Storming Heaven, Dale Brown

Putnam, 1995, 399 pages, C$28.50 hc, ISBN 0-399-13931-1

It’s always a pleasure to go back to a favourite author, only to discover that his newest novel is as good as his previous efforts.

Dale Brown is an ex-Air Force pilot who has specialized in far-out aerial techno-thrillers. His writing appeal to me for various reasons; an emphasis on plot, a love of details, a knack at serviceable characters and an eye for the Cool Scene. Contrarily to techno-thriller ubermeister Tom Clancy, Dale Brown’s novel have remained manageably lengthy, and in roughly the same familiar territory.

Storming Heaven is, at the same time, solidly similar to Brown’s previous novels and an encouraging venture in new directions. Like all Brown novels so far, it’s about war in the air. This time, however, America isn’t sending units to fight far away. This time, the battle is at home.

After a perfunctory prologue (Summarized: “I say that America’s borders should be more protected!”, “Ha-ha, you crazy old fool, go home!”), the action kicks in high gear as American authorities try to apprehend Henri Cazaux, the world’s most wanted terrorist. Cazaux doesn’t see it that way, of course, and departs in a small plane after killing a good half-dozen Federal Agents. After National Guard fighters units join the battle, Cazaux is cornered and fights back like a mad dog, blowing up a substantial portion of the Los Angeles Airport in the process.

As everyone licks their wounds, Cazaux realizes that this is how to take revenge on the Country That Abused Him. He quickly hatches a plan to make devastating strikes against the USA’s largest civilian airports…

Most techno-thrillers remain solidly in the military world, barely according attention to more humdrum civilian concerns. Storming Heaven is an exception, given that it’s solidly built around the world of civilian aviation. As is the norm with the best novels of this type, Brown takes us places we wish we could visit: High-stakes financial boardroom, an air controller’s station, a gigantic plane storage park…

As for the novel itself, it might not be the best Brown yet, but even an average Dale Brown novel is better than the norm. Perhaps too disjointed (the novel often appears to be a string of big action sequences tied together) to be fully satisfying and too loosely connected to its characters to be involving, Storming Heaven is still interesting enough to sustain our attention.

Still, the novel has significant shortcomings. Henri Cazaux might be fine even (because) when he’s so over-the-top, but the same can’t be said of his “love interest”, Jo Ann Vegas, who oscillate between victim, sadist, astrologer, punching bag, manipulator, oppressed and genuinely puzzling personality. In a genre so founded on hard facts, it’s puzzling to see the appearance of such a mystical character. She’s the weak link of Storming Heaven. Stylistically, Brown still has a way to go. There has to be a simpler way of saying “The vertical and horizontal antenna sweep indexers of the F-16 ADF’s AN/APG-66 radarscope continued to move, but a small white box had appeared at the upper-left portion of his F-16 Fighter Falcon ADF’s radarscreen.” [P.232] even though I appreciate this level of detail…

Oh; Storming Heaven links together Brown’s Hammerheads (given Ian Hardcastle’s supporting role) and Chains of Command (with the thinly-veiled references to the Clintons, more acidly Hillary who’s described as “The Steel Magnolia”.) even though only Hammerheads (a substantially better novel) is useful as background material.

At least Brown doesn’t forget to have fun, as he slips in some barbs about the Clintons (P.352: “’She’s got bigger things on her mind these days… like how to keep her and the President from being indicted.’”) and self-congratulates himself (P.205: “’Ludicrous. This is not some damned Dale Brown novel, this is real-life.’”)

Not the best Brown novel, but still a darn good one, Storming Heaven should please more fans of the authors, as well as bring in a few new ones.

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