Red Metal, a fireball of a story that imagines a Russian invasion of Europe, is a collaboration between Mark Greaney, author of the accomplished Gray Man series of thrillers, and Marine Corps infantry officer Lt. Col. Hunter “Rip” Rawlings IV.
As he does in his Gray Man espionage novels, Greaney, working this time with military insider Rawlings, ratchets up the news of the world a couple of notches to create a terrifyingly plausible vision of next-stage Russian aggression. We may be inured to the idea of Russian cyber invasion (and hackers are certainly players in this story), but Red Metal’s scenario features an attack with tanks and missiles. The plot unfolds to reveal that the assault on U.S. and NATO forces is connected to a spectacular cache of rare-earth metals — namely, the real-life Mrima Hill mine in Kenya, which holds an extraordinary mass of minerals essential to high-tech electronics manufacture.
A couple of former infantry officers working at desks in the Pentagon follow a trail, with the help of a National Security Agency computer hacker, that leads them to the heart of the Russian scheme. But, in what may be an all-too-real feature of military life, their discovery falls outside their already vital assignment involving a Chinese assassination of a Taiwanese official. It takes them a while to be heard over the hum of the military bureaucracy. Meanwhile, the Russian plan, brainchild of one embittered Russian colonel who wants the West to pay for a humiliation he suffered at Mrima Hill, moves relentlessly forward.
Red Metal will be red meat for readers devoted to military strategy and the particulars of weapons, machinery, and ancillary equipment. The book is rich with such details, but it throws much more than bare bones to readers who like to invest in characters. One satisfying side story features a 20-year-old Polish barista named Paulina who’s joined a civilian militia unit to make a little extra money. She finds the training exercise she expected turning into a lethal engagement between her hapless band of citizens and the hyper-efficient Russian war machine. She’s lying on the cold ground of her homeland on Christmas day when her last resort is to pick up an AK-47. “She didn’t worry about the Kalashnikov’s provenance now. She just wanted to take it in her frozen hand, climb back out of the trench, and fire one last burst before the Russians killed her and every one of her friends.” Paulina survives and grows into her unlikely role as a heroine.
The action jumps around the globe — Virginia, Moscow, Poland, Germany, and Djibouti — held together by a wickedly effective overarching strategy. Greaney, the Memphis-based writer who’s also contributed to the Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan franchise, and Hawkins make solid allies in this first collaboration, and if a hint in the epilogue can be trusted, we’ll find them working together again.
Formerly the books editor at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Peggy Burch is now the community engagement editor at The Daily Memphian and a member of the Humanities Tennessee Board of Directors. She holds a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Mississippi.
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