In the sequel to The Flight of the Intruder, ace Navy pilot Jake Grafton faces a tough new challenge as a peacetime warrior in 1973 when he is assigned the task of teaching a group of inexperienced Marine pilots the art of carrier aviation.
Finding himself stateside in the immediate aftermath of the war in Vietnam, Grafton feels a growing malaise, hamstrung to win the hand of Callie Mackenzie. (Though Grafton fans know the romance turns out okay, Coonts shows us how far from certain the romance was). As punishment for getting into a bar fight, Grafton is shipped to sea so he can tutor a new generation of aviators in flying the new generation of Intruder, the A-6E. Though he'd jump at the chance to fly the new plane, the fliers themselves are Marines - considered ham-handed apes not up to flying complex hardware. To add to the mix is Grafton's new commander, an ernest type hungry for action. With no airstrikes to keep them occupied, the new CAG spends his time planning attacks against soviet ships (Coonts makes the point that air-launched anti-ship missiles have not yet made it to American inventories, requiring planners and fliers to fall back on more reckless tactics). Is the new CAG in control or does he have an itchy trigger finger? And can Grafton get his cadets up to speed?
Unfortunately, while episodic takes that drive "Intruders" worked on "Flight of the Intruder", there isn't a central story to bring it together as that older book had. Planes crash, men die, carrier ops is just the most damgerous job in the world. Also, the green marines are cardboard characters who are not only less capable at flying then the characters of "Flight of the Intruder", but simply less interesting as well - like Razor, Boxman (who died in that older book), Cole and Cowboy (who lost his life years later in "Final Flight"). Even the postwar setting seems to work more against the novel then for it - there's no war to add to the dynamism of the situation. But at sea, there isn't any sense of the relief or shame or anything for the sacrifices of the war and its perceived results. Coonts wraps things up with an completely implausible tale involving a showdown with modern day pirates. This really kills the book which had started out as a return to the seeming homespun honesty (for a technothriller) of the first book - eschewing the villains, plots and schemes, and hidden agendas of Dale Brown, Clive Cussler and the latter Grafton books. Still closer to that spirit of the original "Flight" than Coonts' other books, and still well ahead of any competitors.