Action! Adventure! Romance! Yeah, Chita Quest has all that; but it’s got something even better – a good heart…
Brinn Colenda’s latest novel, Chita Quest, falls assuredly into the military action-adventure genre – a genre that makes a reader immediately think of names such as Tom Clancy and Donald Bellasario. What makes this book interesting isn’t the action or the adventure, though both of those are present in healthy doses. The romance in here is not likely to attract readers who are looking for romantic encounters of, say, the Ian Fleming James Bond books variety. There are romantic relationships in the novel, but they’re of the this-is-what-a-happy-marriage-looks-like variety.
And that last statement of mine gets at a key element of what gives Chita Quest an appeal beyond that of what we might call the “Fleming School”: Colenda does a good job of showing us heroes who are heroic in the way real people with real military training are heroic – they rise to occasions, seize opportunities, above all, use their training appropriately.
The plot of Chita Quest is one that readers will recognize readily: the issue of unaccounted for Americans who were listed as POW/MIA from the Vietnam War. Rest assured: this plot does not lead into Rambo/Braddock style shoot-em-ups. Instead, what we see is the courage of the main character, an Air Force colonel named Tom Callahan; the intelligence of his brother Brian, a former Air Force pilot himself who’s also a recovered cocaine addict and a successful Wall Street broker (don’t worry – like any decent person he’s become disenchanted with “the street’s” callousness and greed); the cleverness and determination of their friend Porter, an award winning photojournalist; and, ultimately, the strength of character and endurance of the Callahan boys’ father Sean, a POW whom they rescue, fairly improbably but still believably, from a Siberian diamond mine. As with any “ripping yarn” of this sort, there are political machinations, near-miss escapes, and moments of suspense galore. The book gallops along at a great rate. It’s a fast, entertaining read.
There are, as there always are in these kinds of thrillers, subplots – in this case involving Russian moles in the US government and attempts by the CIA to cover up its numerous blunders. It’s in these subplots that the Callahan women – Tom’s wife Colleen, Brian’s wife Elizabeth, and Sean’s wife (and the mother of Tom and Brian), Barbara – play a role in the novel. The Callahan women show themselves to be as courageous, intelligent, and strong in character as their mates. But, as is often the case in action stories, they spend more time waiting and worrying than anything else.
Other reviewers with better credentials for judging this genre than I could give more thoughtful critiques of the action sequences and the convincing nature of the descriptions of planes, satellite telephones, believability of the political scenarios, and the like. My main focus, as it always is in reviewing any work of fiction regardless of genre, is on how much the author made me care about the characters, their struggles, their lives. And here Colenda rings true. The ending of the novel – the reunion of Brian and Tom Callahan’s parents after the father’s decades of being an illegally held POW, both rang true and moved me. One can ask no more of a work of fiction than that its characters’ motivations and actions achieve those goals. Well done.
There is one bone I’ll pick. The novel’s epilogue, which features another aged American (POW or MIA) in a cabin in the Siberian wilderness, left me puzzled – and not in a good way. I know that Chita Quest is book two of a trilogy, and that a subplot of the novel has to do with Russian moles in the US government. But I so didn’t like thinking that possibly the American still in Siberia was the real Sean Callahan and that their rescued father was a Russian agent.
But I have to give Brinn Colenda credit here. He’s got me thinking and he’s got me thinking I have to read the next book. So again, however begrudgingly, I have to say again – well done. I doubt a teaser can be done better than that.
So my final words on Chita Quest are a phrase I’ve uttered before in this review: