Tom Stiles Thrillers Book 1
Black Ops: Zulu
Former black ops agent Tom Stiles is about to face the most personal – and deadly – appointment of his career.
Returning to be with his partner and twin daughters, Stiles finally has a shot at a normal life. But soon, death wraps its claws around his life once more, as a member of the Chechen Mafia is demanding a dangerous favour from him.
Trying to balance his new responsibilities and protect those he holds dear, Stiles is drawn in to a criminal syndicate with links to international terrorism. But does he still have what it takes to finish the job, and make it out alive?
Black Ops: Zulu is an action-packed thriller that explores the hidden connections between espionage, international fraud and the deadly potential of information technology.
Tom Stiles Thrillers Book 2 coming soon…
CLARION BOOK REVIEWS
Foreword Reviews: Black Ops: Zulu
Bozikas’s dark metaphoric language aptly captures Stiles’s descent from a respectable family man into a deadly secret agent.
If James Bond had an MBA, an Australian accent, a guilt-ridden conscience, and a ruthless violent streak, he might look something like covert agent Tom Stiles, the haunted protagonist of Arthur Bozikas’s hard-hitting thriller, Black Ops: Zulu. In spite of any possible Aussie stereotype, Bozikas draws Stiles as a complex character who gets entangled in the criminal underbelly of bustling Sydney, where business, politics, technology, and crime intersect in strange ways. The first installment of a series, Black Ops: Zulu is a smart and sizzling debut.
The novel opens with a tryst and a car accident, both rendered in memorable detail, after which Stiles is compelled toconfront his lies, infidelities, and the discrepancies between his public persona as a well-respected family man and his dark private life ruled by a self-destructive need to take risks. Bozikas wastes no time digging into his character’s demons: “The long tuneless white noise of death had followed him his entire life.” Later, just as precisely and poignantly, Bozikas writes, “There was always some cold hard place in him, bullet-shaped he imagined, that resisted obligation and the duty to love.” Although he’s a successful businessman, Stiles carries with him a troubled past, the loose threads of which pull him into the thrall of a wannabe mob boss named Vlad. What follows is a web of international intrigue, double-crossing, and the emergence of a shadowy covert operation known as Black Ops Zulu.
Bozikas’s strength as a writer becomes a weakness at times, especially after the gripping first chapter. Attempts to humanize Stiles simply belabor his conflicted moral state, bogging down the plot with excessive backstory and internal monologue. For instance, when Stiles goes on a shopping trip in Double Bay with his family, the narrative resembles more a rambling family drama than the taut thriller promised in the beginning.
But Bozikas makes good on that promise later on when Stiles attends a high-profile meeting at the White House. In these later chapters, the narrative quickens with action, sexual tension, and hints of conspiracy. Bozikas reveals not only his deftness as an action writer, but a keen ability to portray the intricacies of the highest circles of power. The dialogue during a White House dinner, for example, is worldly, ironic, and whip-smart. “On a long enough timeline everyone’s survival rate drops to zero,” a businessman explains to a small crowd. “Miracles are not probable.” Bozikas employs the same kind of cunning description and dialogue to depict one of his most memorable characters, Cerberus. The right-hand man of an elusive terrorist mastermind, Cerberus has “cloudy eyes that seemed to have seen the world at its worst and taken mercy upon it.”
Black Ops: Zulu culminates in a number of brutal action scenes, including an all-out battle in the suburbs of Sydney. Bozikas’s dark metaphoric language aptly captures Stiles’s descent from a respectable family man into a deadly secret agent. “The sun was the color of an open wound,” reads a foreboding line. Black Ops: Zulu is an international thriller with considerable depth. Bozikas has laid enough groundwork for a promising series.
Review by Scott Neuffer
Lightning speared through the worn blinds of the Motel Voyager. Tom Stiles fastened his Jaeger-LeCoultre around his wrist, his face pulsing between light and dark. Rain plunged down outside.
“Natasha, summer’s over,” Tom said, without turning from the storm outside.
“I’m glad; I hate the heat.”
Tom looked over the grey-brown carpet and followed the trail of hat, dress, bra, and stockings to the bed. She lay beneath the sheets with her arm stroking the pillow which still retained the impression of his head.
“It means I have to go now.”
Natasha turned to the bedside table, unclipped a cigarette from her diamond-studded cigarette case and lit it. “So, I was just your seasonal lover, is that it?”
“You are more than that, Tash, but we knew this day was coming.”
“Save me the, ‘it’s not you, I still love my wife’ speech!”
“I have to return to my daughters.”
“Don’t give me that, Tom. Don’t tell me you have to leave; you’re volunteering to leave. You could take me with you … At least stay one more night. Come back to bed.”
Tom did not turn around, but he could see her reflection in the mirror. She had pushed aside the sheet covering her body. He closed his eyes. He knew that one more glimpse of her thigh, or her silhouette against the crumpled pink sheets would weaken his resolve. Taking a sip from his hip flask, he picked up his heavy firefighting boots and walked out the door. He heard a glass shatter on the door behind him.
Tom ran through the dark car park, hunched against the storm. His black BMW was parked next to Natasha’s dark green convertible with the number plate MG 1979. He turned the key in the ignition and the radio started up; the 3:00 a.m. news was just beginning.
Tom thought he should sit through the rain. He turned on his mobile. Fifteen missed calls, all from Victoria. Well, what did he expect? He had been due home hours ago. Garth Brooks began singing Thunder Rolls, and Tom pulled out onto the Great Western Highway.
The city’s silhouette throbbed in the distance, but the road ahead was devoid of taillights. Now and again a truck passed in the opposite direction. He came to a complete stop at the intersection in front of a red light and glanced at the clock—three forty-five. He exhaled for what seemed like the first time that summer. Home soon, he thought. Another summer of fighting fires was over; another few houses saved; some scares but no death, no scars, and no harm done … excluding the harm he had done to Natasha. He thought of her lying naked beneath him again and let the thought go. Home soon.
He exhaled again and asked himself if he really did still love Victoria. He had imagined taking Natasha home with him but that was not possible. Yes, he had contemplated it but knew it would destroy Victoria. And it was far too soon after the death of their mother to turn his daughters’ lives upside down again. The girls were still grieving, as he was, and they had become accustomed to Victoria being around.
He had lost his parents when he was a child, and that pain defined him. There had been other women after his wife Helen’s death, women he had found every summer when he volunteered. He would search them for any resemblance to Helen and judge them against what was now becoming a faded, idealised image of her. But Natasha? He was falling in love with Natasha for the way she smoked a cigarette, the slight Russian accent that became more prominent when she swore, and her indefatigable body.
He struggled then, as he always had, to make some connection between all these things. The death of his wife, the death of his parents and his brother … they were like withered bouquets left by the side of the road. The long tuneless white noise of death had followed him his entire life. He felt no sense of resolution; he often puzzled over an indistinct question that woke him, noiseless, always around midnight. But beside Natasha he slept at ease.
A sheet of what looked like lightning illuminated the entire crossroads and shocked Tom into pressing the brakes even harder as he waited for the lights to turn green. Tyres screeched behind him. Suddenly, his body jolted forward, and the air bag exploded in his face. Pain seared through him. And then there was no horizon lights, no road, no car, nothing except pain from his spine to his fingertips and a sense of helpless, unbidden flying as if he had entered a recurring dream. Then the car seemed to gather him back in. A wheel rolled past the driver side window. Then, darkness.
In meeting room 811b of the Australian National Security Agency, Divisional Chief of Black Ops Paul Henderson and Commander Alexandria Tap were staring at a laptop. Rioting men wearing balaclavas and holding Molotov cocktails streamed across the screen. The men shouted and held up placards reading ‘Free Carraldo’.
“Four Cuban judges were killed last month,” Paul said.
“What are they protesting against?”
“Chief, please drag to 2.12, pause, lift and magnify. Then zoom to under the burnt flag.”
In the dark corner of the screen a man’s face appeared, clean-shaven with one blue eye and one green eye. The man was old and walked with a walking stick and he wore a poncho over what looked to be a white shirt.
“His name is Cerberus, Chief. The dog that guarded the gates of hell. But the funny thing is we believe it is his real name?”
Paul stood, brushed down the lapels of his wool suit, and walked the length of the room. He paused and turned back. Commander Tap raised one long black eyebrow in anticipation. She had known him long enough to anticipate that his small stroll around the room would precede an announcement.
“Commander Tap. I think it is time to go for a more field-based solution, starting tomorrow. This guy comes out of the shadows and then disappears into the shadows again. We need someone on the ground.”
“We’ll need more Black Ops whizzes for the scheduled bang and burn jobs. So, do we have the budget for that, Paul?”
“Leave that to me. There’s a partnership cooking with the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue. Seems they got intel that Cerberus is heading to Australia and they want him as badly as we do. If judges start appearing dead in this country …”
“Jesus, seriously, is there anything you can tell me right now?”
“I promise to tell you when I have all the details. All I know is the gods may have delivered us an option.”
“Care to share?”
“The man we want is ex-Duntroon and did a stint in Afghanistan with our Special Operation Task Group. SOTG were tasked to provide security during a training validation exercise for the Provincial Response Company of Uruzgan (that’s the PRC-U) in Tarin Kot, Afghanistan. SOTG have worked with PRC-U special police officers since 2001 and turned over operations in Uruzgan province in 2005.”
“Did you know him from Duntroon?”
“I recall he came through the year I got this assignment. Bit of a public face now and he puts out fires, literally. Prior to that, he went to the States and worked for a subunit of the US Marines after six months at West Point to complete his Special Ops combat mustering. Actually, he did two trips through Afghanistan when the shit was at its heaviest. Then, when they were about to promote him, he asked to be transferred home. Said he wanted to start a business!”
Tom felt disembodied, fluid. The sides of the road had become blurred, and he faded in and out of consciousness. He turned and looked into the back seat and saw the faces of his dead wife, his dead parents, and his dead brother. They looked at him with pity. Helen whispered, “Can you hear me?”
A red light was approaching at speed, coming directly at him, sirens blaring. He lapsed out of consciousness and in his mind, he saw a leopard keeping pace with the car as he drove. He accelerated but the leopard stayed alongside, moving at an easy lope. He thought of his daughters, Sophia and Angela, just as his eyes were closing.
“Can you hear me?”
Tom woke wearing an oxygen mask with two tall figures beside him and the alarm in his car beeping incessantly. He was stretchered to an ambulance. Pain pulsed through his body and he could taste blood. He tested the movement in his extremities, and cautiously turned his neck left and right. All in need of repair, he thought, but no parts missing. He heard the paramedic say “rear-ended.” He raised his hands—they were streaked with blood and the face of his watch was smashed. His wrist was bandaged, and his shirt had been cut off revealing the thin black armband around his left bicep.
As his breathing began to steady, two police vehicles pulled up. One of the paramedics informed the officers that the driver of the second vehicle had died, probably on impact, and that when the fire brigade had finished cleaning up around the vehicle, they could remove the body and begin their investigations.
Tom tried to sit up. He overheard a police officer calling in the details of the accident. “Driver of first vehicle, male Caucasian, alive, condition steady, internal injuries. Driver of second vehicle, female Caucasian, deceased.”
“I’m Senior Constable Peter Collins. Are you alright, sir?’ asked a police officer, as he took out his notebook.
“Yes … yes … I think I’m fine, officer,” Tom replied.
“Can I see your licence, please?”
Tom slowly removed his wallet and handed it over.
“Okay, now can you tell me what happened?”
“I was just driving home, and next thing I knew I was on a gurney.”
“So, what are you doing out here after four on a Wednesday morning?”
“I’m an SES volunteer just coming back from my last job, back burning, up around the Faulconbridge area.”
The officer wrote the word volunteer in his notebook and leaned closer towards Tom to hear him better but also trying to shelter himself from the wind and rain.
“I was a volunteer, 2001 bushfires. Say you know, the heat the last few weeks … thank God for this storm. Do you feel okay, Tom?”
Tom sat up a little and saw the green MG with its front demolished.
Natasha. Tow trucks and police cars surrounded the car. An ambulance drove off. Flashing blue, red, white, and orange lights lit up the area, pulsing in the rain. There was blood and glass on the bitumen. Steam rose from the side of the road. Then, from nowhere, a police helicopter lit up the entire area. Tom was blinded. He felt a needle go into his arm, and everything went black.
“Arthur Bozikas packs a punch with his fast-paced debut espionage thriller Black Ops: Zulu. It weaves action across Australia and America and centres around flawed, likeable lead character Tom Stiles, a former black ops agent who is about to face his most personal challenge. He’s back home with his partner and daughters, shooting for a normal life. But the Chechen mafia and the government have other ideas for Stiles, agendas with links to international terrorism, fraud, and the deadly potential of information technology. Can Stiles protect the ones he loves while he finishes the job, and what will it cost? Black Ops: Zulu was a great diversion from my usual crime reads, highly enjoyable, and I am keen for the next instalment in the Tom Stiles series.”
– Sandi Wallace, award-winning crime writer
“Black Ops: Zulu (Tom Stiles Thrillers Book 1) by Arthur Bozikas is an action-packed thriller that introduces the reader to Tom Stiles, a former black ops agent. He’s tough and gritty but still has a heart. Expertly written, a strong, fast pace, and great scene setting, this is a great first installment in what is hopefully a substantial and exciting series. Highly recommend.”
“Very well written book, it has a Tom Clancy Mission impossible style to it.”
“Sometimes the past just won’t let go. Former spy Tom Stiles is experiencing this first-hand as the life he left behind for a more peaceful and family-oriented existence has come raging back in full force. This book is pretty action-packed and I really liked the character development of Tom Stiles. Great thriller that is super-fast paced, good characters and I look forward to reading the next in the series.”
“Having created a strong principle character, one that keeps the reader involved throughout, this initial volume appears well prepared to continue with further fine espionage thrillers.”