Too real and too scary might best describe The Rockets' Red Glare. This is not an entertainment-only light thriller, but a gritty, real word portrayal of how the unspeakable could be accomplished by terrorists in the homeland. Too real and too scary, because it s a virtual how-to manual for terrorists. But also too real and too scary because it s simply a great read that never once sips out of suspended disbelief.
The Rockets' Red Glare reads like a reconstruction-of-events, like a fact-based retelling of a non-fiction event. Except, it's fiction. Thank goodness. If you recounted in depth, all the events that led up to 9/11, it might read like this. True, The Rockets' Red Glare is fiction, but the authors are careful to characterize it as forecast fiction because it could happen.
John Darrin worked in the nuclear industry for 40 years, and Dr. Gresalfi helped provide operational and planning support to agencies of the Department of Homeland Security. Which is to say, they bring a level of detail and scenario construction that feels more forensic than hypothetical. When you read The Rockets' Red Glare you feel like you are witnessing real events. This thriller never veers into silly James Bond fantasy or over-the-top summer-movie blockbuster nonsense. The thrills derive from layers of very plausible events, laid out chronologically, virtually hour by hour as the incidents unfold. The fear of the fictional citizens is palpable. I found myself angry, afraid and excited at the same time. Like a helpless bystander watching horrific events on the news. The terrorists are not larger-than-life monsters either, which I found refreshing. There are no one-dimensional suicide bomber stereotypes.
There are also no larger-than-life heroes here. The main protagonist is Dr. Cal Bellotta, a scientist consultant who works with Homeland Security. He becomes central to the story because of his expertise, rather than his heroism. This is not to say there are no inspiring moments for the characters, but the very tone of The Rockets' Red Glare is almost one of austere documentary. This is an important choice in a book that describes such terror.
I would change nothing in this thrill-ride, but I do caution readers to have their notepads ready for a cast of characters. The very epic scope of these hypothetical, nearly-real events, makes this a necessary evil. This novel is a near-perfect forecast fiction, blending non-stop breathless action, thought-provoking mental acrobatics, and just-right pace. In the hands of more lavish authors, this book might not have worked, simply due to credibility issues or to the sensitivities of terrorism on the homeland. This book could not have been written by just any bestselling thriller author. Absolute depth of understanding of how all of this might work is critical to the scenarios presented and the response of the authorities to the emergency. The spare prose style is ideal for this type of book. Since the incidents in The Rockets' Red Glare are already riveting, the prose needs to remain tight and focused to retain credibility. Darrin and Gresalfi have succeeded admirably in benchmarking excellence in forecast terrorist fiction.