Dick Couch and George Galdorisi have teamed up once again for the second book of the revived Op-Center series: Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire. If anything, it’s better than the first book of the series, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes. Without all of Out of the Ashes’ quite necessary exposition explaining Op-Center’s recreation and introducing a new cast of characters, Into the Fire is even more of a page-turner, able to concentrate completely on the crises at the heart of the story.
This time the primary villain is North Korea, with a plan to use its military forces to make economic gains in a pact with China. There is also a North Korean terrorist cell on U.S. soil that has to be dealt with.
Some of the most gripping parts of Into the Fire are the conventional naval and aerial battles. The U.S. military shows its professionalism and expertise, as always, with a mixture of high technology, sound tactics, courage, and skill. The battle at sea between the littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee and North Korean frigates is particularly gripping. The Milwaukee of the book has a real-life counterpart (LCS 5) now building, one of a class of ship recently renamed frigates by the U.S. Navy. The fictional Milwaukee takes its lumps, as numbers, time, weather, political concerns, and duty conspire against it. The littoral combat ship as a concept and a class comes in for some criticism in the book’s exposition as well. Interestingly, a Navy vessel that in real life sank under the weight of program difficulties and criticism, the Advanced SEAL Delivery System, plays a key part in the story.
But as always, the deciding factor is the people. The ship’s captain, Cmdr. Kate Bigelow, is a smart, capable, and appealing new character, grappling with North Korean forces as well as a liability of an executive officer. As is true to form in the entire Clancy pantheon, the characters are a mixture of extremely capable, intelligent mavericks and a very few ambitious, obstructionist functionaries and rivals who stand in their way.
With intricate plotting, plenty of action, and characters – even villains – that are more than cardboard cutouts, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire is definitely a book that will leave you sleep-deprived.