Gauntlet by Richard Aaron

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Gauntlet by Richard Aaron

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A great thriller once you’ve got past the slow start, full of gadgetry, engineering genius, suspense and a race to the death. Throw in some wonderful characters, some old-fashioned mystery with honest-to-goodness clues and you’ve got a sure fire winner.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 504 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Glass House Press
ISBN: 978-0981676883

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So just how big a crater will it make if we blow up 660 tons of Semtex?

As first lines go, that's brilliant.

Unfortunately, Aaron then proceeds to lose it for a little while, while he feels the need to give us far too much back story on characters whose actions prove why he shouldn't have bothered. Plough through the first couple of chapters, and don't worry if you're not taking it all in. It doesn't matter. This is a debut novel that probably had some serious editing, but could have survived a little more.

Once he really gets going, you won't want to put it down. Except maybe now and then to worry about whether it is actually feasible that this could happen, could actually be happening, right now. Sections on the manipulation of the media had me getting particularly paranoid.

The 660 tons of Semtex has been surrendered by the Libyans who have decided to give up their experimental Utopia and join the real world. The deal has been done and the weapons surrendered, leaving the western powers with the problem of exactly what to do with them. On the Semtex, someone (probably after a few beers) suggested digging a hole in the desert and just blowing it up. In default of any better notions that's what's about to happen at the very start of the novel.

The answer to the original question, of course, depends upon exactly how you stack the Semtex, and how and where you place the fuses. But that isn't the point. The point is more related to the question of how much smaller will the crater be if you're 4.5 tons short...

…because they are. Only no-one has noticed yet.

That 4.5 tons has been appropriated by an Afghan-led organisation that stretches across the globe. Its primary aim is running drugs. No. Its primary aim is making money and providing excitement and self-validation for the man that runs it. Running drugs is just the easiest way to do that. Somewhere along the line, this man, Youssef, has fallen into cahoots with an Islamic ideologue going by the name of The Emir. The latter is hiding out in the mountains of Afghanistan and plotting a major strike against the Great Satan (the USA to the rest of us). Youssef is in on it, because he sees a way to use the after-effects on the financial markets to make some very serious money, even by his standards. Money so serious he's prepared to bet his already substantial empire on it.

Meanwhile, an American agent who has been infiltrating the warlords of the unruly Pashtun tribes for the last four years, has very carelessly dropped his GPS-locator-cum-radio-transmitter and quite rightly finds himself thrown to the hands of the most malicious of the warlords' interrogators for his troubles. That his best-friend cum semi-official-step-brother is in the thick of it, is not necessarily going to help.

In America, TTIC, a newly-created cross-agency intelligence unit is tracking both the missing Semtex and some serious internet chatter about possible nuclear strikes. The team comprises representatives seconded from all of the known intelligence and criminal investigative bodies and a few odd-ball recruitments like the autistic-spectrum sufferer Hamilton Turbee – mathematical and computer genius who has no idea about social interaction or what a sense of humour might be.

In Canada, a Hindu policeman and his female colleague from the RCMP are tracking the local leads on how drugs are getting into – or possibly out of – their country.

The stage is set: cue message from Al Jazeera. The Emir announces that he is about to strike at the heart of America.

Thus begins the race against time. Youssef knows that the intelligence networks are good and will be quickly on their tail. He knows that if the mission is to succeed, everything must happen to plan and on time.

The Americans and Canadians do not know exactly what the threat is nor where or how it will work.

Once the pace picks up Gauntlet is unstoppable. The clues are drip fed. Youssef's back-story is one of the few that matters. It explains not only his character, but how he comes to command the Empire he does. We get this in back-flash clarity of episodes, rather than the pointless explanation that spoils the early chapters. We're not told about Youssef, but taken back to his childhood and allowed to watch the path that brought him here. We watch him build the empire that makes the strike possible.

The other protagonists' stories are interspersed.

We watch what happens at TTIC, and across the border in Canada.

We follow Youssef in current time as he checks the engineering and the financial prelims that will ensure he gets what he wants out of an attack that doesn't necessarily sit all that well with him. We meet the faith-blinded, life-short-changed youngsters who will be the martyrs to the cause. We see those who train them without sharing their belief in the eternal paradise. Business is business.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan agents follow leads and are themselves followed.

We see inside the prisons and the torture chambers.

We peer into the White House and every intel unit below it.

We watch as ordinary people try to do their jobs and fight an enemy they know is approaching, but cannot see or follow, while an autistic kid sends his web-bots into cyber space to see what can be gleaned. Then he disappears.

Aaron has the skill to make you care about individuals on both sides of the fence, even if you intellectually only support one of their aims. You find yourself drawn into the action wherever it's focussed, and occasionally having to remind yourself that these are maybe not the team to applaud.

There are absolutely no guarantees that the good guys will win this one… because the good guys aren't listening.

Technically complex, and scientifically plausible, it's one to enjoy, and then to worry about.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy Typhoon by Charles Cumming.

Buy Gauntlet by Richard Aaron at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Gauntlet by Richard Aaron at

Buy Gauntlet by Richard Aaron at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Gauntlet by Richard Aaron at


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