In the author’s debut espionage thriller, a special unit of Green Berets attempts to thwart attacks by al-Qaida.
Maj. Mike Harris, aka “Black Lion,” and his specially trained Desert Lions capture Hassan Izz-Al-Din of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, disrupting a costly terrorist operation. In retaliation, al-Qaida targets the Desert Lions and their families in the United States directly. It’s not long before the terrorists get their original operation on track—a plan, undertaken in part as revenge for Osama bin Laden’s assassination, involving moles in intelligence agencies and other secret operatives. As the Desert Lions search for terrorists abroad, they must also maintain a defense at home, and it turns out not to be an easy task. Viola’s novel is an action-oriented spy story, but it also spends a surprising, but refreshing, amount of time detailing characters’ histories—even those who are about to die or have just been killed—and he devotes ample space to both good guys and bad. This good/evil dichotomy, however, can sometimes be a little excessive: Mike is repeatedly described as an “upright” and “honorable” man, while the villains are depicted as beyond redemption, engaging in random acts of murder, indiscriminate cocaine use and orgies with unwilling participants. (Al-Qaida leader El-Sahiri, for example, is portrayed as an alcoholic prone to knocking back whiskey shots while giving orders to his men.) Much of the book’s technology is truly remarkable, such as the Desert Lions’ radar-subverting and noiseless stealth copter and the terrorists’ “latties”—unsuspecting sleeper agents with chips implanted in their brains. Ample action sequences provide readers with covert strikes and hefty explosions, but there’s a bit too much focus on downtime, particularly scenes involving Mike and his girlfriend, Marcie, who make love for hours and in as many different rooms as possible. Nevertheless, the novel handles many other relationships with finesse, as when Mike meets his father for the first time and shows him respect the only way he knows how—as if he were a superior officer.
An often impressive action thriller propelled by well-developed characters.