Scot Harvath is a former SEAL turned Secret Service agent assigned to the Presidential protection detail. His previous experience includes both SEAL Team Two and an assignment with the SEAL think tank group. Prior to his military service, he was an accomplished, competitive downhill and cross-country skier. And that is virtually all we know about Scot Harvath. We have almost no information whatsoever about his family, his education or his past experiences. Other than his physical appearance, we have virtually no backstory for this man, not even his age.
And that means three things. First, without a past to compare with, there can be no observable character growth. Essentially this means that there is little way to emotionally connect with the character. Secondly, without that emotional connection, there is no appreciable hook to get the reader invested in the character’s situation. This is a point that is incredibly important if an author wishes the reader to continue purchasing books in a series that uses the same protagonist in each entry.
And finally, without a backstory, it is easy for an author to make errors in chronology. Between Scot’s educational years, his military years, his Secret Service years and the skiing, it is very hard to believe that Scot is still in his twenties as Thor intimates repeatedly.
Chronology and backstory problems aside, our novel opens with Scot leading the advance team for the President’s ski vacation with his daughter in Utah. Concurrently, two Senators are plotting with a wealthy oil magnate to kidnap the President during that ski vacation. The plan may be financed by the oilman but it is to be executed by a highly skilled Swiss-based team that specializes in extraction and assassination. And the plan is executed almost to perfection. The Secret Service is blindsided, literally as well as figuratively, and the President is truly kidnapped off the slopes. The imperfect part is that, while nearly thirty agents are executed in the attack, one agent survives – Scot Harvath.
Within two days, his survival and his determination to investigate have caused one too many problems for the triad who plotted the kidnapping. Scot finds himself framed as an accomplice in the kidnapping, as the murderer in a double homicide and as the source of a leak of classified info to the media. Concussed and badly bruised from the attack, Scot is on his own and on the run. His career is over, his freedom is in question, and he is being hunted not only by the government, but also by an assassination team hired by the triad and by the Swiss Lions of Lucerne who executed the kidnapping.
Scot stays barely a half step ahead of the assassins for hundreds of pages. The author writes in close call after close call, a rappelling accident, a fall into a freezing river, hundreds of bullets flying about, knives, fists, and kicks galore. The action sequences are well researched and more than plentiful in number. But they are clearly survivable only by an extraordinary person with the ability to pull off extraordinary acts.
For some readers these “close calls” will require that they engage their system of disbelief early on. For other readers, these incidents are survived only by what they perceive as the repeated and varied use of the deus ex machina literary device. But it appears that Brad Thor, through his choice of words, clearly wishes us to believe that these close escapes are the result of good training, physical prowess and a high dosage of good luck.
In the end, my decision was based on the intricate detail and the thoroughness of the kidnappers’ plans as well as on Harvath’s characterization. Frankly, I feel that, from the very first page, through action sequence or dialogue, by good guy or villain, Thor’s sub-theme for this novel emulates one of Louis Pasteur’s more memorable phrases: Chance favors the prepared mind.
Cover Art from Goodreads