By Zakary McGaha
The Rig Warrior series by William W. Johnstone is one of my favorite things in the world. As of now, I’ve read the first two of the original trilogy as well as the 2018 ghostwritten release, Trigger Warning.
I’d been a fan of Johnstone for a while when I read the first installment in the series, simply titled Rig Warrior. His old Zebra horror titles had won me over as a collector and reader, and I’d been slowly getting into his westerns and men’s adventure books.
What I liked about Rig Warrior was that it mixed pulpiness with right wing politics. This is something Johnstone is notorious for, and I can’t say I think it’s a bad thing. While I’m typically against “preachiness” when it comes to fiction, Johnstone’s books break the mold because of how off-the-wall crazy they are!
In other words, it’s hard to call them out for being “preachy,” because they’re not really toting themselves as super-important, super-serious works that will change the landscape of modern thinking. Sure, the fact that I share a lot of the same views probably has something to do with my love of the author’s work, but I’d be willing to bet that just about anyone could read him and find enjoyment.
The Rig Warrior series focuses on…the Rig Warrior! His uncool name is Barry Rivera, but everyone just calls him Dog. He’s basically a trucker who fights crime. Dog is everything you’d want in an action hero: tough, morally righteous and predisposed to being a loner. Plus, he says a bunch of cheesy shit.
Both Rig Warrior and Wheels of Death, the second novel in the series, are simple, action-packed reads that scream 80s. They, along with the third one (Eighteen-Wheel Avenger), were written by Johnstone alone (as opposed to being ghostwritten) and are all favorites among his fans…which is saying something, because, damn! He wrote a lot of series and many of them have numerous entries. Rig Warrior sticks out because it only has three…
…Until you get to Trigger Warning, which was written by a ghostwriter as are, obviously, all of Johnstone’s numerous releases each year, given that he’s no longer with us. It’s got a kind of V.C. Andrews thing going on: the Johnstone “feel” is easily identifiable among pulp books, so a lot of the newer stuff has all the elements heavily in place. Trigger Warning is no exception—the politics assault you right when you see the book on the shelf!
The plot follows a veteran, Jake, who’s going back for a master’s degree at a super-liberal, private college. Needless to say, an Antifa-like group is stirring stuff up, along with politically-motivated terrorists, and it’s up to Jake to save the day. As mentioned above, there are connections to the Rig Warrior series that pop up later on in the book, but I won’t spoil those.
What Trigger Warning ends up being is a pulpy, action-packed thriller flavored with politics…like most of Johnstone’s work. Despite agreeing with said politics, I felt that they took me out of the story because they were so “modern day.” The first two entries in the series took place in the 80s, so there was a fair amount of distance. It was far easier to get into the swing of the escapism.
The depiction of college life is exaggerated, of course…well, maybe not for U.C. Berkeley…but so is everything else in the book. The action, however, was a bit tamer than what I was already used to with the original works. This was probably due to the fact that most of the novel is a set-up for larger events, which, again, I don’t want to spoil.
In short, I didn’t enjoy Trigger Warning as much as the older Rig Warrior books, but hey, it’s like a soft reboot, so hopefully it’s the first of many new books.
What really boggles my mind is the reception this book got BEFORE IT WAS EVEN RELEASED. One article that was brought to my attention did a piss-poor job of convincing me to be triggered by it as the article’s author obviously was.
Trigger Warning goes after “snowflake” culture and provides a jest-filled alternative to mainstream, left wing ideals. If that gets under your skin so much you have to write an article slamming Kensington Books for publishing it and asserting that Johnstone’s niece is riding the coattails of her beloved uncle, then the book has obviously done its job.
Not all fiction is meant to cater to any one person’s ideology. I’ve read, and enjoyed, a ton of left-leaning fiction, and I don’t plan on tailoring my reading list to fit my politics. If you’re going to shame publishers for putting out stuff that doesn’t adhere to what you deem acceptable, you’re only going to succeed in making yourself look narrow-minded and reactionary.
The William W. Johnstone brand is doing exactly what it’s been doing for decades. It’s not going to stop when it still sells millions of copies and draws internet attention. But, let us not forget, internet attention is a fleeting sort of thing while great books can live forever.
People are still finding old Johnstone books in used bookstores. I can’t tell you how many “booktube” videos I’ve seen devoted to him. His legacy lives on because the fiction under his brand has a fun, action-packed quality that is perfect for endless hours of being glued to the pages. It’s that type of magic that transcends politics.
Despite Trigger Warning being my least favorite book in the series, I still think it deserves a solid 3.5/5.
Zakary McGaha is a writer living in Tennessee. Books, movies, and dogs are his favorite things. His horror-comedy novella Locker Arms is available from Kensington Gore Publishing.