Ponders, whose background as a Desert Storm combat veteran informed her first novel (The Art of Uncontrolled Flight, 2005), turns her attention to the Air Force Academy in this timely, realistic fiction about sexual and religious politics within the institution.
Brigadier General John Waller has been pulled from flying duty to straighten up the Academy after a rape scandal, but expectations that his new position as Commandant of Cadets will help win him his second star quickly begin to fizzle. First the Academy’s ambitious superintendent resists his suggestion to expel a well-connected cadet who has been caught cheating. Then Waller has trouble controlling the rabid proselytizing of the Cadets Christian Fellowship (CCF). Meanwhile, idealistic Brook Searcy begins her career as a cadet with new friends, handsome Billy Claymoore and charismatic Mac Cherry, an army general’s son who happens to be Jewish. Brook also finds herself increasingly drawn to jaded Paula Snowe, the cheat, who takes the three cadets to a drinking party. The next day, Mac fatally crashes his glider during a solo flight. When traces of alcohol are found in his blood—as well as in Paula’s, Billy’s and Brook’s—Waller faces a new crisis that is not helped when the CCF makes inflammatory comments concerning Mac’s religion. Waller, who had previously noted a mechanical problem in the glider Mac crashed, begins to re-examine the foundation of his past career just as Brook, rocked by Mac’s death and a disillusioning sexual encounter with Billy, begins to question her future. Brook’s and Waller’s moments of truth intersect as Waller saves her from a foolish lapse in judgment while accepting the private failure behind his public success. Ponders takes a while to set up the situations, but once the plot gathers steam, it drives fast and hard.
Not just militarists will react strongly to the provocative questions raised here about honor, duty and personal responsibility.