James Huston burst onto what used to be called the techno-thriller scene in 1988 with Balance of Power, a military/legal actioner about a constitutional crisis that erupts when a conservative speaker of the House takes matters into his own hands because a spineless president refuses to retaliate against Indonesian Islamist terrorists.
Rush Limbaugh loved the book, and many compared the novel’s characters to Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, then holding power in Washington. Huston, however, followed the time-honored tradition of veiling real people by adding notable differences, such as a Speaker who was a veteran.
Back when guys like John Buchan (The 39 Steps) and Joseph Conrad (The Secret Agent) invented the modern international thriller, the names of enemy countries and odious leaders were merely hinted at, not named. Even Geoffrey Household, author of the classic Rogue Male, did not expressly name Adolf Hitler as the target of his hero’s big-game hunter protagonist– although he did deliver plenty of obvious hints.
In Falcon 7, a thriller about two Navy fliers hauled before the International Criminal Court for dropping a bomb on the wrong target in Pakistan, Huston doesn’t bother creating pseudonyms or crafting a fictional president likely to genuflect before international institutions.
Instead, he tackles the question of what would happen if U.S. fliers were to face a radical anti-American ICC prosecutor while their commander-in-chief is none other than Barack Hussein Obama.
Doug Rawlins, an F-18 pilot, and his RIO Bill Duncan sit in a prison in The Hague, charged with war crimes after dropping a bomb on what was supposed to be an al Qaeda meeting place but turned out to be a clinic for refugees.
The Obama administration wants the fliers defended but doesn’t want to put the full weight of the Justice Department behind them. So, through a back channel they call on criminal defense attorney and former Navy SEAL Jack Caskey to provide their defense.
Caskey smells a setup, and immediately focuses on the fliers’ dizzying – and suspiciously quick — capture and repatriation to the Netherlands. The prosecutor, within a day, has his captives and depositions from tribesman in a remote and violent part of Pakistan in hand, thanks to a conveniently handy multi-million-dollar Falcon 7 jet that just happened to be hanging around the backward hellhole.
Knowing he needs bodies and talent to help him fight a possibly hopelessly stacked deck at the ICC, Caskey enlists Eric Holder’s former New York law firm by threatening to go on every news show and blast them for going out of their way to defend murderous terrorists but turning their nose up at America’s heroes. But that’s nowhere near the biggest stunt Caskey has to pull in order to successfully defend his clients.
He knows the task may well be hopeless, so he undertakes a succession of Hail Mary plays, including a trip to the scene in the Taliban- and al Qaeda-infested mountain regions of Pakistan.
Caskey even publically challenges Obama to free his clients by force, invoking a little-known law passed by Congress after 9⁄11 in response to the possibility of the ICC trying American soldiers. The law states that the President is authorized to invade any country holding American military personnel, friendly or not.
This tactic doesn’t exactly meet with the approval of Caskey’s beautiful second chair, a law school almost-flame whose legal brilliance is almost matched by her personal liberalism and was much more comfortable working for the causes Holder championed at her firm.
But, for Caskey, the idea of a rescue mission is more than just a threat or rhetorical device – no matter what the president might think. Even as he runs rhetorical and evidentiary circles around the prosecution, Caskey has no confidence that the airmen have any shot at a fair trial in The Hague and believes such a mission may be their only hope.
Huston, a former F-14 RIO himself and now a big-time trial lawyer, certainly knows his stuff, and Falcon 7 rings true at every turn, whether it’s a courtroom twist, an ambush on a Pakistani mountain road or, even worse, a political ambush by political appointees who just want the case to get out of the headlines.
More importantly, Huston is a superb storyteller, and Falcon 7 rockets along at the speed of the F-18 in the opening sequence and hits its target with just as much power. The result is a perfect summer read – a terrific, thought-provoking, suspenseful and thoroughly entertaining and highly educational thriller.