Publisher: Sphere (Trade Paperback – 12 July 2022)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 497 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Bestselling thriller author Mark Greaney presents one of the most exciting and action-packed novels of 2022, the high-octane thriller Armored.
Over the last few years I have been really getting into the awesome thriller novels of impressive author Mark Greaney, who is having a very big 2022. Not only has he released two separate novels but he also has a film adaptation of his iconic series coming out later this week, The Gray Man. I am really looking forward to this film, especially as I am now a pretty big fan of The Gray Man novels, having enjoyed both the first book, The Gray Man, and some of the latest entries, such as Mission Critical, One Minute Out, Relentless and Sierra Six. However, Greaney’s year is far from done as the novel version of his 2021 Audible Original release, Armored, has just come out. Converted into book format, Armored tells an impressive and over-the-top tale of survival and destruction that has already grabbed the attention of legendary director Michael Bay, who plans to adapt it into his next major blockbuster.
Joshua Duffy used to be one of the best close protection agents in the world, working with teams of private military contractors as security for elites in some of the most dangerous countries. But after his fateful last mission in Lebanon cost him his team, his client and his lower left leg, Joshua finds himself suddenly and violently out of the game. Forced to work as a mall cop to support his struggling family, Joshua’s future seems shot. However, opportunity is about to come knocking with a deadly offer he cannot turn down.
Following a chance encounter with an old colleague, Joshua is given the opportunity to work one last job that promises to solve all his financial issues. A violent and highly organised drug cartel has risen to power in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, and its recent actions have greatly infuriated the Mexican government and army. To save the large civilian population living in the Sierra Madre Mountains, the United Nations is sending a peace mission in to ease tensions and attempt to negotiate a truce before it is too late. However, the only way to reach the cartel’s base of operations is by road, and that means travelling through one of the most dangerous and lawless areas on the planet, the Espinazo del Diablo, the Devil’s Spine.
Joining up with the notorious Armored Saint company and hiding his injury, Joshua is recruited as a team leader in the convoy assigned to keep the UN dignitaries safe. Even loaded up in advanced armoured vehicles and working with a team of elite operators, Joshua has no allusions that his chances of success are slim, but even he is unaware just how dangerous this mission is going to be. The other Mexican cartels are determined that the peace talks fail and are willing to pay any price to see the UN team killed and their rivals destroyed in the aftermath. Worse, someone else is working behind the scenes to manipulate events to their advantage, and they are willing to kill everyone in the convoy to get what they want. Can Joshua and his new team survive the deadly onslaught about to be unleashed upon them, or will they end up another victim of the Espinazo del Diablo?
Greaney continues to shine as one of our leading thriller readers with this highly entertaining action saga. Armored is pure pulse-pounding excitement from start to finish, and I ended up powering through this substantial novel in very short order, especially once I got lured into its amazing narrative and impressively written fight scenes.
I had a lot of fun with the awesome story that Greaney came up for this impressive release that is based around an intriguing and epic premise of a small team of mercenaries caught up in the violence and backstabbing of the Mexican cartels in a remote and dangerous area. Armored has a great start to it that sets up complex protagonist Joshua Duffy extremely well, showcasing his last mission as a conventional private security contractor in a massive and deadly confrontation. After this action-orientated introduction, you see a very desperate Duffy as he attempts to get on with his life, only to be dragged into the main mission of the book. Greaney sets up many key parts of Armored’s plot in the early pages, introducing the main characters, showing the desperation surrounding the central protagonist, and introducing all the substantial opposition that they are likely to face. Thanks to the use of mysterious antagonist Oscar Cardoza, you see just how rigged the situation is against the protagonists as the villain manipulates and deals with multiple cartels to ensure that they are all set against the peace mission. As such, you know pretty early on that you are in for a wild thrill ride later in the book and Greaney does not disappoint.
Once Armored’s main story gets underway, the book moves at an extremely fast pace to match the convoy of armoured cars it is following. The protagonists immediately face opposition, obstacles and attacks as they continue on their way, ignoring the multiple warnings about the even greater threats to come (seriously, they get so many warnings). After surviving an increasingly deadly barrage of ambushes, betrayals and personal dramas, the story takes a whole new turn as a big twist switches the entire narrative on its head. This twist was a fantastic game changer that was well set up during the earlier parts of the book, and it was really cool to see it fully unfold, introducing some intense new problems and opportunities. Thanks to this twist, the second half of Armored essentially becomes one continuous battle for survival. There are some really awesome and over-the-top moments during this second half, as several key characters die, the odds become more and more stacked against the protagonists, some final twists come into play, and new players are drawn into the fray. This all leads up to the big conclusion, which unsurprisingly contains more action and excitement, before bringing everything to an awesome end. I came away feeling pretty satisfied with how the story came together, and I think that Greaney wrapped up everything really well.
I quite enjoyed how Greaney wrote Armored as he brought his typical style to this later thriller. The story was expertly told using multiple character perspectives to show the various viewpoints of the key protagonists and antagonists. Not only does this result in a much richer story with various intriguing characters, but Greaney ensures that it ramps up the novel’s tension, especially when the reader can see betrayals and traps being formed in advance of them being unleashed upon the characters you are rooting for. The author uses these alternate perspectives to also hint at hidden motivations in some of the supporting characters and it does a good job mostly disguising who the culprits are, while ensuring that the reader knows something big is about to go down. There are even some intriguing flashback sequences thrown in for greater context, which help to highlight the bond two key characters have. The entire story is very well paced, with Greaney doing a good job evenly spreading out the big action moments and the intriguing character development to ensure a continuous story that never has any slow points. I also liked the way in which Greaney adds in some intriguing commentary about certain real-world issues, including around private military contractors, the issues surrounding wounded veterans, and the current political and criminal situation in Mexico, especially regarding the volatile cartels. All this comes together extremely well, and the reader has a very hard time turning away from the story as everything unfolds before them.
Unsurprisingly, the real star of Armored is the action sequences, as Greaney really goes all out to provide the reader with all the high-octane gun fights they could ever want. This thriller novel is packed to the gills with battle scenes as every major character is dragged into a series of brutal and bloody fights as they attempt to achieve their goals and survive. I have always been really impressed with how realistic Greaney can make his fight sequences in The Gray Man novels, and this awesome attention to detail and realism continues over into Armored. Greaney clearly knows what he is talking about when it comes to gun battles, and you really get drawn into the intense battles, as well as the detailed descriptions of proper military tactics and strategies, especially in the first half of the novel. However, I did think that Greaney went a little too far with some of the action scenes in the second half of the book, as the already over-the-top action started to get a little insane. Greaney was clearly trying to set up some big Hollywood moments for the announced adaptation here (to be fair, Michael Bay is going to love bringing some of these sequences to the big screen), even though it was a little too much at times. I was especially bemused by one scene that saw several characters shooting guns out the back of a small plane, which resulted in one of the most ridiculous things I have read about in a serious thriller read. While these crazy moments honestly did not detract too much from my enjoyment of the novel, it did give Armored a bit of an unfortunate sillier edge that it really did not need.
Finally, I need to highlight the characters featured within Armored. Greaney has a good knack for creating large groups of likeable and distinctive characters, and most of the protagonists and antagonists in Armored were extremely good, adding some great elements to the overall story. I particularly liked main protagonist Joshua Duffy, the wounded veteran contractor who is dragged back in for one last dangerous job. Greaney does a lot with Duffy in this novel, showcasing him at his emotional height, slamming him down hard, and then slowly building him back up through the course of the main story. As such, Duffy serves as an excellent central figure for most of the story, and watching him try to escape the ghosts of his past and bring his new team together to complete the mission proves to be deeply captivating in many ways. I really enjoyed watching him being a major badass, even with one leg, and Greaney wrote a fantastic storyline over his attempts to take on a leadership role in this mission, despite dealing with a group of disrespectful and arrogant soldiers. A definite standout character for me, it will be very interesting to see who is cast to play Duffy in the movie adaptation, and whoever it is will have a great role to fill.
Aside from Duffy, Armored featured a pretty large and fun cast of characters, with a decent focus being on the team members in Duffy’s armoured vehicle. Made up of six members, Charlie team proves to be a solid group of protagonists, and Greaney writes a good story about them slowly coming together as a team, despite being gradually picked off. While I enjoyed them, I did find them to be a little stereotypical in ways, with most of them being classic disrespectful and uncontrollable soldiers. This is especially true for the characters of Wolfson, the arrogant former seal; Frenchie, the weathered veteran acting as the voice of reason; Squeeze, the extremely angry African American former Marine; and Tony Cruz, the talented but token Spanish-speaking soldier. All of the above filled overused action tropes to a degree, and it felt a little lazy, especially when compared to some of the other characters in the book. Luckily, this group of soldiers were well balanced out by their final member, NASCAR, the team’s driver and the book’s comic relief. NASCAR, a former race driver turned military contractor with a history of crashing his vehicles, was an excellent addition to the cast, and his entertaining antics helped to distract from some of the blander figures in the team.
I also need to mention Duffy’s wife, Nikki, a former Army officer who has taken to cleaning houses to support her family and wounded husband. While initially just a supporting role to help motivate the protagonist, Greaney ends up bringing Nikki into the main story in a big way as she attempts her own rescue mission. I deeply enjoyed the determined narrative around Nikki, and it was a fantastic addition to the plot, even if it resulted in more problems for the protagonist. I also enjoyed the other major female character in the novel, Dr Flores, a Mexican anthropologist who is assigned to the peace talks as a cultural advisor and interpreter. Despite being a bit of a preachy figure, Dr Flores is pretty much the only character that has any common sense or idea of what they are walking into, and her knowledge and passionate personality slowly bring the main cast around. I really enjoyed Dr Flores’s scenes throughout the novel, and you really feel for her as she keeps trying and trying to talk some sense into the soldiers or diplomats, only to be knocked back by their arrogant and dismissive attitudes. The final character I need to highlight is Oscar Cardoza, who serves as the book’s main antagonist. Billed as a cartel consultant who works for the highest bidder, Cardoza is a mysterious and dangerous figure for most of the book, visiting the various cartel leaders and working them to his advantage, before getting closer to the action halfway through. I instantly enjoyed Cardoza from his first scene, especially after some fun, if ineffective, small talk with some cartel guards, and it was fantastic to watch him flit around the various cartels and play them to his advantage. He also serves as a great foil to the main band of protagonists, and once he gets involved in the hunt for them, he really shines as a villain, especially once some secrets about him are revealed. The cast of Armored ended up being a fantastic and captivating band of character, and I ended up becoming really invested in their unique and powerful storylines.
I cannot emphasise how exciting and enjoyable Armored turned out to be and I am really glad that I got the chance to read it. Mark Greaney obviously had a ton of fun turning his latest novel into the most action-packed adventure he could, and Armored really lived up to its plot potential, providing the reader with wall-to-wall fire fights and intense combat. While the novel did get a little over-the-top in places, this was a solid and impressive read that is really worth checking out. An excellent and fast-paced thriller designed to entertain anyone who reads it; the Armored adaptation is going to end up being a pretty awesome movie that Michael Bay will have a wonderful time making.