James W. Huston has emerged as the most relevant of the military-political thriller novelists working today.
Tom Clancy, who invented the techno-thriller, and his imitators, who make up the old guard of the genre, seem to have gotten caught up in alternative history scenarios after the Cold War's end, and they write less and less about what's really going on in the world.
So the readers who once eagerly awaited Clancy's newest for speculation about the shadowy struggle against the Soviets should be even more enthusiastic about Huston . He is to the war on terror what Clancy was to the Cold War - and he's been a far better predictor of future military and the political conflicts.
Huston revived the debate over declarations of war with his first two books, "Balance of Power" and "The Price of Power" back in the '90s, while he speculated whether war could be declared on an individual terrorist or organization, rather than a country, in "Flash Point" (2000). And "Fallout" published months before the 9/11 attacks, is about terrorists hijacking airplanes to attack a U.S. target.
Now, just as the search for Saddam Hussein intensifies in Iraq, Huston comes along with "Secret Justice," which examines the methods that may be necessary to hunt down terrorist leaders and asks whether taking them alive could be more trouble than it is worth.
Kent "Rat" Rathman, the Navy SEAL assigned to an elite counterterrorist group who thwarted a terrorist attack against the Blue Angels in "Shadows of Power," is back and on the trail of the world's most wanted terrorist, Whamed Duar, a thinly veiled stand-in for Osama bin Laden.
After Duar narrowly escapes from Rat's raid on a desert meeting, Rathman employs an interrogation technique called "the water board" to extract the location of Duar's hidey-hole. This is effective, and the terrorist is captured.
But the man Rat interrogated has aspirated on his own vomit and eventually dies aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier. The outraged civilian assigned as the Navy doctor notifies Amnesty International and every other international organization he can think of about the death.
When the dust settles, Rat finds himself on trial for war crimes in a secret Justice Department court at the same time Duar becomes the subject of the first major military tribunal conducted aboard a U.S. ship.
Adding to the irony of the situation is that Rat is still on duty between appearances at his court-martial. Thus, while he is being tried by his government, he also is trying to save his country from a devastating terrorist incident.
"Secret Justice" soars and maneuvers at a dizzying pace, combining Washington power politics, crackling courtroom scenes from two trials, special forces missions that are both stealthy and heavy on firepower and a seaborne race against time in a breathless climax.
Unlike other techno-thriller writers, Huston manages to make his domestic political fights every bit as tense and interesting as his battle scenes on foreign soil. From his debut, Huston has drawn the battle lines on the tough issues and let his characters fight them out as fiercely as the warriors in the field.
Huston is now the premier name in military thrillers. "Secret Justice" is just as timely and action-packed as Vince Flynn's recent bestseller, "Executive Action," but it has the brains to go along with the brawn.