Title: Alpha: The Ian Ridgefield Story (Military Might Series Book 1)
Author: John Henley
Genre: Military Political Thriller
After nine years in the US Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, Ian Ridgefield resigns and returns to New York to look after his ailing mother. Taking a well-paid position in a private security firm, he believes his days in the military are behind him, especially when a chance encounter with an old school friend, Stephanie Williams, develops into something more.
But, as a series of attacks on military buildings become more than coincidence and then the Pentagon is targeted, can Ian stand by and do nothing?
Alpha is the first in Henley’s Military Might Series and it capably sets up the intrigue, action, and characters for future installments. Set between Washington D.C. and New York, Henley writes with confidence and enthusiasm, ensuring that Ian Ridgefield is an immediately likable protagonist.
Slightly enigmatic and occasionally unpredictable, Ridgefield possesses a strong moral compass which he acts upon with single-minded belief. It would have been easy to have written him as the prototypical ex-military machine, but Henley gives him alternative dimensions and depth.
His relationship with his mother Darlene is effortlessly natural, especially their dialogue, and poignant without becoming syrupy. Darlene’s subtle strength and the deep bond she has with Ian are touchingly portrayed.
Unusually in a novel of this genre, the developing romance between Ian and Stephanie is at the forefront of the narrative for large parts. Their chemistry is convincing and written with credibility and charm.
Given her insanely wealthy background, Stephanie could have been shallow and frustrating but, overall, she is grounded albeit realistic about her parents’ status. The brutal attack she is subjected to early on in the book leaves her with trauma and vulnerability that no amount of money can ease.
Notwithstanding, Stephanie affords Ian an opening with her billionaire father, Samuel, and lawyer mother, Gretchen. This connection, in particular between Samuel and Ian, drives the emerging politico-thriller element of the story from the background.
Samuel’s near-limitless funds could have been viewed as convenient but Henley is careful to realize him as an unostentatious man of quiet integrity.
The unpleasant aspects of his family history that he shares with Ian were a thoughtful touch of backstory and give interest to his measured and mannered personality. Indeed, all the cast are written with emotional investment and authenticity.
However, the strongest sections of Alpha are those concerned with the military. The reader is given a clear sense of Henley’s writing from within that world and, consequently, these chapters are absorbing.
What is at first considered an unfortunate accident at the Fallon Naval Base has the hallmarks of something more thanks to considered plotting and careful hints of foreshadowing.
Nonetheless, areas of Alpha are unashamedly ambitious involving annihilation of the Pentagon and a corruption ring regarding the President which has the potential for a hugely negative impact on the daily lives of American citizens.
It does flirt dangerously with being a touch far-fetched, but, overall, it’s glorious escapism and fantastically intriguing. Nevertheless, the novel does suffer from a slight over-reliance on superfluity and detours.
Although incredibly readable, the baseball game, Ukraine bar fight, and incident with Frank Jefferson seemed disjointed and slightly unnecessary. Still, they serve to slow the pace, and it’s refreshing that a novel of this type isn’t a constant stream of testosterone-fueled, high-octane grandstanding.
Alpha is a solid start to what promises to be a gripping series. Henley has created well-rounded and plausible characters to carry the story forward and provided the foundations of a supremely twisty and engrossing plot full of conspiracy, which bears all the hallmarks of a compulsive read.
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