Clear your schedule! Coming at you fast and low is a top-notch espionage military thriller with an eye-opening lesson in how China projects power around the world today.

Don Riley is the Deputy Director of Operations (DDO) at the CIA, in charge of all HUMINT operations. The DO is also the entity tasked with covert operations, which means that the role of the US government is not “apparent or acknowledged publicly.” Covert operations are only authorized by a Presidential Finding, which outlines scope and purpose. (true)

Don’s eye is on the former Soviet “stans” in Central Asia where China is completing a railroad as part of the huge infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road initiative.

The project is rocked by terror attacks, supposedly from a home-grown group. In Beijing, a military hero is tapped for a new assignment: Get the railroad finished on time or else.

Meanwhile, the new Russian president is shut out of economic exchanges with Central Asian leaders, one of Don’s officers is combing the region for a missing US contractor, and a charismatic doctor is becoming the face of a new Central Asia cultural unity movement.

Basically, he’s the Ghandi of the stans, boosted by a female journalist who sees a big story as well as a potential love interest.

Believing the doctor can be an effective counterweight to Chinese influence, a Presidential Finding establishes a covert operation to support him. The job falls to Don, who finds it almost too easy . . .

There are many moving parts and a full score of characters. But you never get confused because Bruns and Olson have a knack of telling a character’s backstory in a very short amount of literary real estate and making it unforgettable, too. The prose is crisp, fast-moving and despite the complexity, the storyline is easy to follow.

COVERT ACTION is Book 5 in the Command and Control series by Bruns and Olson but reads like a standalone.

Highly recommended.

P.S. I’m starting to think that Bruns and Olson are a bellwether of sorts. Their fiction is a harbinger of real developments in the military/espionage/global conflict space.

For example, they described smart drones on the battlefield before those infernal devices became news stories. Now they give us China’s influential construction projects in not-so-sexy parts of the world. Expect to see Belt and Road issues in the news starting . . . soon.

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