In Ratcliffe’s debut thriller, Russia launches a pre-emptive nuclear attack, and the United States must defend itself at sea, on land and in the air.
In 1994, after learning that the U.S. military has a space shuttle–based laser to target intercontinental ballistic missiles, Russia’s leader decides to launch a pre-emptive strike against the United States. The American president quickly retaliates, and in no time, both countries are in the middle of a nuclear war. The novel views the conflict from many points of view, including that of a patrolling U.S. submarine crew, a B-1B bomber pilot flying through hostile skies, and a U.S. Army Special Forces unit on a suicide mission to infiltrate Russia and take out its missile silos. The main character, however, is Gen. Robert Thomas, who, with the U.S. government literally on the run, is given the difficult job of negotiating with surviving Russian leadership to secure a cease-fire. Ultimately, he makes a personal sacrifice reminiscent of the one the bomber pilot makes at the end of Eugene Burdick’s Fail-Safe (1962), the novel that, along with Peter George’s 1958 novel Red Alert (the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove), helped kicked off this genre. The author, a former U.S. Navy captain, presents a persuasive depiction of how a nuclear war might actually be fought, including all the strategizing by the president and his argumentative military staff. That said, among the large cast of characters, only one, Gen. Thomas, truly stands out; with his family left behind in the Washington, D.C., blast zone, he carries the emotional brunt of the story. Although it’s intriguing that the author set his story in 1994, before the events of 9/11 drove home new realities, it’s also strange that a book about nuclear war has no discussion about the long-term consequences of atomic radiation, making such a war seem winnable. For red-meat military-thriller fans, however, there’s action aplenty, all excitingly described and cogently dramatized.
An intelligently written techno-thriller that’s reminiscent of the late Tom Clancy’s work.