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Friday, March 29, 2013

Reading List: A Time for War

Savage, Michael [Michael Alan Weiner]. A Time for War. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-312-65162-6.
The author, a popular talk radio host who is also a Ph.D. in nutritional ethnomedicine and has published numerous books under his own name, is best known for his political works, four of which have made the New York Times bestseller list including one which reached the top of that list. This is his second foray into the fictional thriller genre, adopting a style reminiscent of Rudy Rucker's transrealism, in which the author, or a character closely modelled upon him or her, is the protagonist in the story. In this novel, Jack Hatfield is a San Francisco-based journalist dedicated to digging out the truth and getting it to the public by whatever means available, immersed in the quirky North Beach culture of San Francisco, and banned in Britain for daring to transgress the speech codes of that once-free nation. Sound familiar?

After saving his beloved San Francisco from an existential threat in the first novel, Abuse of Power (June 2012), Hatfield's profile on the national stage has become higher than ever, but that hasn't helped him get back into the media game, where his propensity for telling the truth without regard to political correctness or offending the perennially thin-skinned makes him radioactive to mainstream outlets. He manages to support himself as a free-lance investigative reporter, working from his boat in a Sausalito marina, producing and selling stories to venues willing to run them. When a Chinook helicopter goes down in a remote valley in Afghanistan killing all 39 on board and investigators attribute the crash to total failure of all electronics on board with no evidence of enemy action, Jack's ears perk up. When he later learns of an FBI vehicle performing a routine tail of a car from the Chinese consulate being disabled by “total electronic failure” he begins to get really interested. Then strange things begin to happen in Chinatown, prompting Jack to start looking for a China connection between these incidents.

Meanwhile, Dover Griffith, a junior analyst at the Office of Naval Intelligence, is making other connections. She recalled that a proposed wireless Internet broadband system developed by billionaire industrialist Richard Hawke's company had to be abandoned when it was discovered its signal could induce catastrophic electrical failure in aircraft electronics. (Clearly Savage is well-acquainted with the sorry history of LightSquared and GPS interference!) When she begins to follow the trail, she is hauled into her boss's office and informed she is being placed on “open-ended unpaid furlough”: civil service speak for being fired. Clearly Hawke has plenty of pull in high places and probably something to hide. Since Hatfield had been all over the story of interference caused by the broadband system and the political battle over whether to deploy it, she decides to fly to California and join forces with Hatfield to discover what is really going on. As they, along with Jack's associates, begin to peel away layer after layer of the enigma, they begin to suspect that something even more sinister may be underway.

This is a thoroughly satisfying thriller. There is a great deal of technical detail, all meticulously researched. There are a few dubious aspects of some of the gadgets, but that's pretty much a given in the thriller genre. What distinguishes these novels from other high-profile thrillers is that Jack Hatfield isn't a superhero in the sense of Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp or Brad Thor's Scot Harvath: he is a largely washed-up journalist, divorced, living on a boat with a toy poodle, hanging out with a bunch of eccentric characters at an Italian restaurant in North Beach, who far from gunplay and derring-do, repairs watches for relaxation. This makes for a different kind of thriller, but one which is no less satisfying. I'm sure Jack Hatfield will be back, and I'm looking forward to the next outing.

You can read this novel as a stand-alone thriller without having first read Abuse of Power, but be warned that it contains major plot spoilers for the first novel; to fully enjoy them both, it's best to start there.

Posted at March 29, 2013 18:04