I like the motto "slow but steady." You don't burn out that way.
And as it applies to the arts, it usually means that you start off
with a fan base that becomes increasingly larger as well as more
loyal over time. I wonder if Stephen Coonts has the motto over his
workstation. His Jake Grafton novels have steadily become more
popular with each release, and for good reason: each novel has been
better than the last.
What is noteworthy about this is that Coonts jumped into a small
pond already populated with some pretty big fish. Coonts is often
compared to one of them, a fellow by the name of Clancy. And there
are some similarities to their books in terms of subject matter.
They both dabble in military matters, politics, espionage, and the
like. The field, and the fan bases, however, are big enough for
both of them. And there is plenty of difference in their respective
styles. Coonts, for his part, is primarily concerned with the story
and the characters. Sure, he uses lots of fancy hardware to move
his story along, but he is more concerned with what it does than
how it works.
This is spelled out dramatically in HONG KONG, Coonts's latest
novel featuring his favorite admiral, Jake Grafton. Admiral and
Mrs. Grafton are in Hong Kong, ostensibly for some much needed rest
and relaxation. The truth, however, goes far deeper than that. The
United States suspects that the U. S. consul general might be
pursuing an agenda involving the overthrow of the newly installed
Communist Chinese government in Hong Kong, and the U. S. Government
has selected Grafton --- "for lack of someone better," in Grafton's
own words --- to see what has been going on. Tommy Carmellini,
first introduced in CUBA, is along to help. And it's a good thing
too, for it's not just Grafton's back that needs to be covered ---
Mrs. Grafton is kidnapped at the outset of the admiral's
investigation. Accordingly, his task acquires a personal element in
addition to the political one. In the meantime, there is revolution
in the air. And Grafton is right in the middle of it.
HONG KONG is far and away the best of the Grafton novels. Coonts
spent an extensive amount of time researching the island and its
people, history, and political makeup. It shows. What is eerie here
is that HONG KONG doesn't read so much like a work of fiction as it
does a historical account of an epic historical incident, which in
this case, has not occurred. Yet. When it does, I have a strong
suspicion that it will happen almost precisely the way in which
Coonts describes it, as he relates, step by step, how the
revolution against the Red Chinese government takes place. There is
no substitute for insight coupled with research; Coonts puts both
to work to maximum advantage.
I would be remiss however, if I did not mention a couple of other
elements that make HONG KONG an over-the-top winner. First of all,
Jake Grafton is at his absolute best here. Those of us for whom age
40 has come and gone with 50 looming around the corner always
appreciate it when an author demonstrates awareness of the fact
that middle-agers can kick butt and take names, while showing the
younger generation how it is done. Secondly, Coonts introduces a
high-tech gizmo here that every household should have --- maybe.
It's called a York. Don't wish for one until you finish reading
HONG KONG, however. You'll see what I mean.
HONG KONG will undoubtedly continue Stephen Coonts's success with
Jake Grafton, by keeping his loyal readers and adding many new
ones. The book reads like history in the making. Read HONG KONG,
and keep your eye on the headlines.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011