Tag Archives: Stephen Coonts

Liberty, Stephen Coonts

St. Martin’s, 2003 (2004 reprint), 530 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-312-98970-9

The way I wrote about Stephen Coonts’ last few novels, no one would have been surprised had I simply stopped reading his stuff. After the insanity of Saucer, the boredom of America or the misfires in Cuba and Hong Kong, I should have relegated Coonts to the dustbin of failed techno-thriller writers. But stuff happens, used book sales can reveal cheap surprises and books like Liberty can spontaneously appear on my bookshelves.

From the first few pages, it’s not a promising read. Coonts, comfy in his post-9/11 patriotism, write without irony in his acknowledgements about America being the “civilization and economy that feeds, clothes and houses the six billion people marooned on this small planet.” No one ever accused Americans of thinking too small, but this seems a bit much even by the inflated standards of American self-righteousness. Oh well; onward.

At first, even the plot itself doesn’t seem particularly appealing. Like most techno-thriller writers, Coonts has chosen to write his own version of “the bomb at home” plot: Terrorists buy nuclear warheads from renegade ex-Soviet sources and smuggle them into the US: it’s up to series protagonist Jake Grafton to discover and disarm them. Do I even have to reveal the ethnicity of the terrorists?

But true thriller magic soon emerges from this inauspicious start. Unlike most of Coonts’ previous novel, this one starts to click: If you can do like Coonts and ignore most of his previous book’s geopolitical developments (revolution in post-Castro Cuba, Chinese civil war over Hong Kong, etc.), Liberty soon acquires a steady forward rhythm, even finding appropriate dramatic justification for its recurring characters. As Grafton is tasked with the impossible task of finding the bombs, the story keeps on acquiring further complications.

By far my favourite twist occurs when the US government starts sweeping East coast cities for nuclear bombs… only to find out that there are already several ones ticking away. Preposterous and unbelievable, sure, but also indicative of the way Coonts isn’t going to play it completely safe in this novel. Some scenes work splendidly while others fall flat (such as Grafton/Coonts’ on-the-nose depiction of an all-American neighbourhood complete with disposable bagels), but Liberty is, for the first time in a while, the first Coonts novel where we’re having fun. Despite the flag-waving, despite the heady-handed stereotypes, despite the scattered plotting, this novel brings it back together for a while.

It goes without saying that in fine acknowledgement of Chekhov’s Rule, the terrorists’ four bombs are all in play and all serve to juice up the book’s second half. Even the nuke-purchasing terrorists can’t trust each other when one of the bombs is stolen by yet another terrorist group intent on using it to serve their own vengeance. Oh, yes, Liberty is pleasantly twisted, and this kind of low-grade insanity is what keeps readers going. (But one can’t have everything: The third bomb is found and deactivated by pure dumb luck, which is a kind of a twist by itself, I suppose.) The big overlong Hollywood-finale is almost ridiculous in how many plot drivers it cranks up, but as long as everything ends spectacularly, who’s to complain?

Even the characters all get good scenes: Grafton and Tarkington do well by themselves, of course, but even the smaller and newer characters get their turn in the spotlight. New character Anna Modin and Janos Ilin make a great first impression, America‘s Zelda Hudson is turned into a halfway sympathetic character, while master thief Tommy Cardinelli is stuck into an exceptionally thrilling situation midway through the book.

In short, I’m not only surprised by Liberty itself: I’m impressed at how Coonts managed to rescue a good book from the jaws of a failing career. Maybe this is a fluke in an otherwise nose-diving career (certainly, the “Stephen Coonts’ Deep Black” series isn’t a good sign), maybe this is the turning point leading to better novels now that Admiral Gafton has reached the end of his military career. Somehow, I doubt that Jake is ready for the orchard yet. Let’s have a look at Coonts’ next book, shall we?

America, Stephen Coonts

St. Martin’s, 2001, 436 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-312-98250-X

Genre fiction is often an exercise in balancing realism against excitement. Real life is boring, doesn’t make sense and shows an annoying reluctance to pay off in dramatic satisfaction. Yet fiction that relies too heavily on dramatic conventions is more easily dismissed as unrealistic. Hence the tightrope act of any fiction writer in balancing the demands of reality versus the thrills of a good story. Ideally, it’s best to establish just enough reality to suspend disbelief, and then step hard on the dramatic accelerator.

This balance between reality and fiction is tricky to get right in any genre, but military thrillers present their own particular problems, and it’s a mark of the sub-genre’s low storytelling standards that even its best-selling authors have such a hard time succeeding. Too much realism, and the novel sinks in impenetrable jargon, uninteresting details and amiable characterization featuring idealized martial clones. Too much action, and the novel leaves reality as we understand it to end up in a paranoid fantasyland where every non-American is best killed with extreme preemptive prejudice. Dale Brown is particularly bad at this, but he’s far from being the only one.

Stephen Coonts has usually been more successful than most of his colleagues in delivering solid stories with just enough real-world foundations. While he’s been slipping as of late (Saucer and Hong Kong certainly weren’t his best efforts), the early Coonts managed a good mixture between believable realism and big-screen thrills. America, unfortunately, is closer to a disappointment than a success, even though all the elements are there for something much better.

It begins as the United States’ newest nuclear submarine, the USS America, is boldly hijacked by a group of terrorists. That in itself would be bad enough, but what’s in the launch bays makes it even worse: a bunch of cruise missiles equipped with EMP warheads.

This premise by itself wouldn’t be a bad start to a crackerjack thriller. There’s an element of originality, a built-in tension (especially if the missiles are launched in separate waves) and a good hunter/killer element. Find a good antagonist and the rest of the novel practically writes itself.

Alas, Coonts chose to burden his scenario with too many elements that only serve to defuse the tension and increase the giggle factor. There’s an underwater satellite recovery subplot that scatters the story in a direction it didn’t need (and suffers in comparison with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Bright Star), along with money-grubbing villains (some of them French, of course) whose motivations and methods don’t even make sense.

What also contributes to America‘s failure is Coonts’ annoying tendency to re-use the same characters in novels set in the same universe. I’m rarely a fan of loose series, and they make no sense in the military thriller genre: Once you’ve nuked a city, killed a president or fought a war with China, what’s left to do? Coonts has been bitten by this bad habit before (resurrecting Castro for Cuba after killing him in Under Siege) and his habit of trotting out Jake Grafton, Toad Tarkington and Tommy Carmellini for little more than secondary roles is truly starting to grate.

Worse yet is America‘s flat-line dramatic tension. The writing is limp and without energy, with scenes strung along a thin clothesline of plot. Hampered by their existing back-stories, the recurring characters are simply not placed in good positions to follow and intervene in the action. Everything feels removed, distant and telegraphed. It’s only too easy to see where the novel’s good sequences (a cruise missile attack on New York, an underwater submarine duel, a failed assassination attempt) could have been strengthened with just a little bit more dramatic glue. Instead, America often feels like the product of a tired author, a formerly hot novelist now phoning them in for an undemanding audience. After the dramatic drop in quality of his previous few novels, I can’t say that I’m surprised or even disappointed.

Still, what’s especially frustrating about Coonts is that he’s not completely clueless. Unlike Dale Brown or Patrick Robinson, his plotting is serviceable, and there are hints that he still understands the demands of dramatic tension. His writing seldom slides into jargon-heavy militarism, and intermittent flashes of interest show that there may still be hope for him. Unfortunately, I’m thrice-burned, twice-shy on his stuff. If I end up reading the follow-up Liberty, it’ll be by pure used-book-sale happenstance: like so many of the young techno-thriller punks of the late eighties, Coonts has become and old tired warhorse practically fit to be put to pasture, defeated by the twin inability to keep it real and keep it interesting.

Saucer, Stephen Coonts

St. Martin’s, 2002, 340 pages, C$21.95 tpb, ISBN 0-312-28342-3

There are no perfectly sane writers.

There is always a little trapdoor in every author’s mind, a trapdoor that normally blocks dumb ideas, stupid beliefs, sexual kinks, wrong impulsions and other things we don’t really want to know. If the author is reasonably self-cognisant and if his agent/editor is at least mildly competent, the trapdoor stays closed and readers never have to hear about any of the silliness hidden behind it.

But as authors’ careers advance, as they become so successful as to dictate terms to his editor, or as their thirst for money grows outside all reasonable bounds, the trapdoor opens and what comes out isn’t pretty. In the techno-thriller field, take a look at the brief but spectacular flame-out of Payne Harrison’s career. Two excellent novels (Storming Intrepid and Thunder of Erebus), followed by one mildly entertaining potboiler (Black Light) and then Forbidden Summit, one ludicrous straight-to-paperback UFO-are-real conspiracy thriller complete with an afterword claiming that the conspiracy was real. Exit Payne Harrison: he never wrote a novel under that name again.

Now the brain-eating, trapdoor-opening disease has firmly lodged itself in the head of Stephen Coonts, as he trades his credibility for extra bucks with the trade-paperback original UFO thriller Saucer. To be fair, it starts promisingly, as an engineering team discovers a long-buried flying saucer in the Sahara desert. So far, so good: there’s no trace of a conspiracy, and there’s still a science-fictional thrill in contemplating alien relics left on Earth thousands of years ago. What’s more, Coonts anchors his novel around an endearing young protagonist, and if the result may not rise much above adventure fiction for the first hundred pages, it’s decent adventure fiction.

It gets more interesting when the characters figure out that the saucer has been shaped by and for human minds. Savvy SF readers immediately reach for the good old time-travel explanation, with maybe a wince when remembering Michael Crichton’s Sphere. But Coonts then takes his accumulated momentum and runs off a credibility cliff: You see, explain the book’s mouthpiece scientist, humans are the descendant of an alien race that landed on Earth thousands of years ago, and then devolved into tribalism and forgot all about their technological origins.

This, to put it too mildly, is nonsense. It flies in the face of everything we know about early human history, culture and biology. (There’s more than enough genetic linkage between humans and other animals to make it patently obvious that we share a common biological origin.)

But it gets worse, a lot worse as Saucer abandons adventure fiction to focus on the machinations of an evil tycoon, the duplicity of the US government, and romance in a “get me the super-duper MacGuffin!” plot that was better-handled in books like Dale Brown’s classic Day of the Cheetah. Even our likable protagonist loses his charm, as his characterization oscillates between boy genius, dumb teenager (“thirty-year-old women are old!”) and stone-cold killer. Saucer, in other words, gets silly, gets dumb and gets old real fast.

The cherry topping on the sundae comes late in the book, as the protagonists figure out how to hook up the saucer’s advanced computer to a plain old laser printer. Gaaah. At this point, it’s obvious that Coonts just doesn’t even care about his readers: as long as he’s got their money, it’s all good. (But now try to convince those readers to buy your newer books, chump…) This “my readers are morons and that’s a good thing” thinking extends to the mechanics of the saucer’s anti-gravity mechanism, which make no sense and, if I’m reading latter sections correctly, would even prevent the saucer from leaving the ground.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad,: Despite the considerable lengths and silly plot mechanics, Coonts still gives to Saucer a basic readability. Part of it is based in “just how dumb is this going to become?”, but part of it is also based on a scattering of intriguing characters and neat reversals. But this doesn’t change that of all of Coonts’ book, this is the first trade-paperback original, and that it’s nowhere near the quality of his latest books, even the disappointing Hong Kong.

I now see that Saucer somehow warranted a sequel (Saucer: The Conquest, which I seriously think lacks an exclamation point.), which strengthens my whole “Dumb readers! Money! Dumb readers! Money!” theory. Memo to authors: Writing fun adventure fiction doesn’t give you an excuse to ignore logic and good sense. Unless you don’t have any left, the trapdoor having sprung open.

[January 2009: Re-reading the above before tackling a cheap used copy of Saucer: The Conquest, I briefly wondered if the novel really deserved my bucketful of vitriol. After reading the sequel, I’m now worried that I may have been too lenient: The second adventure of boy genius Rip Cantrell is just as bad, if not even a bit worse, than the original. From Area 51 conspiracies to AUSTIN POWERS-grade lunar death beams to the machination of a French tycoon (who, being French in an American thriller, obviously turns out to be evil), Saucer: The Conquest is another damaging piece of nonsense for Coonts, whose recent novels have proven to be more and more erratic. It’s not enough for him and his fans to take refuge behind excuses of “light adventure science-fiction”: This is bad fiction, period.]

Hong Kong, Stephen Coonts

St. Martin’s, 1999, 350 pages, C$39.99 hc, ISBN 0-312-25339-7

The imperatives of commercial fiction can be tough, but as much as I feel for the poor authors trying to make a living out of their writing, my natural sympathies lie with the readers who have to slog through the barely adequate stuff produced by a publishing industry fixated on profits.

Stephen Coonts’ Hong Kong is a perfect example of what happens when a hard-working writer gets stuck in the machine, churning out one commercial novel per year while trying to stretch a formula way past its expiration date. Taken apart, there are at least three or four good ideas in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, they never should have been put together, nor hammered in an existing series.

Yes, Hong Kong marks yet another adventure for Coonts’ favourite protagonist Jake Grafton. After his tour of duty in Cuba, Grafton is back in the game in Hong Kong as a rear admiral sent to investigate a mysterious situation in the ex-British colony. He hasn’t been picked by accident: For one thing, man-of-action Grafton is twiddling his thumbs behind a desk at the Pentagon. For another, the man he’s set to investigate is consul-general Virgil “Tiger” Cole, making a return appearance after starring alongside Grafton in Coonts’ very first novel Flight of the Intruder. (If you’ve seen the movie, Cole is the character played by Willem Dafoe, which is actually perfect casting for this novel too.) Cole isn’t the only returning character: While “Toad” Tarkington is relegated to a cameo role via telephone, a large place is given to thief/agent Tommy Carmellini, introduced in Cuba.

Most of the Hong Kong is spend dawdling around, waiting for the book’s set-piece: a revolution against the communist government now ruling Hong Kong. Cole, we learn, has spent his post-Vietnam years fruitfully, become a multi-millionaire with enough technological clout to ferment a popular uprising against the entire Chinese government. It helps, of course, that he can depend on impossible technology like the “sergeant York” killer robots… about which in a moment.

There are, to be sure, interesting ideas here. The idea of having Grafton meet with old acquaintances of troubled loyalties is certainly interesting, and it’s exactly the type of story sequels are made of. Similarly, the idea of Hong Kong hosting a revolution with the potential to unseat the entire Chinese government is the type of big, big idea that deserves a novel of its own. There there is the technological showcase of the book, a half-dozen semi-autonomous robots able to outrun linebackers, shoot any hand-held weapon with computerized accuracy and operate without constant supervision from remote tele-operators. This is worth building a novel around.

Unfortunately, this type of killer robots isn’t anywhere near reality right now for good reasons: They combine technological capabilities that are far beyond anything possible today. Spend some time reading about the state of automated targeting, computerized image recognition, mechanical locomotion, hand-like articulations and power sources required to do these things and you’ll start laughing at the way Coonts introduces a package combining all of these things in Hong Kong. This is a piece of mid-twenty first century technology dropped in a contemporary setting. While I’d pay good money to read a novel about the introduction of such technology on an appropriate future battlefield, this impossible technology just doesn’t mesh with the rest of Coonts’ novel.

Well, it does meshes in a way, giving life to a few creepy/cool scenes, but that’s it. The final man/robot showdown (you know there’s got to be one, and you can even guess who’s featured in it) seems stolen from a Terminator fan-script. Add to that Callie Grafton’s role as the designated kidnapped woman, the annoying suspicion that this is the last we’ll ever hear of the Chinese civil war in the Grafton series, and, well, Hong Kong is problematic. Despite the good material here and there (including just about all of the showpiece Chapter Nineteen), the book suffers from a number of annoying contradictions that diminish its impact.

This is a Grafton novel because that’s what the publishers demanded, in the false belief that this is what readers want to read. But the selective amnesia required to make long-running thriller series mesh with the ongoing real world gets progressively more exasperating as the series run to compound the difficulties with unbelievable gadgets and indifferent dramatic tension. It’s not an unpleasant book, but it could have been much, much better.

Cuba, Stephen Coonts

St. Martin’s, 1999, 390 pages, C$38.99 hc, ISBN 0-312-20521-X

The events of September 11, 2001 haven’t been kind to techno-thriller writers, ushering a brand-new age of geopolitical realities (some of them shifting on a monthly basis) and instantly relegating a whole decade of post-cold-war fiction into the dustbin of alternate realities. I took my time in making my way to Stephen Coonts’ 1999 novel Cuba and I shouldn’t have: Five years later, the novel seems both oddly prescient and irremediably dated.

Not completely dated yet, though: As of this writing, Fidel Castro is still alive and (presumably) doing well, though getting ever-older. But Cuba open as Castro is dying, an event that will set in motion a number of highly unpleasant changes in the country’s ruling class. Meanwhile, the Americans are taking biological warfare components out of Guantanamo under the supervision of Coonts’ usual protagonist, now-admiral Jake Grafton. (But in a classic case of an author struggling to merge an unfolding military series with ongoing reality, Coonts has to ignore the events of his earlier Under Siege in order to briefly revive Castro once more.) After a prologue in which an old ex-Russian soldier contemplates a missile silo hidden under Cuban farmland, well, it’s obvious where things are going sooner or later. Viva la revoluçion!

Setting a novel around the political changes to affect Cuba after Castro’s death isn’t too far-fetched, nor has it (by itself) passed in alternate realities. What’s more unsettling, however, is the fashion in which the Americans are driven to attack Cuba. You see, evidence shows that the country is developing weapons of mass destruction… oh, you heard that one already? Fortunately, in Coonts’ universe, there are actually a number of real weapons of mass destruction on the island. Whew!

But wait a second: Through the first half of the novel, we’re led in following a plot-line in which the dastardly Cubans steal a shipment of American biological weapons taken out of Guantanamo Bay base. Weapons shipped out by what appears to be a Cuban freighter, no less. (No, that didn’t make sense to me either. But there’s worse; keep reading:) The shipment is hijacked to be sold (we’re told) to those even more dastardly North Koreans. But that’s not all! As we then discover, the Cubans already had a biological weapon program ticking away in warheads pointed to the United States. At this point, sharp-eyed readers may want to frown, let loose with a little “Whaaa?” and wonder why the Cubans, even as crafty as they are, would want to take the risk to steal American biological weapons even as they’re cooking up a few. Even granted an unexplainable Cuban freighter used by the US Navy, it does seem a little bit odd. The reason for this, of course, is sheer authorial decree. Much as the Bush administration fudged around for having an excuse to go to war with Iraq, Coonts fudges around for an excuse to go to war with Cuba.

It certainly didn’t need all of this elaborate charade. If there’s anything significant in this novel in the context of Coonts’ oeuvre so far, it’s that he at least attempts to extend his novel past his usual military material. There’s some political and financial material, in addition to some espionage thrills and a memorable number of scenes set aboard a small civilian boat in peril. Cuba itself is described with a certain flair while Jake Grafton and friends don’t take over more than a half of the book. Sadly, when they do take it over, they do it will all the importance of pet characters; they fly planes, disembark on disabled freighter, go into action and do all sorts of things best left to subordinates. There are a few battles scenes; they are fun but quite ordinary.

All of which leads me to regard this novel as the kind of book best described as a contractual obligation. Yes, it’s decent entertainment, but there’s scarcely any of the fun and excitement we could expect from a top-shelf techno-thriller. It’s as if Coonts woke up one morning to find a note on his to-do list saying “write next novel”. It results in a novel that gives some warmth but not fire; some whiffs of interest but no flair. Hey, it’s better than what most of his colleagues in the military fiction business were able to write at the time. But it’s still not much of a reason to buy the hardcover, or slog through it if you’re not already a fan of Coonts’ work.

Fortunes of War, Stephen Coonts

St. Martin’s, 1998, 376 pages, C$33.99 hc, ISBN 0-312-18583-9

Regular readers of these reviews know that I have said a lot of nasty things about the current works of those who used to write great techno-thrillers in the early nineties. Tom Clancy has killed his editors. Payne Harrison suffered brain damage and turned UFO-nut. Larry Bond took too much Prozac and now writes simplistic crap. Dale Brown re-writes the same boring book again and again. Harold Coyle got lost in the Civil War and never came back.

Compared to all of his classmates, at least Coonts is making an effort. Granted, The Intruders had problems, and I can’t discuss the formulaic-sounding latest Cuba, Hong-Kong and America trilogy without reading them first, but at the very least he doesn’t actively try to repeat himself. Fortunes of War, despite some shortcomings, is a step in the right direction. One that should be attempted by a few of the afore-mentioned authors.

The first great thing about it is how it does not take place in the author’s flagship universe. Whereas Clancy continues to play in Jack Ryan’s increasingly divergent parallel Earth and Dale Brown re-uses the same characters over and over again, Coonts temporarily abandons his Jake Grafton alter-ego here and branches off in a new world: In the first few pages of the novel, the Japanese emperor is murdered by hard-liners, and preparations are made by the new government to invade oil-rich Siberia. Oh, and both sides have nuclear weapons…

Shortly after Japanese troops take over Siberian cities, American pilot Bob Cassidy is dispatched to the area with a squadron of F-22s. The United States want to stop the Japanese intervention, but political pressures force them to send only pilots who will fight for the Russian air force. Of course, things are more complex once the Americans have to face a new Japanese fighter jet, and Cassidy has to fight against a friend on the other side…

Have I mentioned the coup that drives a rabid dictator to the top of the Russian government? There is a lot of material in here, and it’s Fortunes of War‘s chiefmost problem that it attempts to cover a lot of ground in relatively few pages. Describing a war takes time unless you severely constrain your scope (see Coyle’s Team Yankee), and while Coonts focuses on a few characters, the picture still seems fragmentary.

It doesn’t help that several pages are spent on the wrong things. Most of Cassidy’s fellow pilots are discussed more intricately during their recruitment than after. A lot of time is spent in preparation rather than the actual war itself. There are only a few glances at the ground war. At the same time, the novel flies from the pilots to the politicians. While the beginning is laborious, the ending is rushed. In short, there seems to be a lack of focus.

There’s also, in the middle of this realistic scenario, a bit too much of war-stories dramatics. The “elite corps of competent misfits that has to fight battles on their own” motif is, by now, so over-used that even careful rationalization can’t completely excuse it. The friendship between pilots on opposite sides is interesting, but seems artificial. The Russian dictator is straight out of Central Casting.

Still, the novel is a good read, and not an entirely unsatisfying one. There are good action set-pieces, and a few interesting characters. More of them die than you might expect. Maybe best of all, this novel doesn’t slavishly imitate Coonts’ earlier works, which have concentrated more on the Vietnam War (Flight of the Intruder), limited theater engagements (Final Flight) or more espionage-driven plots (The Minotaur). It’s his first try at a brand-new war; give him some slack. At least he’s working harder at it than his colleagues.

The Intruders, Stephen Coonts

Pocket, 1994, 375 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-87061-0

Readers already familiar with military fiction already know that most of it takes place during wars. Whether historical or imagined, war seems a natural place for highlighting the efforts, sacrifices and emotions of average (?) military characters.

Stephen Coonts’s first novel was Flight of the Intruder, a Vietnam-era story of naval aviators trying to do their job as well as they could under the hesitant American political system. It was turned into a movie, albeit not a very successful one.

Afterward, Coonts branched out in fiction that was closer to thriller territory than military action… Terrorists taking over an aircraft carrier (Final Flight), a witch-hunt for soviet spies in a top-secret aircraft project (The Minotaur), drug dealers taking over Washington (Under Siege, not the Seagal movie) and hijinks in post-USSR Russia. (The Red Horseman)

All these novels starred Jake Grafton, a professional naval officer. In Flight of the Intruder, he’s a pilot. In Final Flight, he’s an air wing commander. The Intruders fills in some of the gap between the two novels. What’s unusual about it is that it’s straight military fiction without a war.

It’s 1973. The Vietnam war is over, at least for the Americans. Jake Grafton has narrowly evaded a court martial for his acts at the end of Flight of the Intruder and is now enjoying his leave in the United States. Things don’t go too well: Drinking in a bar after a stormy meeting with the parents of his wife-to-be, he gets mad and defenestrates a guy who’s ragging against the military.

For his troubles, Jake gets an affectation on an aircraft carrier, teaching carrier aviation to Marines. What follows is almost two hundred pages of miscellaneous anecdotes and a seventy-page adventure tacked at the end.

This is not meant to be disparaging: The Intruders is quite enjoyable overall, with its detailed description of life aboard an aircraft carrier cruise. Simply put, carrier aviation is not for sissies: There’s probably no more difficult task for a pilot than to land on the ridiculously short deck of a carrier, at night, during rotten weather where the landing deck can suddenly jump up and down by several feet. Even departing from a carrier, as Coonts shows us, can be hair-raising.

Much like the movie MEMPHIS BELLE, Coonts compresses dozens of exciting incidents, big and small, in one trip. Most of them happen to protagonist Jake Grafton, (Someone is the book says: “Stuff keeps happening to you, man!”) who decides early on that this will be his last cruise. Of course he will stay (see the later novels), but why?

Coonts’s characters have always been fairly interesting, and he surpasses himself in The Intruders. Not only are Grafton’s friends more polished than ever before, but Grafton himself acquires an extra depth during the novel: his evolution to the mindset of a professional Navy aviator is very credible. Meanwhile, we get an insight in the psychology of naval pilots, probably one of the toughest job on Earth.

The novel suffers somewhat from the inclusion of a pirate adventure (really!) at the end, another case of “Uh-oh! Got to have a plot!” anxiety.

Exciting, fascinating, gripping and not without an extra layer of significance, The Intruders manages to overcome the potentially off-putting barrier of “historical non-warfare” military fiction to produce a novel that’s commendable to anyone interested in the genre. You will learn stuff, and you will enjoy it.