Action thrillers can be exciting reads, especially spy thrillers and the like. There's something cool about a story that takes place in a secret world that those of us just living our daily lives aren't aware of, with events in that world of espionage or special operations warfare that we generally think are going on but which are never revealed to the public. In this age of terrorism, you'd think authors would be mining that resource for numerous stories told from all different angles. Surprisingly, there aren't that many.
Brad Thor is one of them. I haven't read any of his other books yet (this is the 10th book in this series), but I just finished Full Black, and he definitely tells a gripping, intense story about the fight between right and wrong. Unfortunately, he spends too much time actually telling you why the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, dragging the book to a glacial pace at times.
Scot Harvath is a fomer Navy SEAL and former Secret Service agent who has been recruited to join a secret group of ex-spies and other military operatives to do the jobs that the CIA won't to combat radical Islamic terrorism. They take on missions that are so sensitive that they aren't just classified; they don't exist. This time, Harvath and his team are tasked with infiltrating a terrorist cell in Sweden to find out what major attacks the network is planning. Meanwhile, a foreign wet works team attempts to kill movie producer Larry Salomon, who is working on a documentary that will expose one of the world's richest men (James Standing) as the man who will take down America and plunge it into chaos. Good thing that Salomon is buddies with another ex-Special Forces guy who is able to help him. Can Harvath stop the inevitable wave of attacks that will be sparked across the United States?
One thing I don't like in my thrillers, or pretty much any other work of fiction, is political diatribes. Sure, fiction can be political or have some kind of societal point, but I like it when it's illustrated within the narrative of the story. Too many times in Full Black, Thor uses Harvath and Ralston (the Special Forces friend of Salomon's) to spout Thor's right-wing viewpoints in speeches or narrations that sometimes go on for a page or two.
In fact, one whole chapter is devoted to a dinner debate between Standing (an extremely left-wing ideologue) and a female Financial Times reporter about free markets and socialism and all of that. I would love to read this debate in a book examining various political viewpoints and what the best way is for the world to be run. I don't, however, want it in my action thriller. The chapter slows the book to an epic crawl. Many of the other political asides, addressing everything from world economics to terrorism and torture, also inhibit the book from becoming an exciting adventure.
It's not because of his political persuasion that I'm making these criticisms. It's because it is boring.
Once Full Black kicks into high gear, though, it's almost impossible to put down. Harvath and his group are racing against time to stop Standing and the wave of terrorism that he's threatening to unleash. Readers of Thor's previous books know that the heroes are not perfect, and there will be innocent blood shed. Sadly, Thor resorts to the cliché of introducing us to a never-before seen character just so these events will have some emotional impact. That technique never ceases to irritate me.
Aside from that, the action scenes are pulse-pounding. Readers are never sure just how successful the heroes will be. I like that feeling of not knowing exactly what's going to happen. The chase scenes, and even the "follow discretely to see where the target is going" scenes, kept me on the edge of my seat. I raced through the climax of the novel just to see what happens next. That's the sign of a great thriller writer. I also loved the little twist to the operation in Sweden at the beginning of the book, which is almost horrifying in its power.
Unfortunately, the ending is way too pat and wraps things up in a nice little bow. The epilogue leads directly into a cliffhanger that I assume will take the story in a new direction. As this was my first Thor book, I'll probably give the next one a try, just to see what he does with it.
Full Black is full of an excellent set of ingredients to make a riveting thriller. At times it succeeds in that goal. It's too bad that the book is derailed so often into areas that I would love to read about or ideas that I would love to explore with Thor.
In a different kind of book.