Hard Road is the second book in Bradley West’s Dark Plague series. The first book – Dark Cure – is based on Covid19 mutating to a deadlier Covid20. The Dark Plague is a fast-paced and completely engrossing thriller series. At the beginning of this year, I had chance to interview Bradley – you can read it here.
As a pre-publication day special, I have an exclusive interview with… *drum rolls* Travis Ryder. Travis Ryder is a fictional character and is the only character to appear in five of Bradley’s novels till date.
Book Decoder (“BD”): This is my first time speaking with a fictional character. Have you given other interviews?
Travis Ryder (“TR”): I’m at Bradley West’s beck and call. This is the first time he’s allowed me to speak with third parties. I’m glad you called as I’d like to complain about my treatment at West’s hands.
BD: How so? You’re the only major character to appear in each of his five novels to date. While it’s fair to say that Bob Nolan is the focus of Countless Lies and Sal Maggio is the star of Dark Plague, you’re always in the top three.
TR: Have you kept track of my injuries? Sea of Lies irradiated me with unshielded U-235 on the Rangoon Docks. In Pack of Lies, I was shot in the ass by an AK-47. End of Lies finds me an alcoholic. In Dark Cure I’m nearly killed by an IED and in Hard Road suffer from those wounds throughout. If this trend continues, I’ll end up using a Zimmer frame by the end of The Haven, the next book.
BD: Fair enough, but given that Bradley West has killed off most of the people you interact with, he must like you or you wouldn’t be around.
TR: Once you read Hard Road, you’ll realize that there’s no job security at all in West’s universe, regardless of how important you think you are. It’s like Game of Thrones: once they chopped off Ned Stark’s head, anything could happen. We feel the same way in the Dark Plague series. No one sleeps a full night through.
BD: I’m curious as to how you look. You’re described as being in your late-30s, 5’9” (1.75m) and built like a wrestler. I picture you as a Jeremy Renner type.
TR: We’ll, you’re close as I resemble another Avenger, Chris Evans’ Captain America, though it must be said I have worse knees but am also better looking.
BD: Ooh, Chris Evans! Easy on the eye! In Dark Plague, you’re divorced and have a romance brewing with the brainy and beautiful Dr. Carla Maggio. What’s she like?
TR: Being with Carla is like being back in the SEALs and going on combat missions. No matter how well-prepared we were or thought we were, bad things happened all the time, the plans went to hell, the bullets flew and the adrenaline soared. Afterward, you’d realize that this was the most alive you’d ever felt and you get hooked on that cycle of planning, execution and after-action de-briefings. It’s the same way with Carla: you don’t know if you’re going to deal with the pacifist, the avenging Angel, the brilliant scientist or the convoy’s leader. I’m always on my toes.
BD: Does Carla look like anyone our readers might know?
TR: She’s a redhead and bears a passing resemblance to Emma Stone, though Carla’s taller and has a figure more akin to Jennifer Lawrence’s. She’s definitely my type, that’s for certain.
BD: Given that Hard Road is your fifth book, what makes this role different other than you have a significant other on the scene?
TR: Countless Lies operates mostly in Asia and involves professionals—military men, intelligence operatives or politicians—who are anything but innocent bystanders. When these people die, it’s simply a consequence of their career choices. Dark Plague takes place as civilization is falling to bits. There are no functioning police, the National Guard are mostly invisible, protecting key people and installations, and as a result the general public are left to fend for themselves. As a former Special Operator, I’m trying to protect the civilians in the Maggio convoy while also opposing enemies who are either former military or violent motorcycle bikers. Many ordinary people are hurt and killed, and that’s something I’d never experienced even during my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. There simply wasn’t that much collateral damage. This time around, we’re burying children and it’s soul-crushing to have to do so.
BD: Dark Plague has three antagonists that are as evil as anyone I’ve ever read about, the former soldier Rolf Muller, the twisted biology PhD Katerina Kiel and Mike Norris, the leader of the Twisted Souls Motorcycle Club. How do these people compare to other foes you’ve faced in your twenty years or so in the field?
TR: The worst of the three is Muller and that’s because he’s the best trained, courtesy of the U.S. military and the CIA’s paramilitary arms. Muller is that sort of person you used to bump into at an FOB (forward operating base) and just looking at him, you knew he wasn’t right. These are people that, even when they were on our side, we steered clear-of in the SEALs and the DEA. Muller’s such a volatile personality that he’s a risk to go postal at any moment. Katerina isn’t a type I know as well. She’s the dark opposite of Carla: a scientist who can manipulate viruses and create treatments, but instead of trying to help people, Kiel is all about selling her drugs to the highest bidder. Norris is perhaps the easiest one of the villains to understand. He’s running a violent criminal enterprise with two-dozen surviving employees selling drugs and weapons. Because he commands the most men under arms, Norris is technically the most dangerous of the three should he decide to focus his firepower in one direction or another. It’s a potent mix of adversaries, and we were lucky that any of us survived.
BD: We’ve not talked about one of Dark Plague’s themes and the jumping off point for the series. It’s a fictional mutation that originated in South Asia and blisters across the U.S. and the rest of the world in July-August, 2020 when the books take place. What’s it like operating in a largely de-populated dystopian world where the people you meet—even the ordinary towns folk—might want to steal your vehicles, supplies and medicines and that’s before they discover that your convoy has a miracle treatment-cum-vaccine for Covid-20?
TR: It certainly sets up an ‘Us-versus-them’ mindset among the former military men responsible for the convoy’s security. This is the essential conflict between Jaime, Melvin, Johnny and me—the ex-Spec Ops people—and the ‘Group Hug’ faction led by Stephanie, Barb and Carla. Sal Maggio had to constantly remind us that we couldn’t hope to save anyone until we knew for certain that we could save ourselves. Trying to roll back Covid community-by-community along our route looks good on paper, but it only takes a handful of crazy, distrustful or desperate people and the entire convoy is at risk. Carla and I are always butting heads, and that adds to the strains that already exist. The entire Hard Road book takes place in less than a week. It was non-stop and wholly draining. On that note, I need to hang up as I have a ton of rehab exercises for my left arm and abs.
BD: One last question. What can we expect on the romantic front in The Haven?
TR: You’d be better off asking Bradley West. He’s told me nothing, but I’m suspicious of the “Meatball” Matt character who was largely excess baggage in Hard Road. He’s a good looking, smooth talking SOB and I think he’s making eyes at Carla. She’s too smart to fall for someone like that, but I know there will be long periods when I’m away in the next book as I need to return to Texas and rescue my ex-wife and our kids. I don’t trust Matt Tofanelli to respect what Carla and I have brewing, but I also don’t have the luxury of time, either. When it’s all said and done, I’m mission-focused.
BD: It sounds like you’re thinking well in advance which probably is a good thing given the monkey wrenches Bradley West throws into the works at every turn. I wish Carla and you—and the convoy—the best of luck in The Haven. Thanks for taking the time for this interview.
TR: Thank you, Rekha. In Spec Ops, we always view ‘luck’ as the residual of ‘hard work.’ I think it’s the same in this situation as well.