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Surly Bonds

When you're solo, no one can hear you scream.

Jason Conrad is an Air Force student pilot, struggling to graduate pilot training. Rebuilding his personal life, he quickly finds the friends he relies on have bigger secrets than his own. On the other side of the world, a former KGB leader is plotting to overthrow the Russian government. While the 'Cold War' is believed to be over, a renegade group of Russian officers launch a plan that could possibly ignite World War Three! As these two vastly different worlds weave together, they accelerate into an action packed roller coaster ride from the skies over Enid, Oklahoma, to the streets of Moscow, to the steps of the Alamo. SURLY BONDS will have you on the edge of your seat and keep you guessing until the very end!


The Bottom Line: Guaranteed to please Brad Thor fans, this terrific military thriller finds Moscow hardliners plotting to assassinate the next U.S. president...Thanks to author Michael Byars Lewis' gift for creating well-drawn characters, Surly Bonds is more than a story about espionage and geopolitics - it's also a coming of age story with a touch of romance...every piece of Jason's story - and all military aspects - feels both earned and authentic. What's more, given the aggressive geopolitics played in today's Kremlin, the plot feels remarkably timely. Read it. 

Military Writers Society of America

The men and women who want to fly are a special breed. According to author Michael Byars Lewis, himself a pilot, you will “experience the highest highs and the lowest lows of your life” (36). In his book, Surly Bonds, Lewis takes us through the elaborate mix of education, verbal quizzes, airplane checks outside and inside, first flights, grading, precise maneuvers in the air, landing, and grading. We follow a small number of young men as they make their way through the process, anxious at every turn. Jason, Vince, and Lenny deal with money and girl problems while trying to concentrate on their ultimate goal: to fly.

Millions of miles away, a Russian leader meets his colleagues with a bold plan to brush democracy out of the country. The worry is that a revolution might draw the United States into action, although both nations have downsized their arsenals, their ships, their aircraft. So the Russian leader proposes a diversion to be carried out by Section 9, a secret collection of moles that have infiltrated the U.S. waiting to be called upon for action.

In one month, a known assassin from Russia evades all surveillance to meet up with an activated mole who thinks he will be a Russian hero if he can carry out his orders. They have a plan, the assassin lays the trap, and they wait for the right person to arrive in San Antonio. In this same month, our three student pilots are mixed up in gambling, hacking into a mainframe to get all the tests students will take, and dreaming about young women.

By the end of this same month, some will be dead, some will be captured, some will escape, some will be reconciled, some will become pilots, and the plan conceived by the Russians to distract the U.S. is a success although not in the way planned.

This book is filled with details about the process of becoming a pilot. From Dash One (the T-37 flight manual) to calling for taxi clearance to an out-of-control spin, Lewis creates a believable world that will soon intersect the Russian world since one of the moles is a student-pilot. Lewis is equally as precise when one of the Russians attempts to escape certain death. He takes us down the dirty streets full of vendors selling anything for cash, especially dollars. And when the action centers on San Antonio where the distraction is to take place, Lewis makes us feel the city, the Riverwalk, and the tiny Alamo.

The time he takes to describe these locations, the events that take place in these locations, and who is assembled there keeps us from realizing that he never mentions a week, a month, two weeks later, next month, the next day—all the cues we are used to. So the action is timeless. The believability is the scenery, the flavor of a bar (26-32) near the air force base in Enid, Oklahoma, the look of dirty peddlers in Moscow (179-181, 184-186), the tables along the Riverwalk in San Antonio (266).

Even when Lewis has to call for the OSI and CIA, the operatives slide right into the game of the cold war. There are the usual car chases (alas Q has not put his gadgets in these cars). Nor are the young women in the book James Bond’s Tiffanys, Dominos, and Honeys although Lewis’ women appear to be sexual objects; one young woman is in flight-training, but she barely exists. This book has the violence you expect in a thriller:  gun fights, hand-to-hand, one against three, snipers, murder; it has the good vs. evil; and surprises about friends, enemies, betrayal, spies, and truth.

Surly Bonds is a good read. And Lewis plays fair. The clues for the good and the bad are there, so the ending of the book is earned. It may still be a surprise, but the evidence is there.

Readers Favorites

Jason Conrad has one burning ambition in life and that is to be a pilot. Previously married to Bethany, an aspiring film actress, he is now focused on finishing his pilot training and hopes to graduate so that he can start flying his beloved jets. However, the lieutenant is saddled with a secret. His quest to be a pilot is derailed by murder, scandals and gambling. He comes to a point where has to make a decision as to what direction his life should take. This is in 1995 when the Cold War between Russia and the United States and their allies is still ongoing. A group of Russians are planning to overthrow the Russian government and the CIA is in touch with Mikeal Tolstoy, their spy in Russia. Conrad somehow finds himself involved in this dangerous game.

"Surly Bonds" is the first novel written by Michael Byars Lewis and his main character is an aspiring pilot. This proves to be a big advantage because the author obviously knows the inside story and the technical know-how in training to be a pilot. He is a professional pilot who was raised in the Air Force. With this as a backdrop, he is able to weave a tapestry of action and adventure that is quite complex. It is interesting to note that it has a coherent theme in spite of all of the twists and turns in the story. "Surly Bonds" is a complicated thriller that takes place in Texas, Russia and Oklahoma. The plot is certainly unpredictable and will keep the reader guessing, as he goes on a roller coaster ride filled with action. Obviously influenced by the style of John Grisham, Michael Byars Lewis is an author to watch out for in this genre.  

- Maria Beltran

Vance background for AF lieutenant colonel's novel

ENID, OKLA. — The fictional Second Lt. Jason Conrad is the brainchild of Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Byars Lewis, author of a military espionage thriller called “Surly Bonds,” much of which is set in Enid and at Vance.

Lewis has served more than 24 years in the Air Force, both active duty and Reserve, and is stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

He earned his wings at Vance in 1989 as a part of undergraduate pilot training class 90-12, then returned to Vance as a T-38 first-assignment instructor pilot.

It was during his time at Vance that he began contemplating writing a novel. He credits the late Enid western author Johnny Quarles with offering him words of encouragement and inspiration, the Enid News and Eagle reported.

“I went to Mr. Quarles’ house and talked to him for a couple of hours,” said Lewis, who lives in Navarre, Fla. “He was just great. Basically, he convinced me that this was something I could do, really something anybody could do as long as you have the determination to do it.”

Lewis said he has not been back to Enid or to Vance since he left here in the early 1990s. After leaving Vance, he flew HC-130 search-and-rescue planes in Okinawa, and has flown AC-130U gunships since. He has more than 5,000 hours as a military and civilian pilot, including time as an airline pilot flying the Boeing 737.

He remembers Enid as a “great place to raise a family,” though he was single during his stint here.

“I didn’t get a lot of time to embed myself in the community, but I remember it as a very tight-knit community,” he said.

Lewis is married, and he and his wife, Kim, have two children. Their son, Derek, is a recent college graduate working as an electrical engineer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while their daughter, Lydia, works with the Social Security Administration in Pensacola, Fla.

Lewis was drawn to writing because, “I guess I had a story to tell.” He said the process of writing his first novel was a long journey.

“When I started this book I knew where I wanted to start and I knew where I wanted it to end, but I had no idea how I was going to get there,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing. I just kept going.”

Lewis’ efforts recently have been rewarded with some national recognition. His novel was chosen as a finalist for the sixth annual Next Generation Indie Book Awards, as well as for the Readers Favorite Book Awards contest.

“We’re pretty excited,” Lewis said. “It is good to get some feedback at that level.”

The title, “Surly Bonds,” is drawn from the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee Jr., which begins, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”

The novel’s plot surrounds Conrad, who is struggling through pilot training at Vance, while being drawn into a love triangle with his ex-wife and girlfriend, as well as various scandals involving his friends. In the meantime, a former KGB leader plots to overthrow the Russian government and re-install the Soviet regime, a plot that stretches all the way to Enid and Vance.

As an Air Force officer, Lewis has had to run his ideas through the base Judge Advocate General’s office for approval, but not for much longer. He said he is getting ready to retire from the Air Force “any day now” and is about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of his second novel, which also will feature Conrad as its main character. It likewise will be set, in part, at Vance, picking up with Conrad’s life just before he moves on to another assignment.

“I hope I’ve got three or four books in me,” said Lewis.

“Surly Bonds,” by Michael Byars Lewis, was published in September by SATCOM Publishing.