Last Man Standing (novel)
Last Man Standing is a novel written by David Baldacci. First published in 2001 it follows the protagonist, Web London, through a series of harrowing events. London is the only member of his elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team unit to survive after they are ambushed when executing a high risk raid against an apparent drug operation.
Web London and the FBI's super-elite Hostage Rescue Team are sent down an alley for a surprise attack on a drug dealer's lair. As they move with stealth precision towards the target, they are surprised to see a boy in the dark alley. When the kid sees them, he utters the queer words "Damn to hell" and cackles. Uncharacteristically, this kid unnerves Web. But he proceeds with his team, working on getting his pulse beat to sixty-four and visualizing the next moments, as the team gets in position for the signal to move to "green." When the Tactical Operations Center radios to give the go ahead for the final move to the front door, Web freezes. It isn't fear or runaway nerves; Web has been doing this far too long for that. And yet, even with every muscle straining all he can manage to do is to take a few faltering steps and fall down on his gun. At five seconds to impact, Web lays helpless as he watches the Charlie team proceed and then one by one fall to the ground, all dead in seconds. Ironically, Web is the only one alive.
For a HRT guy, out-surviving team members is a personal hell, nothing to be grateful about. The other FBI guys are suspicious and, even worse, distrust him to go out on mission. He can't bear the silent accusations of the widows and fatherless children who'd just as soon trade him for their lost loved one. And the press is having its usual field day, only this time it is his story they are exaggerating and manipulating. In a single moment Web London goes from hero to pariah. Web needs to understand what happened in that alley, specifically who set up his team for an ambush. This job is his life; he needs to prove his innocence to gain the trust back from the guys and for himself. There is no room in his job for less than absolute perfection and bravery. A good HRT guy does not freeze and let their team be killed without them.
Web begins a two-pronged investigation, one external to seek whoever set Charlie up and one internal where he signs on with psychiatrist, Claire Daniels. The key for both investigations seems to be the boy in the alley. After Charlie team was killed, Web still struggled with trying to move. When he saw the boy start to run directly into the line of fire, Web managed to yell at him to stop and slithered himself over to the boy. He gives the boy his hat and a note, warning of the ambush, for the boy to deliver to the reserve unit that TOC is sending in. But somehow, the FBI loses the boy before they have a chance to talk to him. Missing also is the undercover agent that provided the information on the drug lair.
Meanwhile, a judge, a prosecutor, and a defense counsel are killed in three separate and apparent unrelated incidents. When Web sees this in the newspaper, he makes the connection between those deaths and Charlie team's ambush. He knows that it is the same group who caused half his face to be torn off during a hostage rescue mission. David Canfield was the only hostage from that mission who died mere feet from Web. Web had given this boy hope and the boy had died while looking at Web, Web carries guilt from this operation.
Web London is not the only one who's wondering about the ambush. Francis Westbrook, a giant of a man whose moniker is the apt "Big F," is the leader of a small drug empire. The building that HRT was taking, is in his territory, but its not a place that he's ever used, nor does he run a business on the scale that would warrant that kind of attention. The missing boy is Westbrook's brother and he'll do anything, including giving up his entire business, to get that kid back. Notwithstanding his concern for his brother, he's alert to the fact that he's got a traitor in his top echelon.
Last Man Standing is a complex psychological thriller in which the suspicions run rampant as to who set up Charlie team. At the center of this novel is a team of alpha males in which Baldacci reveals the characteristics of the type of guy that would want to do this poor paying job that boasts a motto of "Speed, surprise and violence of action." These are the good guys in a world with a lot of bad guys and they would just as soon be unemployed but the bad guys won't let them. And even though they might have love affairs with their weapons, they are earnest about trying not to use them. That said, they never fire warning shots. And they keep a hell of a lot of weapons on hand. These guys are heroes, and although they are part of the FBI, they keep their distance. After all, it is the FBI that makes the judgment call that sends them into action, so when there is a screw up, as there was in Waco, the blame tends to go directly to HRT.
Web London as the epitome of the HRT guy is a strong, loyal friend especially to his team members and their families. He, naturally, has issues dealing with his own issues. Yet, in this instance, he is unusually motivated to continue his therapy since he's the one that really wants to know what happened. As much as Baldacci paints HRT as real American heroes, by delving into this psychological side of the story he also points out the character deficiencies that cause these men to go through the most grueling training and then to subject themselves to the greatest danger. It also fills out this multi-layered plot.
- Christopher Whitcomb, Cold Zero: inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (2001) ISBN 0-552-14788-5