Thursday, January 17, 2008


The Korean Intercept is the fifth (by my count) novel Stephen Mertz has published under his own name in the past few years, and it is the first to hit mass-market paperback. It is an action thriller with more than a little attitude, and even a touch of originality.

The space shuttle Liberty is just minutes off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral when its crew is given the order to abort mission—they are to maintain radio silence, and let the navigation system take them down. It isn’t long before the crew realizes something is terribly wrong and as the shuttle makes its final approach the pilot takes the controls and overshoots the approaching runway in Hamgyong Province, North Korea. He also gets a short mayday transmission out before the shuttle’s power goes down.

In the United States the president wants answers. No one knows exactly where the Liberty went down and the crew’s emergency beacons are frighteningly quiet. The Koreans, while not openly hostile, are unreceptive to a U.S. led search party, and the Chinese are more interested in their own search than helping the United States. This is where the hero arrives—Trev Galt. He is the best operator the United States has and to make things even more interesting his wife is one of Liberty’s missing astronauts. It doesn’t take Galt long to take things to the next level and when he does, watch out.

The Korean Intercept is a modern thriller in every sense of the word. The writing is loose and stark. The plot is flamboyant, larger-than-life, and fast-paced. The characters are cardboard, but they fit the story and fulfill their roles perfectly as the plot steams toward the climax. The major difference between The Korean Intercept and most of its peers is the action. Stephen Mertz made a name in the men’s action novel market in the 1980s, and it shows here. The action is quick, sharp, and exhilarating.

If The Korean Intercept has a weakness, it is one shared by most works in the genre—it takes the story a little too long to develop as the major players are introduced, but Mr. Mertz infuses the introductory scenes with enough action to keep it interesting. Then it really begins to pop about a quarter of the way through and it doesn’t let up until the final climax when Trev Galt makes it his mission in life to rescue both the Liberty and its crew.

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