New York Times Bestselling Author

The Steel Shark

His dog. His computer. The tunnels under New York City.

That’s all Joe Tesla’s agoraphobia has left him with—the inside world, the dark world—and now the black depths of the sea.

In the latest book in this award-winning thriller series, Joe Tesla ventures out into the ocean depths in an underwater scavenger hunt. The competition turns deadly when a mystery sub rams Joe’s and leaves him for dead on the ocean floor.

Joe survives and his search for answers leads into a web of international intrigue and enigmatic weapons. When he shares his knowledge with the authorities, they bury his information and threaten to bury him as well. After a drone attack drives him out to sea, he realizes that he alone can discover the truth hidden in a rogue submarine…

…and save the city he loves from annihilation.

But can a man trapped inside by his own fears ever save the larger world above?

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Reviews

“‘Hell hath no fury like a woman seeking revenge.’ This statement pretty much sets up the theme for Rebecca Cantrell’s latest addition to the Joe Tesla series. Women are the real focus in The Steel Shark, both as villains and heroes…The characters are what make The Steel Shark and the series really enjoyable. I delight in Joe Tesla’s quirkiness and I just want to give Edison a big hug. Full of adventure and excitement, The Steel Shark is a fine addition to the series. My only complaint is that I am going to have to wait until the next book of the series to come out.” — A Thrill a Week

“Just like the previous Joe Tesla novels, I really liked this one too. There is one very exciting difference though. Joe leaves the tunnels underneath NY and ventures out to the open ocean…Kudos to the author for continuously surprising her readers…The Steel Shark is well-written, thoroughly researched, and a whole lot of fun…If you like thrillers with a splash of adventure thrown in, you will really love this book and the rest of the series!” — Reads and Reels

“One terrific read! Once again, Rebecca Cantrell has upped her game with the latest Joe Tesla novel…Just grab a copy and see for yourself. It reads quickly, partly because you can’t put it down. Between the tension, the fear, the connection of man and dog, and the multitude of trouble they get into, it’s always a thrill from page one.” — Mystery Suspense Reviews

“It truly does suck that my dream man is an agoraphobic fictional character who lives under Grand Central Station. Joe Tesla, in this, the fourth novel in Rebecca Cantrell’s Joe Tesla series, remains a character who is full of heart, warmth and an intelligence that just won’t be stopped by anything. Not even crashing submarines…This newest installment caught me from the first page, making me quite anxious to get into my reading and finish the book, but at the same time I desperately didn’t want to because I didn’t want it to end.” — A Lovely Little Book Blog

“Joe Tesla just wants to expand his world a little more by buying a submarine and competing in an underwater scavenger hunt in The Steel Shark.But after his sub and another are taken out by a much larger one, Joe finds his life suddenly in danger..This was a fun adventure and a great addition to the series…And I look forward to next time!” — The Speed of Write

“BRAVO!! It’s a high speed thriller, smart, inventive fun mental journey!! So many twists and turns… All unexpected and very satisfying..I love that the women decide to make a stand.. and come up with one heckuva a plan to live a life THEY want and desire. The women just need to accomplish one wee task.. or two.. and then.. their lives belong to themselves…Rebecca Cantrell was really in her groove when she wrote, ‘The Steel Shark (Joe Tesla #4)! It flows so beautifully. Tons of fun.. and LOTS of thrills and mystery! This is one of those rare novels.. that many readers will feel compelled to read more than once!!” — The Review Crew

“You’re going to love Joe Tesla! A brilliant programmer and millionaire debilitated by agoraphobia, a fear of crowds and public places. Throughout his journey to discover the truth about a hidden presidential train car hidden in the depths of New York’s tunnels, you’ll see his flaws and his strengths. Accompanied by his faithful dog Edison, they embark on a journey to discover the truth that might cost them their lives…I actually missed him when it was over. Can’t wait to read the next book in the series!” — Mystery Thriller Week

“I just finished reading The Steel Shark (Joe Tesla, #4) by New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell, where we are plunged back into the dark underground world of agoraphobic millionaire Joe Tesla. Only this time, we are plunged into the dark underwater world of Jacques Cousteau…This book has it all – excitement, intrigue, sorrow and lots of comedy splashed (pun intended) in between that binds it all together! If this series of books were my children, I’m going to go out on a limb and risk being called a ‘bad mother’ and state that this one is my favorite. I will be patiently waiting to find out what adventures, or misadventures, Joe and Edison are thrust into the next time trouble comes knocking at their door.” — Su Ann Thompson, Goodreads

 

News

In-depth interview about The Steel Shark and all my various writing projects at Edge Media Network.

Talking about the series over at Mystery Thriller Week.

THE STEEL SHARK

Rebecca Cantrell

 

 

Munchon naval base, North Korea

February 8

 

They boarded the plane as women, but they left it as men. In full naval uniform, they trooped single file down the stairs onto the frozen runway. The business jet’s door closed, and the plane taxied toward a turnaround to take off again. Within two hours, the plane would be sinking to the bottom of the Sea of Japan, and they would be presumed dead.

Or actually be dead.

Laila led the newly minted men to their destiny. To do this, she had to become her brother, and she concentrated on aping his bowlegged, rolling gait. The words of a royal cousin echoed in her ears: Always the hips are foremost, as if the cock is pulling him onward like a dog on a leash. Toes pointed out at ten degrees, and a roll of those eager hips when he lands each foot. Your brother doesn’t so much walk as he fucks the air.

She swaggered to a battered staff car parked in front of an empty bus. Cold wind snapped at a blue and red North Korean flag mounted by the car’s right front tire. Next to the open door, a driver stood at attention. He was a small man, no taller than the disguised women, his dress uniform too long. He touched his old-fashioned peaked cap and started to bow, then caught himself as if unsure about the protocol.

“We are honored to welcome you to our country, General Dakkar.” A North Korean accent wove through his Chinese words.

“The honor rests with me,” Laila answered. Theoretically, her brother had learned Mandarin in his private schools, although in reality only she’d taken the time to study the language.

Satisfied with her answer, the driver opened the door for her and her companion while the others filed aboard the bus. When the driver drove onto a gravel road, his dim headlights illuminated only a meter ahead. Beyond lay darkness like she’d never seen.

Old leather creaked as she shifted, and her cold gun dug into her ribs. Icy clouds of breath condensed in front of her recently applied mustache. Nahal surreptitiously squeezed Laila’s hand with fingers cold as ice splinters. They could do this, the pressure against her hand said.

They had been on this road together for months, after all, ever since Nahal had hacked into Laila’s brother’s laptop. They had discovered evidence of a wide-ranging conspiracy that ended with an email detailing a top-secret submarine transaction. That submarine might give them freedom to escape the strictures of their lives and perhaps even to prevent future injustices.

More research had revealed their government had ordered a stealth submarine from China at twice the usual price to guarantee absolute confidentiality. In trade for badly needed Western currency, a North Korean intermediary had agreed to perform the handover to further obscure the vessel’s provenance and keep Chinese hands clean. So far, as the wider world was concerned, the new submarine didn’t exist.

That was why she and Nahal were jolting through a deserted forest in the middle of a cold winter night.

They were going to steal that submarine.

Like something out of a film. Only a princess who had watched a thousand movies and a hacker who had hacked a thousand computers could ever have pulled it off. It had taken months of careful planning, audacious hacking, and a great deal of money, but they had come this far, and they couldn’t turn back.

She stared into the cones of light, wishing she could see farther. Beyond the frost-rimed window, snow churned against a backdrop of black pines. Not a single soul to be seen.

The driver’s nervous eyes met hers in the rearview mirror. She adjusted her military hat to shadow the top of her face, splayed her legs as her brother would have done, and scowled, an expression that must have been familiar to the driver because he looked away.

Several minutes later, the car rolled to a stop in a gravel parking lot. The darkness on the horizon became absolute, and she realized it must be the sea. If she reached that horizon, she would be free.

Cold night air scraped her cheeks when the driver opened the door. The smells of engine oil, steel, and fish permeated the piney darkness. Goose bumps rose on the nape of her neck. Her newly bare skin felt vulnerable without hair to cover it.

She and Nahal left the car and accepted another salute from the pair of armed men. Being a man wasn’t so hard. Salutes and respect.

“Show me the vessel.” The Chinese words came out rough and deep, as she’d practiced, and men scurried to follow her order. This was how her brother lived every day—men obeyed him without question.

A man barked out a word she didn’t recognize, and the submarine’s lights came on. She stifled a smile as she gazed upon her prize resting by the dock. The long hull was black and sinister. Gray camouflaged masts and stubby fins adorned the rounded sail fastened to the top deck. She identified communication masts, a periscope, a radar antenna, and the air induction mast. All accounted for.

Soon, she’d be standing inside that sail as captain and watching her friends go inside the submarine itself. She sank deeper into the role of her brother, pushing her hips forward against the air as she acknowledged a flurry of salutes from sailors of lesser rank on her way to her counterpart, the Chinese commander. No one else merited her brother’s time.

Unlike the North Korean soldiers, the Chinese leader’s uniform was stark white, and his men wore white shirts with blue-striped collars and white caps with a red star in front. Ready for the handoff, they stood in even rows on the dock next to the submarine.

“Good evening, Commander Wang,” she said in Mandarin, matching her words with a salute.

A sour expression crossed the face of the young man next to the commander. He must be the now-unnecessary interpreter. Inside, she pitied him, but her brother wouldn’t have, so she ignored him, enjoying having the unfamiliar power to ignore a man.

The commander returned the salute. “You speak my language well, Prince Dakkar.”

“You do me a great honor,” she said, aware her brother wouldn’t be so humble, but suspecting the commander would respond to respect better than contempt.

He gestured to the submarine.

She walked across the dock and stepped onto the dark hull. She’d rehearsed this moment so many times it felt like a scene from a movie.

Behind her, her crew filed onto the dock. Each carried a duffel bag with the possessions she’d brought from home. Even with padded uniforms and shoes with lifts, the women looked small and slight. But their Chinese counterparts weren’t much bigger. After all, submarines were said to employ small men to crew them.

Nahal stood farther back on the dock, holding a clipboard, talking to her Chinese colleague, and signing forms. So far, everything was going according to plan.

Laila climbed atop the sail and looked across the nearly deserted dock. The North Korean sailors kept a respectful distance, as they’d been ordered to do in Nahal’s spoofed email. The Chinese sailors faced away from her in silent rows. She turned her gaze to the black water.

“The view is sublime when one is at sea,” said Commander Wang. “Such a creature as this was not meant to be tethered in a dock.”

“It is a beautiful vessel,” she answered, remembering the Chinese didn’t refer to ships as female, as the English did. “Sleek as a seal.”

The commander smiled. Even though this wasn’t his submarine and he’d only been tasked with delivering it, his pride shone through.

She climbed down into the warm control room, relieved to recognize the dials and screens. “Your simulation software was precise.”

The commander inclined his head. “Your government wished you and your crew to take control of the vessel with little hands-on training.”

“Indeed.” Technically, that had been her wish. She and her crewmates might fool the Chinese sailors for the length of the handoff, but a longer training period would reveal them as women, and also reveal none had ever set foot in a real submarine.

He led her on a tour of their new home—radio room, a space for electronics, living quarters, a fully stocked mess and galley, and the captain’s cabin. More cramped than she was used to, but all the more free. The lower level contained torpedoes and sea mines, sleek and deadly, reminding her that this vessel could do more than hide them from a world that treated them no better than beasts. It could fight back.

She followed her counterpart aft, struggling to understand the words as he discussed the propulsion system, generators, and batteries in rapid-fire Mandarin.

“We have built you a shadow,” he said. “This is the most sophisticated diesel electric submarine in the world. No other vessel can hide under the waves so well as this. It is truly a marvel of Chinese engineering.”

“It is as silent as a steel shark.”

“And just as deadly,” he responded.

Thus she remains free to roam the seas, Laila thought.

Her crew had boarded during her tour and stood at attention at their posts. They seemed no more nervous than any crew about to take a new and unfamiliar ship out of the harbor. The women had been through much in their lives, and they knew how to present a calm face to the world no matter the situation.

Commander Wang saluted one final time and spoke with his first officer.

Her heart pounded so hard she feared everyone in the control room could hear. Nahal had ordered the transfer of funds to complete payment on the submarine. Laila stood, back ramrod straight, and waited for the money to go through. Nahal had hacked into dozens of naval accounts to acquire the funds for this transaction, careful to create a trail back to Laila’s brother. Now they waited to see if her hard work would bear fruit. Months of planning came down to the next few seconds.

A crisp nod from the Chinese soldier to his commander, and a bolt of joy shot through Laila’s breast for the first time since she’d learned of her sister’s death. Months of despair fell away.

“All leave,” the Chinese commander ordered.

His remaining men filed out and up the sail, rubber shoes whispering across steel rungs, feet thumping on the dock.

She exhaled. The sub was almost theirs.

The commander gestured for her to precede him up the ladder, and she did. Still holding the clipboard, Nahal followed.

The three stood together atop the sail in the cold wind. She looked at the dock, the pine trees, and the rocks lining the beach. Fast-falling snow shrouded it all. By morning, they would be far away, leaving no trace of themselves behind.

“You do not wish to take a trial run with us?” The commander sounded incredulous, in spite of the orders he’d received in Nahal’s email.

A foolhardy act to go out without a trial run, she conceded privately. Aloud, she said, “My men are ready. Do you not trust their skills?”

His impassive face gave nothing away. “The vessel is yours now, to use as you see fit.”

“My government is most grateful to you.” The money had been transferred, which was all he need be concerned about.

“As is mine,” he answered.

The sound of an engine cut across the wind. Approaching headlights lanced the darkness. Perhaps their jet had been intercepted before it could crash. Perhaps the car came to arrest them. Or perhaps a North Korean delegation came to see them off, but there had been no mention of a delegation coming to see them off in the emails Nahal had intercepted.

The Chinese commander looked at her sharply as if he, too, was unprepared for the forces barreling toward them.

“We leave now,” she said.

The commander wavered.

“The vessel is ours,” she said. “You have received payment.”

Flinging gravel, the vehicle braked to stop. A bus identical to the one parked at the end of the dock. The dark outline of twenty figures visible inside. A man with a too-familiar rolling walk burst out the front door.

Her brother had arrived.

He froze at the sight of someone standing atop the submarine in his uniform. Men in dark clothing flowed around him like oil and headed toward her. Someone had pierced Nahal’s layers of protection and discovered the new meeting point. But she knew Nahal had been careful to make sure no messages could be traced back to them. Hopefully, she’d been clever enough.

The Chinese commander reached for his shoulder, but she drew her gun and clubbed him on the side of his head. Blood flowed from a wound near his temple, and he crumpled. She hoped she hadn’t killed him. He wasn’t part of her war.

Chinese sailors scrambled across the dock. She ducked next to the fallen commander and tried to think. She hadn’t come so far to lose the women’s freedom now. A bullet pinged off a mast behind her head, and Nahal pointed toward the entrance to the sub.

Laila whispered a prayer and peeked over the side. She doubted any of the men would have recognized her in her disguise, on the top of the submarine and at night. But her brother might have. He was close now, and his gun was pointed at her. He fired, but missed her. As she’d practiced, she sighted her pistol on her brother’s thin chest. With a slow tug, she pulled the trigger.

His bowlegged stride faltered, and he staggered to the side. Again, she sighted, and again, she fired. He fell to the dock and lay still. Wild glee flashed through her, and she stifled a laugh.

No matter what else happened tonight, she’d won.

With a moan, Nahal collapsed against her. Red blossomed on Nahal’s shoulder. She’d taken the shot meant for Laila. Laila dragged her friend to the hatch in the top of the sail. A snail trail of red gleamed on the hull behind them. Meters away, the commander lay still, white uniform bright against the dark deck.

“Hold on to me, Nahal.”

Nahal’s arms tightened around her neck. She half climbed and half fell down the rungs and into the control room. She eased Nahal to the floor.

“Back full!” Laila shouted.

Ambra must have been getting everyone ready, because the sub jerked as soon as she spoke. Bullets slammed the hull, but they wouldn’t hurt them in here.

“Get Meri!” she called and heard her order relayed through the ship.

She left Nahal and scrambled up the rungs to secure the hatch. By the time she came down, Meri crouched next to Nahal’s motionless form, a medical kit by her knee.

Laila raced into the control room. Delicate hands flew over controls. For months, her crew had practiced for this moment in their simulators, but no one had been shooting at them then. Still, they moved as well as a more seasoned crew. They were brave, every one.

They had to get away from the dock to deeper water so they could dive. In deep water, they were invisible, but right now their steel shark was a fish stranded on rocks. She must thrash back into deeper water before she suffocated.

Laila focused on the sonar screen. No other ships around.

“Dive!” she shouted.

“We’re not far enough out,” Ambra said.

“Drop as low as we can go,” she commanded. “And keep us moving. Dive deeper the second you can.”

Women scrambled to obey.

Whatever happened, they weren’t going to be taken alive. She’d promised them.

 

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