Secret Sanction (Sean Drummond Series Book 1), by Brian Haig

I’m not much for military thrillers but I do try to read things outside my tastes and interests once in awhile. This ended up being a surprisingly good legal mystery and thriller set in the years when the U.S. was bombing Serbian forces in the recently-divided Yugoslavia. The book was originally published in 2002 when the conflict in Kosovo was a fresh memory for Americans.

The book introduces Major Sean Drummond, a member of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. He is assigned to investigate an apparent massacre by a platoon of Green Berets. They had been training a group of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) troops. The rules of engagement were that the US troops were only to shoot back if attacked but not to initiate actions. Their fresh trainees went to attack a small town only to be completely wiped out in an ambush. The Serbians now say that the US troops ambushed a Serbian force killing all Serbian troops. With the help of two other JAG lawyers Drummond must determine if the massacre happened, whether the Green Berets were responsible, and whether charges should be filed.

The investigation isn’t an easy one. The Green Berets tell different stories, bodies of the dead Serbians indicate close-up assassination-style head wounds, and the CIA seems to have a particular interest in the case, as does everyone up to the president. Then a journalist reporting on the story is found murdered in a base latrine and it’s clear that someone is out to frame Drummond to make the decision they want.

It’s a great legal thriller, full of intrigue that feels as much like a spy novel as a mystery. Sean Drummond is an excellent character. The book makes it clear that he came to the law late in life, after several years in some mysterious force that he must still keep secret. He’s an excellent investigator but more than that he’s someone with a keen sense of justice.

It’s nice to hit the first book in a series with this much quality in action and character development, even if it is 15 years late. It’s definitely a series worth following.