The Righteous Arrows: A Cold War Spy Thriller (Book 2 of 2: Able Archers)

Image of The Righteous Arrows: A Cold War Spy Thriller (Book 2 of 2: Able Archers)
Release Date: 
July 4, 2024
Koehler Books
Reviewed by: 

“As absorbing as it is insightful and as entertaining as it is sobering, The Righteous Arrows is an excellent read and very highly recommended.”

It must be a challenge for an author to top a novel in which the protagonist and pseudo-antagonist manage to avert WWIII; nevertheless, Brian Morra pulls it off in The Righteous Arrows, the compelling second installment in the Able Archer series.

The book picks up shortly after the end of The Able Archers. It’s the mid 1980s, the Berlin Wall is still standing, the Russians are in a bloody quagmire in Afghanistan, the US and USSR are still poised for global thermonuclear exchange, and the two protagonists, Captain Kevin Cattani and (now) General Ivan Levchenko are still working on opposing sides in the Cold War.

The book has a perfect three act structure that starts with Cattani when he’s dragged into a covert, misguided, and ultimately botched mission into East Germany which puts him at the center of the post-failure blame-game, vicious organizational politics, and tribal infighting within US Defense and Intelligence Community. It also sets up Act II which brings Levchenko into the story.

Act II begins with an investigation of the failed mission from the Soviet perspective, reveals the corresponding organizational politics and tribal infighting within the Soviet Defense and Intelligence Community, and then shifts the focus to Afghanistan where Levchenko is to command Soviet Military Intelligence in the war zone.

But there is an interesting twist. While he is a general in the Soviet Army, he’s been in Intelligence his entire career and never heard a shot fired in anger; consequently, his command in Afghanistan is his first ever time in actual combat where he experiences it first-hand in an ambush and witnesses the introduction of a US-supplied weapon that will change the dynamics of the conflict. This new weapon also sets up Act III which brings Cattani back into the story.

Act III builds momentum as the focus shifts between Cattani and Levchenko as they deal with Afghan tribal warlords, bad weather, mountainous terrain, a high-value prisoner ransom, explosions, attack helicopters, and more.

Yes, the story is a gripping and fast-moving, but it’s got a few other factors working to raise it to the next level: the characters, the connections, and the consequences.

The characters are introduced, developed, and revealed via random details, solid voices, and subtle insights: Levchenko is a big fan of Hank Williams and Willy Nelson, a taste for American Country Western music he picked up listening to Radio Luxemburg while serving in Poland as a junior intelligence officer; Cattani sounds Russian like a “Tsarist officer” to a modern Russian ear.

The story artfully connects the character’s low-level personal actions, insights, and events to larger, global geopolitical contexts like arms control summits in Iceland, the Russian civilian response to returning Soviet Afghan veterans (Afgansty), and the striking similarity to the reception that American Vietnam vets got upon their return a decade earlier.

The book also deals with consequences both near term and long term, both personal and geopolitical: the dead’s eyes don’t stay closed, the rebel freedom fighters armed today may pose problems in the future.

The Righteous Arrows, like its predecessor, The Able Archers, could properly be considered a military thriller; however, it also embraces several other literary genres including Cold War thriller, historical fiction, and disaster thriller—a disaster for the USSR in the 1980s, but a disaster that ominously sets the stage for a future disaster in the US two decades later.

As absorbing as it is insightful and as entertaining as it is sobering, The Righteous Arrows is an excellent read and very highly recommended.