1. We meet Riley Covington, American hero, deep in the shit mid-Enduring Freedom. “He was two years out of the Air Force Academy, where he had been a three-time WAC/MWC Defensive Player of the Year and, as a senior, had won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.” So it’s incredibly obvious about ten pages in that we’re actually talking about Pat Tillman, albeit not as much of a pussy; the real Tillman could have gone Lt. Calley in Afghanistan and still deserved better than being the inspiration for this crap.
After taking a bullet in a firefight ripped from the first five minutes of “Call of Duty 4,” Riley’s CO calls him over and gives him the good news:
“Covington, I brought you in here to make you an offer I hope you won’t take. The higher-ups want me to give you the ludicrous choice of opting out of the rest of your full-time service commitment to the United States Air Force so you can go play in the Pro Football League.”
Stilted dialogue aside, of course Riley has a nice crisis of conviction, and of course his family encourages their Purple Hearted son to follow his dream. (His father even shows how much he cares by calling him “Riles.” A verb that also describes the effect that Elam’s prose has on me.)
So it’s off to the PFL, but not without lingering doubts about leaving his buddies behind and a motivational streak largely inspired by generalized anti-brown-people resentment and good ol’ jingoistic oorah. Elam even throws in a scene where Riley gets pumped up watching Fox News coverage of a suicide bombing while drinking a protein shake, and then gives the recipe for the shake in text for some fucking reason: “Feeling invigorated, he padded into the kitchen, flicked on Fox News, and began to assemble the ingredients for his daily breakfast shake - a simple concoction of protein powder, soy milk, whey, and frozen berries.”
Pro tip for aspiring swole brahs: throw in some Greens+ next time!
2. The members of Riley’s army posse (“Dawkins, Logan, Murphy, Posada and Li”) are almost comically multiethnic, as though they’re the main characters of a last-generation first-person shooter. “Kim ‘Tommy’ Li, a man with an itchy trigger finger and way too many tattoos,” “Skeeter Dawkins was a good old boy from Mississippi,” etc. All that’s missing during the firefight scene (a couple of them die, I think; who cares) is a guy crawling toward a glowing first-aid kit and somebody yelling “MENDOZA!”
Speaking of Kim “Tommy” Li: isn’t the ramp up to nickname status significantly steeper if your nickname contains more syllables than your actual first name? Or is this supposed to be a really subtle Methods of Mayhem joke?
3. Elam does that thing shitty movies do where he has to make up a bunch of fictitious sports properties so as to not get sued. “Two years earlier, Riley had been selected by the Colorado Mustangs in the third round of the Pro Football League draft, and commentators believed Riley had the possibility of a promising PFL career ahead of him.” I wasn’t aware you had to do this in books!
There’s even a fake team called the Bay Area Bandits, whose fans dress and behave exactly like Raider Nation. Team colors are the same, corny pirate costumes are the same, but Elam, aware of this book’s intended Christian audience, keeps his descriptions of their outlandish, violent behavior strictly G-rated: “Everyone they passed seemed to want to use their fingers to emphatically assure the players on the buses that they thought they were number one.”
Tickled by said fingers, the normally stoic players even break the indomitable PFL pregame code of silence:
Some of the players in the back of the bus began to laugh. “Hey, check out old granny over there. I’m not sure what that gesture means, but whatever it is certainly seems like it could lead to infertility,” Keith Simmons hollered, as he egged her on by beating the bus window.
Classic Simmons zinger. That guy’s a natural.