Book Prizes and Reviews

Announcement for the 2019 Paris Book Festival Grand Prize Win.

Announcement for the 2014 London Book Festival Grand Prize win.

Book Reviews

Shadow of the Fall: A Novel
by Aaron T. Brownell

book review by Michelle Jacobs

“The collapse of the Cold War and its replacement with a state of unchecked terrorism was good for his business.”

Adrian Bequiri is an arms dealer brokering old Soviet nuclear weapons for a man who has masterminded a plan to detonate the nukes in America’s heartland. Using the nation’s porous ports as entry points, Chicago will become ground zero unless Dr. Kristin Hughes, her Nuclear Emergency Search Team, and government intelligence can locate and disable the terrorist’s bombs before it is too late.

Brownell’s full-throttle thriller introduces a compelling heroine in the first pages of this gripping blockbuster, and the reader is immediately immersed in the action. Though Kristin claims she is “not Jane Bond,” despite a reputation for taking on dangerous side projects, the first few pages feel like the best of the James Bond opening movie scenes with the hero already in action.

Kristin is a study in contrasts: defusing bombs in a bikini top, “more surfer girl than scientist,” but highly regarded and sought after when worldwide emergencies arise—even when she is trying to enjoy a beachside vacation. Her skills are on full display from the opening chapter to the closing scene, and readers will enjoy going along for the ride as she matches wits with terrorists bent on blowing up bits of America and shaking the power structure of the planet.

Brownell’s villain is a terrorist seeking chaos and destruction with plenty of helpers along the way that reveal the intricate networks that allow terrorists to operate undetected. Some are motivated by money, while others are motivated by hate for America and a deep belief in bringing the beast to its knees while creating a new world order. The pacing is spot-on as Brownell tracks the action from the arms dealer’s acquisition of the nuclear bombs to the weapons’ movement through the ports and across the Atlantic in shipping containers. Alongside the action of the terrorist’s network, United States intelligence picks up the trail that begins with an intercepted call and doesn’t let up until the grand finale on the docks in Chicago. Furious reading ensues with brow wiping, cold sweats, and nail biting, all with eyes aghast as the nuclear countdown tick tocks across the pages.

With echoes of Mission: Impossible’s heart-pounding cinematic suspense and Tom Clancy’s bestsellers, Brownell delivers a stellar take on global brinkmanship in the 21st century. An effective blend of realism, intensity, and entertaining race-the-clock action combine to create a satisfying story. In addition to the well-developed heroine and villain, several minor characters add depth and complexity to this timely examination of terrorism whose effects are horrifying but clearly known: death and destruction. The causes, however, are more obscure and multi-faceted. Brownell attempts to expose some of these possible causes through minor characters like the Pakistani scientists hired by the mastermind to handle the Soviet-era nuclear bombs. More than “expendable martyrs,” the scientists offer an opportunity to consider the weight of bitterness and revenge as well as the relief of forgiveness and peace. Some of the other players involved in the terrorist plot are motivated by simpler things like money and the business model of supply and demand. In the world Brownell imagines, which may be too close to reality, the supply happens to be nukes, and the demand is for destruction.

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