Gauntlet by Richard Aaron – 9780981676883 – ****
Time to Read: Four Days
Libya has announced that it wishes to join the community of nations, but first it must destroy its entire reserve of semtex–a powerful plastic explosive that has been used in terrorist attacks across the globe. With the help of the US government and before the world media, Libya complies. The charges are set. The blast is massive. Libya is welcomed to the community of nations. The problem? Terrorists have stolen 4 tons of the explosive and are threatening to detonate it somewhere along the west coast of North America. Richard Aaron’s Gauntlet follows the efforts of those involved in finding the missing semtex–from a newly formed anti-terror group in the US to a pair of Canadian Mounted Police who are chasing drug smugglers–and those who are running the operation. Will the plot be uncovered in time to prevent a massive terror strike in North America, or will the crafty bombers succeed in their quest?
I acquired this book as an advanced reader copy (one of the many perks of being a bookseller) some time ago, and am unsure if it is out of print or simply unavailable in the states at the moment, but I couldn’t read it and not review it. I’m going to review this one a little differently–more like I would review a manuscript for a friend–because I don’t feel my usual review style will fit this novel. I will be breaking it up into three parts (Character Development, Plot and Execution) and adding in some other general thoughts on the book. It will make for a longer review, but I feel like this title, as the author’s first novel and a lesser-known book, deserves the extra time. So, here it goes:
To start, I want to say that his book’s description makes it sound like a James Bond novel. Adventure, action, espionage. I couldn’t pass it up. It actually reads more like a Michael Crichton novel, full of technical jargon and what I interpret as carefully researched information paired with a fictional plot and cast of characters. It is exciting and enjoyable, with a lot of twists, turns, complex characters and (what I assume to be) facts.
The character development in this book is some of the best I’ve seen. If rating Gauntlet by its players alone, I would award it with five stars. All of the characters seem like real people. They all have histories, weaknesses, dreams, fears and flaws. I especially love Turbee, the Autistic computer tech. I would bet that Richard Aaron has a friend or family member with Autism, because his insight is outstanding. Turbee has to be one of the most complex and well-written characters I have encountered. The villain, Youseff, is also a character of note. Richard Aaron gives enough insight into the “bad guy’s” life that I was able to see him as a person with a reason for doing what he was doing, and even some sympathetic characteristics. I started to view him as a tragic character instead of a simple antagonist and caught myself thinking: “Wow, this man could have done anything with his life. It’s too bad he has taken this path.” Youseff’s development is a model for other new writers to follow. Like all of the characters in Gauntlet, he seems too real to be fiction.
Gauntlet‘s plot is excellent. It follows cops, special agents, undercover operatives, drug runners, terrorists, Jihadists and opportunists as they struggle to bring about destruction or to stop it. It is full of twists and turns that keep you guessing and multiple sub-plots that all converge to form one great story. While not as James Bond-like as its book jacket makes it sound, it is very exciting and thought provoking. Richard Aaron clearly put a lot of thought and planning into Gauntlet‘s story-line, weaving it together into a fantastic book.
The execution of this novel is the closest thing it has to a weakness. It is good, and in some places excellent, but there is a lot of technical jargon, which is fine in small doses but I found myself having to go back because I was skimming over some of it. It is also full of flashbacks that provide excellent background on the characters but tend to slow the story down. As the novel progresses, things pick up a great deal, and the execution improves as the story picks up, but the first half of the book almost seems more flashback than plot movement. Again, these flashbacks are key to some of the character development, but it gets frustrating when you’re in the middle of something exciting or interesting and the character decides to daydream for a few pages. I would like to see more forward movement of the plot and character development added through more dialogue and less flashback narration. When taken into consideration with the book’s characters and plot, these are minor flaws at most, especially since they decrease as the story progresses, but I did feel they were worth mentioning.
While reading this book, I found it difficult to put down. I wanted to see if good would prevail or if the villains would succeed in their plot against North America. When it ended, I immediately googled to see if Richard Aaron’s next book Counterplay was available to order and found myself wondering why this novel didn’t go viral like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. The only reason I could come up with for it’s low popularity in the US is the fact that Americans may have a hard time reading a book that outlines a fictional terrorist plot designed by its executors to rival 9/11. Richard Aaron’s style is a little bit Michael Crichton and a little bit Dan Brown with a touch of Ian Flemming for good measure. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of any of those three authors or who enjoys a good thriller, a dose of technological inventiveness, and a wealth of action-based plot.
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