**** The Golden Hour

Todd Moss, diplomacy, thriller,The Golden HourBy Todd Moss (sounds like a nom de plume, doesn’t it?). Read by Peter Marek. This was the best, most realistic (to me!) political thriller I’ve read in recent months. For a first-time novel, impressive. I bought it after reading this Washington Post profile of Washington insider Moss. The book tells the story of an Amherst academic, Judd Ryker, who develops a theory that the period for action after a military coup is limited—just a few days—otherwise the usurpers will be too entrenched and it will be impossible to easily get rid of them and reestablish the (presumably) more legitimate government. He calls this period “the golden hour,” taking the name from emergency medicine and the limited period after a massive traumatic injury in which medical treatment is most likely to avoid death. Ryker is recruited by the State Department to test his theory in real life and promptly ignored.

The book is not only about a newbie in the shark tank of seasoned diplomats, a coup in Mali, the kidnapping of a powerful Senator’s daughter, and U.S. security imperatives, but also about finding out whom you can trust. I liked that the main character isn’t an armed-to-the-teeth master of 20 forms of martial arts. He’s just a guy, a very smart guy, using his wits. He doesn’t meet up with a woman character as a flimsy excuse for the author to write a couple of steamy sex scenes. He doesn’t make decisions that had me silently screaming, “Why are you DOING that?” He doesn’t fall predictably off the wagon–a dead giveaway that things are going to go very wrong. Instead, he goes quietly about his business, calls his wife, checks on his kids at the beach, and learns who his friends really are. When he makes one most fateful decision, you understand he makes it based on his principles, not the external exigencies of the author’s plot.

Thriller writer John Sandford called it “A tough, realistic, well-written tale of American diplomats scrambling to reverse an African coup amidst intense turf battles – State, Defense, White House, Congress, and CIA – and ever-shifting facts on the ground. Moss is an insider who knows how these things are really done – and how thin the line is between triumph and disaster.”

The narration may make Judd sound a drop more tentative than necessary, but Marek’s portrayal of the African characters and military were beautiful. Awesome first book by Todd Moss. First of a series.