Stephen Mertz's new novel opens with the American space shuttle Liberty being guided back to Earth by NASA computers after a short-lived mission that was called off within hours of lift-off. At least, that’s what the American astronauts on board think. Unknown to them, a traitor in Houston is really bringing the shuttle down to an isolated airfield in the mountains along the border between China and North Korea. When the shuttle commander realizes this, he takes back manual control, but not in time to do anything except avoid the airfield and crash-land the shuttle in the mountains.
This set-up results in an intense, action-packed, big-cast thriller that ranges from Washington to Beijing to the Korean mountains, as the survivors of the shuttle crew try to stay alive while the Chinese and North Korean military are converging on them, along with the personal army of a Chinese warlord and an American covert ops squad. The Chinese and North Koreans want to claim the prize that the shuttle represents with all its technology, while the Americans want to save the shuttle and its crew.
One problem I have with a lot of political/espionage thrillers is that they’re too long for the amount of plot they contain. That’s not the case here, as there’s always something going on in THE KOREAN INTERCEPT and the plot takes some unexpected twists along the way. It’s also told in the smooth, fast-moving prose of a thorough professional, which is exactly what you’d expect from Stephen Mertz. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I’ve known Steve Mertz for more years than I like to think about, probably longer than anyone else in the writing business except for Bill Crider and Joe Lansdale (and my wife, of course). He’s been a good friend and occasional collaborator. But take my word for it, THE KOREAN INTERCEPT is a vastly entertaining action-thriller, and I’d say that even if I’d never met the guy.