The latest military thriller by Brown is a workmanlike offering that may please his many fans.
A few years into the future, American forces conduct military exercises in the Pacific. The country is still recovering from a devastating Russian nuclear attack termed “the American Holocaust” (see Brown’s 2004 Plan of Attack); budget cuts have drastically crimped weapons expenditures, and certain Chinese leaders see America as weak. China claims the entire South China Sea as its own, and are eager to push all foreigners away from its “private lake.” A series of apparent misunderstandings heighten international tensions that might erupt into full-blown war with the United States. Meanwhile, retired general Patrick McLanahan flies modified B-1 bombers on peaceful civilian missions the Chinese take as provocations. Nasty business ensues, but will it get out of hand, and how long will it take to find out? The novel is like an overloaded airplane, packed with so much exposition and hardware-junkie details that it struggles to take off. Chop off a hundred pages of pace-killing, more-than-you-need-to-know information that doesn’t advance the plot, and a good story lies beneath. Most novels are driven either by plot or by character, but this one is driven by hardware. Never mind who is right or wrong, or even who has the best warriors. What matters is who has the best air-to-air missiles, the best technology. McLanahan and his son Brad need more attention so that readers will care what happens to them.
Brown deserves credit for his prodigious research; no one can possibly argue that he doesn’t know his stuff. Every detail in the story feels plausible, which is not to say every detail is necessary.