Target feels like a complete season of the TV show 24 in book form. It takes place within a single 24-hour period, and instead of chapters, the story is broken down into hours. As on the show, we follow our hero, in this case Army Intelligence officer Diana Lockworth, through a nonstop series of sometimes improbable, yet exciting events as she tries to avert an act of terrorism. While there are some inherent limitations to the format, there are far more benefits, resulting in a cool political thriller with a terrific heroine.
In addition to her work for the military, Diana is an agent for Oracle, a covert organization with access to vast amounts of classified information from various agencies. Oracle’s powerful database is constantly analyzing information from numerous sources, searching for any indications of impending terrorist threats. At 3 a.m. on the morning of the presidential inauguration, Diana awakens to the sound of an intruder inside her house. She quickly manages to fight him off thanks to her Krav Maga skills, although he manages to escape. Shortly thereafter, she receives a warning from Oracle that someone will likely try to assassinate president-elect Gabriel Monihan within the next twenty-four hours. She is assigned to prevent it from happening.
I don’t really want to say more about the plot, because the setup is really all you need to know. She receives the warning at the end of the first hour, and spends the next 23 hurtling around the Washington D.C. area evading pursuers, foiling threats to Monihan’s life, and trying to uncover a deadly conspiracy. Along the way, she meets the president-elect, who, conveniently enough, is unmarried, not to mention young (38) and handsome. They have an instant connection and flirt a little over the course of the day. The relationship sometimes seems forced, but is about as credible as possible given the premise and the genre. Mostly it stays in the background where it belongs.
Target is the 11th book in the Athena Force miniseries, but it tells a self-contained story that stands on its own. The backstory is mostly handled well, so that readers who haven’t read the previous books (Ruth Wind’s Countdown and Catherine Mann’s Pursued in particular) shouldn’t have much trouble understanding what’s happening. Diana is the sister of the heroine from Pursued, and some of the family issues she has to deal with related to that book feels awkward at times (much the way Jack Bauer’s family business often felt like a distraction on 24). But the author handles it reasonably enough in a way that adds dimension to Diana’s character and doesn’t detract too much from the plot.
The 24-hour framework is used well to keep the action flowing and the story moving. There are some moments where the plot doesn’t exactly fit the hours given, but the setup keeps the tension high as Diana is constant motion. Obviously, this is a far-fetched storyline, with far more happening during a single day than is likely believable. As on the TV show, just when it seems like Diana has foiled the plot, something else pops up and it’s clear there’s much more for her to uncover. Unlike the TV show, though, the action flows a little more naturally. If you like political thrillers as I do, this is a very entertaining read. The story is well-plotted, smoothly balancing Diana’s investigation and gradual discovery of the truth with the propulsive narrative. There are some very exciting action sequences, dramatic turns, and surprising moments where she’s suddenly forced to face the possibility that those she trusts most might betray her.
A story like this could fall apart without a strong character at its core. Fortunately, Diana is a great heroine. She’s tough. She’s smart. She’s resourceful. She’s a computer hacker who knows her way around a system, but also a skilled fighter with the ability to handle herself in a fight. Over the course of the book, she finds herself in one tight spot after another that she has to get out of using her wits and ingenuity. Whether it’s government agents or terrorist assassins, she has no trouble foiling the people who stand in her way on her quest for the truth.
There are a few weaknesses and rough spots in the execution that I could mention. There are plenty of long narrative sections where the story moves a little slower than it could (or should), some stilted dialogue, some unconvincing character moments, etc. But this is the kind of story where they really don’t matter. By the end, I was too caught up in what a fun, exhilarating read this was to nitpick the story’s little flaws. Like many thrillers, the storyline is somewhat improbable, if not implausible at times. But the writing is mostly detailed and strong, the heroine is terrific, and the plot is surprising and suspenseful. One of the better books I’ve read in both the Athena Force continuity and the line, this is one cool, exciting read.