****The Empty Quarter

desert, man in desert

(photo: Ilker Ender, creative commons license)

By David L. Robbins –What an exciting adventure combining military and medical thriller elements! It takes place in the Rub’ al-Khali, the world’s largest desert (“the empty quarter”), which occupies most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. People are scarce there, except for the ones you most do not want to meet.

It’s a multiple point-of-view novel, told mostly from the perspectives of members of a U.S. Air Force pararescuemen (PJs) team. PJs’ combined military-medical mission is personnel recovery, and they use both conventional and unconventional combat rescue methods. The motto of this branch of service is “That Others May Live,” and Robbins effectively describes the team members’ dedication to that mission, despite their differences in personality and temperament.

We also read the point of view of Arif, a middle-aged Saudi man whose wife Nadya is a member of the Saudi royal family. Her father, Prince Hassan bin Abd al-Aziz is the country’s head of security. Arif has fallen out with his father-in-law, and he and Nadya are in hiding in the tiny Yemeni town of Ma’rib. Robbins portrays their mutual devotion quite movingly.

A third key point of view is that of Josh Cofield, a former Army Ranger, assigned to the American Embassy in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. Everyone, the ambassador included, erroneously believes Josh is CIA, because he is “awkward as a diplomat,” a bit of a bull in a china shop, but a skilled speaker of Arabic.

When an attempt is made on Prince Aziz’s life, he mistakenly blames the exiled Arif. He wants his son-in-law dead and his daughter returned to him, and he wants U.S. help in achieving these goals He cannot get it, however, unless an American life is threatened. A plan begins to take shape in diabolical minds.

A wild nighttime chase across the desert occupies the last half of the book. Part of Robbins’s skill is in avoiding making any of the principal players obvious bad guys. They’re complex characters with conflicting goals, and all doing their best to resolve an impossible situation.

I appreciated that the book includes helpful maps. Not as helpful—and something readers are bound to object to—is the frequent use of military abbreviations and acronyms. While Robbins defines a few of these in footnotes, it might have been better to have a list in an appendix  or to retain the abbreviations in speech, but not rely on them as much in the narrative. It would be a shame if readers abandoned a top-notch tale because of the resulting confusion. Robbins has 10 other novels under his body armor. I’ll be reading more of them!

A longer version of this review appeared on CrimeFictionLover.com.