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This first novel by an ex-Naval aviator bristles with the same authenticity and attention to technical detail that helped catapult the publisher's initial foray into fiction, The Hunt for Red October, to the top of the best-seller lists. Lt. Jake ""Cool Hand"" Grafton and his fellow pilots are stationed on the aircraft carrier Shiloh off the South Vietnamese coast in 1973. The novel takes off at top speed with a terrifying nocturnal bombing run, during which a chance bullet from a North Vietnamese rifle mortally wounds Grafton's bombardier. Enraged at his friend's meaningless death (""MacPherson didn't get killed hitting a worthwhile target. He died bombing a bunch of trees""), Grafton's anger at the rarely seen enemy and bitterness towards the ""precious asses"" in Washington grow until they explode in a daring and unauthorized raid on the National Assembly Building in Hanoi. Initially threatened with court-martial, Grafton is let off the hook when Nixon orders the saturation bombing of Hanoi. Permitted to fly again, he is shot down behind enemy lines in the novel's tension-filled finale. This is decidedly not Rambo territory. The hands of Coonts' cocky but vulnerable pilots shake with stress-driven palsy, and they spend their days on leave drinking up a stupor ""to keep it fuzzy in your brain where the truth of it resides because you know that you don't want to kill--God, you don't want to kill."" They perform feats of stirring heroism but also of incredible, self. confessed stupidity, like the raid on Hanoi. They are the Real McCoy, and Coonts' compassion for them sustains his story from first page to last, even over the occasional patch of schoolboy writing and saggy middle, where the narrative nose-dives into a clichÉd love tango between Grafton and a pretty embassy attachÉ. A sometimes exhilarating, often nightmarish tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1986
Publisher: Naval Institute