In Elliott Sawyer’s The Severance, Captain Jake Roberts leads the misfits of Kodiak platoon, a rehabilitation unit, during their last days in Afghanistan. The Army has promised the men—screw-ups, insubordinates, and drug users—honorable discharges as a reward for the dirty missions they’re sent on. Jake learns that the promise is an empty one, but he has a better reward for his men, a multi-million dollar severance package, the result of a fortuitous run-in with a corrupt contractor. Smuggling that much cash out of Afghanistan won’t be easy, and Jake’s careful plan starts to go awry at just the wrong time.
For all that he chafes at regulations and the wrong-headed rigidity of his superiors, Jake proves to be a fine captain, loyal to his men and effective in the field. A fan of James Patterson and police procedurals, he’s up to the task of solving the mystery of who’s trying to redirect the shipment of the severance package. But Jake didn’t get command of a rehabilitation platoon because he’s a paragon of virtue, and he keeps the past that haunts him buried. Sawyer gives us an antihero in the tradition of cynical private eyes and burned-out police detectives, a man you don’t always like but are glad to have on your side.
The author, a decorated veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, brings authenticity and detail to the setting, characters, and dialogue. For a wartime novel, the gore is at a respectable level; it is never gratuitous. Sawyer guides his readers deftly through military jargon, even those of us who can’t tell a PFC from an MRE, and takes us on a brisk and engaging ride that lets us forget about dreary winter days.
– Review by Janice Rodriguez