Hardcover (also available as an e-book, an audiobook, and on audio CD), 978-0-0630-6650-2, 352 pgs., $27.99
August 3, 2021
Deep-cover Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Special Agent Garrett Kohl is surveilling Taliban, opium traffickers, and gunrunners in Afghanistan when he witnesses a massacre. One boy rises, scrambling up the mountainside, pursued by gunmen. Kohl snatches the boy and runs. He’s broken protocol, jeopardizing his job, violating any number of international agreements, putting the mission in danger, and his fate rests with the people he trusts least in the world—the CIA.
When Kohl returns to base with the boy, Asadi, the CIA chief tells Kohl this isn’t the first time an entire village has been murdered, and they suspect rogue operators in the Afghan government. She wants to discover the truth and ensure that Asadi can return to testify, so she puts Asadi in Kohl’s protective custody and sends them to the US. Kohl decides that Asadi couldn’t be safer than at his family’s ranch outside Canadian, in the Texas Panhandle. Kohl’s been gone awhile because of a family feud, and it turns out that his family has problems as big as Asadi’s. Now Kohl has to fight to save his home and everyone he loves.
Down Range is debut fiction from sixth-generation Texan Taylor Moore. The first in a planned series starring former Green Beret Garrett Kohl, Down Range is a military-style thriller set where the American West begins in the dramatic, isolated badlands of Texas canyon country. Synthesizing Tom Clancy and Reavis Z. Wortham’s Sonny Hawke, Moore stomps the pedal to the metal with a lead foot that never eases off—even when there’s a ninety-degree turn just ahead.
Moore employs limited-third-person point of view, passing the narrative between both stars and supporting characters. Many of these characters are one dimensional, especially the cartoon-like antagonists; however, of special note are Ike Hodges, a former special-forces pilot who owns and runs a roadhouse of questionable reputation, and a pathetic bad guy whom we come to sympathize with as he attempts to make good. The relationship that develops between Asadi and Kohl’s gruff, aging father (“the innkeeper was Archie Bunker”) is endearingly warm and unexpected. Our hero, Garrett Kohl, is more complex, a mix of traditional and twenty-first-century cowboy. He treats people of differing faiths, nationalities, and ethnicities as equals, with nary a stray, denigrating comment. While he also treats women as equals, there are several jarring notes in his descriptions of them, including an entire paragraph dedicated to the CIA base chief’s breasts. The large cast ably supports multiple subplots, and foreshadowing is particularly effective, hinting at the many mysteries of the Kohls. These elements lend themselves well to future sequels, which Moore skillfully tees up.
Down Range is thoroughly Texas-centric. An epigraph beneath a graphic of the state’s iconic outline begins each part of the book, drawing from Lonesome Dove, the Bible, and Kit Carson. The third paragraph of chapter one namechecks Shiner Bock, Sturgill Simpson, and Robert Earl Keen. Moore offers geology and geography lessons that read like a love letter to the state, and the economics and politics lessons are spot on, but the history is more problematic. Kohl has Comanche ancestors, and we get a list of names: Quanah, Peta, Cynthia Ann. Then we get another list of names: Goodnight, Carson, Masterson, Dixon, Adobe Walls, and Buffalo Wallow. Moore notes that the soil in this part of Texas is “so red in places it looked drenched in blood.” It is.
Moore’s characters add to the blood. A brief prologue sets the hook with the first sentence: “At ten years of age, Asadi Saleem didn’t know much, other than that he was in danger, maybe even about to die.” Moore’s adrenaline-fueled scenes raise your blood pressure and respiration rate. The quick, steady pace accelerates into a climax extending throughout the last third of the book in nonstop action. This action is leavened by welcome, sardonic humor. Kohl’s drunken brother does a dance on the hood of a brand-new F-350 that “wasn’t much of a two-step, rather something akin to the Charleston that morphed into Riverdance.” Undercover Kohl is described as resembling a “roughneck gypsy” and the “Rob Zombie version of Jeremiah Johnson.”
Down Range is uneven and suffers from genre tropes, but Garrett Kohl has promise. It is ingeniously constructed, and the meticulous plotting introduces a fascinating world of shadow wars, spanning the globe from Central Asia to the Llano Estacado. In the end, Moore provides satisfying, creative poetic justice.
Taylor Moore is a sixth-generation Texan who grew up on a farm and ranch northwest of Houston. He is a former CIA Intelligence Officer who worked in both analysis and operations and later consulted for the Department of Defense in Theater Security Cooperation, Force Protection, and Counternarcotics. He now lives in the Texas Panhandle with his wife and two children, where he is a full-time author and speaker. This is Taylor’s debut novel, and the first in a series featuring Garrett Kohl.