Dale Brown has been a top-selling military techno-thriller author since his debut novel, Flight of the Old Dog first hit shelves in 1987. Since then, he’s written over 30 novels over several different series with the bestselling Dale brown books hailing from his popular Patrick McLanahan series. Brown’s books are famous for their detailed and knowledgeable descriptions of military technology and tactics as well as their fast-paced action and intense plots.
Brown’s focus on military fiction isn’t particularly surprising when you look at his background. Born in 1956 in Buffalo New York, Brown’s life has been defined by military service. He spent his early years as an Air Force brat, hopping from base to base across both the U.S. and Europe with his family before joining the force himself and becoming a U.S. Air Force Captain. He retired from the military in 1986, the same year he wrote Flight of the Old Dog.
Best Dale Brown Books
|Patrick and Brad McLanahan Series||9.82/10||24 Books||Check Price On Amazon|
|Dreamland Series||9.74/10||16 Books||Check Price On Amazon|
|Nick Flynn Series||9.68/10||2 Books||Check Price On Amazon|
|Jason Richter Series||9.52/10||2 Books||Check Price On Amazon|
|Puppet Master Series||9.48/10||2 Books||Check Price On Amazon|
Patrick and Brad McLanahan Series
A Hero Pilot
As his longest-running series, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Patrick McLanahan series contains some of the best Dale Brown books. The series is classic Dale Brown, a techno-thriller series that follows the career of Patrick McLanahan, a skilled U.S. Air Force Pilot who has a habit of getting himself embroiled in global conflicts.
This long-running series starts with Flight of the Old Dog which was released in 1987 and is still one of the best-selling Dale Brown books to this day. It follows McLanahan as he leads a secret mission to fly a B-52 bomber, which has been modified with advanced technology, behind enemy lines. It’s a classic cold war era military thriller and sets the mood perfectly for the rest of the series.
Each book in the series sees McLanahan lead a dangerous mission behind enemy lines while using cutting-edge military technology to do so. This technology is usually on the bleeding edge of what was possible at the time of the book’s writing. At times this can make some of the books feel a little dated. What Brown saw as cutting-edge in the 80s and early 90s can feel either mundane or outright old-fashioned by today’s standards.
This being said, compared to other similar authors Brown has done a good job keeping up to date. As the books have gone through the decades the threats McLanahan has faced have evolved. The Russians, Chinese, Iran, and other rogue states as well as terrorists have all been taken down a peg by the indomitable Patrick McLanahan.
Just as the threats evolve over time, so does Patrick McLanahan. I’m a big fan of series like these but it’s sometimes a little annoying how the lead characters don’t change. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is a classic example. Reacher has been knocking heads together for decades and it’s never taken a toll on him. He’s ostensibly the same man mountain that he was 20 years ago.
This series is different though. The character of Patrick McLanahan has evolved over time. McLanahan starts off the series as a skilled and resourceful pilot who often takes on high-risk missions that need a young man’s quick thinking and fast reflexes. But he isn’t just an invincible action hero. He’s a complex and flawed character haunted by personal demons that often raise their heads at the worst possible time. It’s not surprising that someone who saves the world as often as McLanahan tends to has developed PTSD over the years.
A Varied Career
I’m also a fan of how McLanahan’s career progresses throughout the course of the books. These kinds of books often keep their heroes stuck at the same rank. Jack Reacher is always a drifter and Bond is always a field agent for example. But McLanahan rises through the ranks, becoming a respected military leader.
Patrick McLanahan isn’t the only focus of these books though. Military enthusiasts will love the near fetishization of military technology. Each book revolves around the development of new technologies and the strategies which go with them. As a former military pilot, Brown has first-hand experience of how technology can change the face of the battlefield and it shows.
In Battle Born, McLanahan and his team deploy a new type of unmanned drone called a UCAV which has the potential to revolutionize modern warfare. The book focuses on the relationship between technology and military strategy, a key element of Brown’s books compared to some of his contemporaries. Anyone who follows current conflict will also be aware of how spot-on Brown was when writing Battle Born, unmanned drones really have revolutionized modern combat.
Dale also does a good job of exploring geopolitical relationships in his books. The series covers conflicts all around the world. Some of these, like America’s obsession with Russia, can feel a little cliched and overdone now but are still fun reads. Later books cover the Middle East and even conflicts to do with space and feel much fresher. Nerds like me who enjoy reading about geopolitics will be happy to know Brown provides detailed examinations of the political and strategic forces at play in each conflict. Those who are just here for the action, don’t worry Brown doesn’t overdo it.
The Prodigal Son
The Patrick McLanahan books may be some of the top Dale Brown books but coming into them as a first timer can be a little intimidating. There are 17 books in the first half of the series, published between 1987 and 2011. Thankfully, there’s no need to read the Dale Brown books in order. You can pretty much pick up anywhere and get the gist of what’s going on in McLanahan’s world.
Of course, readers who have followed the series from day one will get the most from it, there are a lot of recurring characters and callbacks to previous books. Thankfully Brown seems to have realized that his Patrick McLanahan series was becoming a little unwieldy and hard to follow.
A Fresh Start
In 2012 Brown released Tiger’s Claw, the first in the Brad McLanahan series. These are some of the best books by Dale Brown and follow Patrick McLanahan’s son, Brad. They are obviously set in the same universe as the earlier books and feature many of the same characters but can be read independently. This makes them a great jumping-on point for new readers. Readers really clicked with Tiger’s Claw and it is often described as the best Dale Brown novel since Flight of the Old Dog.
The Brad McLanahan series is really just more of the same and everything I’ve said about the Patrick McLanahan series can be used to sum up this one. Like his father, Brad is a skilled pilot who takes on the most dangerous missions available while getting to play with the newest toys and gadgets.
Both series are great easy reads for fans of military fiction and techno-thrillers. Both of the McLanahans are easy to cheer for and picking up these books is like being greeted by an old friend. You always know pretty much exactly what to expect but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
A New Team
While the McLanahan series may be Brown’s longest-running series it isn’t necessarily the best Dale Brown series. Some people might prefer the Dreamland Series due to its slightly broader appeal and a wider cast of characters. At first glance, it might seem a little difficult to differentiate between these series. The Dreamland series is also a military techno-thriller series that features our favorite pilot, Patrick McLanahan.
The biggest difference between the series however is that the focus of the Dreamland books is on a fictional secret Air Force weapons research lab located in the Nevada desert, and the people who work there. McLanahan is still a major player but he plays more of a supporting role, sharing the limelight with characters like Dr. Janet West and Colonel Dog Bastian.
Time for Adventure
The series also has a slightly different tone from some of Brown’s other books. The Dreamland series is more focused on action and adventure and has a faster pace, while the original McLanahan books focused more on the geopolitical ramifications of what was going on.
The Dreamland series is a nice change of pace compared to the slightly more serious/heavier McLanahan series while still including everything fans enjoyed from the older books. The series was co-authored by Jim DeFelice and his influence on the tone of the books is often felt.
Nick Flynn Series
It would have been easy for Brown to rest on his laurels and keep churning out McLanahan and Dreamland books but in 2021 he released the first book in his Nick Flynn series. The first book follows Nick Flynn, a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer tasked with hunting down Russian commandos in the Alaskan mountains.
When this mission goes wrong Lynn finds himself out on his ear, exiled to a career-ending guard post on Alaska’s Arctic frontier. While there he discovers that the Russians are probing ever deeper into American airspace. What follows is a race against time for Flynn and his men as they face off against Spetsnaz commandos and try to prevent a potential nuclear holocaust.
The second book, Countdown to Midnight, is Dale brown’s latest book. It still follows Nick Flynn but this time he’s left the air force behind and joint a mysterious intelligence outfit with ties to the Cold War. Once again, it’s Flynn and his team against the Russians as he tries to track down a Russian super weapon that could wipe the U.S. off of the face of the earth.
While taken at face value these books might sound incredibly similar to Brown’s other works, they’re actually quite refreshing. Personally, I’d say they’re some of the best novels by Dale Brown. Brown has proven in the past that he’s great at military techno-thrillers but with these books, he proves he’s also gifted at writing spy thrillers.
The tension in these books is palpable as we watch Flynn and his men face off against foreign threats while not knowing who they can trust at home. While there are only two books in the series right now, the great thing about Dale Brown is a new book is always just around the corner.
Jason Richter Series
If the Dale Brown books were ranked in order of their realism, then the Jason Richter series would probably be right at the top. This is because most of his series tend to revolve around cutting-edge military technology that is sometimes bordering on science fiction. The Jason Richter series are the best Dale brown novels for anyone looking for something a tad more based in reality.
The first book in the series, Act of War, follows Jason Richter, a special operations soldier who is tasked with stopping a series of attacks on U.S. oil refineries. He and his team quickly discover that these are no normal terrorist attacks, they’re an organized attempt at tanking the global economy by disrupting the oil market.
An Enjoyable Diversion
The second book in the series, Edge of Battle, follows Jason and his team once again as they are tasked with securing the Mexican border against a terrorist cell. Once again things soon turn out to be very different than what they initially seemed.
Much like the Nick Flynn series, the Richter books are an enjoyable diversion from the usual techno-thrillers that are Brown’s bread and butter. While they are still set in the McLanahan universe, they feel more anchored in our own reality and contemporary news cycles.
Puppet Master Series
In his Puppet Master series, Brown largely leaves military fiction behind and fully embraces science fiction for the first time. The results are mixed but enjoyable, nonetheless. The first book in the series, Puppet Master, follows a roboticist by the name of Louis Massina.
Massina’s robots can do everything from rescue disaster survivors to preventing nuclear meltdowns and even replacing lost limbs. Eventually, the FBI comes calling, asking him to help them in their battle against the Russian Mafia in Eastern Europe. Massina agrees and is soon dragged into a dangerous conspiracy, forcing him to unleash his powerful cyber weapons and become the puppet master.
The second book, Act of Revenge, once again follows Massina. This time Massina is dragged in to save the day after Boston is attacked by terrorists. The billionaire roboticist and his employees at Smart Metal must deploy every robot in their arsenal to save the day and unmask the shadowy figure behind it all.
These certainly aren’t the best-rated Dale Brown books. This is probably because Louis Massina feels a little bit like a knock-off of Tony Stark from the Marvel comic books. But if you’re willing to overlook the similarities there’s a lot to enjoy here.
Brown is still a master of fast-paced action and he’s no stranger to writing about futuristic tech. In particular, spymaster is the best Dale brown book for fans of science fiction who don’t really care about the geopolitics that Brown’s books usually revolve around.
A Simpler Setting
Jumping into a Dale Brown book list can be a little confusing. There’s a lot of continuity to keep track of and a lot of recurring characters, which means at some point you are likely to be left confused. The Independent Series consists of the top Dale Brown books for those readers who want to try out Dale Brown without worrying about all the books that came before or after.
The series consists of four books that act independently from his other series. They’re the same techno-military thrillers that Brown excels at, just without all the baggage. It also means that Brown can go larger in scale, telling the kind of epic stories that would usually derail his carefully put-together universe.
Easier to Follow
The first book in the series, Silver Tower, follows a crisis in the Middle East after Iran is invaded. Hammerheads, on the other hand, is smaller in scale, focusing on the U.S coast guard and the war on drugs. The last two books are Dale Brown classics and focus on air-based threats against the U.S.
Because of his decision to make these books ‘independent” of his main series, these aren’t the most popular Dale Brown books. It’s a shame that so many people might overlook these because they still feature everything that makes brown a great author, exciting plots, and fast-paced action with lots of international intrigue.
Picking the best Dale brown novel is difficult because most of his books don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re all so intertwined that writing a review on one book in the McLanahan series is much the same as writing a review of the whole series. This means Dale Brown book reviews can all tend to sound the same.
But if one looks a little closer at his series it would be unfair to say all his books are the same. While the general themes of his books from series to series tend to be similar, each series belongs to a slightly different genre and has a different focus. Brown is also consistent. His books may not be masterpieces of literary fiction, but they are always fun reads. If you have at least a vague interest in military fiction and enjoy fast-paced action, you can pick up a Dale Brown series and have a good time.
Robert is a science fiction and fantasy geek. (He is also the best looking Ereads writer!) Besides reading and writing, he enjoys sports, cosplay, and good food (don't we all?). Currently works as an accountant (would you believe that?)