Matt's Reviews > The Profession: A Thriller

The Profession by Steven Pressfield
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Jun 30, 14

Read in January, 2012

Steven Pressfield gathered acclaim for his novel Gates of Fire (among other works). There, he tells the militaristic tale of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. In The Profession: A Thriller, Pressfield hits fast forward to the near future. It's still a mess of oil, sand, Islam, and mass media. His twist is the evolution of warfare to private armies – the good old mercenary.

The book centers on Gilbert "Gent" Gentilhomme, an accomplished ex-marine from cajun country who rides the literally bleeding edge of Force Insertion, a mercenary conglomerate that makes real world Black Water look like a lemonade stand. Gent is the best of the best, a stand out who glides through terrifying combat action and ethnic strife. Gent narrates in the present tense, adding to the kinetic flair. Pressfield's flashbacks work well as Gent reveals his history with one General Salter, his lifetime leader and mentor.

With Gent, we begin to side with Salter, an apparently principled soul who defies bureaucrats in Washington to do the right thing in Eastern Africa. Pressfield's heart-wrenching details give the novel punch, setting up up a tense, engrossing first half of the novel. Here, he creates plausible situations, tense action, and sympathetic reactions.

Less punchy is Gent's relationship with his estranged wife, A.D. She's a tenacious reporter, a cross between Christiane Amanpour and Lara Logan (complete with South African background, a la Logan). It's clear Gent's still smitten, but she's after her next big story. What's much less clear is why she leaves Gent in the lurch at a crucial point. It's the single biggest head-scratcher in the novel, and comes at an absolutely critical point in the story.

From events in eastern Africa, the novel builds skillfully to an incredible, implausible climax. The larger-than-life Gen. Salter, thrusts himself and his mercenary super army into the role of American Caesar. It puts Gent into a frantic realization he's propped up the elite who will dismantle the United States Constitution and with it the republic. Gent comes to this realization too late, uncovering gruesome conspiracy inside the Beltway. He's party to Salter's rise to power, believing more in a near-mystical warrior poet ethic than any liberal values he once fought for.

The inevitable confrontation between soldiers gives lie to Gent's penchant for superstition, visions of himself as an ancient warrior on an ancient battlefield. Somehow, amid the hyper-real setting, the visions aren't bunk.

Throughout the novel, Pressfield tosses in amusing commentary as color for his near-future landscape. Digital media is ubiquitous, subsuming information brands with The New York Google Times, and a hint of Amazon store fronts. He imagines the macho life of future mercenary warriors, rich with enough details to please military fiction aficionados. And, despite a relatively tidy cast of characters manipulating complex oil markets and the fickle U.S. electorate, the future is a well-realized home for Gent.

If Pressfield's biggest sin here is flying to close to the sun with a over-reaching plot, the story survives (Gent's wife's baffling turn is part and parcel of the big event). Gent's perspective and the well-paced chapters are a pleasure, and I happily recommend the book. Pressfield can definitely do thrillers.
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