Published by: Putnam Adult
Release Date: August 4, 2011
The extraordinary new suspense novel from “one of the most exciting new thriller talents in years” (Vince Flynn).
Four years after the events of The Mullah’s Storm, jihadists strike the Afghan National Police training center in Kabul, killing many and wounding others, including Sergeant Major Sophia Gold. The injured are hurriedly loaded onto a C-5 Galaxy bound for Germany, but once airborne, the commander, Major Michael Parson, receives a message. The jihadists have also placed bombs on some planes leaving Afghanistan, and theirs is one of them. If he tries to descend— it’ll go off.
Parson, Gold, and everybody aboard are trapped at altitude, until either they or someone on the ground can figure out what to do. They can refuel in midair, but not indefinitely. The aircraft is deteriorating, the patients are worsening, the crew is tiring—and their biggest challenges are yet to come. The enemy is all around . . . .
“The story is as lean and mean as they come…. Parson is as unforgettable a character as you are likely to encounter in thriller fiction. You will not hear or see a plane flying overhead without thinking of Parson, holding together his C-5 Galaxy with guts, duct tape, and baling wire….”
“Young’s follow-up to The Mullah’s Storm is better than its predecessor….Full of the kind of military jargon that aficionados love, the novel also boasts intense action and surprisingly deep characterizations for a military thriller. Fans of Clancy, Coonts, and Dale Brown need to add Young to their must read lists.”
“Aviation thriller aficionados will cheer, and readers of any genre will gnaw their fingernails to the quick.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A thrilling ride that maintains mach speed from liftoff to landing…or however the plane comes down.”
—Shelf Awareness for Readers
“If you liked The High and the Mighty, you’ll love Silent Enemy. Young’s airlift pilot makes John Wayne look like a weakling.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Young wields the language with a deft hand….”
—The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Don’t bother to set your alarm clock…you’ll be reading this book when it goes off in the morning!”
—Military Writers Society of America
I discussed Silent Enemy with host Bill Thompson in an interview for “Eye on Books.” Please click here for a link to listen.
1. The Mullah’s Storm was published just last year, but Silent Enemy is set four years after its events. Why the jump in time for this follow-up?
I wanted to show how the careers of real-life military people progress. Airmen and soldiers take on different assignments, learn new skills. In the current operations tempo, they find themselves going back to Iraq or Afghanistan again and again. And that’s what has happened to the characters in Silent Enemy.
Major Michael Parson, who was a navigator in The Mullah’s Storm, went to pilot training and became an aircraft commander on the C-5 Galaxy. Sergeant Sophia Gold received a promotion and went on to help run a literacy program for the Afghan National Police.
Those transitions take time, and in four years they have not seen much of each other. But their working relationship remains strong when fate puts them together again, and that demonstrates the depth of their bond.
2. How have Parson and Gold changed in that time?
Both bear scars from their ordeal of survival and capture in The Mullah’s Storm, but they are professionals, and they still have jobs to do.
As an aircraft commander, Parson is now in charge of an entire aircrew and all the passengers on his plane. He lost some of his best friends when his crewmates died in The Mullah’s Storm. As a result, Parson has not really bonded with his current crew, but he is acutely aware that he’s responsible for them.
Gold, a Pashto linguist, no longer merely translates but now works to help Afghanistan stand on its feet as a nation. The enormity of that job, and of all the things that stand in her way, have left Gold less hopeful than before. When a terrorist bombing strikes the Afghan National Police training center, where she works, she begins to lose confidence in herself and faith in her mission.
Some of her wounded students are placed aboard an aeromedical flight commanded by Parson, and she’s reunited with her old friend. A terrorist bomb placed on board the aircraft forces them into another life-and-death struggle.
3. How much do you use your own military background and experience in your writing?
Fortunately, I have never experienced the awful things that Parson and Gold have encountered. However, I have served in Afghanistan and Iraq as a flight engineer on transport aircraft with the Air National Guard, and I’m still flying in the Guard. My flying experiences helped shape the scenes in Silent Enemy: the aerial refuelings, the ocean crossings, the aircraft malfunctions, the storms and volcanic ash.
Some of my story ideas come from my own fears: The Mullah’s Storm began with the question, What would it be like to get shot down in hostile territory? The second novel, Silent Enemy, began with the question, What if you had a bomb on board and couldn’t land?
More importantly, the people with whom I’ve served make me want to honor their experience by telling it as well as I can through fiction. In the back of my aircraft, I have carried fresh troops about to face combat for the first time. I have carried the wounded, and I’ve watched flight nurses and medics work endlessly to ease their pain. And I have flown young men home in flag-draped boxes.
I owe it to them to tell stories that reflect their service and sacrifice.
4. You’re an experienced aircrew member with thousands of hours of flight time logged. What’s the most dangerous real-life situation you’ve ever encountered in the air? How did you resolve it?
My closest call took place early in the Iraq war. In May of 2003, I was with a C-130 Hercules crew that flew into Baghdad one night. After offloading our cargo, we planned to take off, fly a low-level route away from the city, then do a zoom maneuver to gain altitude and head back to base in Oman.
Shortly after departure, when we were still in the low-level phase of flight, three things happened all at once: A tremendous flash outside the aircraft washed out our night vision goggles and momentarily blinded us. The missile warning tone went off, which is an awful, screeching sound that I never want to hear again. And our aircraft commander, a terrific pilot, whipped the C-130 into a steep bank.
So now we were pulling Gs, we couldn’t see outside, and I was thinking we’ve just been hit and we’re going down.
Then I realized we were still flying, and I’d felt no impact.
Insurgents had fired what we think was a shoulder-launched antiaircraft missile. The flash was our defensive flares ejecting: hot flares can confuse a heat-seeking missile.
From my seat, I didn’t see the missile. But the copilot and one of the loadmasters said they saw it in the instant before the flares punched. They said it missed us by about three hundred feet.
5. The killing of Osama bin Laden will no doubt change the war on terror forever. Will it change how you approach your fiction in the future?
Probably not. Bin Laden has suffered the fate he so richly deserved, but there are plenty of terrorists to take his place. They may not think on the same grand scale, but they’ll still try to hit us if they can. Everyone from military commanders to individual airline passengers will have to remember this is not a time to let down our guard.
So, if the security environment in the real world does not change drastically, then neither will the world reflected in my fiction. We will still face enemies who want to cause a lot of harm, and so will my characters.
The world is a better place without Osama bin Laden, yet it remains just as dangerous.
6. In addition to your military career, you’ve worked as a journalist. Are there parts of your military experience—parts that could be told to the public at large—that you feel the media is not reporting as well as it should, or that the public is not paying enough attention to?
I wish the media would give more coverage to the actual work people do in the military, and to the pride they take in that work. Journalists focus on the costs of military service–the wounds, the post-traumatic stress. Those things certainly need to be reported, but service is about so much more than getting hurt.
To give you an example, as part of the research for my next novel, I recently visited an Air Force rescue unit. I spoke with pararescuemen, who are combat medics with the skills to do anything necessary to reach a downed pilot or wounded soldier. Those skills include parachuting, diving, mountain-climbing, and roping from helicopters. One of the pararescuemen pointed out a plaque with their creed, which concludes, These things I do that others may live.
Nowadays, every organization, every company has a mission statement that no one takes seriously. If someone bothers to point out their company motto, it’s usually to make a joke. But those pararescue guys really do live by that creed. They have a level of dedication and integrity that’s rare in the civilian world, but common in the military. You don’t see that often enough on the evening news.
7. Parson and Gold are in different branches of the military and come from different backgrounds, yet because of their experiences together, they have great mutual respect. How do you feel these two complement each other?
Like most military aircrew members, Parson is a man of action. He’s impulsive to a fault, and because of dangers he’s faced and friends he’s lost, there’s an undercurrent of anger in his nature.
Gold is more cerebral and spiritual. She’s a Pashto linguist and an expert on Afghan culture. From time to time her knowledge and perspective keep Parson out of trouble, and he knows it.
In many ways they are opposites. He’s an Air Force officer; she’s an enlisted woman in the Army. He’s comfortable in the air; she’d rather be on the ground. Off duty, he’ll hunt deer, and she’ll attend a concert. They bring different perspectives and attitudes to the problems they face.
But for their shared ordeal in The Mullah’s Storm, they might never have met. That experience formed a bond between them that in some respects is deeper than romantic love.
They’re human, so they feel a certain amount of attraction to each other. But for now they’re trying to keep those feelings at arm’s length.
8. The plot of Silent Enemy involves an entire military crew learning midflight that their plane may have a bomb on it. Could this ever happen in real life? Were there any real-life events that inspired your writing of this novel?
Thanks to the Air Force security police and the diligence of the flight crews, it would be very, very difficult to put a bomb on a military aircraft. But good fiction often starts with the question: What if?
And sadly, terrorists have succeeded in putting bombs on civilian planes. One of the most infamous examples is the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
My flight experience did provide a lot of material for Silent Enemy. I have never faced the central problem in Silent Enemy—a bomb on board an aircraft. However, in the course of dealing with the bomb, Parson and Gold must deal with lots of smaller problems that come up. Those include storms, electrical malfunctions, hydraulic losses, and engine failures. I’ve had my share of all those. You might say I took every in-flight emergency I’d ever had and used it in Silent Enemy.
9. Was Silent Enemy a difficult book to write in terms of how the bulk of the book takes place in a confined space with a limited number of characters?
Not at all, since I have spent thousands of hours in that confined space, and usually with some pretty interesting characters.
Also, the confined space heightens the story’s tension. As the characters deal with matters of life and death, they cannot escape even for a moment. The bomb is rigged to go off on descent, so they can’t land. They can’t take a break. They can’t pull over and stop. The setting itself adds to the suspense.
10. How big a plane is the C-5 Galaxy? What would it take to search its every nook and cranny for this bomb?
The C-5 is nearly as long as a football field: two hundred and forty-seven feet, ten inches, to be exact. It’s the largest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force fleet. The Galaxy has an upper troop compartment with airline-style seats, a lower cargo compartment, and avionics and environmental compartments upstairs on the flight deck. To search all that would take hours.
To give you an idea of the cargo space, it can carry up to six Apache helicopters at one time. On one mission we hauled a full-size tractor-trailer, along with an aircraft tug, three Humvees, and a heavy-duty forklift. When the cargo compartment is empty it looks like a warehouse.
In Silent Enemy, the crew is transporting patients who were wounded in the bombing of an Afghan National Police building. Though the C-5 is not normally used for aeromedical flights, the crew jury-rigs it into an enormous flying hospital.
When they discover a bomb rigged to detonate on descent, the crew and patients are trapped at altitude. Through aerial refueling, they can remain aloft for an extended time–but not forever, as the aircraft’s mechanical condition deteriorates, the patients’ conditions worsen, and the crew grows tired.
11. A lot of the action takes place in the depressurized tail of the plane. What would the conditions back there be like—in terms of temperature, air pressure, noise, etc.?
The noise would be deafening. At cruising altitude, the temperatures would be well below freezing. Anyone in that area, which was never meant to be manned, would have to breathe from an emergency oxygen bottle.
And I can tell you from experience that those oxygen bottles deplete very quickly when you’re concentrating on an in-flight emergency. It seems every few minutes you have to stop what you’re doing and refill the bottle. In Silent Enemy, you see the characters dealing with (among other things) the consequences of oxygen bottles that run out.
12. What inspired you to start writing fiction?
I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing, and I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. Part of the reason I wrote The Mullah’s Storm and Silent Enemy was simply to create stories that readers would find compelling.
But through those novels, I also wanted to convey something about the experience of the modern-day military serviceman and servicewoman. I hope my readers will learn something about the people who are taking the oath of enlistment at a time when they know they’re going into harm’s way. And I hope to show the pride and satisfaction that comes from serving a cause greater than oneself.
In my previous novel, The Mullah’s Storm, Major Parson and Sergeant Gold found themselves shot down, trapped on the ground, fleeing an enemy they fought hand to hand and bullet by bullet. In Silent Enemy, they meet again for what should be an uneventful flight, transporting wounded out of Afghanistan — but a terrorist bomb traps them at altitude, unable to land. The crisis forces them on a journey more than halfway around the world, beset by danger.
The world went away, and every part of her hurt. But nothing made any noise. Silence rang pure as the thoughts of the dead. Sergeant Major Gold knew only that some power threw her in every direction at once, flung projectiles against her in the darkness. She was so close to the explosion the sound never registered.
A moment before, the lights had been on in her office. Now her office no longer existed; nothing existed but blackness and force. No room even for fear, just shock and confusion. Then Gold’s senses began to return. Dust, grit, smell of burning. An odor like nitric acid.