When a onetime senior vice president and general counsel of the military contractor formerly known as Blackwater writes the kind of novel you can't describe without the phrase thinly veiled, it's probably going to be awful. When that novel is self-published and has a rough-and-ready wish-fulfilling anti-hero (named Gault!) who gets the girl, the presumption of awfulness only grows.
So maybe it's just the lowered expectations talking, but Drew Howell's Expendable Assets (CreateSpace) is a pleasant surprise. It isn't War and Peace—or On War, for that matter. And the main characters periodically lapse into semi-stilted dialogue to explain code names and acronyms. But the little-known facts and quirky cultural tidbits that Howell uses to bring the reader into his world are genuinely interesting. If you're in the mood for a Clancyesque thriller where the private contractors are sometimes the good guys and the government officials are mostly the bad guys, you could do worse. —Katherine Mangu-Ward