disbelief envelope, but I didn’t feel like I did after watching Hanna, where my BS detector tilted several times as we were led to believe some piss-ant teenage girl was the most lethal weapon since the Terminator.  The Carlotti persona is an established killer whom I would not want to cross in real life, and what she lacks in stature, she makes up for with a mischievous malevolence for creativity. 

The Friends From Damascus are a group of rogue operators sick of dealing with red-tape and pencil-pushing politicians who are more worried about covering their own asses rather than taking out actionable targets.  They have caught the ire of Merrick though, and he doesn’t much care for them running ops without his say-so.  He deems them as much a threat as the stolen gas . . . maybe more personally, as he struggles to keep a leash on his Mona Lisa, his creature Carlotti.  She is sent to track and liquidate the ‘friends’, but what happens from there is for me to know and you to find out.  Suffice it to say, we could all use some Friends from Damascus covering our butts!

Happy does a tremendous job with his attention to detail. No shocker there, as he used to (almost literally) hammer that into my head at Parris Island.  He paints wonderful mental cinematic scenes as he describes each new location and flawlessly places the reader into the center of the action.  Some sequences will feel like a hand-held, first person shooter, while some will come across as grandiose, picturesque landscapes where a bird’s eye view is warranted.  The action is dissected to a level that affords even the novice action reader a chance to follow every bullet and ricochet. 

This isn’t some pompous novel that will force you to rethink your pathetic lives, and it isn’t a history book, nor a trashy romance novel.  It is what I like to call a ‘travel read’.  Whenever I am traveling on a plane, I like to hit the gift store and find the most compelling looking action novel by a writer I have never heard of before.  I have come across good authors that way in the past . . .  some of whom I continue to follow. I think it goes without saying that Happy has, in me, a reader for life.  But, Semper Fi aside, even if I had never heard of Cliff Happy, I would be waiting with as much impatience to read the follow-up to Friends from Damascus, The Pelindaba Conspiracy.  So, stay frosty, and read all about the Friends from Damscus. It will make my crusty old D.I., if you will pardon the pun . . . happy.


One Response to “Friends from Damascus – Ebook Review”

  1. Act of Valor - South Florida Movie Reviews by I Rate Films Says:

    […] I just got done reading my Drill Instructor’s EBook, Friends from Damascus, it was awesome to see some of the same types of action-sequences play out in the theater.  When […]

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