The Dead Don't Sleep

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

★ ★ ★ 1/2 (rounded up)
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
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This is one of those thrillers that within a chapter or three, you know pretty much how things are going to go for the rest of the book. That's me being descriptive, not evaluating anything. There's nothing wrong with this type of thriller—the fun is in seeing the author execute what you know (and think you know) is coming, and just what kind of surprise is in store for the ending. It's like playing Mousetrap —everyone knows what's going to happen when you start the machine going, it's still fun to watch (see also almost every functional Rube Goldberg machine).

That said, there was one death/serious injury that I predicted at least three different times in my notes (one "he" was ambiguous, I really need to be more specific) that didn't happen and another that I fully expected that didn't materialize. So I'm not saying that Russo didn't have any tricks up his sleeve—there were more than those, too. It's just that on the whole, you know what this book is going to give you pretty soon (see also: just about every Jack Reacher novel).

So what is this set up?

Frank Thompson's wife died pretty recently, and he's not dealing well with the loss. After holing up by himself for a while, he visits a nephew (Bill) in New Jersey—really, his first social contact after her death. Frank's getting up in years himself, but he's doing pretty well, all things considered.

Frank and Bill go to the shooting range one day. While there, someone confronts Frank, claiming they know each other—Frank pleads ignorance (a white lie), but the stranger soon figures out who he is. They knew each other back in Vietnam while part of a special combat unit. The stranger (Jasper) and his friends are convinced that Frank did a bad thing to one of their own back in 'Nam. Frank wouldn't argue with them, but they all were involved in doing very bad things (as they were ordered to), he'd add. Besides, that was a lifetime ago, and he, Jasper and the rest of the unit have all moved on to civilian life and put those atrocities behind them.

If that were true, this would be a much shorter book. Thankfully for us readers, Jasper and his friends carry a grudge. Two of them—Birdie and Pogo (no, really)—are nearby and available. So after Frank goes home to his house on the outskirts of a small Maine town, the three of them head up to pay him a visit. And it ain't a social call.

Frank knows that Jasper and others (no idea how many others) are coming, and takes steps to prepare. And then the fecal matter hits the rotary impeller.

That's a little more long-winded than I'd intended, but I haven't given too much away. So basically, you've got 4 septuagenarians carrying small arsenals in the Maine woods drawing on the training they all received decades ago (one or two of them may have been keeping those skills sharp, but that's beside the point). None of these guys are in their prime anymore, and more than once I wondered if natural causes would beat an act of violence to the punch (I won't say if I was right).

Don't go thinking that this is any kind of comic novel—it's not Grumpy Old Men III: Locked and Loaded, these are hard men doing violent things. After the trio arrives in Maine, the questions that need to be answered are: how many of these four are going to walk away from this showdown, and what kind of collateral damage will there be?

Not all the characters are as well-rounded as they could be, but they're all close enough that no one's going to complain—especially when the action kicks in. You can't say there are really good guys or bad guys here. Well, that's not true—there are bad guys and some less-bad guys. No one wears a white hat in this book (at least not those at the center of the action), the hats are all black or dark gray.

This next paragraph contains a spoiler—or something spoiler-adjacent. Feel free to skip it and move on.
There's a [insert your own Latin-y word here] ex machina element to the last action scene of this novel. I don't think it was necessary (they almost never are), and a resolution was still possible that would've satisfied novels without it. The more that I think about it, what that element means for Frank's world is pretty disturbing—more than anything else that happened in the book, really. As I write this, it occurs to me that if there's a sequel, this element is likely going to play a central role, and I'll retract the last 97 words. Still, I'd have liked to have seen things play out without the _____ ex machina. But that could just be me.
Back to the no-spoiler zone:

This is the kind of thing that should appeal to fans of Gregg Hurwitz, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder or others in that vein. The pacing is tight, the action scenes are well-handled, and the tension is real. This is a great way to spend a couple of hours with some good escapist reading. It's possible (probable?) for Russo to return to the survivors for a sequel—if he does, I'll be at the front of the line for it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Down & Out Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this ride.
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This is an action packed thriller!
Great storyline.
Great character development.
Kept me on the edge of my seat reading as quick as I could!
Enjoyed this novel!
Thanks Down & Out Books and NetGalley for the ARC!
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In "The Dead Don't Sleep," the horrors of the war in Vietnam raise their heads and remind the characters that they never really went away. Frank is a Vietnam vet who was involved in some very dirty special ops. While visiting his nephew Bill, he bumps into an old-comrade-turned-enemy, who starts stalking him, determined to avenge what he sees as Frank's betrayal of another comrade.

This is kind of a "Rambo: First Blood" thriller, in that it features Vietnam vets stalking each other through the woods. The point of view switches back and forth between Frank, his nephew Bill, and the men hunting them, which means there's not a lot of mystery--although there *is* a mystery aspect--but a lot of tension as the different characters draw closer and closer to each other on their inevitable collision course. It's an enthralling read in that respect, and likely to appeal to fans of gritty thrillers/suspense novels who enjoy a good chase followed by an explosive final showdown.

The violence is not excessively graphic, but the body count is reasonably high, including flashbacks to some of the dirty ops the characters carried out in Vietnam. So again, fans of the genre will appreciate the realism, while readers who prefer something lighter and cozier should steer clear.

Although this is a fairly short, quick read, the characters are all sketched out clearly, each one with a distinct personality. So while this isn't a genre that you generally read for the character development, we do get a sense of each character as a person, including the antagonists, something that acts to heighten the tension further and raise the emotional stakes for the reader, as well as adding another layer of realism. Overall, this is a well-constructed, high-tension, and fast-paced thriller that is likely to appeal to fans of the genre.

My thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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Vietnam, 1969. A squad of hunter-killers is tracking a suspected VC courier. The hunters provide overwatch and the paired killers do what they are trained to do. The courier's throat is slit by one of the killers. A young girl exits a hut. The other killer grabs her and, to keep her from alerting anyone to their presence, slits her throat then turns to let her body fall. The first killer raises his .45 and shoots her partner in the head.

Current day. Northern NJ. Bill Thompson and his Uncle Frank are shoot traps. Frank is down from rural Maine taking some time to resolve the recent death of his wife. He is staying with Bill and his wife and 2 young sons. In the parking lot, Frank bumps into a member of this shooting club who seems to recognize Frank from somewhere, but can't place it. 

That night, Bill's house is shot up by automatic gunfire. Frank and Bill give the police their statements, but really have no chance of finding who did it. Frank thinks that accidental bump may indeed be something from his past and elects to go back home early to avoid more incidental contacts.

The guy's call sign was Jasper. His local friends from his days in 'Nam are Birdie and Pogo. Jasper is certain that Frank is Bull, their team leader who suddenly disappeared after a patrol that left one of their team dead. Despite being armed versions of The Three Stooges, they track Frank back to Maine intent on evening the score for their fallen comrade.

Frank has figured it out, too and prepares for a possible attack. Bill is also worried about his uncle and drives up to Maine. When they finally connect at Frank's old hunting shack, the Stooges attack. Stunned by the intensity of the assault, Bill is seriously spooked. But Frank seems far too calm. He tells Bill, 'Remember when I said I wasn't Rambo? Just a grunt in 'Nam? Well, I lied."

I liked this one. I liked Frank especially. Maybe a relative of Bob Lee Swagger? Sure could be. A lot of this book was from the viewpoint of the Stooges as they plan, track, and kill their way to Maine towards their appointment with fate. That it's predictable isn't the issue. It was a fun summer thriller. You should find it. This is Russo's 3rd or 4th novel. I plan to look for his earlier books.

Thanks to NetGalley. Publication date November 2019.
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ARC from NETGALLEY 

I thought wait, Vietnam how old are these guys but the writer pulled it off well.

Plus it s not the age BUT THE EDGE!!!!!!!  Enjoy!
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Revenge they say is a dish best served cold.  Here, we get a tale of unfinished business from the jungles of Vietnam and the players in Operation Phoenix, some dealing with the moral ambiguity of what happened, others thirsting to even up scores.  It’s forty years later and we have not young warriors but old farts who in some ways pine to relive their glory days.  You can’t escape the past and here it comes back in the darkness to haunt a suburban family.  This is a men’s action story that takes place in modern-day world with hunters and the hunted.  Although it’s got lots of shooting and explosions, it doesn’t feel rushed.  

Many thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
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I have a couple issues with the book. The first is with the content I may be a bit old fashioned, but I didn't like how the author referred to the soldiers in the beginning of the book as murderers. I don't know the author's background and maybe he's a soldier as well and knows more about it than I do. However, with all the recent negativity about members of the military, I didn't find it respectful.

Secondly, the format of the download I received made it impossible for me to read past the first few pages. All of the paragraphs were mashed together and the pages looked cramped.
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