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10 February 2016

Stephen Coonts: The Art of War

One of the best Grafton/Carmellini adventures
Stephen Coonts has written many military/political suspense thrillers featuring Jake Grafton and his sidekick Tommy Carmellini. When I read the synopsis I thought that Coonts had taken this series too far, but I was very wrong as he manages to make an otherwise unbelievable plot almost believable and authentic and has the two main characters chasing down the Chinese dragon threatening the doors of the US.

The basics of the plot are that the Chinese, with a small navy, want to be able to dominate the South China Sea but this will never happen with the predominant naval strength of the US. The scenario has the Chinese smuggling a nuclear weapon underwater into the midst of the largest naval base in the US in Norfolk, Virginia, with plans to destroy much of the US fleet when all nuclear aircraft carriers are scheduled to be in port during December. This would be another Pearl Harbour which will leave the US without world naval power for years. The Chinese hope that the explosion would be blamed on a nuclear bomb accident on board one of the carriers.

As the Chinese plans unfold, at the same time there are a series of assassinations of key US security officials, starting with the head of the CIA. While he is not next in line, the President chooses Jack Grafton to be interim head of the CIA. Grafton loses no time in starting to track down the killer and soon realises that he could become a target himself and gets his pit-bull, Tommy Carmellini, to handle his security. Things go from bad to worse when Air Force One is taken down by an EMP on a drone. At first, the Russians are implicated in the attack and Tommy is sent off to make contact with a Russian contact to find the truth.

All in all, this is a closely plotted thriller that seems to defy believability but has sufficient potential authenticity to overcome my worries about reading outlandish thrillers. Grafton and Carmellini shine again but never get close. Carmellini is still one of the best operatives in this kind of action-packed thriller, and this time the action gets very much up close and personal for him. Grafton is always cool and collected and is able to work well with the various security agencies and the White House to get things done.

One of the key elements of  Coonts' writing is his ability to write about the administration of government without getting involved in political issues as many other authors of this kind of thriller. As usual, Coonts includes some nail-biting military action which is a signature of most of this series. Other best-selling authors have covered similar ground with nuclear weapons being smuggled into the US by the Russians and Islamic terrorists but this is the first time I have seen the Chinese involved.

All in all, I really enjoyed this page-turning and adrenaline churning thriller and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of this kind of genre. 4.5 stars.

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