The Ambassador of Good Fiction: ‘Near Dark’ by Brad Thor

The Ambassador of Good Fiction: ‘Near Dark’ by Brad Thor
Brad Thor interviewed in New York in 2017. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Fred J. Eckert

There are two key reasons why I am such a huge fan of Brad Thor thriller novels: First, they are supremely entertaining, always great fun to read. Second, readers come away from his novels with considerably deeper and significantly more accurate understanding of the threats America faces than they get from the mainstream media.

No one writes a better thriller than Brad Thor. I believe what sets him apart is that his talent as a great storyteller is so well-paired with his perceptive grasp of America’s struggles at this point in our history, giving his works such tremendous plausibility.

He’s the king of the thriller genre, and one of America’s most popular novelists. He’s had a bestseller every year since 2002, except for the year he had two. Nearly 20 million copies of his books have been sold.

For four years in a row now, I have published book reviews touting his latest novel as his best ever. I would worry that this could strain my credibility—but, while it’s astonishing, it happens to be the simple truth.

Long past the point by which most authors have produced all the best works they’re capable of and are coasting or waning, Brad Thor keeps getting better and better. It’s no accident; it’s the result of the passion that drives him.

His latest release is the 20th in his "Scot Harvath" series. It’s about this former Navy SEAL with incredible skills and a phenomenal record of defeating enemy actions who is, in effect, the president’s personal lethal secret weapon for espionage and counterterrorism. He’s the key agent in a private, secretive sort of streamlined alternative CIA group that a strong-minded president of the United States turns to for discreetly carrying out ultrasensitive national security actions that he thinks the CIA remains incapable of getting right.

“Near Dark” is not only Brad Thor’s best ever novel—I’ve read every one of them—it is also very different from any of his others.

His early works mainly focused on the threat to America from radical Islamic terrorists. A few years ago, he switched the focus to the threat America faces from Putin’s Russia. He has an eerie ability to make you feel you might be glimpsing news from the future.

As “Near Dark” begins, Scot Harvath is an emotional wreck. He’s heartbroken by the murders (in a Russian operation conducted on American soil) of the persons most dear to him—his mentor, a best friend, and the woman he loves and had just secretly married. He’s consumed with guilt, blaming himself for them. He’s cut himself off from everyone, just wanting to be left alone, passing his days trying to drown his sorrow with alcohol.

In Thor’s two preceding sequential novels—“Spymaster” and “Backlash”—Harvath had been captured during that murderous attack and whisked away to Russia. The enemy intended to torture him until they broke him. That’d yield Russia invaluable knowledge they coveted about America’s covert operations and network of spies. Then they would kill him and in so doing eliminate one of the greatest threats they faced. The Russian president retained for himself the honor of being Harvath’s executioner.

A freak plane crash leads to his escaping, a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase follows, and eventually he’s evacuated from Russia by a U.S. force. But once safely home, he insists on promptly returning to Russia. In constant danger deep inside enemy territory, driven by rage and craving revenge, he makes everyone connected with the attack that killed his loved ones—including the president of Russia—pay an excruciatingly painful price.

Back home again, dejected, and seemingly defeated and giving up on life, Scot Harvath is the most vulnerable he has ever been at precisely the worst possible time: in the opening pages of “Near Dark.”

The new adventure begins when he’s saved from assassination just in the nick of time. Former teammates suddenly appear, kill his would-be assassin, and carry him off to a super-secure location: the president’s Camp David retreat.

He learns that the world’s largest bounty—$100 million—has been placed on him and that some of the world’s deadliest assassins are competing to win it. No one on his side knows who is behind the bounty or how many or who might be among those coming for him.

It’s the greatest challenge he’s ever faced, and he must do so while putting himself back together and without knowing who he can trust or depend on for help. He knows he can’t just hide and wait forever, so he decides to take the offensive and try to first figure out who placed the bounty and then destroy the operation.

“Near Dark” introduces in a semi-starring role a fascinating new character we’ll probably see a lot more of in the future. Solvi Kolstad, who is a beautiful, smart Norwegian intelligence operative, is every bit the deadly, skilled operator Harvath is. What a team they make!

As in any Brad Thor book, “Near Dark” has everything you could hope for in a great thriller novel: Fast-paced action. Pulse-pounding excitement. Highly plausible plot yet with surprising twists. It is hard to put down because the suspense keeps you on edge, anxious to discover what comes next and how it all will end.

Brad Thor's latest thriller.
Brad Thor's latest thriller.

I interviewed Brad Thor by phone from his home in Nashville, Tennessee:

Ambassador Eckert: What do you try to accomplish in your novels? Brad Thor: My number-one goal is to entertain people. I also strive to add extra value. If you finish one of my thrillers feeling a little bit smarter, or if you have questions that might otherwise not have crossed your mind, or if you want to learn more about something that’s new or different for you, well, I feel good about that.
Amb. Eckert: You’ve had 19 bestselling thriller novels in the past 18 years, and there are nearly 20 million copies of your books in print. What do you think explains your success? Mr. Thor: I pay great attention to the details. I do a great deal of research. I try to learn as much as I can about anything and everything I include in a book. I rewrite a lot to try to make it as good as I can. It’s that Midwestern work ethic. My dad and my mom taught me to treat every day as if it’s the first day on the job. Every book that I write, I say to myself, “If nobody knew who I was, is this book good enough to get me a contract with Simon & Schuster?”
Amb. Eckert: Tell me how you see your protagonist Scot Harvath. Mr. Thor: I have long held that there can be no American Dream without those willing to fight and protect it. Harvath is one of those protectors: a noble American willing to put his country before himself so that our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy may not perish from the earth.
Amb. Eckert: Is there any—much—of you in Scot Harvath? Is he based on anyone you know? A composite? Mr. Thor: I like to say that Harvath gets to do the things my wife won’t let me do. Though whenever I say that in her presence, she reminds me that she did “let” me go to Afghanistan back in 2008. While that’s true, my wife draws the line at car chases and my attempting to seduce foreign female intelligence agents.

While there’s a lot of me in Harvath (as I am sure there was a lot of Fleming in James Bond and Clancy in Jack Ryan), he really is a composite of courageous people I know in the worlds of special operations and espionage. Harvath is an homage to those “quiet professionals” who technically don’t exist and aren’t allowed to publicize their own courageous exploits.

Amb. Eckert: What writers have had the most influence on you—and why? Mr. Thor: My parents read a lot of thrillers, and growing up I would always grab their books when they were done. The writers who had the most influence on me were people such as Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, John le Carré, as well as—and this shocks some people—Sidney Sheldon. He wrote a few great spy-style thrillers.
Brad Thor. (Jeremy Cowart)
Brad Thor. (Jeremy Cowart)
Amb. Eckert: Where do you get your plot ideas? Mr. Thor: In the shower or after my second glass of wine. My ideas come to me when I am most relaxed. Jack London once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club.” While that’s true about following through and writing an entire novel, I find the idea for the book has to come organically. Put yourself in the right frame of mind and the muse will whisper to you. Just make sure your ears are open to hear what she has to say. And then, of course, make sure to do what she says.
Amb. Eckert: Which current writers do you enjoy reading, and why? Mr. Thor: I am a big James Rollins and Steve Berry fan. They have been friends for years and I really enjoy their work. I also think Kyle Mills has done a fabulous job with the Vince Flynn series. Harlan Coben is terrific. Michael Connelly is also great. The hottest new writer on the scene, though, is Jack Carr. If you haven’t read him, you absolutely should check him out.
Amb. Eckert: What advice would you give an aspiring novelist? Mr. Thor: Never quit. That’s the greatest difference between a published author and a nonpublished author. The published author didn’t quit. Also, Stephen King had it right when he said, write what you love to read because that’s where your passion is. Finally, you can’t even be a semi-decent writer without being a voracious reader. So read, read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from successful authors and never stop perfecting your craft.
Amb. Eckert: Besides being known for the qualities that mark any great thriller novel—exciting, surprising, fast-paced, plausible—yours are known for your eerie ability to so often make readers feel as if they’re glimpsing at some possible future news. How do you do it? Mr. Thor: You can’t imagine tomorrow’s headlines if you aren’t paying really close attention to today’s. I’m a nonstop consumer of the news, domestic and international. I have the kind of mind that makes me want to look at things from every possible angle. And I’m always wondering, what if? I want readers to read plots they feel could explode on their doorstep tomorrow. Even if the book is five years old, I still want it to feel immediate. That’s where the art of storytelling comes in.
Amb. Eckert: It’s obvious to anyone who reads your thrillers that you’re very patriotic. How would you describe your political views? Mr. Thor: The United States was set up to protect the biggest minority group there is—the individual. I’m a constitutionalist. I have a libertarian streak; sometimes I call myself a “conservatarian.” Government can’t do many things right. I believe, as Jefferson did, that we establish government to protect our lives, our liberties, and our pursuit of happiness, not to tell us how to run our lives. It needs to keep us safe and get out of our way as much as possible. I believe in a strong national defense. As Ronald Reagan said, it’s weakness, not strength, that tempts tyrants. I’m a big, really big, fiscal conservative. I believe our deficits and national debt are serious national security issues.
Amb. Eckert: Who do you see as the greatest threat to America? Brad Thor: We face a lot of bad actors—especially China, Russia, Iran, North Korea. They each pose an interesting and unique set of threats. I think the Chinese are the most devious, with the greatest potential to cause the most problems for us—because their pockets are so deep, and because they’re light-years ahead of the Russians when it comes to technology. So I think the one that can do us the greatest damage is China. I’m very, very worried about the Chinese. But if the Russians figure out how to get inside and shut off the internet, then that’s a huge problem no matter how deep or not-so-deep their pockets are.
Amb. Eckert: Besides China and Russia, Iran, and North Korea, what else do you see as a great threat? Mr. Thor: Given our dependence on technology, with just about everything going into a computer, it would not take much to cripple this country. MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, says that because we’re so dreadfully dependent on our supply chains, we are only three or four meals away from anarchy. So I worry about the power grid and the internet—it touches everything. They’re our two biggest soft-underbelly vulnerabilities. If they were to go down, it would be an absolute disaster: Lights out. You wouldn’t be able to get gas. Drug stores wouldn’t be resupplied. There’d be no 911 response. It’d be total anarchy. These are big worries. And, of course, I never stop worrying about radical Islam.
Amb. Eckert: You were just referring to an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack? Mr. Thor: Exactly.
Amb. Eckert: You once urged me to read a novel called “One Second After” by William R. Forstchen that you told me accurately portrayed how an EMP attack could send us hurling a couple centuries backward virtually overnight. I found it to be a frightening wakeup call about something few Americans have even heard of but should be deeply concerned about. Have you had a chance to read the June 4 Epoch Times article that I sent you by Simon Veazey about EMP and grid security, and, if so, any thoughts on it? Mr. Thor: It is spot on!  My thriller “Act of War” is all about the Chinese launching an EMP attack on the United States. It deals with the corruption of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Chinese “princelings” attending elite universities in the United States, and how an EMP attack on America would play out, including how the CCP would leverage North Korea into a prominent role, potentially setting them up to take the fall if things went sideways. I think it is one of the most engaging, timely, and frightening books I have ever written.
Amb. Eckert: Do you think we’re up to the threats? Mr. Thor: There are always those known unknowns. We never know exactly what’s coming. But the one good shift I’ve seen in the government—I was involved in one of the programs they did—is that they’ve realized they can’t fight the next war by looking in the rearview mirror. And so they have developed and devoted a lot of resources to trying to stay six or seven steps ahead of the bad guys. I was in the Analytic Red Cell Unit at the Department of Homeland Security, and our task was to help them come up with bad ideas before the bad guys had the bad ideas. I think we are up to the threats.
Amb. Eckert: These are difficult times. Are you discouraged about the future our country faces? Mr. Thor: We’ve been through tough times before. I am a sunny Reagan optimist. No pale pastels here, Fred. As President Reagan said, we have unleashed the creative genius of the individual as has never been done before. If you have any questions about America, go back and read Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address. If the hair doesn’t stand up on your arms with pride for this country you ain’t a patriot, brother.
Thor calls himself a “Reagan optimist.” At a book signing event at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley Calif. (Courtesy of Brad Thor)
Thor calls himself a “Reagan optimist.” At a book signing event at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley Calif. (Courtesy of Brad Thor)
Amb. Eckert: What’s coming next from Brad Thor? Mr. Thor: I am working on my next Scot Harvath thriller for summer 2021. Reading the geopolitical tea leaves in an election year during a pandemic is quite a challenge. But at the same time, it is fascinating to try to project ahead what things are going to look like in the near future. As a sunny Reagan optimist, I believe we will come through this and that America’s best days are always ahead of her. We know a freedom and empowerment in this country like no other human beings have ever known in the history of the world. Our destiny as individuals and as a nation is what we choose to make it. America, even in challenging times, is still the greatest nation with the greatest system of government to ever grace the face of the earth. I am thankful for all that she has given me and has allowed me to give to others.
Amb. Eckert: Any final thoughts? Mr. Thor: I think it’s important for every American to keep in mind this wise warning from President Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Want More Thor? 

If you like "Near Dark," consider reading the two that came before it: “Spymaster,” then “Backlash.” If you weren’t deeply concerned about the threat to America posed by Putin’s Russia, you will be after reading them.

Read “Act of War.” If you view the Chinese Communist Party as evil and China as an even more dangerous threat to America than Russia is, you will be even more convinced after you read this one.

Read “Blowback and/or “The Last Patriot.” These are thrilling and informative works about the ongoing threat America faces from radical Islam and its fanatical terrorists.

Read “The Lions of Lucerne.” During a presidential vacation in Utah, 30 Secret Service agents are murdered and the president is kidnapped. This is Thor's debut novel that got me hooked on following Scot Harvath 18 years ago. A fantastic read.

‘Near Dark’ Brad Thor Simon & Schuster 320 pages, hardcover
The “Ambassador of Good Fiction” series recommends to our readers a work of fiction, giving information not just about the novel but also what makes its author worth checking out—and, when possible, interviewing that author.
A writer and favorably reviewed novelist himself, Fred J. Eckert has been a member of Congress and twice served under President Ronald Reagan as a United States ambassador.
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