Meet Gideon Davis. He’s a bad-ass. Oh sure, he’s a peacekeeper whose work with the UN over the past decade or two has stemmed violence and saved countless lives. He also hates guns, and spends most of Gideon’s War dressed in an increasingly bedraggled tuxedo. But don’t let the seeming namby-pamby surface fool you. Gideon spends his life in pursuit of peace, but when circumstances demand it, he can murder wide swathes of faceless adversaries; and even though he hates guns, he’s still an excellent shot. Gideon has a new mission: His brother Tillman, a CIA agent gone rogue, is in trouble in an obscure Southeast Asia country, and Gideon has only two days to get him back. Plus there’s something about an oil rig. What could go wrong?
First-time novelist Howard Gordon is best known as a writer and executive producer on 24, and it’s impossible not to draw connections between the show and the book. Gideon fits easily into the Jack Bauer mold: the world-weary warrior with a troubled family history who doesn’t want to kill anyone, but keeps getting stuck in situations where there’s no other choice. (Although since Gideon gets 48 hours for a mission, he probably isn’t the man Jack is.) War is full of the standard 24 and military-thriller clichés, from the corrupt bureaucracy to the anonymous terrorist thugs to the interchangeable soldiers who give their all for their country. The book has a single female lead, who is constantly being described as “beautiful” and “attractive.” The question isn’t whether she and Gideon will fall in love, but whether they’ll be able to resist their throbbing biological urges long enough to save the day.
And yet in spite of all this—or maybe because of it—War is a surprisingly fun ride. It’s lean, well-paced, and full of the kind of “Holy shit!” moments that made 24 so entertaining to watch in its heyday. There’s precious little fat here, to the point where nearly every character outside the handful of leads is reduced to little more than a walk-on. At times, the story reads like the Reader’s Digest version of a Tom Clancy novel; the energy stays up, but there isn’t much room for subtlety. While the cast is by and large laughably one-note, Gideon is at least compelling enough to root for throughout. War flags in its conclusion—it’s too thinly realized to make much impact in the final moments—but until then, it’s an exciting piece of violent nonsense, at least for readers who don’t mind some well-intentioned sexism and flagrant overuse of the word “jihadi.”