Act of War
If you run into Brad Thor, please tell him that he owes me a few nights’ sleep. One of those nights would be for the evening I started reading his latest Scot Harvath thriller and refused to succumb to slumber until I had read the last paragraph. The others are for the nights that I’ve been playing out the nightmare scenarios he presents on these pages. What he postulates is the stuff of living, walking nightmare, and if you aren’t aware of it, you are either ignoring it or not paying attention. Thor brings you to it, front and center.
What gets ACT OF WAR and U.S. counterterrorism operative Scott Harvath rolling is an operation with the People’s Republic of China known as “Snowdragon.” It is constructed on the premise that war between the United States and China is not a possibility or even a probability, but is rather an inevitability. Given that truism, the winner will be the one who dictates the terms of that war. The only issue is when Snowdragon will be launched. By the time the United States gets an inkling as to what will occur, the Chinese already have the two parts of Snowdragon in place: one in the United States, the other in North Korea.
"If you run into Brad Thor, please tell him that he owes me a few nights’ sleep.... Whether you approach it as a thriller or a straight-ahead cautionary tale, ACT OF WAR will keep you up at night..."
The narrative accordingly proceeds along two tracks. On one, a four-man reconnaissance team infiltrates North Korea in order to ascertain the nature and extent of the threat. On the other, Harvath races across the country and around the world following the trail of a terrorist recruiter and the six engineering students he has sent from the Middle East to the United States for what is certain to be a nefarious purpose. Thor lets the reader stay a bit ahead of Harvath on the curve, which ratchets up the already agonizing level of suspense just a bit higher.
In order to triumph, Harvath can follow the rules of engagement only so far before he is forced to tear up the book and act in the moment. And while, in the past, this course of attack has worked for Harvath and the country he has sworn to protect and defend, the Chinese plan may be too well-thought-out and too far along in its execution for even Harvath to prevent its success.
As has been noted repeatedly here and elsewhere, Thor’s novels give him the appearance of being uncannily prescient. After reading ACT OF WAR, though, I don’t believe that he foresees the future; it’s just that he clearly sees the past and present, and reaches logical conclusions about what is happening and what will happen. Everything that occurs here is based upon present reality, to the extent that it could potentially happen, literally, before you read these words. Some of it already may have taken place, acted out in hotel rooms, office corridors and quiet streets that barely record as a whispered blip on our daily attention. Certainly, there are parts of the book that read more like a memoir than a work of fiction.
Whether you approach it as a thriller or a straight-ahead cautionary tale, ACT OF WAR will keep you up at night as well.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 11, 2014