Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
It is two years after reuniting in Afghanistan, Kellan Reynolds and First Sergeant Jonah Carver find themselves back in the States, albeit on opposite ends of the country, trying to make their long distance relationship work. Kellan is still the CEO of Keystone Consulting. Jonah is stationed at Camp Pendleton, and looking to make changes in his career path in the Army, one to put him on course to be a Sergeant Major. A speaking engagement in California reunites the men after another 6 months separation and a question posed to both Kellan and Jonah stirs up their curiosity and plunges them both into an investigation. The question asked at the conference concerns the repeated denial of Medal of Honors to Marines killed in action in the recent wars. The pursuing investigation into those charges will lead Kellan and Jonah back to Afghanistan and changes the course of their lives.
Fire For Effect is the sequel to Brothers In Arms and the second book in what I hope will be a long and satisfying series. The foundation of this book and series is Kendall McKenna’s superb knowledge of the military in all its aspects. When Kellan (former Captain in the Army) and Jonah speak or move forward into action, they do so with an innate authority that would come from their history serving together as well as separately in various engagements throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. The reader never once questions anything about the combat troops movements, their gear, arms, and even how the troops would spend their downtime overseas because it feels absolutely authentic in every detail.
In fact for this reader, the book really sings when Kellan and Jonah are engaged in military action, finding themselves once more under fire. Here is an example:
The paths between camp facilities were all hard-packed and well-worn from the passing of many booted feet. Everything around them was coated in a layer of fine, powder-like dust, the same pale beige as the endless sands that surrounded them.
“Damn moon dust gets into everything,” Corporal Ruhl muttered.
“Excuse me?” Kellan asked, not quite hearing what the corporal had said.
“The top most layer of sand is this fine, powdery stuff we call moon dust,” Ruhl said. “It gets picked up easy by the wind and gets into everything. We can’t keep anything clean for very long.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Kellan replied. He was brushing that sand off and out of things for almost a year after he’d returned home.
And here is another excerpt with the men accompanying a company in Afghanistan during their investigation:
The translator expressed all of their farewells to Wasim and the Marines climbed back into their victors. Their next stop was at a combat post, which was nothing more than a platoon of Marines dug into a flat patch of dirt and rock. Even now, Marines were squaring walls of trenches with e-tools and stacking sandbags.
“Ammo restock, looks like,” Jonah mused. “MREs, too,” Kellan said, as he watched crates and cartons get tossed and stacked. Their stop was brief and they were oscar-mike again. Kellan was sure his spine was permanently compressed by the time they reached the combat post that was Gunnery Sergeant Galen Foster’s current billet. As soon as the compound gate secured behind them and the Marines began to exit their victors, Kellan carefully stepped out and stretched his aching muscles.
This COP was in what appeared to be some sort of ancient fortification. Tall walls made of mud brick encircled the entire compound. Two single-story structures stood side-by side, also made of mud brick. The original wooden roof had been reinforced with more secure metals, not unlike the hillbilly armor of the Humvees. It was primitive and austere, only slightly less spartan than the first COP they had visited. Activity buzzed around them. Marines wearing Under Armor shirts unloaded trucks, cleaned weapons, and worked under the hoods of vehicles. Kellan heard laughter and swearing, dirty jokes and most of all, complaining. Marines loved to complain.
Just by those passages alone, you get the feel of what it must be like to be in country, fighting the gritty, dusty sand, the extreme heat and cold, amidst a civilian population that just might be a hotbed of insurgents. Everything from the language to the terminology speaks of the reality of being in the Army in Afghanistan. Really, it’s just perfect.
McKenna’s characters are as authentic as the rest of her story. Kellan and Jonah are such perfectly realized characters that it is easy to believe in them. Jonah, with his cautious reserve and military respect for his uniform and traditions is still the surfer who loves to spend his time catching waves. And Kellan, for all that he is now the CEO of a security consultant firm, is still very much the Army Captain in the carriage and attitude that he presents to others that they instinctively call him “sir”. But together that reserve melts under the flames of their passion for each other once they are alone. The relationship that McKenna has created between Jonah and Kellan is just as real and human as the rest of the book. These man have communication issues and their tentative outreaches to each other speaks of their separation over long distances. Yet you can feel the deep love Jonah and Kellan have for each other through their conversations and body language, so intimate an affair that the reader almost feels like an eavesdropper.
And lastly there is the subject matter of their investigation. You can look it up your self, there were questions raised and investigations launched over the fact that fewer medals of honor were handed out to soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars than there were to soldiers in previous wars. Some pointed the finger at the racial component (more races can be counted in the volunteer Army than in the conscripted ones of the previous wars) or to the fact that women (and gays) were now serving in higher numbers as well. In Fire For Effect, Kendall McKenna has put her own spin to these questions and come out with a remarkable story that brings to light some not so savory conclusions about the actions of the Congress and Brass on this subject matter.
All of the above combined, the genuine respect and love for the Marines, the outstanding characters and the “ripped from the headlines” subject matter make Fire For Effect a truly compelling read. The only thing lacking was the length. I felt that it was too short to fully develop the investigation and its resolution. I really wanted more of the story after their return from Afghanistan and more insight into what’s next in their relationship. I expect that a third book will hold some answers for us, I hope so. At any rate, that is all that kept Fire For Effect from a 5 star rating. I do suggest that if you are new to the Recon Diaries, that you start at the beginning, with Brothers In Arms. In fact pick them both up and read them in one session. You will love being able to read one after the other. I can’t wait for the next one to follow. This pair has me hooked. I think you will feel the same.
The Recon Diaries in the order they were written and should be read:
Fire For Effect
Cover art by Jared Rackler. Beautiful cover, very hot although I am not sure that it address the subject of the book.