BALANCE OF POWER by James W. Huston


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A debut military thriller that delivers the requisite guts and glory while making a meaningful statement about the ambiguous role of violence in America. Huston, a former Navy F-14 flyboy, bases this intelligent if somewhat wooden page-turner on the scruffy antagonism between Newt Gingrich and President Clinton. His fictional stand-ins lock political horns over the proper response to a terrorist attack on a new American merchant vessel in the South China Sea. After pirates kill the crew, booby-trap the ship, and take the captain as a hostage to an uncharted Indonesian island, gassy President Edward Manchester decides to claim the high moral ground by not responding with force. His situation, we learn through the eyes of his beautiful (and chaste!) aide Molly Vaughan, is that he’s tied by the Indonesians themselves, who refuse to let the US Navy fly over their country. Meanwhile, Molly’s on-again, off-again romantic interest, Jim Dillon, a legal assistant to House Speaker John Stanbridge, points out that the Constitution permits Congress to issue a letter of marque, that is, hire a vessel to make war on another nation for the US. When the terrorists--apparently a group of anti-American Muslims—release a videotape of the captured captain to CNN, Stanbridge, a grandstanding conservative Californian, surfs the wave of public indignation and gets Congress to issue that letter of marque to a bunch of gung-ho Navy brass who want to show the terrorists what Americans are made of. Dillon learns that aggression has its price: To rescue the captain from a pathetic bunch of fake Muslim pirates, 19 Americans die, among them a missionary killed by friendly fire. When motivated by political vanity, are symbolic shows of force worth the cost? Huston’s answer, a qualified yes, is supported by numerous heartstopping scenes of military derring-do, steely camaraderie, and selfless patriotism. (Film rights to Disney; author tour)

Pub Date: June 3rd, 1998
ISBN: 0-688-15917-6
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998


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