Life is good when one has a new Brad Thor book in hand, and that is doubly true when the title is BLACK LIST, the latest installment in his Scot Horvath series. Horvath, a former Navy Seal (the best of the best) and current counter-terrorism operative, is a fictional creation, but anyone with a true understanding of how the world works prays each night that he has a real-life counterpart. Thor’s novels blend and blur the real world with what may or may not be fictional occurrences and situations, so that his books fall into a sub-genre of the thriller classification known as “faction.”
"Thor has never appeared to be more prescient than he is with BLACK LIST, in which he combines insider knowledge, technological savvy and --- perhaps most importantly of all --- a worldview unfettered by delusional ideology. He and Horvath are the real deal, and you should accept no substitutes."
BLACK LIST is inspired by a 1975 statement from Senator Frank Church, who warned that surveillance technology had grown so advanced that if it was ever turned inward on the American people, it would cross a line from which there would be no return. The premise of the novel is that we are already there. Thor mentions the term “digital exhaust,” meaning the trail that one leaves in text messages, emails, financial transactions, and the like. Anyone who has a presence on Facebook knows what he’s talking about. The book takes off from there, and with a vengeance.
The story opens with an enigmatic vignette wherein a woman being trailed by a hit team in a shopping mall near the Pentagon utilizes a tricky bit of spy craft to pass on important information before going to her fate. From there, Thor leads the reader into the hallways of a company known as Adaptive Technology Solutions (ATS). ATS is joined at the hip with the National Security Agency, and tasked with the development of hardware and software for use in cyberspace, as well as any training related to it. So how does a mysterious incident in a shopping mall connect with a company buried so deep that it has sunlight pumped down to it? You’ll need to read the book to find out.
What I will tell you, however, is that these are but two disparate elements that are involved in a set of circumstances that lead to Horvath finding himself being placed on a list so secret that not even Congress gets to see it. The only individuals who are privy to it --- indeed, who even know of its existence --- are the President of the United States and a small team of advisors. The list in question is, at its most basic, a hit list; once your name goes on, it doesn’t come off until you’re dead. Horvath somehow comes to be on the list, and the might and majesty of the clandestine power of the United States comes after him with a vengeance.
Horvath has never been as alone as he is here. He must do three things: evade the dispatch teams sent to kill him, a task that seems all but impossible; find out how he got on the list to begin with and the person(s) responsible for it; and he needs to do both before the U.S. experiences its most devastating terrorist attack to date. How and if Horvath pulls off these seemingly insurmountable tasks makes for a thrilling read that will slide you right off the edge of your seat.
Thor has never appeared to be more prescient than he is with BLACK LIST, in which he combines insider knowledge, technological savvy and --- perhaps most importantly of all --- a worldview unfettered by delusional ideology. He and Horvath are the real deal, and you should accept no substitutes.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 27, 2012