Winter Hawk (1987)

Craig Thomas takes a break from the old reliables Aubrey and Hyde. Instead we get another 600 page epic, this time featuring Mitchell Gant, the pilot of the Firefox. In fact it's ten years since the first Firefox novel was published, although for Gant we are told it has only been eighteen months.

The Americans have a spy at the Russian spacecraft launch complex where the USSR's new space shuttle is being readied. He tells the Americans that the Russians are about to launch a laser weapon into orbit in defiance of a new treaty that's about to be signed. The President wants proof so it's up to Mitchell Gant to fly one of two stolen MiL-24 'Hind' helicopter into Russia and pick up the spy.

And just about everything goes wrong. The 'Hinds' have to be boodted out the back of the transport plane over Pakistan. Then the insertion into Afghanistan goes bad. Eventually Gant is alone in the Soviet Union, out of fuel. (His solution to this problem is a joy to read, as is the unwanted passenger he picks up.)

Meanwhile at the launch site itself security is being run by none other than the KGB man Dimitri Priabin (also from Firefox and Firefox Down) who would very much like revenge on Gant for what happened his girlfriend Anna. He has his own problems because he discovers that the laser is to be used by the Soviet hard-liners against orders in an operation codenamed Lighting.

And then he discovers what the target is. "Dear God, they're going to start the next war..."

Thomas is on a roll here. Another excellent thriller. Depending what day of the week it is this is my favourite Craig Thomas thriller. And it doesn't hurt that there's a couple of 'Hind' gunships.