If you are a fan of thriller novels, I hope you’ve been reading John Gilstrap’s Jonathan Grave series. The newly published THREAT WARNING is the third, latest and best in the series --- a character-driven work where the vehicle has four on the floor and horsepower to burn.
Gilstrap has an interesting curriculum vitae, one that includes employment as a fireman, that most dangerous of occupations. It is thus safe to conclude that Gilstrap knows adrenaline rushes and everything associated with them. Such a conclusion would be correct; THREAT WARNING, from beginning to end, is dripping with excitement. But for the uninitiated, let’s briefly discuss who Grave is and what he does.
"Utilizing a combination of situational intelligence, fighting prowess, called-in favors, and some really dangerous toys, Grave, Boxers and company race into unknown territory..."
Grave is a weapons and tactical expert who co-owns and runs a private company that specializes in jobs the federal government cannot or will not do. When you run such a company, it helps to know people, and Grave’s Rolodex is full to bursting. You don’t have a dinner meal with the FBI director, as Grave does in THREAT WARNING, unless you know such a person fairly well and they owe you a solid or two.
Grave’s team consists of Gail Bonneville, a former FBI hostage rescue team member who sold her soul to the legal profession. While she also functions as a somewhat self-appointed conscience to the team, she can be counted on to do the right thing, if not the legal thing, when the time comes. Usually. Venice Alexander is an IT and information expert, the best she is at what she does. As Grave indicates at one point, no one has ever complained of having too much information or ammunition in a firefight. Last is the gigantic, enigmatic and very dangerous Boxers, who prefers that title to his given name of Brian Van de Meulebroeke. Understandably.
So it is that THREAT WARNING begins with Grave caught up in a brazen and very deadly terrorist attack that occurs in the middle of a traffic jam. The instigator gets away, but not before acquiring a woman and her teenage son as hostages. The attack itself is part of a series of deadly, seemingly random actions carried out by a group operating from a secluded area in West Virginia and led by a charismatic figure who is seeking nothing less than the collapse of the United States. The hostages are the wife and son of a special ops soldier who is with The Unit on a clandestine mission; their captors see this situation as a perfect opportunity for a public execution. For Grave and his team, however, it becomes an emergency mission of the highest order.
Utilizing a combination of situational intelligence, fighting prowess, called-in favors, and some really dangerous toys, Grave, Boxers and company race into unknown territory for what, from a situational standpoint, is indistinguishable from a suicide mission. They do not fight alone, however; Ryan, the teenage hostage, does not fall from his father’s tree, and he is not about to go down easy. The rescue, if it can be accomplished, is only half the battle; the terrorists’ plans go far beyond attacking the heartland. Their ultimate aim, in their own words, is to cut off the head of the snake. Grave and his team find themselves racing against not one but two clocks, as they try to save not only the lives of two innocents but also the symbolic heart of the country.
Gilstrap writes as if he has one eye on the keyboard and the other on the clock. The pages of THREAT WARNING just fly by, and the occasionally prickly interaction between the characters, particularly Grave and Gail, keep the proceedings from becoming unrelentingly grim. Not that such would necessarily be a bad thing. Additionally, the list of superior firepower that runs through the book makes for a great source for compiling an erstwhile Christmas list, at least for those of us who can easily answer the question “(W)hat do you need one of those for?!”
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 12, 2011