The knock on most of what is commonly called the techno-thriller, is that the genre is made up of war scenario yarns whose combat scenes are high-flying, but which crash and burn whenever domestic conflict rears its head.
That is not the case with "Balance of Power," a terrific debut novel from ex-F-14 pilot, Naval Intelligence officer and current lawyer, James Huston.
If anything, Huston has created a high-stakes political conflict that is so intriguing, we can't wait to get back from the front to rejoin the Washington infighting.
In the near future, a president with a war protester past, pacifistic leanings who is under suspicion for taking campaign contributions from China and Indonesia, refuses to take out a terrorist base whose members have just murdered the crew of an American freighter and sunk the ship.
The firebrand Speaker of the House, a decorated war hero who shoots from the lip asks his staff to find options for Congress to act.
James Dillon, a top aide to the Speaker, examines the clause of the Constitution authorizing Congress to issue "Letters of Marque and Reprisal" and finds that, contrary to popular opinion, this power has never been revoked.
Congress issues a Letter of Reprisal to the carrier battle group of the USS Constitution, setting the stage for the biggest Constitutional crisis since the War Between the States.
When it becomes apparent that the admiral of the Constitution will accept the terms of the Letter, the president not only cuts the battle group off from all intelligence and communications, he sends another carrier battle group to intercept!
"Balance of Power" raises several intriguing Constitutional issues: Does the power to declare war granted members of Congress only mean that they get to approve or disapprove actions by the commander-in-chief?
Since officers take an oath to defend the Constitution, not the president, where does their loyalty lie in such a situation?
Huston effectively argues that the founders, who in their system of checks and balances were conscious of balancing power between the branches of government, intended Congress to have this authority. He raises the notion that Congress should have been more active in undeclared wars in Korea, Vietnam and Central America.
But "Balance of Power" is not only a slam on liberal politicians who run the military from a position of ignorance and distrust. Huston shows that the gung-ho attitudes of "pro-military" politicians also can get good men killed. War is not a game.
Though the intriguing Constitutional questions and political wars overshadow everything else in the book, Huston also delivers plenty of what fans of military procedurals crave. The combat scenes are gritty, authentic and compelling.
Like novelist Ralph Peters, Huston expresses contempt for those who consider the lives of soldiers to be expendable; but he doesn't reach Peters' level of characterization.
The central friendship - James Dillon in the speaker's office, the woman he loves in the president's counsel's office, and their other best friend, a clerk in the Supreme Court - is pretty contrived. However, the characters and dialogue are smart and good enough to move the story along.
"Balance of Power" is also terrific for younger readers. Other than occasional mild swearing, there is little in the way of "objectionable content."
This is a perfect read for adventure-oriented readers of all ages - particularly those who consider intellectual stimulation a plus.