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Hunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Ground Soldier's Fifty-Year Career Hunting America's Enemies

Hunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Ground Soldier's Fifty-Year Career Hunting America's Enemies

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Hunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Ground Soldier's Fifty-Year Career Hunting America's Enemies

4/5 (115 ratings)
332 pages
6 hours
Dec 6, 2011


Spanning more than five decades, here is a riveting true account of fighting America’s enemies around the world—told by the soldier/operative who was there

I am not a hero.

Billy Waugh has lurked in the shadows and on the periphery of many of the most significant events of the past half-century on active duty with U.S. Army Special Forces and the CIA fighting enemies of the United States. In Hunting the Jackal, this legendary warrior reveals the extraordinary events of his life and career, offering a point-by-point eyewitness account of the historical events in which he participated.

Serving in Korea and Vietnam, Waugh was among the first Green Berets in 1963. He has helped train Libyan commandos in the Sahara Desert, while spying on Russian missile sites in Benghazi, and has worked against Caribbean drug runners. He was the first CIA operative to watch Osama Bin Laden in Khartoum “from a spot close enough to kill him had I been allowed,” and tracked him over the course of two years. In 1994 he found the notorious Carlos the Jackal in Sudan, and tailed him until he was captured—a story that until now has never been told. And, just last year, at age 72, Waugh was on the ground in Afghanistan with a joint SpecForces/CIA unit.

This is his remarkable true story.

Dec 6, 2011

About the author

Billy Waugh is still involved in Special Operations around the world. He lives in Florida.

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Hunting the Jackal - Billy Waugh



On December 1, 2001, I celebrated my seventy-second birthday on the ground in Afghanistan, with a chitrali covering my head and an M-4 carbine slung over my right shoulder. I was beyond cold, and I stunk in a way civilized humans are not meant to stink. The contents of my nose flowed ceaselessly into a scraggly beard that was supposed to make me look more like a local Afghani and less like a freezing old man from Texas. The Vietnamera shrapnel that resides in my knees and ankles felt like a bunch of frozen coins, and I was losing weight as if it were falling off my body. I was part of Team Romeo, a combined Special Forces/CIA takedown unit hunting Taliban and al Qaeda at nine thousand feet of elevation and -10°C, through the desolate high plains of southeastern Afghanistan. I was cold, dirty, and miserable, and I wouldn’t have traded places with anybody in the world.

Two weeks earlier, when the United States Air Force C-17 headed for Afghanistan lifted off with me aboard, our country was officially embarking on its War on Terror. I, however, had been at war against terror for quite some time. To me, Operation Enduring Freedom was a natural extension of the work I’d been conducting for close to fifty years.

The men of Team Romeo, composed of CIA members and Special Forces ODA 594, treated me like a display in a war museum. They asked me to pose for photographs. They asked me about my experiences in Korea, my seven and a half years in Vietnam, my work on many high-profile operations as an independent contractor with the CIA. This attention made me uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed; I had convinced the higher-ups in my outfit that I could withstand the mental and physical punishment that awaited me in the first installment of the War on Terror, and I was not here to play the role of a living relic of the past half-century of U.S. combat. I was there to fight the Taliban and seek out al Qaeda, so when the adulation got too thick, I deflected it by saying, Now, men, I assure you I cannot walk on water. And even if I could, there’s none out here in the middle of this fucking desert.

Let me be clear: I am not a hero.

Chances are you have never heard my name, but I have worked in the shadows and along the margins of some of the most significant military and espionage events of the past fifty years. I have pursued enemies of the United States in sixty-four countries over those fifty years. I have faced danger in its many forms: armed, angry humans; sophisticated, undiscriminating weapons; harsh, unyielding landscapes.

There are many missions that cannot be recounted in the pages of a book, not ever. A good portion of my life has been classified, locked up in a safe in Langley or inside my memory. I will not betray any ongoing operations or threaten the lives of any of the great men who continue to fight those who have our demise as their ultimate goal. After all, I know the feeling. Through five decades of service to my country, I have purposefully and continuously placed myself in dangerous situations against our enemies. I have made my personal safety a secondary issue to the task at hand.

I have lived life on the edge of danger and of the law. I have found that I am good at it, and that I like it. I have developed qualities that are unique to my position; namely, I have lied my ass off many times to protect myself and my men. I have learned to avoid questions and suspicions from police or security forces in nations where I work.

Total countries in which I have worked: sixty-four.

Total times hauled in by unfriendly governments for spying: zero.

Total times tailed by unfriendlies, in their nation: countless.

Not each assignment was filled with excitement, and not every country tells a breathless story of dodging bullets and nabbing bad guys. But I have had my share of successes. I have been awarded one Silver Star, four Bronze Stars for Valor, four Commendation Ribbons for Valor, fourteen Air Medals for Valor, and two Combat Infantryman Badges. (Along the way I developed a propensity for attracting gunshots and shrapnel; I possess eight Purple Hearts to commemorate those occasions.) I joined the U.S. Army in 1947 and Special Forces in 1954, two years after its inception. Following my retirement from Special Forces, I embarked on a second career as a CIA independent contractor, hunting down some of the most notorious enemies of the United States.

I was one of the first CIA operatives to be assigned to keep tabs on Usama bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1991 and 1992. In 1994, again in Khartoum, I was the leader of a four-man CIA team that conducted an epic search and surveillance operation that led to the capture of Carlos the Jackal. My job required me to inhabit the minds of these men and countless others, adopt their ways, see the world through their twisted eyes. I was forced to become a cultural chameleon, able to anticipate and understand the actions of men who are different from me in every aspect save one: dedication to a cause. Like any man who studies the tactics of his enemies and attempts to predict his actions, I gained a grudging respect for the men I hunted.

I attribute my accomplishments to hard work and persistence, old-fashioned concepts that never failed me. Perseverance is my best quality, to the point where it sometimes becomes a fault. The glimpses into my private life within these pages are few. My chosen lines of work—Special Forces, then CIA—are not conducive to long marriages or stable home lives. Whenever I was faced with a decision between home and work, there was very little debate. I chose work.

This dedication to my country and its protection took hold one week after my twelfth birthday, when I was interrupted from my job as a popcorn popper at the Strand Theater in Bastrop, Texas, by Bastrop County sheriff Ed Cartwright. It was a little after 2 p.m., a Sunday afternoon, and this larger-than-life man—the stereotypical hard-nosed Texas sheriff—strode into the theater lobby and said, Billy, go upstairs and tell the projectionist to shut off the movie and turn on the house lights. And hurry up.

I did as I was told, leaving my dime-a-bag popcorn stand and heading up the stairs two at a time. The Movietone news for this day—December 7, 1941—had just ended and the projectionist was starting the prefeature comedy when I barged into the booth and repeated Sheriff Cartwright’s instructions. The projectionist looked at me a little funny, but he followed orders as soon as he heard they came from the sheriff. Everyone in Bastrop County knew better than to fool with Ed Cartwright.

When the projectionist flipped on the house lights, I stepped onto the balcony area, where I looked down and watched the fifty or sixty patrons squint and grumble about the movie coming to a whirring halt. Sheriff Cartwright walked onto the stage and quieted the room by saying, Folks, I have some news for you. You need to listen.

He was deadly serious, and every eye in the room centered on this tall, stern sheriff.

Now, he continued, taking a deep breath. The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and done great damage to the United States Navy. He looked at the crowd. The importance of his words had yet to register. "Folks, it is being said the Japanese may bomb our country today or tomorrow. They may even invade with ships and men. I want you folks to know I am serious:

We are at war as of this date.

That woke everybody up, even the teenagers who had been necking in the back. A man’s voice broke the quiet by asking, Mr. Ed, where’s Pearl Harbor?

Hawaii, the sheriff said.

Another man yelled, Well, Sheriff, where in the dang hell is Hawaii?

I’m not sure Cartwright knew, at least not precisely, so he said, Don’t worry about Hawaii. Just walk from this movie house and go home. When you get there, place black coverings over your windows so no light shows.

As he walked off the stage he stopped and turned back. And I don’t want to see anyone on the streets. If you’re not in your homes within one hour, I am going to put you in your house—forcefully.

I stayed behind the popcorn stand as the patrons filed out of the theater. There were no sales.

I went home and recounted the scene to my mother. She had not heard the news, but as an educated woman—a substitute teacher in our community—she knew the location of Pearl Harbor. Lillian Waugh dutifully cut up some black material and covered the windows of the small, one-bedroom apartment I shared with her and my older sister, Nancy.

This day is etched deeply and vividly in my mind. It wasn’t fear I felt; it was excitement. Even at twelve years old, I itched to be part of the war. I would defend my country against its enemies, wherever and whoever they might be.

My father had died two years before, and I was consumed with the idea of duty. At least one man in each family had an obligation to perform for his country, and I was the only son of John and Lillian Waugh. Being a man in southwest Texas, to my way of thinking, meant being a military man.

I was ready for the military long before it was ready for me.

In 1945, just before my sixteenth birthday, another event in Bastrop shaped my future. Two local Marines, both wounded in World War II, returned to our little town. One of the Marines had a shrapnel wound to his head, the other wore a cast on his lower leg after receiving gunshot wounds in the Pacific. Whenever I was near them on the street or in a store, I felt awed to be in their presence. I admired their strength and nobility. They had seen things I could only dream of seeing, and I made a decision right then and there: I wanted to be like them. What they had done for the country, I would do for my country.

I knew enough to know I couldn’t join the Marines in Texas, but I had heard somewhere that in Los Angeles a boy could join the Marines at fifteen or sixteen. I don’t remember where I heard this information, but I do know I didn’t question it. Instead, I ran away, hitchhiking west from Bastrop, with my destination some unknown recruiting station in a faraway, exotic city.

I made it as far as Las Cruces, New Mexico. Hitchhiking on the west side of town, I was approached by a local police officer.

Where are you going, son? the officer asked. And what are you doing?

I put on my best adult voice and said, Going to Los Angeles, sir, to join the Marines.

I had no identification, and I refused to tell the cops where I came from. I was bold enough to attempt such a caper, but I knew full well my mother would have tanned my hide if she knew what I was doing.

You look a little young for the Marine Corps, the officer told me.

Then, without giving me much chance to state my case, he threw me in jail.

There were some wild ones in the Las Cruces jail, and I quickly realized this wasn’t the life for me. I pleaded with the police to let me go, that my only crime was a desire to serve my country. Eventually, I convinced the police to allow me to see a Marine recruiter in nearby Deming.

The recruiter looked at my skinny self and laughed in my face.

Then he asked me how old I was.

I’m eighteen, sir, I said.

More laughter.

Actually, I’ll be eighteen soon, I said.

More laughter.

Where’s your mother, son? the recruiter asked.

I gave him some vague answer, and it was back to jail for me. The police told me they wouldn’t release me until I had a ticket out of town, and my complete lack of money made that impossible. The way my sixteen-year-old mind saw it, I was going to have to face my mother or spend the rest of my life with all these crazy men in the Las Cruces jail.

So I called my mother, explained the situation, and then listened as she gave me several of the sharper pieces of her mind. But by the end of the phone call she had agreed to wire me the bus fare from Las Cruces to Austin, and soon I was out of jail and on my way home. When I got there, my mother gave me a lengthy lecture and a firm belt-whipping. Also, a very clear set of orders: Get back in school, or else.

I finished high school with a 4.0—all A’s—and a sore rear. Mom never did spare the belt on me, but she combined discipline with sound teachings on good manners, accepting responsibility, and understanding the importance of striving to achieve success in life.

The sting from the whippings eventually dissipated, but my desire to be part of the military did not. In August 1948, six months after my eighteenth birthday, I joined the U.S. Army paratroopers, a group I studied after hearing of their exploits during World War II. Beginning with my training at Fort Benning, I jumped out of a heck of a lot of aircraft. In fact, I didn’t experience a landing until I returned from Korea in 1952—almost five years after I joined the military. I’ve jumped out of just about every aircraft possible—C-46s, C-47s, C-82s, C-119s, C-123s, C-130s, L-20s, Twin Beeches, U.S. Navy TF-1s, an Army Caribou, and helicopters by the dozen. I’ve crashed in three helicopters and two planes, but I’ve somehow managed to avoid death.

From Korea to Afghanistan and every conflict in between, I have fought whomever my country ordered me to fight. For fifty years in sixty-four countries, I have sought and destroyed my country’s enemies—whether they be called Communists or terrorists—wherever they hide.

So this is my story—a Special Forces soldier’s story—and the story of other soldiers. I tell their stories and mine as I remember them, and I hope I have done them justice. In many instances, names have been changed to protect the identities of those who remain involved in covert operations.

I have a story to tell, and I am finally ready to tell it.


As I waited to die in a rice paddy in Bong Son, South Vietnam, on June 18, 1965, with green North Vietnamese Army (NVA) tracers searing past my naked, immobile body, my mind was not occupied by fear or regret. No, I drifted in and out of consciousness, my body perforated with gunshot wounds, leeches feasting on every open wound, with one thought jabbing at my semilucid brain: Damn, my military career is finished. I’ll never see combat again.

Through eleven years in Special Forces and twenty-seven months in Southeast Asia, I had never been bashful when it came to combat. I lived for it, studied it, and understood it. I knew the risks and did not fear death. Still, I had never come close to being in a spot like this—flat on my back, shot to hell, lying behind a meager bamboo stand that provided pathetic protection. I was out of ammunition and gear. I had taken bullets to my knees, an arm, an ankle, a foot, and my forehead. The bones of my right foot and ankle sat there fully exposed, doing me absolutely no good while causing a breathtaking amount of pain. The force of one of the bullets had driven the sole of my right jungle boot through my foot and ankle and into my tibia. I could not crawl, let alone walk. The enemy had already gotten to me, stripping me and leaving me for dead. In this state, I apparently was not deemed worthy of the extra bullet that would have clinched my death. I was all alone, not a friendly in sight. There was no assurance that I would ever leave this bloody field or see the world from an upright position again.

And still the NVA kept firing. We had pissed the bastards off something fierce, and they weren’t going to stop until every last one of us was as dead as I appeared to be. Their infernal green tracers were whizzing over my head, mocking my defenselessness, popping like cannon fire around my head as they broke the sound barrier. The kerosene smell and blast-furnace heat of the napalm blanketed that rice paddy, brought there by the Air Force F-4C Phantom and Navy F-8 jets screaming above.

When I took stock of my own dire predicament, peering through the now-crusted blood from the wound that had torn open my forehead, comprehending my utter nakedness, wondering how and why I continued to live, I began to ask myself a different question: When all this is over, how in the hell am I ever going to con my way back to the battlefield?

Getting into the battlefield was all that ever mattered to me. From the moment I joined the U.S. Army as an eighteen-year-old, I have never been content to sit back and hear of others’ exploits. My desire to be among the troops at the point of attack struck me first in early 1951, when we were at war in Korea and I was stuck in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I had had more than enough of the 82nd Abn. Div. and was tired of stateside duty, so in April 1951 I reenlisted for combat in Korea, which means I signed on for another three years of service just to get my ass out of the United States and into the war zone.

I didn’t like the Army at all until I got a taste of combat in Korea. I advanced from a private first class to an infantry platoon sergeant while in Korea. More important, I learned what made men tick, and what combat was all about. For the first time in my military life, I felt completely at home. I could have asked for a more forgiving landscape than Korea, which was like no other place. We’d climb a hill, with great expectations of meeting the enemy, only to arrive at the top to see another, slightly larger hill looming. All the trees were stripped for firewood, and cold penetrated my bones. I was only twenty-one years old, so I handled the cold much better than later in life, but we Texans and Floridians in Korea were continuously cold. As far as wars go, Vietnam, with its insufferable humidity and constant heat, was much more to my liking.

Upon returning from Korea in December 1952, I entered Officers’ Candidate School in Fort Benning. During the twelfth or thirteenth week, I contracted malaria and spent a week in the hospital. To return to OCS, I would have had to revert back to the eighth week, since my class was too far advanced for me to catch up with it. I refused this move and was sent to Germany as a sergeant first class and assigned to the 5th Infantry Division as a platoon sergeant. It was during my stay in Germany, sometime in 1953, that I read about Special Forces moving a unit to Bad Tolz, Germany. I began politicking for a transfer to SF, and I made a trip to Bad Tolz to see for myself. Once I learned what these fine men—the fittest and most committed group I had ever seen—were to become, I knew it was the only place for me. I immediately cranked an intertheater transfer and had it granted, to the 10th Special Forces in Bad Tolz. From the moment I joined those fine and fit men, I knew I was there to stay. It was, by far, the best move I ever made in my life. I might leave Special Forces, but Special Forces would never leave me.

So as I lay on the ground in the Bong Son rice paddy, I was forced to imagine my life without the Special Forces, without combat, without an enemy to fight. I didn’t like the thoughts that raced through my head, so I shoved them out of my mind and went to work thinking about what it would take to get my body back together and back where it belonged, on the field of combat.

My journey to this unenviable position, with my body shot up in so many different areas, began in Okinawa at the beginning of March 1965. I was asked by Lieutenant Colonel Elmer Monger, the commander of Company C, 1st Special Forces Division, to assemble an A team—consisting of the toughest jungle fighters—to disrupt the enemy’s movements in the Bong Son area, in the northeast section of Binh Dinh Province, along the South China Sea. At this time, Binh Dinh Province was completely controlled by the enemy, so I knew plenty of action would be coming our way. Captain Paris Davis, our excellent team leader, was assigned by group headquarters, and I was the man with the most combat experience. Our mission was to enter the area secretly, live there, build a Special Forces fighting A-Camp, and train locals to take the action to the NVA in his home. When Lieutenant Colonel Monger asked me to assemble this team, I accepted the mission with a crisp salute and the words Roger that, sir. I have always believed this type of mission was my reason for being on this earth.

After we prepared for the mission in Okinawa, we traveled as a team to the Republic of Vietnam on a C-124 to Qui Nhon, the capital of Binh Dinh Province. There we picked up two unmarked U.S. Army trucks, painted jet black with no military markings whatsoever, for the eighty-kilometer trip north to Bong Son.*

Intelligence reports had alerted us to the heavy NVA presence in Bong Son, our new home away from home. One hallmark of a Special Forces A Team is its ability to get behind enemy lines and build a working camp from the ground up, using a bare minimum of supplies. So for us, this was nothing new. We chose a spot along the An Lao River (clear and fast-flowing at this time of year) that included a clearing that could be used as a landing strip. Our supply list began and ended with the following: one roll of concertina wire, a bunch of shovels, and a stack of sandbags. We started digging, working our asses off day and night. It was great work, and rewarding. We dug until we established smaller holes for individual fighting positions and foxholes, and several larger holes for our communications position and a headquarters bunker. We didn’t know how long we would stay in the area, but we knew there was enough NVA activity to keep us busy.

We had a lot of work to do and not much time to do it. We would be receiving newly recruited mercenaries very soon. Our job was to train these men for combat versus the enemy, then conduct combat against the NVA that infiltrated our district area. Our plan was to engage the NVA in every direction for at least twenty kilometers surrounding our base.

Bong Son was strategically important; the NVA was using the port along the South China Sea to drop off soldiers from the north. They would land at night, in an area that was not a port but simply an available boat landing site, about eighteen kilometers to the east of Bong Son. They arrived by the hundreds in small motorized boats—wooden, flat-bottomed, bargelike boats that could maneuver through the sandbars. Despite the small size of these boats, the NVA piled as many as four hundred soldiers into each one, giving them the look of refugee boats. We didn’t have satellites at that time so we had to rely on human intelligence to let us know what was happening.

Gathering intelligence is what my old friend Master Sergeant Anthony Duarte of Special Forces Delta Project did especially well. After leading a reconnaissance mission in the area, he confirmed the reports. He also told me, These aren’t local hire VCs. They’re well organized and equipped NVA regulars with some Chinese among them. I passed this information along to Team Leader Davis and our control unit, an SF B team in Qui Nhon.

We sent a native Vietnamese speaker out to recruit mercenaries to aid our cause. In the official vernacular of the U.S. military, these mercenaries were called a Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). Staff Sergeant David Morgan, who had completed three tours in Vietnam, traveled with the recruiters, using money provided by a section of the CIA called Combined Studies Division. Morgan and the native speaker found the recruiting of raw, eager young South Vietnamese men pretty easy. We also went to the Bong Son district chief in an attempt to recruit. Of course, he was on the payroll also, an absolute must if we wanted to keep him on our side. I don’t know if these mercenaries believed in our cause, but they would do the work as long as the pay was right. They were willing to train and had no trouble with the living arrangements. Most of them

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What people think about Hunting the Jackal

115 ratings / 98 Reviews
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  • (3/5)
    This book was super grim. I read it right before watching the movie. While I do think it is better than the film version (Netflix), I found the primary motivation for taking the journey to be stronger in the film than the book.That “journey” is a majority of the plot - it bounces back and forth between present-day, with a blindfolded journey down a river, and five years past, when we learn WHY everyone is blindfolded in this book. It was dark and ominous. This book didn’t make me afraid, per se, but I did lay awake for some time after I finished it just feeling the intense after-effects of the book.
  • (2/5)
    I finally watched the movie the other night. It being 2019, a random non-prime year, I'm trying to be less of a curmudgeon (not a resolution, but it does takes resolve...) so I'll just say...I watched the movie. Given some of the logical inconsistencies within the oh-so-required suspension-of-thought (when I did observe something out loud, my wife asked, "Can't you just be in the moment?" We've been married almost 33 years. She knows I can't - brain sees problems, brain asks questions. The task is to only ask them internally.) I wondered the adaptation failed or the source matter did. So I read the book.Problems first: I am not a fan of present tense writing. oddly, Malerman used that style for both his "current" segments and flashbacks, where I would expect perhaps...past tense?This is probably the most absurd premise ever conceived. This might be forgivable, but if there are some people not affected in the way of all but a millionth of a percent (speculation on my part) of all people, how is it that there aren't some not affected at all, instead of being affected in a logically inconsistent way? That might be forgiveable because maybe the incredibly small sample set (of characters) never come across any who are immune.As for positives: It's a quick read. And it's really simple. Really simple. Flat, undeveloped characters. Alternating (for the most part) time slices. Small slices - non-linearity serves it well. Because it is simple, other than that premise, there is no thinking necessary. Now, it is engaging. Maybe that simplicity...Malerman leaves a lot unanswered - why the names of the children (unlike the movie, there is only one reference in the book to indicate the lead character's reason), the an entire world can be infested in an incongruously short period of time, and the mechanism of the Effect...the absurdity is something that cannot be ignored by any reader with reasoning ability.I find it amusing that this is classified as "horror" - how it won awards is baffling. If Malerman had spent time developing the feeling, it might, but as it reads, it fits the "Odd" category and not "Horror". And I don't think it is me (I've not been frightened from a fiction book since I was eight and read a collection of ghost stories) - it really falls short. So, the source matter is the ...source...of the problem, but the adaptation at least improved it. One of those statistical anomalies of a movie being better than a book.
  • (4/5)
    The author is a master at tension building, which made this a very hard to put down book.I read it in two sittings and never got bored with it once.
  • (4/5)
    As it says on the cover, "Don't Open Your Eyes"! And you damn well better listen!I really liked the movie, and this book, as per usual, is better! It's much more realistic, and gets in to more survival details and makes the whole story a little more believable. Malorie is awesome, and Boy and Girl are pretty kickin' too! If you like the movie, you'll like this read. And if you haven't seen the movie, read this first!
  • (4/5)
    From goodreads
    Most people ignored the outrageous reports on the news. But they became too frequent, they became too real. And soon, they began happening down the street. Then the Internet died. The television and radio went silent. The phones stopped ringing. And we couldn't look outside anymore. Malorie raises the children the only way she can; indoors. The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows. They are out there. She might let them in. The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall. Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them. Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything.
  • (5/5)
    A very suspenseful, scary, and chilling post apocalyptic story of people surviving in a terrifying world that has been invaded with extra terrestrials that drive humans insane if they are looked upon. Survivors must wear blindfolds when outsideand have all windows covered to the point of "blackout" so no beings could possibly look in any window. Many friends and relatives of the survivors have already gone insane and killed themselves or killed others. To begin the story, the main character, Mallory, and her sister who live together listen to the news about the strange suicide deaths all over the world until the stations quit broadcasting and Mallory finds her sister has committed suicide. Mallory has just discovered that she is pregnant. However, she comes across an add in the news paper offering a safe house that is opening it's doors to people before it is too late. Mallory sets off with a blindfold to find the house. When she does, the people there take her in. She finds some refuge until suspicions take hold of her by the throat. One more person, a man, comes knocking on the door and needs sanctuary just like she did............ A truly frightening book that makes you realize just how dark the world could get as described in the Book of Revelation. Mallory has been influenced by the hope and determination of some of her roommates which drives the story to it's conclusion. The book has been made into a movie on Netflix and stars Sandra Bullock .
  • (3/5)
    Quick, decent read.

    In terms of "not seeing" novels, I prefer Blindness for Saramago's prose.
  • (4/5)
    This was a short book, but it packs a punch. There were several points where I realized I was physically leaning forward while reading because I was so on edge about what would happen next. Josh Malerman does a great job of conveying the isolation and claustrophobia of a world where simply opening your eyes can lead to madness and suicide, and what that would do to your choices as a person and as a mother. The subtle elements that convey this world is both like ours and not like ours often pay off in unexpected ways (instead of names, Malorie calls her children Boy and Girl). I haven’t yet seen the Netflix movie, but if it does half as good a job of building tension and suspense as the novel does, I’m definitely going to be sleeping with the lights on that night.
  • (5/5)
    The post-apocalypse genre saturates so much of pop culture these days that I try my best to avoid it whenever I can. Color me surprised when I picked up Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, expecting more of the same, and discovered that post-apocalyptic novels are not quite dead yet. Malerman’s debut tells the story of Malorie, Boy, and Girl, an unconventional family living in a world where using one’s sight has become dangerous, and too often leads to horrific acts of violence, murder, and eventually, suicide. The novel shifts between past and present, providing glimpses into Malorie’s life before and after the world started to unravel.

    Malerman provides just the right amount of background information to compel the reader from the very start. He also withholds information brilliantly, as he establishes the haunting atmosphere, pulls you into the mystery behind the sudden acts of violence, and then leaves you wondering who or what could be causing so much chaos and death. The time shifts are also written in such a way that the reader is aware of an absence or is wary of a character, but they don’t yet know why. Putting the pieces together will become a desperate need, but Malerman only gives out information when he feels it is the right time. The anticipation is a killer.

    Malorie desperately attempts to bond to her children in the present and her housemates in the past, but struggles immensely, as she has already lost so much and cannot fathom more death and isolation. While her thoughts dominate much of the narrative, important deviations to the minds of the other members of the household emphasize their similarities and differences. Everyone in the house has seen terrible things and they all have a common motivation, but they want to approach the solution in different ways. This tension and distrust causes much of the conflict in the house, and often makes the reader wonder whether living in the house is as safe as everyone seems to think.

    What makes Bird Box so unique is that it relies heavily on the reader’s imagination. The people in the house must use blindfolds whenever they venture outdoors to fetch water or to make a supply run. Hearing, touch, and smell become imperative to their survival, and when strange objects, sounds, or odors appear, the mind jumps to the worst conclusions. Large portions of the novel focus on journeys outdoors, and these sections are the most nerve-wracking of all. Nobody knows what lurks around the corner, and most of the time, they will never find out.

    Such a fast-paced and unpredictable novel begs for a marathon read. Bird Box by Josh Malerman will make you question your sanity and redefine your sense of humanity. It may also give you nightmares for weeks to come. In other words, it’s the perfect Halloween read.
  • (3/5)
    So, quick review: the book was ok. The eponymous bird box was more afterthought excuse for a cool name than a main theme. Very lacking in character development, I didn't know the characters well enough to care about what happened to them. Lack of time flow and world development. Obvious solutions were ignored with no discussion or mention at all, and apparent limitations on the 'bad guys' are never explained. I liked the idea, and I feel like with some more effort spent at building up the world and the people who populated it, it could have been a lot better. It felt like the author was in a rush. SPOILER ALERT for the rest of this review.Most of the story is told in a series of flashbacks, so it jumps back and forth a lot. I am going to review the story chronologically, then give my overall opinion of the book.The Beginning: pre-Event. Starting out there was a decent setup of Malorie's relationship with (the person that would not be in the entire rest of the book) her sister. I felt like there could have been more build up to the Event hitting home. There are news stories and her sister reacting and talk of theories and conspiracy theories that is a nice outline for a buildup, I just really wish it would have been expounded upon. It's really unclear what is going on in their world, it's hard to get into Malorie's shoes and walk around. Following the sisters through their community to the store or to the doctor a couple times would have added a lot of context and reality, and some of Malorie's fretting on her condition could have been expressed on these trips as well without adding too much to the length of the story, if that was the issue. The Event: Again, lack of information. There is no sense of growing chaos. No sense of passage of time. No sense of growing danger. There's talk of people covering their windows (including Malorie's sister) and she thinks this is over reacting, so I felt that people are scared of the reports but nothing much is actually happening in their community. They are watching tv, surfing the web, using their phones, enjoying utilities, etc, but mostly staying inside. Then Malorie finds her sister is a victim of the Event and all of a sudden she is in a post apocalyptic horror world. Most people are dead, utilities are out (save for the fortunate explanation of power at the House), tv stations are out (this is an assumption, it is never really addressed) and the radio waves are all but silent.The House: I won't harp on about the lack of development. You get a hint at who the characters are, but they were still strangers to me by the time they died. Tom goes out on a mission and Malorie is beside herself, but the author doesn't bring the reader along in the tension. There's no buildup of relationship. At this point, I am wondering how the characters are so confident in the apparent limitations of these unknown foes. They walk around freely inside the house as long as the door is locked and they can't see outside, using a flimsy blanket or piece of cardboard to cover windows. No one seems to worry about anything breaking the glass, or seeping through cracks like mist, or digging into the basement, or 1000 other possible points of attack. Tom points out a flaw in the basement for a whole page or more for no apparent reason. He putters around with helmets and armor, but since it is described as cotton balls and pencils I can't take this seriously. Then Gary shows up and all of a sudden moody, withdrawn Don that was against new people does a 180 out of the blue. There is a bit of suspense buildup, but then just as quickly they kick Gary out. They take him to the door, close their eyes, open it up and trust him to walk away. Then they go about their merry way. No one seems to worry about him breaking or sneaking back in, or to even bother checking if he ever left. They were checking inventory constantly, but no one noticed extra food being consumed. No one worried about angry Don having unguarded access to their only food. Malorie and Olympia go into labor at the same time, which is unlikely but not impossible. I can see that happening. But then there is some excuse given about women starting their periods at the same time so that's why, and it just makes it seem ridiculous. Gary isn't gone, (surprising no one reading) apparently no one in the book could see that coming, they all die. Including Tom. If you watched the movie first, that might be a shock. Present day: Wham bam, for years pass and the kids are little listening machines, trained from infants to wake up with their eyes closed and to identify every sound. I don't have a lot to criticize about the river trip. The kids are more delicate instruments to be used and protected, so their personalities don't really need to be explored. The climax is when they are coming up to the point where Malorie has to Look and birds are going crazy and a Thing is pulling on her blindfold. That part just made me wonder, if the Things could interact with the physical world, why didn't they just tear down blankets, open doors, break windows...? Then they get to the safe point, Malorie names the children, signaling that she is confident they will live... the end.Overall, the book wasn't bad. I watched the movie before I knew it was a book, and I had hoped that the book would tell the 'real story' and fill in the glaring gaps in the narrative. Sigh. I was disappointed. You might notice I didn't mention the bird box. It wasn't worth mentioning. I think it was an excuse thrown in to give the book a cool name. I found myself wishing this would have been a third or fifth novel instead of the author's first. I really did like the premise, I thought it was unique and had a lot of potential. I feel like this was a good rough draft, and an editor should have got out the red pen and sent it back to the author to fill in the blanks. Off topic, Douglas from the movie seemed to be loosely based on Don, but I was very disappointed my favorite character didn't really exist!
  • (5/5)
    Wow! I haven't flown through a book this quickly in a long time. I picked this up about three, maybe four days ago, and I just finished tonight. (For me, that's pretty fast.) I'd seen a few things about the movie, but as it was on Netflix, I wasn't able to watch it. I'm so glad I read the book. This is an edge-of-your-seat, who-can-you-trust kind of book!!! I LOVE that the protagonist is a woman and a mother! This book had me mildly frightened most of the time, and at times I was exclaiming out loud in fear! Loved it!!!!!
  • (4/5)
    Spoilers: A horror/post-apocalypse hybrid and the author's first novel, intensely creepy and an absolute page-turner in the best sense of the word. The underlying phenomenon is never explained as it would be if it were Science Fiction, but it's grounded by a hugely sympathetic progagonist. It alternates between real time and flashbacks, and during the parts of the book that take place outside with the characters blindfolded, it becomes almost hallucinatory, with the author having to describe things without visual imagery. There's only one really hardcore shock, but it's as doozy. Doesn't read like somebody's first book, it's very sure-handed, fully realized and well written. The Special Edition includes a short story set in the same world, turning the concept inside out by getting into the head of an actual victim. A great read, whichever genre you're a fan of.
  • (5/5)
    I’m still reeling from this one. The suspense is so intense. I will say that reading this while pregnant added an extra layer of stress! It’s well written and there were so many white-knuckle moments. It’s terrifying without being too graphic, which is good.
  • (5/5)
    I loved this book. So well-written, riveting, and completely terrifying. I still have questions and would love a sequel.
  • (3/5)
    The film is so much better!
  • (3/5)
    I decided to read the book before watching the new Netflix movie sometime in the next few weeks.I think this book suffered by jumping back and forth between two tracks. Track A is a post-apocalyptic future where a woman struggles to transport two young children from one refuge to another. Track B is set four or five years previous as the apocalypse begins to unfold and the woman seeks refuge with a group of strangers. Everything about Track A basically tells us that Track B is not going to end well, but we spend much of the book waiting to find out how. When it finally comes, it is fairly exciting, if way over the top. Having wrapped up Track B, the rest of the book is spent in Track A and seems anticlimactic if not outright pointless.Side note: I found it amusing that I was willing to suspend disbelief about a vaguely described alien invasion, but it constantly threw me out of the story that the woman only refers to the children as Boy and Girl. Very bad choice.So, slow beginning, decent middle, muddled ending, but still entertaining enough. Now bring on Bullock!
  • (5/5)
  • (4/5)
    You can't look outside, you have to keep the blindfolds over your eyes. If you don't you will go mad and die. This is the life Malorie knows now, follow these rules and she and her children will be safe. I sometime struggle with books set in times after a disaster of some sort whether it's the bomb, plague, or the unkown. This book intrigued me after seeing the trailer for the film version. I have to say that I quite enjoyed it.The story follows Malorie before the problem, during the early part and four years later. I found the story very easy to read and fled through it. For me there was plenty of tension building and a lot of a claustrophobic feeling due to the circumstances.My only niggle is that I didn't get to really understand what the thing was that created the 'problem' and as a reader didn't get to know what the creatures were. However for me it was the characters that mattered and how they bonded and coped with the new world they were facing.I wouldn't say that this story was a horror and it wasn't scary but it was more about the unknown and what was going to happen next and to who. I quite enjoyed this book for what it was and maybe it's a good starting point for somebody to delve into dystopian fiction.
  • (4/5)
    ‘They are monsters, Malorie thinks. But she knows they are more than this. They are infinity.’Bird Box is about an unseen horror that slowly consumes the world. Starting in Russia, news begins pouring in about people going mad and attacking people before turning the violence on themselves. The only correlation between each event is that these people saw something before completely losing their minds.The story alternates between past and present and does an amazing job at building up the intensity levels to the point where you think it can’t possibly get more extreme. But it does. And continues to do so until the final pages. We’re first introduced to Malorie who has recently found out she’s pregnant. She lives with her sister who is obsessed with watching the news and reading up on the attacks in Russia. The attacks begin spreading and soon enough they’re hearing of incidents in Alaska and eventually in their own town. The only hope for salvation is by keeping their eyes closed. Always. The story then switches to the future, where Malorie and her two four-year old children have managed to survive but are attempting to traverse a river blind in order to get the help they need. Meanwhile, she is certain they are being followed but not being able to see their pursuer keeps them in constant darkness.Bird Box is the epitome of suspense. It’s a truly terrifying and unsettling thing to not be able to see, especially when you know you’re forever being watched by something. Something that could cause you to lose your mind with even the briefest glance. These characters are forced to blind themselves in order to adapt to this new post-apocalyptic type world and the portrayal of this forced handicap is extraordinarily done as the reader is also blind to the unknown. Imaginations will run rampant with a host of terrifying possibilities as to what lies just beyond your blindfold. Bird Box is the perfect novel for fans of horror and psychological thrillers, but many will likely have issue with the ambiguous ending.
  • (4/5)
    If you open your eyes and see it, you become deadly violent. Towards yourself and whoever is around you. No one knows what it is that you see because you don't stay sane long enough to tell anyone. A samll group of survivors have banded together in a house. They board up the windows and blindfold themselves before going out to the well to get water. There are two pregnant women in the house also. The story is told between the present of one woman trying to get two children to possible safety down the river (while blindfolded) and the past of the survivor's story.I thought this was very clever, but was completely unsatisfied by the ending.
  • (5/5)
    What happened? Almost everyone in the world is dead. Dead because of SOMETHING they saw outside. SOMETHING that drives humans and animals insane. Now Malorie is alone in an abandoned house with two children, waiting for the time when she and the kids can escape to a safer place. But how will they escape when they can't open their eyes outdoors? The children have never been outside the house without their blindfolds, and neither has Malorie for five long years.But today is the today Malorie and the children will put on their blindfolds and go outdoors to take their long and hazardous journey towards an unknown future. And the SOMETHING is still out there, waiting for them....This is the perfectly creepy scenario that Josh Malerman gives us in Bird Box, a novel that's high on suspense and relatively light on gore. Bird Box has all the atmosphere and tension of an old-fashioned black-and-white horror film, and never fails to surprise and shock from the first to the last page. Highly recommended!
  • (4/5)
    This is a post apocalyptic novel and not one of my favorite genres. The author never really explains what the creatures were. The story was not too scary but rather creepy. I don't think I would want to read it at night before sleeping as the story would definitely play tricks with your mind. The story jumps between past and present and the author does this very well. There is a definite connection to the characters as you do care about what is happening to them. This is the author's debut novel and I would say that it would be good to keep an eye on him as he is very talented in this type of horror genre.
  • (5/5)
    A strange phenomenon has taken over the world. It started with just a few people in Russia and quickly spread to the rest of the world. People are looking at something – we don’t know what – and then after they see it they go crazy and savagely murder whoever they’re with before gruesomely killing themselves.Malorie is pregnant, which somewhat complicates living in this new world where one must keep their eyes closed at all times when outside to avoid becoming a victim of the mysterious, unknown thing. Luckily, she finds refuge with a group of strangers who live in a house where they have meticulously covered all the windows with blankets or cardboard. They close their eyes or wear a blindfold whenever they need to go outside.Bird Box alternates between the time period in which the phenomenon started and four years later, when Malorie is rowing blindfolded down a river with two children that she calls only Girl and Boy. Where is she going and why?This book was so scary! At one point, I was so engrossed in the story and so worried about these people that when my husband walked in the room and tried to talk to me, I just about jumped out of my skin.I thought about Malorie and her friends’ predicament for days. I can’t imagine keeping my eyes shut for long trips outside without even reflexively peeking a little. Clearly, I would not last very long!I rarely read horror but my bestie, Nerdy Apple, recommended it to me and we have pretty much the same taste in books. She said that if I liked The Girl with All the Gifts, then I would like Bird Box. And she was right! I thought it was a unique twist on a zombie apocalypse type scenario. I only have two complaints. One – the author, described labor pains as occurring at the waist. I think he should have asked a woman about the location of contractions to write about them more realistically. Secondly, the ending was not neatly wrapped up and I like resolution. I can see why Malerman wrote it that way though. It made it creepier and left room for a sequel, which I would definitely read. Highly recommend to horror fans or anyone who enjoys the thrill of being scared.
  • (5/5)
    I am not much into horror novels anymore. As I've grown older I find that I really enjoy more literary type novels. But this book was fantastic.
    Malerman is such a fine writer! I actually got creeped out several times during the reading of this novel. I have not been able to say that about a book in many a year.
    I would put this book into the "literary horror" category because of the outstanding writing.
    I look forward to reading more from him in the years to come.

    PS - I had no idea that he lives in Michigan! And not only Michigan, Ferndale Michigan, which is the community right next to mine. Who knew we had such talented people here?
  • (4/5)
    Page turner. Worth reading.
  • (4/5)
    Samarago's Blindness meets Day of the Triffids with a dash of The last Man - not to imply that it's derivative, I agree that it is very good and engaging. But it's pretty firmly in the horror category for me - there no sfnal explanation is even proposed, let alone resolved, for what has been going on, and the mechanisms used by the evil forces to wreak evil seem a bit magical to me.
  • (5/5)
    Bird Box is good. Bird Box is excellent. Bird Box is a wonderful thriller that I recommend to horror and suspense readers alike. There is a plethora of adjectives I could put here in this (bird) box, but the book is short enough for you to create your own.
  • (5/5)
    The scariest part of this novel is the fact that you never find out what exactly it is that people see that causes them to become suicidal. The author leaves the "creature" to the reader's imagination, so we can each create our own perfectly scary horror monster. The story goes between different periods of time, and I really felt that the author did a great job with that. There is a part in the story when it becomes unclear what is the present and what is the past, and it was such a cool effect that it made me like this novel even more (that's all the details you get!). The concept for this novel was really good and it was executed well, so I was very pleased with this story. A word of warning: this is a very open-ended story; the author doesn't give too much and a lot of the descriptions are things your imagination has to put in. While I enjoyed that aspect, I know there may be readers who would prefer more details. Overall, a great horror story that really did justice to the genre!
  • (5/5)
    Five years ago something started happening. People were seeing things. Things that caused them to go mad. Things that drove them to violence and suicide. No one knows what this thing is. No one has lived to tell the tale of what it looks like. No one knows where it came from.Malorie and her two young children are amongst the survivors scattered across the world. They’re living in an abandoned house that holds many memories for Malorie. Memories of time spent with other survivors. Memories that have taught her how to stay alive. Now that the children are four, they need to move on. They can’t stay in this house. Malorie has a destination, but it’s going to require unbelievable feats to make it there. Malorie and her young children must make it to the river behind their home and travel twenty miles downriver in a row boat completely blindfolded. The children have never seen the world and Malorie has trained them to have exemplary hearing abilities, but will this be enough to get them safely to the destination?BIRD BOX is an epic, terrifying, and suspense-filled horror thriller. Malerman expertly intertwines chapters of Malorie’s present day and the look back on her journey to get here. The pace of these chapters is quick and each one seems to end at the height of suspense, which naturally means you have to keep reading! The character of Malorie is at the center of this story and she is easily one of the most relatable characters I’ve recently read about. The dystopian, post-apocalyptic setting Malerman has created is one that I struggled so hard to envision myself as a part of, but with the help of Malorie, who is an ordinary woman, I was able to relate to the decisions she made, the fears she had, and the actions she ultimately ended up taking. I loved everything about this novel! At the end of the day, my only complaint is that I didn’t want this book to end. I’m thrilled that BIRD BOX is being adapted into a movie and while I wait I’ll be recommending this book to everyone!
  • (4/5)
    This is a great book. It put you in the verge and it makes you imagine something different each time. I really like the ending, was quite unexpected. Is a perfect reading for october... Rainy day when you are not sure what is out....