Published by: Putnam
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Khatar. It’s a Somali word for ‘dangerous,’ and it’s one that Colonel Michael Parson has heard too often on his present mission. His friend Sophia Gold has talked him into using his leave from the Air Force to fly relief supplies into Somalia in an antique DC-3 cargo plane.
Somalia is infested with armed clans, pirates, poverty, and, increasingly, terrorism. Parson and Gold are about to face all of them firsthand. An al-Shabaab leader called The Sheikh has declared all aid a sin against God, and he launches attacks against planes and convoys to stop it. If that weren’t bad enough, a Hollywood actress and activist has flown into Somalia to make a documentary, and, as far as Parson is concerned, she might as well paint targets on their backs. The mission becomes even more complicated when they encounter a wounded teenage al-Shabaab fighter, who might be seeking asylum–or a chance to kill.
Not even Parson knows just how khatar his mission of mercy will become.
“Young does a fine job balancing the perspectives of the hero and the young Somali caught in a battle for survival with the religious extremists. There are plenty of vividly described battle scenes and close calls.”
“Young writes very fine thrillers set in war-torn areas, and his background brings an authenticity to the proceedings that helps lift the stories above others of its kind.”
“Those who enjoy smart thrillers with a solid dose of action will enjoy this book.”
A Conversation with Tom Young about THE HUNTERS
1) THE HUNTERS is the sixth installment in your Parson and Gold series. What part of the world does the story take them to this time? Why did you choose the location?
The Hunters takes place in the Horn of Africa, mainly in Somalia. A lot of good people, military personnel and civilian aid workers, have bled and sweated in that place, trying to free it from poverty and terrorism. I hope The Hunters helps tell their story.
2) Parson is in Somalia on a humanitarian rather than military mission. From what real-life situation did the idea for this novel grow?
It grew from a project that almost happened. In the late 90s, some of my Air Guard squadron mates approached me with a civilian job opportunity. A charitable group wanted qualified C-130 flight crews. The organization planned to buy a small fleet of C-130 cargo planes and fly relief missions around the world. The group liked my résumé enough to ask me to come in for an interview . . . and the project never went beyond that stage. Perhaps the organization could not raise enough money to buy an airplane, or perhaps there were other complications. But I’ve always thought: That was a really cool idea. What could have made it work? What if they’d settled for a less expensive airplane, like a rattletrap old DC-3? What if they’d recruited unpaid volunteers to fly part-time? In The Hunters, I send Parson and crew on that flight of imagination.
3) Parson flies an old DC-3 cargo plane in THE HUNTERS. Have you ever flown such an antique aircraft?
I’ve never flown a 1940s DC-3; the oldest thing I’ve flown was a 1950s T-34, a single-engine military trainer. That was a fabulous airplane. It looked like a WWII-era fighter, with tandem seats and a sliding canopy. In the summertime, you could open the canopy and fly with one arm on the canopy rail, feeling the rush of the slipstream. Imagine a 1954 Corvette Convertible with wings. You could feel the history in the aircraft, and you couldn’t help but wonder about the student pilots who’d flown it and what they might have faced later in their careers. In my novel, Parson enjoys flying the DC-3 as much as I enjoyed the T-34—but the DC-3’s age and old technology become another challenge in a hostile environment.
4) You served more than twenty years in the Air National Guard as a flight engineer. What made you want to translate your expertise into fiction writing?
I’ve always wanted to write, and I’ve always wanted to fly. As a teenager, the books of the French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry captivated me. He flew airmail routes in North Africa and South America when planes were made of cloth and pilots were made of steel, and he wrote beautifully about his experiences. I remember thinking I wanted a life like his. But, of course, there was only one Saint-Ex.
That interest in flying led me to join the Air National Guard. During my years in the military, I saw the professionalism of those who wear the uniform. I made some terrific friends, and their courage and dedication inspired my characters.
5) The mission is complicated by the arrival of an American activist movie star intent on making a documentary in what is essentially a war zone. What are your feelings about celebrities who interject themselves into these hot spots?
As long as they don’t get in the way, they can do a lot of good. People like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie have used their star power to bring attention to suffering in places like Darfur and Bosnia. Everyone should use whatever tools they have to help make the world a better place. Not many of us have the gift of fame. If a celebrity wants to use that gift for a good cause, I respect that. Beats the heck out of wrecking Ferraris and throwing tantrums in airports.
6) Is the tyrannical fundamentalist Islamic leader in the book based on a real figure?
The Sheikh is based on a combination of real figures. They include Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, best known for his role in the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident. I also drew on stories about a former leader of the al-Shabaab terrorist group, Ahmed Abdi Godane. Sadly, the rhetoric of terrorist leaders is all too familiar, no matter if it’s from al-Shabaab, ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban, or al-Qaeda. Defeating death cults like these never happens simply or quickly, and I hope my novels show the challenges real-world military people face in the fight against terror.
7) Certainly one of the most intriguing characters in THE HUNTERS is Hussein. Who is he and what central role does he play in the story?
Hussein is a fourteen-year-old al-Shabaab gunman. The terrorist group picked him up as an orphan on the streets of Mogadishu. He has turned to al-Shabaab out of desperation. Because he cannot read, he knows only what terrorist leaders tell him. But despite his illiteracy, he possesses a spark of intelligence. Though he sets out to kill Americans, an injury stops him from carrying out his deadly orders. When Parson and Gold find him wounded, he has no choice but to accept their help. Instead of lashing out, he can only sit and listen—aided by translation from Parson’s Somali-American flight mechanic, Geedi. Hussein sees that the only difference between himself and Geedi is where he lives and what he’s been taught—and he begins to question whether Allah really demands so much blood.
8) What was the inspiration behind Hussein? Did you struggle at all in writing his character?
I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of defectors from terrorist groups. What strange journey might lead someone to join al-Shabaab or ISIS and then experience a change of heart and escape? It doesn’t happen often; terrorist groups try never to let it happen. And usually, once people become radicalized, it’s very difficult to bring them back. But it does happen on occasion. The few defectors who manage to get away from terrorist groups often describe how they were repulsed by the violence and cruelty.
Writing Hussein presented a challenge; I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be a Somali. But I do remember what it was like to be a fourteen-year-old boy approaching adulthood and trying to find my place in the world. In each scene, I placed myself in Hussein’s head by asking myself: If I were in his shoes right now and all I knew was what a terrorist leader had told me, what would I do? And if Westerners found me wounded and showed me kindness, how would that affect my thinking?
Backstory: The Story Behind The Hunters
In the late 90s, some of my squadron mates approached me with a civilian job opportunity. A charitable group wanted qualified C-130 flight crews. The organization planned to use donations to buy a small fleet of C-130 cargo planes and fly relief missions all over the world.
The group liked my résumé enough to ask me to come in for an interview . . . and the project never went beyond that stage. Perhaps the organization could not raise enough money to buy an airplane, or maybe there were other complications. For one reason or another, the good intentions never got off the ground, literally or figuratively.
But I’ve always thought: That was a really cool idea. What could have made it work?
What if they’d settled for a less expensive, less sophisticated airplane? What if they’d recruited unpaid volunteers to fly part-time? Could they have pulled it off with a rattletrap old DC-3?
Fourteen-year-old Hussein felt little else as he rode in the back of a Nissan pickup truck along a dirt road south of Mogadishu. Five fellow al-Shabaab fighters traveled with him in the truck bed. One manned a Kord 12.7-millimeter machine gun bolted near the tailgate, and the rest brandished AK-47s. Hussein’s entire worldly possessions consisted of his AK, his sandals, a dirty cotton shirt and trousers, and the machete hanging from a rope belt in a leather sheath.