Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: The Malacca Conspiracy by Don Brown

I’ve read all of the Don Brown Navy Justice Series books I’m aware of. Four of them are a continuing story. The 5th, Black Sea Affair, sort of diverts but at the end ties in the main character from the other books.
Don Brown is like a cross between Tom Clancy and the JAG corp. Don Brown was a former Navy JAG lawyer, and is a decent fiction writer. He writes similar to Clancy. Not quite as sophisticated as Clancy, but close and still enjoyable.
His books are also Christian fiction (published by Zondervan), although not preachy. It touches on the character’s thoughts and brief conversations with each other. The main characters are all Christians.
Recurring characters throughout the books are:
LT-LTCDR Zack Brewer, USN JAG, star lawyer of the Navy, successfully tries several high profile cases throughout the books. He begins the series as a Lieutenant but is promoted to LTCDR quickly.
LT-LTCDR Diane Colcernian- Zack’s love interest. The first book starts with some trouble in the past between them, but closes that quickly.
President Mack Williams- Republican POTUS and former Navy JAG lawyer. Sort of a recurring theme; Navy JAG lawyers with names that rhyme with “ack”.
There are some Presidential advisors and minor recurring characters, but I’m getting bored with this exercise so I won’t list them.
This book starts with a phenomenal plot device: somebody starts driving up oil futures through insider trading just before oil tankers are attacked and sunk in the Straights of Malacca.
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This scenario is absolutely terrifying. I’ve been through the Straights of Malacca twice, on a U.S. Navy Destroyer. The straights get really narrow around Singapore. A disaster on the scale of the attacks in this book would shut the place down. Oil prices would skyrocket into the realm of “we either find an alternative fuel, or start buying horses again”. Then our suburbs would stink of horse crap.
In addition to the insider trading and attacks on ships, a rouge general serving as Chief of Staff of the Indonesian military decides to overthrow the President and acquire nukes to attack the U.S. with. His assassination of the Indonesian President is again a terrifying scenario: the President’s personal doctor has a lung removed and replaced with explosives, which are set off during a routine medical check up. Oh, yeah, the U.S. Ambassador is visiting and goes MIA in the blast, along with one of the main character JAG lawyers.
Also, a nuke is set off in downtown Philadelphia.
After this great build up, with some awesome cliff-hanging scenarios that I hope NEVER happen in real life, the book goes downhill. The insider trading is forgotten, as is the oil tanker attacks. It then becomes a formulaic “good guys win the story”. That is unfortunate. Even the supposedly suspenseful moments in the book, like the small plane carrying a nuke into D.C. fail to evoke emotion, since you realize by this point that the good guys are going to win. The last 100 or so pages of the book read sort of like this: “blah, blah, general, blah, blah, President, blah, blah, Navy Seals, blah, blah JAGs goes on SEAL team mission, blah, blah plane gets shot down, end of story, award ceremony, speech, marriage proposal.”
Also, as a former Navy man, I caught a few discrepancies. It’s not a big deal, and you’re not likely to notice. Don Brown shouldn’t feel bad; I’ve caught Clancy being wrong on some Navy technical issues. I suspect Clancy took some artistic license though, as he needed the discrepancy to move his story along. Don Brown’s discrepancies are minor. The Port Royal is not an “Aegis Class Cruiser”. Nor is it a “Heavy Cruiser”. It is a Ticonderoga Class cruiser. The entire class is Aegis. Like I said, it was minor.
The Navy Justice Series is a good read. I enjoyed it a lot, even if it did fizzle out at the end of The Malacca Conspiracy.

The Malacca Conspiracy
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