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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“Fields of Fire”

Does the name Ryan Steck sound familiar? Fans of action and suspense might recognize him as the force behind The Real Book Spy website, where he covers thriller authors and their books. Now Steck is making his own contribution to his favorite genre with the release of his debut novel, ìFields of Fire.îMatthew Redd is a proud member of the elite U.S. Marine Corps special operations unit known as the Raiders. His skills are many, and his worldview is shaped by the philosophy ìalways do the right thing.î But doing the right thing proves to be very costly when he stops along a remote road to help a woman change a tire. He awakens from a blackout to discover that he has missed a critical mission during which everyone in his unit was killed. Blamed for the catastrophic loss and branded a traitor, his new, bleak civilian future only darkens when he receives a puzzling message from his adoptive father, J.B. Thompson: ìTroubleís come knocking Ö might need your help.îUnable to reach J.B., Redd jumps in his black 2020 Ford Raptor ó a vehicle he loves ìmore than he loved most peopleî ó and hightails it home to the ranch in Montana. There, he discovers the old man is dead, supposedly after being thrown from a horse. Redd doesnít believe that story, and things make less and less sense with every question he asks. No autopsy was done before J.B. was cremated. The calm, steady horse in question is what equestrians call ìbomb proof.î A wealthy neighboring land-grabber is pushing to buy the debt-ridden ranch.Redd begins to suspect that J.B.ís death was no accident.As he tries to figure out what really happened, the only consistent truth appears to be that he cannot trust anyone. It seems that billionaire environmentalist Anton Gage, who has been buying up local properties, has everyone in the county bending to his will. J.B.ís neighbor, who happens to be Antonís son Wyatt, is Reddís primary suspect. But Redd has no proof, and there are others who would stand to benefit from J.B.ís death.Redd sorts through half-truths, ulterior motives and family secrets while trying to piece together what kind of trouble landed at J.B.ís doorstep. ìWhat I canít shake,î he says, ìis J.B. asking for help Ö he never asked for nothing.î Redd must also decide whether he will keep the ranch and take on J.B.ís debts, or sell it and lose a link to the only family he has known.Redd finds himself in Gageís crosshairs when he stumbles into the billionaireís innovative but unethical plot to protect Earthís finite resources. Gage calls his plan ìa cure to the cancer that is ravaging our biosphere,î while the rest of the world would call it a form of genocide.ìFields of Fireî has garnered largely positive reviews and there is a lot to like about this book. Protagonist Matt Redd is a larger-than-life, certified badass with a strong sense of duty and fierce loyalty to the few people he cares for. His fast-paced story is a captivating ride-along, with each chapter ending in a way that compels readers to turn the page, even though their clocks have ticked past bedtime.Then thereís Montana. As Redd notes, ìThereís no place like it.î Aside from the scenic vistas, the book astutely captures the friction between Montana residents and wealthy outsiders who move into the state, drive the cost of living to unaffordable levels and try to make Big Sky country more like the places they came from.For all of its high notes, ìFields of Fireî does hit a few duds, although they are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. A few cardboard characters are not as fleshed out as they could be. Some plot elements feel overly contrived and end up being predictable. Anyone familiar with Montana will notice that the geographical descriptions are a bit wonky. The ending, while satisfying, wraps up a little too conveniently. However, it does dangle a tantalizing unresolved plot point leading readers into the next novel.And there are already readers waiting for that second book from Ryan Steck. He has proved that he can tell an entertaining story, and clearly there is more to come for Matthew Redd.

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