If the first test of a military thriller is that it has a plausible and timely scenario, then James W. Huston should be crowned king of this particular mountain.
After two novels, "Balance of Power" and "The Price of Power," which actually influenced debate in Washington over Congress' war powers in the fight against terrorism, his last book, "Flash Point," was about the United States formally declaring war against an individual terrorist leader hiding out in an unfriendly Middle Eastern country. Talk about a timely storyline.
Now comes "Fallout," in which terrorists receive flight training in the United States before they strike a target from within our borders using American planes. Huston is giving Nostradamus a run for his money.
Luke Henry, a TOPGUN instructor until a midair collision ruined his career, hatches an improbable scheme to set up a privately run fighter pilot training school, using surplus Russian MiG-29 fighters that have been sold by an impoverished former Soviet republic in need of hard cash.
At first, Luke is laughed out of Washington, but a corrupt undersecretary of defense suddenly gives him the green light and a big government contract. The first demand made on Luke is that he accept a quartet of Pakistani pilots in his first session since their country has been clamoring to train at TOPGUN.
The pilots, led by the arrogant Major Khan, are a problem from the first day, making unreasonable demands, especially insisting on curriculum changes to emphasize ground attack training.
Further complicating matters is the hidden agenda of Vladimir Petkov, a heavy drinker and former MiG pilot whom Luke has hired as the crew chief to maintain his MiG-29s. Vlad's shadowy company is run by the Russian Mob. But are they in league with Khan or just making a buck in the wild and woolly world of privatization?
I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that this is not a predictable, down-to-the-wire, clock-ticking plot to stop the terrorists before they can attack. There are real - and realistic - surprise plot twists here.
Fans of Huston , who are used to his books being equal parts "Advise and Consent" and "Rainbow Six" will have to do without much in the way of political debates in "Fallout." And while Huston is one of the few authors in the genre whose noncombat scenes are as compelling as his battles, the focus here is on the pilots, not the politicians.
That doesn't mean Huston doesn't raise important issues, such as the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to terrorists, the training of foreign military personnel by Americans and the inability of our scaled-back intelligence operations to keep up with our enemies.
It's just that this time, Huston draws more on his background as a Navy TOPGUN pilot, than as a lawyer and former Constitutional law professor at The Citadel.
While authors like Stephen Coonts and Joe Buff write silly plots about a resurgent German threat, looking to past enemies for current confrontations, Huston stays on the cutting edge with near prescient looks at current threats.
Military buffs who admire brains as much as hardware will hope he keeps his crystal ball - and his word processor - busy.