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Operation: Save the Innocent: From The Declassified Tales of Team of Darkness by Tony Ruggiero
Review by Harriet Klausner
Dragon Moon Press Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781896944609
Date: 15 April 2008 List Price $19.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

It should have been the end of Commander John Reese's connection to vampires once he left the military. But, he's teaching a class based on a book he wrote on myths and legends with an emphasis on vampires -- something he knows all about, especially how they can be used as a weapon by their controllers. Reese was influential in the building of a prison to incarcerate the four vampires captured in Kosovo and found a way to control them by forcing them to wear collars containing an elixir that can be remotely detonated by their handlers. The U.S. military uses them to kill the enemy, for the vampires know the explosion of their collar would kill them.

Reese's superior General Stone knows that one of the four vampires, Josip, turned Iliga's children into vampires. Stone captured them and brought them to the States because their innocence could be shaped to make a loyal, better weapon than the angry adult vampires. The children were kept under strict control with the collar. Reese's doubts grow about the way vampires are abused as they act more humane than the military who demanded they perform atrocities or die.

Reese finally takes action and frees the vampires while telling his superiors he killed them while they tried to escape. He figured they would return to their homes in the Baltic, but instead they stayed in the States. When they realized their prison is in use again, the leader, Dmitri, infiltrates the facility only to find the confused children.

Dmitri and the others escape with the children. The military is determined to retrieve them. They reactivate Reese because he knows the vampires best and can recapture them. He is appalled that his government wants to use the children that way, but is resigned to doing the assignment if he wants to remain alive and out of jail.

Tony Ruggiero's tale is more a thriller than a horror novel or military science fiction. You could remove the term "vampire" and just call them super-soldiers who are used in the war against terrorism. Thus the audience receives an exciting pulp fiction tale where everyone falls into the classifications of either heroes or villains. The irony that refreshes the storyline is that the military is malevolent (perhaps too much) while the villains seem more humane than their human counterparts. They do not kill except when they are forced to and drink either animal or human blood for sustenance without murdering the source. Humans taught the vampires to be ruthless.

There are a lot of flashbacks that explain how what is happening in the present ties back to the past. Though somewhat disruptive, it works, as the audience understands more about Reese, a flawed hero who committed atrocities against vampires until he could no longer stomach what he and his government were doing in the name of freedom. As he got to know his prisoners, he learned they were not evil. His revelation comes too late for Dmitri to forgive him for his atrocities, but Reese feels he has somewhat atoned for his transgressions by liberating the vampires.

The audience does not get inside the heads of the vampires as they do Reese, and some questions remain unanswered for the obvious sequels. Still, Operation: Save The Innocent is a bitingly good supernatural thriller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats while considering whether illegal incarceration and abuse in the name of stopping terrorists (mindful of CIA rendition and Guantanamo) is justified.

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