By Errol Castens/Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
Glen Allison’s Al Forte suspense series may not be a favorite of the New Orleans Visitors Bureau, but it most assuredly is a favorite of readers who thrill in the seamy sides of the steamy city.
Allison will launch his third book in the series, “SNAFU,” this week, and it delivers pulse-pounding, page-turning action for nearly 300 pages of adrenaline.
For those new to the character, Al Forte (for-TAY) is an ex-SEAL who makes a living running a New Orleans security company as no one else could. He’d stoically endured countless missions of mayhem in the military, but when a nervous N’awlins punk’s unintended shot left Forte’s wife dying in his arms, he submerged into drug addiction.
He emerged years later with his warrior skills intact but also with a new realization of his own inadequacy and a halting but sincere faith in God, spurred by his AA sponsor, Manny Laird, a defrocked megachurch minister now pastoring people on the fringe.
“I wanted to have a character that was tough but who had been so broken that he didn’t see any hope for himself, but Forte still has this ability to do things very few people can,” Allison said. “The whole idea is of strength coming out of weakness, which is how God works in a Bizarro sort of way.
“The books are not Christian books – they’re not going to be in Christian bookstores – but his struggles are a daily thing,” he added. “He just basically wants to be sober.”
While the security business pays the bills handsomely for Forte and his confidants, Forte’s real passion is using his logistical and combative skills to rescue kids in the direst of dangers and giving them a chance to reclaim their traumatized lives.
Throughout SNAFU, Forte, fellow ex-SEAL Nomad Jones, the charming Ms. Jackie Shaw and various secondary players wreak wreckage on nasty characters from biker thugs to Forte’s wife’s real killer to a (surprise!) corrupt Louisiana governor.
Close calls are frequent but never routine in Allison’s narration, and Forte’s ongoing inner struggles are punctuations, not interruptions, of the heart-pounding suspense.
Overflowing with people, places and events painted into New Orleans’ poor and posh parts, Allison’s narrative repays attentive readers with recollection and reconnection that provide many an “Aha!” moment.
In “SNAFU,” Allison skillfully weaves the kidnap of the 7-year-old son of an unknown, working-class, single father and the disappearance of the state’s most prominent child with an impending hurricane and a multi-layered plot of human trafficking, arms smuggling and a unique weapon of mass destruction.
The gut-wrenching climax seems inevitable in retrospect, but nothing gives it away in advance.
For all the gunfights, high-tech plots and political intrigue that Forte handles in a day’s work, some of “SNAFU’s” most compelling moments are looks into the character himself and how he handles loss after heartbreaking loss, all while doing That Which Must Be Done.
“It’s fast-paced. These are action suspense novels,” Allison said. “But behind all this, it has a character you can root for; there’s this struggle for understanding what it means to be human.”