Get Lit: The First Commandment, by Brad Thor

My wife had just finished getting a procedure at the hospital, so I entered the recovery room and put down the review copy of the book I’d been killing time with.

One of the nurses picked it up, wide-eyed with excitement. “The new Brad Thor is out?!” she gasped.

Yes. Yes it is. Whether that makes the world a better place depends on your tolerance for hacky thrillers.

Thor – whose author photo takes up the entire back of the book – has apparently been putting out a series of action novels. While he’s undeniably competent, he also shows little imagination as he methodically follows the standard thriller template.

His hero, former Secret Service agent/Navy SEAL/anti-terrorist hunter Scot Harvath, is (actually, for real) described like this: “He was a legend in the Secret Service, and his heroism and patriotism were above reproach, but Harvath was also known as a shoot-from-the-hip maverick who often chucked the rule book in favor of expediency.” Wow, never run into one of those characters before.

The titular First Commandment, by the way, is “Never make deals with terrorists.” The only exception to this, we learn, is when a situation involves children. Which makes things difficult when a bunch of terrorists hijack a schoolbus….and then e-mail the White House with 100 surveillance photos of other schoolbuses. (Good Lord – they’ve figured out bus routes!! The bastards!!)

In order to stop further attacks, the president releases five deadly suspects from Guantanamo, one of whom starts killing or maiming friends and relatives of Harvath via methods based on the plagues that God set upon ancient Egypt. Why he’s basing it on the plagues – in reverse order, no less – is never quite explained.

At any rate, the White House doesn’t want Harvath to go after the fiend, and tempers flare. There’s the usual supporting cast of hyper-loyal, extremely competent and lethal pals backing Horvath up; for color there’s a dwarf living on an isolated South American island who’s a master at obtaining any information that’s stored on any computer anywhere.

It all moves along quickly enough, with short chapters heavy on the alleged cliff-hangers.

You also get, as a bonus, the right-wing preaching of the author.

Horvath on border policy: “Listen, I agree. The terrorists, the drugs, the tidal wave of illegal immigrants. I’ve got friends on the Border Patrol. This is criminal, and we’ve only got ourselves to blame. As far as I’m concerned, how can we call America the most powerful nation on earth when we can’t even secure our own borders? We’re being overrun, and if we don’t get a handle on it immediately, we’re going to wake up real soon to a very different America – one that even the most liberal among us isn’t going to enjoy very much.”

Thor on freedom of the press: The CIA director at one point tries to stop a reporter from publicizing one aspect of the story but, we’re told, the director “had quickly learned that many newspapers had far more pride in their circulation than they did in their patriotism. That they were hobbling America and empowering her terrorist enemies made absolutely no difference to them.”

So if you revel in your Limbaugh mega-dittoes, this may be the beach book for you. But unless you’re looking for a completely surprise-free, by-the-numbers thriller, take a pass. – Richard Connelly

The First Commandment, by Brad Thor, Atria, $25.95

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