When Diplomacy Fails is the latest Ripple Creek novel (set in the Freehold universe) written by Michael Z. Williamson and published by Baen Books. Alex Marlow and the rest of the Ripple Creek security detail (Do Unto Others, Better to Beg Forgiveness) return to duty after their last harrowing assignment and are tasked with something much more dangerous: protecting a woman who so many people want dead that a war could break out over who gets to kill her first.
When Marlow and Co get their latest tasking, the first thing they begin to wonder is if their latest assignment from the U.N. is retribution for their successful protection of a president that was reported dead by the media (see Better to Beg Forgiveness), one that could possibly lead to negative publicity for the (arguably) best protective detail around. Well-paid and motivated (and, at times, at odds with their principal), they set out to keep the Bureau of State Minister alive as she toured Mtali, a planet which was quickly becoming a hive for religious fundamentalism and war (as mentioned in another Williamson novel, The Weapon).
However, they soon realize that they not only need to protect the principal from dangers without, but to protect her from herself as well. That is going to make the mission much more difficult than any of them originally thought.
The writing is fast-paced, as always, and the best thing about the Ripple Creek novels is that they are what I would call “light reads”. Fast, fun, and not requiring too much introspective thought about whether war is bad or good. The thought process of a Ripple Creek novel is pretty simple: keep the principal alive at all costs. This eliminates some of the more disturbing questions one would normally imagine when reading a novel of this type (like why does Elke need explosives? Is it a pathological disorder, etc?) and focuses instead on the entertainment aspect of rough and ready warriors. And that is just what a Ripple Creek novel is, pure entertainment.
I still have favorite characters (Aramis Anderson and Shaman are my two faves, followed by Elke) and their attitudes and behaviors have stayed consistent throughout the series (for which I’m thankful). There is a bit of Aramis maturing as he ages, which is welcomed, and the depth of the characters, while not fully explored, is lurking there, just between the lines of every page. But the character development does not interfere in any way, merely enhances a story without throwing much angst into the reader’s face. A welcome change from some of the other novels I have read lately.
I would compare a Ripple Creek novel with a SF-version of Mack Bolan: you know what you’re going to get, are not surprised by the result, and yet can find something cool and refreshing in the novel which is filled with death, dismemberment and mayhem throughout. A fun read and continuation of the Ripple Creek saga.
—Reviewed by Jason