THE OTHER PILOT is an ambitious attempt to write a thriller novel which incorporates some of the most relevant issues of our day - the banking crisis, the growing mistrust of the U.S. Government, political power, conspiracy theories - all wrapped up in the world of hot-jock fighter pilots who live, breath, sleep and eat flying, fighter jets and all things avionic.
The problem is that the author's skill is not equal to the task at hand. The first three chapters are tight and do an excellent job of setting up a confounding mystery - and the last three or four chapters feature some fine, well-handled action scenes that get the blood pumping.
However, the downfall is the vast muddy middle of this novel. Writer ED BALDWIN, a retired Air Force flight surgeon, loses his grip on the control stick of his plot. He sets out to follow a well-designed literary flight plan, but instead gets lost in heavy fog and crash lands in a swamp teaming with conspiracy theories, right-wing paranoia about the U.N., NRA gun-nut blather, corporate banking scams, and preachy lectures on the innate human superiority of the fighter pilot.
For example, I met and interviewed the great Scott Crossfield, the first man to break Mach 2. I sat down to a lunch and conversed with an impressive guy -- the Marine aviator James Buchli -- who logged more than 4,000 hours in jet fighters, including combat missions in the F-4 Phantom II. Buchli went on to fly four Space Shuttle missions.
One of my best friends while I worked in aerospace was a Vietnam-era B-52 pilot who happened to grow up in the same small North Dakota town as my first cousin, who was also a B-52 pilot and retired from the Air Force a Full Bird colonel.
But the bottom line is - and this is what those-who-are-absorbed-in-the-bliss-of-Aviation-Salvation-but-who-want-to-be-writers don't understand - is that there are those of us who don't care all that much about airplanes, bombers and fighter jets. We think they're boring. And believe it or not, I really don't think that a man's pilot license can automatically trigger a sexual frenzy in the female human body, or that taking a woman flying in the clouds will cause her nipples to get hard (as happens in this book).
No, I'm a lowly earth-hugging drudge, skulking along in the low-paying gravel pits of the writing business. What really gets my rocks off is a tight plot, a blistering pace, a viewpoint character who is constantly in the clutches of grave danger, and who is fighting tooth and nail, page after page, to defeat the evil forces marshaled against him.
I like of lot of narrow escapes, background maneuvering and intrigue. I don't give a bent wing flap if the plot is driven by fighter pilots or cloistered nuns weaving carpets in Tuscany -- as long as the rendering is compelling and gripping - and keeps me jabbing the Kindle "page-turn button" like a cobra striking a small, furry animal.
This story makes too many unscheduled landings to let the characters kick back with some cold beers, spicy burritos, fried chicken, collard green and the occasional bout of athletic sex. But even great sex and peppery food can be dull if it stalls out the plot and causes a nose dive down to storybook swampland.
If you are among the Aviation Elect, have accepted Frank Borman as your Personal Savior, and believe the only thing that separates you from the slavery of a foreign power is a fleet of demigods stroking the sticks of F-16s armed with 2,000-pound bombs - you may enjoy The Other Pilot. If that's not you, well ...
Ken Korczak is the author of BIRD BRAIN GENIUS