Tuesday, February 24, 2009

'Gauntlet' by Richard Aaron

For the past few years the writing market has been flooded with counter-terrorism thrillers. There is a multitude of authors who either want to get in on the writing scene with what’s almost a guarantee for reaping financial rewards, or who are already established writers but switch to this popular genre nonetheless. Among this cornucopia of “doom & destruction” books, there are a few gems worth paying more attention to. One of them is Gauntlet by Richard Aaron.

The plot seems familiar enough: another jihadist is plotting an attack on the U.S. and this time the threat is going to be bigger and better planned than anything that’s happened so far. During the operation of destroying 660 tons of Semtex in the Sahara desert, 4500 kilos of this highly capable explosive gets stolen. A few days later the world gets a first message out of the total of six transmitted via Al Jazeera network, promising a destruction of “the Great Satan”. And so the race against time and hell-bent terrorists begins. On the American side, we have a newly established TTIC agency, with top intelligence specialists and one very unique autistic young man, who also happens to be a mathematical genius; there is a CIA agent, Richard Lawrence, who is a broken man but also the only person best qualified to work undercover on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan and two Canadian law enforcement officials fighting drug trafficking. On the Middle East, there is Yousseff, a very powerful drug lord with his loyal but cruel and murderous friends scattered around the globe and “Emir”, the main guy behind the plot, who hates America and is bent on destroying it.

The beginning of Gauntlet is a little difficult to get through. There seems to be too many technical and medical descriptions that for an average reader might seem unnecessary and could be skipped. Fortunately, there is also enough action going on from the first pages. So much so that I wanted to keep reading in anticipation of what was coming next. And I definitely was not disappointed. The ending is truly shocking, even for a seasoned thriller reader like myself. The plot is not monotonous, the thinking and acting is quick and I could just sense the energy and anxiety coming off the pages.

The best part of the book, which is also what distinguishes Gauntlet from other fiction centered on fighting with terrorism, is a personal insight in to the minds and lives of both the heroes and the villains. Aaron skillfully weaves in Yousseff’s childhood, teenage years and his rise to power and wealth. Surprisingly enough, I found myself extremely interested and drawn into the mind of this anti-hero who’s a working force behind the attack. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have “the good guys”, who in many instances are not perfect at all. They are not being glorified, in fact their actions and their thinking gets to be quite frustrating. I found myself thinking: “Are kidding me?!”, “It’s right in front of you, you dummy!” or “Why can’t they just do something?!”. The book certainly got me emotionally involved.

Mr. Aaron’s approach to his characters is quite unique. Not one person is portrayed as “pure evil” or “pure gold”. The fact that the CIA agent is addicted to opiates, the top-notch counter-terrorism experts make questionable decisions or that the top scientists with their intelligence, knowledge and resources still scramble for answers to the last minute makes the book more approachable, the characters more endearing and realistic. By the time I finished reading the book, I knew that I would be getting the next installment since I want to know how they all will fare, both the terrorists and the superheroes.
Special Thanks to Lisa R. from Online Publicist
Carrie W. from Glass House Press
for providing me with the copy of this book.