Don Bentley has had one heck of a career — several of them, in fact. He spent 10 years as an Army Apache pilot, followed by time with the FBI as a special agent and SWAT team member. Now, he’s the author of a successful line of military thrillers and was hand-selected as the successor for Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Jr. novels.
And he’s just getting started.
“What world is this?” Bentley laughs as he retells the moment he first typed in the legendary name Jack Ryan into his computer. “A good part of success is showing up, and I was fortunate enough that I got the chance to show up.”
This month, Bentley is back in bookstores with “Hostile Intent,” the third installment in his popular action series that follows quick-witted Defense Intelligence Agency operative Matt Drake as he winds up in ever more fraught global hotspots, tasked with saving the world.
In a fast-paced plot that might have been pulled straight from international front pages, this time Drake faces down Russians during an invasion of Ukraine, under the threatening shadow of nuclear war.
Backed by extensive research on Putin’s false-flag operations and history of aggressions, when Bentley wrote “Hostile Intent,” he set out to answer two questions: “If he was going to invade Ukraine, how would he do it?” and “When the rubber meets the road, who is willing to actually stand on the line or not?” The resulting novel, out now, is uncannily familiar to the horrors that became a reality in Ukraine at the end of February and the people who defend against them.
Bentley draws upon his own military and FBI experiences for his novels, which infuse his writing with gritty realism. As an FBI special agent, he was tasked with recruiting and running assets, a crucial skill he passed on to Drake in his books.
“You have to be very good at building relationships,” he explained. “Getting to know not just what they say they want, but what is their deeper motivation? What do they need that you can provide so that they’ll agree to work for you?”
During his time in the Army, Bentley was stationed around the globe, from Texas to South Korea to Germany, and deployed as a troop commander to Afghanistan, where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Air Medal with “V” device for valor. Each locale figures prominently in his work.
“It is hard to have a bad day when you get to fly an Apache,” he said of his time in the military. He laughs again. “It’s one of the best jobs in the world. It’s hard to believe they pay you to do this.”
One of the biggest unexpected benefits of military life for Bentley and his growing family, however, was developing strong friendships.
“People who are friends become your family, even more so when you’re stationed overseas,” he says, recounting times military friends loaned him their cars and even their homes. “Those friendships become so much more than what they would be in the civilian world over such a shorter period of time.”
“Hostile Intent” is dedicated to two of those friends — his next-door neighbors in Germany, Army Capt. Mark A. Garner and Nickayla Myers-Garner.
“We had them over for dinner all the time,” he recalled of the couple, who were hometown sweethearts. “They’d been married just a couple years.”
As Bentley wrapped up his overseas tour and moved back to the U.S., Garner was just beginning his in the infantry. A year later, Garner was deployed to Afghanistan and killed in an IED attack. Bentley was a world away, watching Myers-Garner pick up the pieces and move forward with grace and poise. She began offering resiliency and grief counseling workshops for other spouses, turning her horrific heartbreak into a tangible way to help others. Bentley was profoundly moved by the couple’s sacrifice and Myers-Garner’s continued service.
“It’s just a slice of what the men and women who serve in the military are,” Bentley said.
“Hostile Intent,” the latest Matt Drake thriller, is available now. Bentley’s next novel for the Tom Clancy universe, “Zero Hour,” releases in June 2022. Keep up with Bentley at DonBentleyBooks.com.