If I had to name one element of Brad Thor's novels that I find so appealing, it would be this: Scot Horvath, Thor's protagonist, has his head screwed on right. Nothing more, nothing less. I have always been aware of this fact, but it really hit home for me while reading FULL BLACK, the latest of the Horvath books.
"There is enough adrenaline-charged adventure to fill several books of its length --- with explosions, mayhem and karate."
Horvath is a former Navy SEAL Team Six member who is currently employed as a covert counter-terrorism operative with The Carlton Group, an off-the-books organization with a contract with the Department of Defense to do the job that the CIA should be doing, but can't and won't. Horvath is the best at what he does, and what he does is sometimes a bit…rough. Yet Thor infuses him with a subtle element of middle-American, common-sense decency that is exhibited throughout the series and at several points in FULL BLACK. There is one moment, about two-thirds of the way through, that clearly illustrates this. You will know it when you come to it; all that I will tell you is that it concerns a house in foreclosure, what has happened to it, and Horvath's reaction. Horvath has not become inured to what is slowly happening in the United States, and indeed the book deals with the slow subversion of civilization that some merely see as the new normal, but that others, arguably wiser, regard as a reason to dial things back. Way back.
So it is that FULL BLACK is Thor's most fully realized work --- fiction that is much closer to reality than most things you will see presented as "news" in the mainstream media. Horvath's real-world counterparts are the rough men who stand ready so that we --- both the greatest and the least of us --- can sleep peacefully in our beds. So too, the main villain, the man behind the curtain pulling the strings, is James Standing, a billionaire financier whose dream is to bring down the very nation under whose system of government and commerce he was able to amass his wealth and fortune.
You may find Standing to have a real-world counterpart as well, and if so, you will find Thor's narrative to be uncomfortably accurate in yet another way as Horvath and The Carlton Group engage in a desperate and occasionally futile race against time to prevent a series of brilliantly conceived terrorist attacks aimed at collapsing the United States at its very base. The action moves from Sweden to Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, where it intersects with another plotline dealing with the attempted assassination of a principled Hollywood filmmaker, who had been in the process of bringing an all-too-revealing documentary to the screen and that ultimately leads back to the man behind the curtain. He has been orchestrating a plan, the aim of which is nothing less than the total destruction of the United States.
Does this sound far-fetched? What is interesting is that the blueprint for this plan, as Thor notes in his short introduction, exists in the real world. It is called Unrestricted Warfare, and it is easily obtainable on the Internet and elsewhere. Read FULL BLACK, and then read Unrestricted Warfare. Or reverse the order, if you choose. FULL BLACK may be classified as "fiction," but that might be wishful thinking.
This, however, is not even the standout element of FULL BLACK. There is also a bit of an extended dialogue between a reporter and Standing in which they cross swords over economic and political issues. Their exchange should be studied, analyzed and memorized by every school child and their parents. I would call it a basic lesson in civics and economics, but it is much more interesting and honest than most of the tomes one is exposed to in our institutions of primary and secondary learning. If you buy and read the book for those few pages of dialogue alone, you will receive more than your time's and money's worth.
But don't think for a second that FULL BLACK is full of talking. There is enough adrenaline-charged adventure to fill several books of its length --- with explosions, mayhem and karate. And as strong a character as Horvath might be, he is accompanied by such a strong supporting cast that this franchise could support its own publishing company if Thor so chose. And the ending? It's one of his trademark climaxes, one that will dovetail into his next book. But for now, do not miss FULL BLACK.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 1, 2011