I have to admit I was less than excited about tackling the latest Tom Clancy tome.
First of all, this is one long book. Saying it is 874 pages is telling only half the story. There are also half again as many words per page as an average book.
Second, at the end of his last novel, "Debt of Honor," Clancy made his hero, Jack Ryan, president of the United States after a terrorist disaster wiped out most of the government.
Now I've seen authors ruin good series by falling in love with their lead characters - when was the last time you thought Robert Parker's Spenser was really in any danger? - but this seemed like the ultimate author's conceit.
I dreaded the thought of hundreds of pages of pedantic preaching while Ryan rebuilds America's political structure.
My fears were unjustified. "Executive Orders" is the ultimate Tom Clancy novel.
After all, Clancy's books have always been about procedures, how things work. "Executive Orders" gives him the chance to look at, from the ground up, everything in Washington that has to do with national security.
The novel begins at the same scene where "Debt of Honor" left off. Ryan had just been appointed vice president after the last one resigned in disgrace when an airliner crashed into the Capitol during an address by the president. Killed along with the president are most of the members of Congress and other governmental leaders.
While rebuilding, President Ryan says things that are more humanely correct than politically correct, leading some of America's enemies to believe this would be a good time to attack.
The assassination of Saddam Hussein gives a new Iranian mullah, Mahmoud Haji Daryei, the opening to consolidate Iran and Iraq into a Middle East superpower. He eyes Saudi Arabia but, remembering the last time Kuwait was invaded, decides to cripple America first.
Daryei launches a series of personal attacks on the first family since the president is even more the seat of American power than usual, and he unleashes the deadly Ebola virus in major American cities.
Meanwhile, the Chinese and Indians are acting up to distract the Navy, and the former vice president challenges Ryan's authority, saying maybe he didn't really resign after all.
While the political scenes won't make anyone forget "Advise and Consent," they are adroitly - and occasionally stirringly - written. You have to love a president who ends an address to the troops with "Good hunting."
Clancy's brilliant maneuvering of international forces have never been better, and the Ebola plot is disturbing enough to cause nightmares.
In fact, among all the virus thrillers I've waded through in the few years - including a truly ridiculous movie, "Outbreak" - this is, by far, the best and most realistic.
Sometimes I wonder if Clancy's brilliant ideas on how to destroy America shouldn't be submitted as classified scenarios to the Pentagon instead of as novels to publishers.
When you consider the damage this guy's imagination is capable of, there's only one thing to say: It's a darned good thing he's on our side.