Dark Money and the Adventures of Tom Locke

In my last post, I used the word “global” in the title because dark money is not just an American phenomena—it’s now a world-wide phenomenon.

Dark money is not only used by billionaire scions in the U.S. but also by some oligarchs, sheiks, businessmen, political players, and government leaders around the world. These super-rich people are not libertarians or even ideologues. They make deals via private banks and back channels merely to enrich themselves further and gain power.

With money and mercenaries at their beck and call, these shadow figures are pulling strings to get what they want.

So, if you want to know more about how deep states and dark money work, I highly recommend Sean McFate’s fiction series featuring his American mercenary hero, Tom Locke.

Shadow War and Deep Black

This book series is chillingly real and very timely. The first book in particular, Shadow War, touches on Ukraine and the Russian investigation in the United States. 

Sean’s books are not the mystery books I usually review. They are military thrillers, a genre I’d not read before. I suspect the audience for these kinds of books are usually male, perhaps young—or wishing they were.

I’ve heard that women, or at least strong women with careers, are not often found in these kinds of books. However, Sean’s series is the exception to this. His women heroines, a journalist and a battlefield doctor, are not only strong women, but characters essential to the plot lines of these military thrillers.

Not having read other books like his, I’m going to describe Sean’s books using terms (marked in bold and italic) that I gleaned from a Hollywood movie screenwriting software called Dramatica. I came across decades ago but Dramatica is a still great tool for writers who create any kind of stories.

But first, I’ll start with a brief biography of the author of Shadow War (2016) and Deep Black (2017).

The author

I met Sean McFate when he was five years old. When Sean was thirteen he was writing poetry. It was good poetry with lots of action in it. I knew he was going to be a writer. And I wasn’t surprised when he joined the military.

Since then Sean has had a distinguished career as an army officer. He’s also had a fascinating career as a mercenary and as a global consultant on military affairs. 

Sean has written non-fiction books about mercenaries and now he has a fictional series out.

As a mystery book lover, I don’t feel confident at all about comparing his books to other military/political thrillers. However, I suspect it is far above many of those books. 

The plots and characters

Sean is a Harvard graduate who loves opera and studies taoism. Except for marital status, Sean’s fictional hero, an American mercenary leader Tom Locke, is very like an avatar (a heroic character in an adventure video game) for Sean himself. 

Even though Tom’s a mercenary, his higher values are clear from the beginning. He is the hero and protagonist of his stories.

Shadow War, the first book, opens with an action scene, Northern Africa. Then we shift to seeing the way deep state politics work in Washington, D.C. to create the parameters governing Tom Locke’s secret military mission in the Ukraine.

Tom’s old friend Miles is Tom’s sidekick, his faithful second in command over mercenaries that Tom has assembled in the Ukraine to to extract an endangered oiligarch who is a potential President of the country.

The Ukrainian oligarch and his family are threatened by Russians who are infiltrating Ukraine. He’s the target a mission Tom is sent on by Tom’s powerful client in Washington D.C., Brad Winters.

Brad Winters is a fictional character who owns a company  that controls thousands of mercenaries worldwide. His character is painted so realistically, he could easily be seen as being a combination of Eric Prince, the notorious founder of the Blackwater Corporation, and George W. Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney, who served on Blackwater’s Board. 

Brad Winter’s chief interest is in his investments in world oil. Winters is not only out to deprive Russia of the huge oil shale fields in Ukraine; he’s hoping to weaken Putin’s regime and strengthen the West’s domination of the world.

This latter goal is not something that Brad shares with Tom Locke, however. Winters only shares it with a group of European private bankers who serve oligarchs, sheiks, and other rich billionaires.

Brad Winters is the villain. Winters is also the antagonist, a character who expresses many views that are quite opposed to things that Tom Locke indicates he believes in.

Winters is a mover and shaker in Washington DC as well as other parts of the world. He is a villain worthy of Tom Locke’s disdain and unwillingness to serve any further after the first book in the series. Yet Winters pursues Locke throughout the second book, hoping to catch and use his rebellious mercenary again.

One reason I fee; this series is so great is that in each of the two books, there is not one but two villainous characters!

In  Shadows the second antagonist towards Tom Locke is a mysterious Russian named Wolf. Wolf is motivated by the reward placed on the fleeing Ukrainian oligarch’s head. Wolf, like Winters is a worthy opponent, smart enough to serve as the main obstacle to Locke’s mission on behalf of Winters.

In the second book of the series. Deep Black, set in the Middle East after a Saudi Prince is kidnapped and his brother flees for his life, the second villainous character is a Wahhabi (fundamentalist) muslim with no name.

This man is a nearly mythical character who wields a long scimitar, lopping heads off as he crosses the dessert, who eventually meets up withTom Locke in a spectacular battle at the end.

Next we come to the contagonist, a character who is an ally but gets in the way of the hero’s plans and even his or her survival Dramatica’s early example of a contagonist was the nurse in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, Rear Window, starring James Stewart.

In this movie Jimmy Stewart is confined in his-rise apartment with a broken leg when he sees a murder take place in another building across the way. Stewart tells his nurse (the contagonist), but she brushes him off, sticks to her nursing duties for his leg, and leaves the apartment.

Stewart is thus left alone in a wheelchair when the murderer comes for him.

In Shadow Wars, the contagonist is Alie, an old flame of Tom Locke’s, a woman reporter who hooks up with a young CIA diplomat and lights a match that blows up Tom’s plans for his mission after she shows up in Ukraine looking for a great story she can sell to the biggest media bidder in the U.S.

In Deep Black, Tom Locke’s contagonist who complicates his mission, is an American mercenary named Campbell who is hired by by Lock’s arch-enemy, Brad Winters to find Locke.

Why read these books? Both of Sean’s books delve into the issues of deep states and dark money in the areas of the world Tom Locke works in. Deep Black in particular sorts out the differences between Shia and Sunni and other types of muslims as Tom Locke views them.

The plots in both books are uncannily realistic and seem timely in light of today’s politics in the United States—and around the globe. The theme of corruption among the powerful is apparently one that drives military thrillers just as much it drives hardboiled American detective stories. 

Altogether, even if there weren’t references to modern events of the day, these political thrillers are packed with action from cover to cover. I can’t wait to read the next one!