The veteran flyboy tale-spinner (The Intruders, 1994, etc.) rewrites the near-future-war formula--with splendid results. With the high-tech thriller genre suffering from a shortage of drawing-board hardware and credible villains, it's wonderful to find Coonts breaking free from Clancy-esque overplotting to craft an oddly optimistic war drama that's less about the mechanics of warfare than the conflicted loyalties of the soldiers who'll fight it. The admittedly contrived scenario involves a plan by fanatical right-wing Japanese Prime Minister (and Yukio Mishima fan) Atsuko Abe to annex oil-rich portions of Siberia by using a squadron of radar-invisible Zero fighter jets and an illicit nuclear arsenal. American President David Hood, eager to meddle but not get officially involved, sends a bunch of F-22 fighters with a crew of crackerjack flyboys to ""assist"" Russian President Aleksandr Kalugin, a maniac with Stalin-esque ambitions and a few nuclear warheads left over from the bad old days. Once the fighting starts, Coonts wisely shifts his story away from the heavily caricatured government leaders to an assortment of middle-to upper-level flyboys, spies, and submarine crewmen whose patriotism and stoic devotion to duty are complicated by feelings of sympathy and camaraderie with ""the enemy."" They are also, to a man (and woman, a tough-as-nails fighter pilot and one of Coonts's more memorable creations), horrified at the devastation they're about to unleash. Superb battle scenes, in the air or under Tokyo Harbor, lead to a climactic aerial dogfight between Jack Cassidy, an emotionally vulnerable F-22 squadron commander, and his Japanese opposite number--Captain Jiro Kimura. Having trained together in the US, Kimura and Cassidy are close friends who can, if they choose, end the conflict before it leads to world destruction. A stirring examination of the courage, compassion, and profound nobility of military professionals under fire. Coonts's best yet.