*For an embarrassingly long time, I have believed that the author’s name was Marc Cerasni. It isn’t.
*This is also, in publication order, the first 24 EU novel published.
*Based on the new and improved 24 wikia timeline, this takes place three years after Trojan Horse and approximately 4 and a half years prior to Day One.
*So, it opens with Jack being debriefed by Richard Walsh and, quite interestingly, the entire book takes place in flashback, meaning that it actually doesn’t take place over a 24 hour period, unless it took Jack 24 hours to tell Walsh all this stuff.
*The flashback opens with Jack, Tony Almeida and a group of special ops guys stopping some people from shooting a plane down with a high-tech RPG at LAX.
*Cerasni instantly proves that he can write both suspense and action way better than John Whitman, so maybe this won’t be too bad.
*Editor’s Note: Originally, when I read these books, as I talked about last time, the official 24 wiki’s timeline was different. Here’s one of the changes, which is that before I had to read a John Whitman book before I read Operation Hell Gate. That is no longer true, so let’s just go on faith here: Whitman sucks.
*So, yes, here’s our traditional pre-season one team: Nina, Milo and Jamey are also working on the case, trying to track down who these guys are. One of them, named Dante (a reference to The Inferno, I bet, and not Clerks) has been captured alive, but is staying mum.
*So, then this FBI agent, Frank Hensley, shows up, claims jurisdiction on the case and snatches Dante away from CTU. Jack convinces Chappelle to let him fly back to New York with Hensley and Dante, so he can be in on the questioning.
*There’s a great bit where Chappelle basically manipulates and cons Hensley into allowing Jack along and Jack has to admit that “when Chappelle got his priorities right, it was a thing of beauty.”
*After that prologue, the book proper starts at 9:00 PM EDT as the plane carrying Jack, Hensley, Dante and two marshals begins its descent into New York.
*Hensley suddenly shoots the two marshals and tries to kill Jack. Long story short, the plane crashes, Hensley shoots the pilot, Jack manages to get away, chasing Dante who Hensley has freed.
*Meanwhile, back at CTU, Captain Jessica Schneider, of the Special Weapons Analysis Unit, shows up to check out the missile launcher recovered at LAX. She and Tony instantly connect based on the fact that they were both marines and then just as quickly clash because Schneider is the daughter of a congressman and Tony thinks this means that she got by easy.
*Also, arriving is a Korean computer expert to decrypt the memory stick or chip or whatever in the missile launcher. Her name is Doris Soo Min.
*Editor’s Note: You’ll remember her from Trojan Horse. Talked about this last time. They flipped Trojan Horse and Hell Gate on the timeline, so when I read the books, Hell Gate was my introduction to Doris. Now, it’s Trojan Horse that introduces her and she reappears here as a brief recurring character.
*One of the stranger subplots here is the fact that Milo is always getting calls from his extremely jealous girlfriend, which seems just barely humorous the first thirty times it happens and then just starts to seem like filler.
*Hensley, of course, claims to his superiors that Jack killed the two marshals and caused the plane crash. The FBI issues the equivalent of an APB, I guess.
*So, there’s a kind of cool bit where the CTU Los Angeles office sets its “threat clock” up to New York time. They go into lockdown.
*So, Jack follows Dante as he meets up with his gang; the gang then meets up with a pair of Irish businessmen and do some exchanging. The Irish pair ends up driving away with their own missile launcher and it becomes clear that the LAX kerfuffle was a dry run for something else.
*Jack is unable to follow the Irish folks, because he’s being beaten with pipes by a group of street thugs.
*He instantly gets into a blazing gun battle as Dante’s people raid a bar and start mowing down the people therein. As Dante’s people, including Dante himself, flee the bar in the aftermath of the battle, they get into the car that the Irish people provided for them and it, of course, blows sky high, our mysterious Irish pair having cleaned up one of our plot threads for us.
*So, Dante’s dead already. And he wasn’t even supposed to be here today.
*So, it turns out that the tavern is owned by some Russians and Afghani folks who are also involved in some criminal activities, namely illicit gun running. Jack’s sudden appearance helps foil Dante’s ambush and Jack makes a sort of alliance with them.
*So, one thing that Cerasini does that really sort of bugs the heck out of me is he writes in a sort of very exaggerated dialect for each of his characters.
*So, for instance, when the Irish characters are on screen, Cerasini starts using a sort of pidgin Irish voice that isn’t terrifically far above a sort of minstrelsy. It isn’t that he has the characters speaking in these terms, which would be more defensible, if still annoying, but that he, as the narrator, also begins to speak in this dialect. Using words like ‘daft’ to describe the two Irish brothers, who are the main villains, and talking about their ‘Da’ and such.
*Which the whole point of the novel as an art form is that you have your own voice; as a writer, you’ve got to have your own voice and that really is what makes the novel the novel. If you’re brave, you switch voices in order to tell a story in first person or, if you’re really brave, multiple first person.
*But if you’re writing as a third person, divorced observer, then you can’t slip into your characters’ dialects. That’s just stupid and very, very annoying.
*What is perhaps even more goofy is the fact that, even as he writes in this supposedly very authentic Irish dialect, he names one of his Irish characters “Shamus,” when the traditional Irish spelling is actually “Seamus.” I can’t believe that. That’s just sloppy research.
*So Jack finds out that the Irish pair are the Lynch brothers. The Lynches had tried to purchase some missile launchers from the Russian tavern owner, Georgi, but he had refused, afraid that they were going to do something a little too heavy for him to be involved in. So, when the Lynches got the missile launchers from Dante Arrete’s crew, they sent Dante’s crew to get some payback from Georgi.
*So, Shamus (oy!) arrives at another tavern where his girlfriend, Caitlin works. He gets Caitlin’s younger brother, Liam, to take the missile launcher and the memory stick that contains all the targeting data on it to a mysterious address. It will take Liam, all things considered, an obscene amount of time to make this delivery.
*Is this manlit? “Jack ignored the shotgun, but lifted the Heckler & Koch Mark 23 USP, the .45-caliber self-loading version of the smaller, lighter USP Tactical, which Jack had used during his stint at Delta Force. The standard Mark 23 lacked the bells and whistles of the Tactical model – including the O-ring barrel that allowed the use of a KAC suppressor, and the rear target sight adjustment. But more important to Jack, the Mark 23 had the same ambidextrous magazine release just behind the trigger guard as the high-end Tactical.”
*It ain’t chicklit, folks.
*So, Jack is able to track the Lynch brothers to The Last Celt, the pub where Caitlin and Liam live. Jack arrives and has a scuffle with Shamus. Shamus won’t talk, but Caitlin, once she knows what’s going on, tells Jack about the case that Liam is transporting and that he’s to deliver it to a man named Taj.
*Tony and Jessica Schneider meanwhile go to investigate Green Dragon Technology, the company that produced the memory stick that came with the confiscated missile launcher from LAX. Upon arriving, they spot a group of men loading another missile launcher in the back of a truck and Tony tries to call for back up, but Schneider bolts out of the car and charges into battle.
*Meanwhile, Jack has figured out that the “Lynch Brothers” are actually the “Duggan Brothers,” a pair of presumed dead IRA terrorists. He mentions that the Duggans were trained in terrorism tactics by a “Rabinoff,” a rogue KGB agent who also trained Victor Drezen’s handpicked security team, the Black Dogs.
*Nina also tracks down the mysterious Taj and lets Jack know that Taj is an Afghani operative turned terrorist (which almost never happens!), suspected in several acts of plane related terrorism. Liam’s delivery location is Taj’s brother Khalil’s deli.
*Jack leaves Shamus tied up at The Last Celt and, taking Caitlin with him, is able to beat Liam to Khalil’s delicatessen. He enters and, with Shamus’ wallet to help him, is able to pass himself off as Shamus.
*Jack, I should clarify, is able to beat Liam to the address, even though Liam left like three hours earlier, because Liam is doing all kinds of stuff like falling asleep on the L and missing his stop and then like getting into fights with muggers and then losing the case onto the train tracks and like rolling all over the tracks just as a train is coming in and nearly getting electrocuted and stuff.
*I’m starting to question Shamus’ wisdom in letting a teenager make this delivery actually.
*There is a moment when Milo’s cell phone rings and, since it’s his girlfriend, it plays the Titanic Theme, which Doris refers to as the “Sad Boat song.”
*So, Doris deciphers enough information off the memory stick to indicate that something big is going to happen at 5 PM EDT. It is currently 5:50 AM EDT.
*So, while Jack is inside the lower levels of Khalil’s deli, still in his guise as Shamus, the FBI raid the building and Jack is forced to flee with Khalil and a couple of other Al-Qaeda operatives.
*While pelting madly through sewer tunnels, being pursued by homicidal FBI agents and with members of their party being devoured by carnivorous rats, Taj and Jack still manage to have a philosophical debate about the USA/Soviet battle over Afghanistan.
*So, then, we find out what the plan actually is. A CDC plane will be transporting an extremely virulent strain of the 1918 influenza virus from Atlanta to New York so that a brand new wide spectrum vaccine can be tested against it. Quite obviously, the plan is to shoot down that plane, thus releasing a horrific and fatal strain of influenza into New York City.
*There’s a great moment when Liam finally arrives at his destination, six and a frigging half hours after he started that direction, just in time to see the entire building collapse in a cloud of FBI induced smoke and fire. He kind of figures at this point that he may not get the three hundred dollars Shamus promised him.
*So, there’s this Dennis Spain, who is the chief aide for this Senator William Cheever. I don’t know why they’re important; are they in a season of the television show or something because they are essentially entirely unimportant to the story here? But we keep cutting back to them just going through their daily routine for reasons that are utterly inexplicable to me.
*Okay, we are twelve hours in. It is now 9AM EDT.
*Here’s an example of Cerasini’s minstrel description: “He was more than a little cheesed at Shamus . . . The boyo’d vanished, along with the pub sketch he’d been shagging.” This is, again, not one of Cerasini’s characters talking; it’s the narrator, which would be Jack, right?
*Actually, that’s hilarious. I can just see Jack putting on this full production for Walsh in the debriefing, complete with hilarious accents.
*So, anyway, the memory stick finally reveals that, at 5PM, there’s going to be a coordinated terrorist act; planes will be shot down at JFK, LaGuardia, Logan, Ronald Reagan National, O’Hare and LAX.
*There’s a legitimately horrifying scene wherein Milo and a couple of other computer techs are trying to hack into the computers at Green Dragon Technology and, while Milo steps outside the cubicle to take a call from his girlfriend, the other two techs trigger a security device that DUMPS HYDROCHLORIC ACID ON THEM FROM THE CEILING.
*They are reduced to “twitching, smoking mounds of flesh and bone.” I mean, dude!
*So, then Khalil finally figures out that Jack isn’t Shamus and tries to strangle him. Jack ends up killing Khalil.
*And then Jack has a moment that is both a sort of intense personal moment but also supposed to be a significant one: “He felt weak and nauseated. He thought of his wife, Teri, his daughter, Kim – now almost a teenager. Who would take care of his family if he had died here, a wanted fugitive three thousand miles from home, hunted by the FBI? Glancing up, Jack’s gaze traveled across the river and up the gleaming glass walls of the World Trade Center. Those towers, the city around them – it all seemed so massive and permanent. Was this city, this country really in mortal danger? Could this enormous city, this entire nation, ever really be hurt by a hap-hazard cadre of individual terrorists? As he gazed at those twin towers, so solid, so substantial, the concept seemed suddenly absurd.”
*It’s kind of interesting though in that we definitely have a continuity error there, since Jack is working for CTU and thinking that Kim is ‘almost a teenager.’ In John Whitman’s Trinity, however, Jack is still working for the CIA, as you’ll recall, and only at the end of that book decides to join CTU; Kim’s age in that book? Thirteen.
*Plus, that book definitively took place in 2000, seven years after the 93 WTC bombing. So, it’s literally impossible to make this scan, as near as I can tell.
*Whitman’s fault, as Cerasini’s book was published first.
*Editor’s Note: The revamped timeline has mostly fixed this error by placing Hell Gate prior to Trinity. It fixes, essentially, the problem of Kim aging backwards between the two books. However, it has created a new one related to when exactly Jack went to work for CTU. The new timeline has this book, Hell Gate, taking place prior to Trinity when Jack is still working for the CIA in Trinity and is working for CTU in Hell Gate (and in Trojan Horse, the book we talked about last time). Given the new year dates on these books (Trojan Horse at 7.5 year before Day One and Trinity at 4.5 years before Day One) and the fact that Trinity is stupid enough to give us a straight up year stamp (the book explicitly states that it is the year 2000), we now have Jack working for CTU in 1997 and also joining CTU in 2000. So, it’s basically still a problem. Which just proves that there’s basically no way to make this all scan.
*So, anyway, the FBI is stonewalling CTU because of Jack’s status as a suspect in a murder. So, Tony and Jessica Schneider do this whole thing where they con their way into an FBI office and manage to steal a Deputy Director’s login id and password.
*So Jack reunites with Caitlin and he heads for Wexler Business Storage because . . . dang, I forgot how he got to Wexler Business Storage. It was something . . . oh, I think it was because Wexler had been doing off the books business with Green Dragon. Or something. It doesn’t exactly matter. Jack sends Caitlin in to apply for a job, and if possible, start a fire.
*They totally jacked that from me; I always start a fire anytime I apply for a job.
*So, in the chaos of the fire alarm and such, Jack sneaks into the building and, as it burns, climbs to the top story, where he encounters a boat load of people and a few missile launchers. Cue extreme violence for about five pages.
*Meanwhile, Tony and Jessica go to pick up Frank Hensley’s ex-wife for questioning and arrive just in time to foil an attempt on her life by a couple of hitmen.
*So, Liam has finally decided to just cut his losses. He hides the attaché case with the missile launcher in it in a dumpster and is about to walk away when Shamus finds him. Griff, the other Lynch brother, found and freed Shamus some hours ago and Shamus has been tracking Liam via a tracker he planted on the boy when he left.
*So, Shamus tries to kill Liam, but Liam gets away. Shamus then decides to blow up the attaché case, wherever it might be, to at least destroy the evidence. Shamus is hilariously unaware that he’s standing right next to a dumpster with the case in it. Shamus presses the button. Hilarity ensues, resulting in Shamus’ death.
*Meanwhile, a meeting of transportation bigwigs is interrupted by a broadcast from the criminal mastermind, urging that if each person present does not give him fifty million dollars within the next hour, that the plan to shoot down the planes will go forward.
*Thus making this more of a Bond movie than it should be.
*CTU has, however, staked out all the airports and they take out all the strike teams. Except for one, in New York, of course, which oddly didn’t show.
*So there’s a great sequence when Jack takes Caitlin to Grand Central Station to meet up with another CTU agent from the New York Office that’s going to take Caitlin off Jack’s hands. Anyway, Jack figures out that this ‘agent’ he’s supposed to be meeting isn’t entirely legitimate, so Jack chats the dude up on the phone all the while sneaking around Grand Central trying to get the drop on the guy.
*He fails, the bad guy grabs Caitlin and Jack takes off in hot pursuit.
*It’s all for the moment when Jack, talking whimsically into his ear piece, thinks he’s spotted the guy and gives him the bum rush and sticks a gun in his ribs only to have the bad guy say over his ear piece, “Uh, wrong guy, dude.”
*So, as we scoot rapidly towards our climax, Jack figures out where the bad guys are: Hell Gate Bridge, from which they will shoot down the CDC plane as it flies over.
*Anyway, long story short; Frank Hensley and Taj, along with a few other henchmen, all get blown away by Jack in a lengthy and fairly suspenseful showdown on the Hell Gate. Griff Lynch, the one remaining villain nearly kills Caitlin, but he goes overboard before he can and disappears into the swirling waters.
*We then catch up to Jack and Richard Walsh in the debriefing room. It’s mentioned that Griff’s body was never found and that Caitlin and Liam were reunited safely.
*Dennis Spain has disappeared, so I guess he was supposed to be in on the whole thing?
*And Frank Hensley was an imposter; it had been noted early in the book that Hensley had been a prisoner in Iraq during the first Gulf War and Richard Walsh theorizes that the real Frank Hensley died in Iraq and an imposter took his place, a theory backed up by the fact that the Frank Hensley Jack took out was on the phone trying to get through to Tikrit when all hell broke loose.
*Richard Walsh asks Jack if he has an idea for an operation name. Jack suggests Operation Hell Gate, thus proving that he needs some rest.
*“Arete’s gang, the Afghanis, Griffin and Shamus Lynch, they were like those waters under the bridge, all had their own directions. It took Frank Hensley to bring the factions together into something devastatingly deadly.”
*Uh, yeah, whatever, dude, just go sleep it off, okay?
*Thus ends Operation Hell Gate.
*My thoughts are brief. I still have reservations about the medium of prose literature for 24, but this one was at least better than Trinity. Cerasini can write a great action sequence. The Wexler Storage gun battle is pretty good; the Hell Gate Bridge showdown is suitably suspenseful and I loved the Grand Central cat and mouse game.
*The characterizations are not entirely perfect and the writing rises above the level of pulp only rarely. But, better than Trinity.
** ½ out of **** stars.
*Next time, it’s another Whitman book I kept talking about in this review. Yup, it’s Trinity! That’s next time.