Review: First Strike by Ben Coes

First Strike by Ben Coes is the 6th thriller featuring CIA operative Dewey Andreas (Available June 28, 2016).

Ben Coes’s First Strike—the 6th in his series featuring Dewey Andreas, a former member of U.S. Delta Force—is unrelentingly brutal in its portrayal of a struggle between a brilliant ISIS leader, Tristan Nazir, and Andreas and his colleagues.

Oxford educated Nazir is icily realistic in his aims—not for him noble clarion calls of creating a country ruled by Islam, rather:

“A noble idea to be sure, but what good is an idea if it is only that?” said Nazir. “Ruling is about power. It is about the acquisition of power, the maintenance of power, and the custody of power. It is about having the strength to demand that your own people sacrifice their lives in a larger struggle. It’s about the willingness to kill.”

Nazir justifies his position by citing the sacrifices made by George Washington and his men when they fought the British during a bitter, cold winter.

“Most of Washington’s troops either died or lost their legs to frostbite and gangrene. But Washington knew what needed to be done.”

Money is the fuel of terrorist operations. Through a back-channel, black-ops arrangement, Nazir has two billion United States dollars at his disposal. That much money buys a lot of armaments—apparently enough to take down the Syrian government.

Nazir commands his men’s loyalty through fear, whereas Dewey Andreas has a core of compatriots and colleagues who share his fearless, indomitable belief in their ability to get out of impossible situations and ultimately succeed. Black humor is something else they have in common, like an Israeli pilot’s quip about how easy it is to hit slow-moving Syrian missiles; somewhat akin to “hitting the side of a barn with a watermelon.”

“Fuck you,” said Dewey, smiling and shaking his head as laughter from Meir and the others filled the cabin. “I forgot how fucked up Israeli humor is.”

“You’d have a fucked up sense of humor too, my friend, if everyone was always trying to kill you.”

Happenstance, and a steely resolve to follow the trail of two billion wherever it leads, lands Dewey in Damascus. The mission goes FUBAR—Dewey Andreas is vulnerable and exposed, hiding in plain sight. The one thing he isn’t: trapped. Muscle memory takes him back to his training days at Fort Bragg, where he spent weeks learning urban combat techniques.

Being trapped is a state of mind. Even if you’re incarcerated, a gun against your head, even if a rope is tied to your neck, you’re never trapped. Unless you allow yourself to think you are. If you believe you’re trapped, you’re done.

Dewey discovers the location and ultimate destination of the ghost ship carrying Nazir’s arms. Might capturing said ship bring First Strike to a convincing, satisfactory conclusion? No, because even though Navy SEALs are able to board and capture the ship, the multi-leveled chess game between Nazir and the United States shifts to an alarming operation on U.S. soil.

Nazir knows no bounds in his use of power. In a move calculated to bring the United States to its knees, his most trusted operatives take over a dorm at Columbia University in New York City. If POTUS doesn’t want to see a student executed on the hour, every hour, he has only to return the captured armaments to ISIS. Nazir’s keenest weapon is that he knows and exploits his enemy’s greatest vulnerabilities.

But the trapped students, foreign and domestic, demonstrate surprising courage. One of the hostages at Columbia is the daughter of the CIA director: a classic case of wrong time/wrong place. Daisy tells her “little sister” Andy, a Columbia freshman, that she knows they’ll be rescued: “But until then, we need to stay strong. That means no eye contact, no crying, no talking, pretend you’re invisible.” She sums up the spirit of all who fight terrorism.

“We can do it,” she said calmly, forcing a smile. “I know I’m going to die someday, but I’ll be damned if it’s because of some fucking terrorist.”   

Daisy’s resilience is echoed by the president when he deals with Nazir, and by Dewey’s fierce, outside-the-box calculations to get inside the student residence—even if he has to swim through underground tunnels of shit, à la Shawshank Redemption, to get there.

First Strike is uncannily prescient. Ben Coes’s military thriller unfolds against a worldwide stage from ISIS in Syria to home-grown terrorism on U.S. soil, all the while ratcheting up the tension as Dewey and his team race to stop Nazir’s diabolical operation. The off clichéd phrase “ripped from the headlines” is all too accurate a description of First Strike.    

Read an excerpt of First Strike here!


To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!


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