James Huston may have the resume of TV's Harmon Rabb (former F-14 fighter pilot and Navy lawyer), but the real reason he is writing the most interesting military thrillers right now is that, unlike other ex-pilots like Dale Brown, he is as interested in the politics of war as the weaponry.
Also, unlike writers like Richard Herman and Larry Bond, Huston 's scenarios do not depend on fanciful future alliances and enmities but are as current as today's headlines.
In fact, Huston is spending more time debating Congress' war powers in the post-Cold War era than Congress is.
In "Flash Point," Huston changes his focus somewhat. Instead of arguing which of the branches of government can take the nation into war, he takes a look at what a declaration of war really means.
Sean Woods is an F-14 pilot whose roommate is killed by an Arab terrorist group along with his mysterious Israeli girlfriend. Sean, whose brother was killed on Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, already is obsessed with the subject of striking back against terrorists.
Along with his ship's chaplain and JAG officer - as reluctant helpers - Sean writes his congressman, a retired admiral, and proposes that it is perfectly constitutional for the United States to declare war on one man: the head of the terrorist organization.
The congressman takes the case to the new president and explains that, before World War II, U.S. declarations of war did not mean total surrender and occupation of a foreign land. In fact, in times past, the heads of foreign states were named in the declarations.
But in the meantime, because of his thirst for revenge, Sean puts his country at grave risk by conspiring with his shipmates to secretly give air cover to an Israeli strike against the terrorist group.
By the time it is legal to retaliate, the whole mission may be tainted - and Sean and his cohorts may be looking at serious prison time if they are found out.
And what of the Israeli role? Is the United States being manipulated into doing its work for it? Or is this another case where our interests coincide?
While "Flash Point" doesn't have the high-powered war between the executive and legislative branches of his two previous thrillers, Huston mixes in a lot of fascinating history to make his point that going after the bad guys and siding with the good guys can be a lot more complicated than it seems.
Reminding the reader of the U.S.S. Liberty incident, in which Israel destroyed an American naval vessel without provocation, and of the Pollard spy case - as well as a very fruitful arrangement the CIA had with a Palestinian terrorist - Huston shows us that countries act in their national interests first and worry about allies later.
Those ambiguities, along with Sean's own deception, add an additional layer of suspense and an extra sense that all may not go well for the people we like in "Flash Point." That takes the story beyond the usual excitement that comes with well-told military missions.
But make no mistake, this might be a brainy book, but Huston also delivers what techno-thriller fans crave. There are lots of white-knuckle flying scenes, authentic depictions of life aboard an aircraft carrier and a thunderous final daring mission.