In O’Connor’s (The Seventh Seal, 2015, etc.) latest novel, American POWs traded by the North Vietnamese to Libya must find a way to thwart their captors.
After languishing in a North Vietnamese prison camp during the Vietnam War, U.S. Navy Capt. James Vincent Trader and a handful of captive American airmen think their luck has changed when they’re told of a peace accord that will allow them to return to the States to join their families. It eventually becomes apparent, however, that they’re in worse trouble than before when Libyan Col. Gaddafi’s sadistic lackey, Ambassador Jallud, relocates them to a remote Saharan outpost and informs them that they will help carry out his fanatical dream to make Libya a political superpower by producing detonators for nuclear weapons. With their own families under serious threat and the U.S. government unaware that the men are even still alive, the prisoners reluctantly agree to work on the program. Jallud effects a series of outrageous heists in order to realize his dream of Libyan nuclear domination, and the men devise plans to make their work less effective, as well as possible escape plans. As the nuclear project nears completion and Jallud’s bloodlust increases, the prisoners’ schemes begin to unravel, and it looks likely that the men will perish without the outside world knowing about their ordeal. Most of the prisoners in this story, with the possible exception of Trader, remain interchangeable; they seem almost to speak with the same voice, frequently ending conversations with the phrase “God Bless America.” However, the intricate plotting and technical detail throughout this brisk work is truly impeccable, as in its descriptions of the workings of a nuclear submarine or a hijacking of Longbow missiles. There’s also an amusing awareness of cinematic and literary inspirations, with cheeky nods to The Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), such as when a character whistles the “Colonel Bogey March” from the latter film.
A fast-paced and often savvy thriller.