Tony Black reviews 24: Trial By Fire…
So here’s the problem with writing a book about 24, and it’s one Dayton Ward struggles with in his prequel novel Trial By Fire – how do you truly convey the same sense of hour by hour, minute by minute (with ad breaks) intensity Jack Bauer faced in the TV series, on the page? On this evidence, you can’t, not to nearly the same extent. Ward–a nominally strong writer of extended universes, especially Star Trek–cannot successfully manage to convey the same sense of escalating incident that even the 24 show found difficult at times over twenty-four episodes a season, and in attempting to do so he can’t help but deliver stodgy, sometimes leaden prose which feels like its repeating the same information half a dozen times a chapter.
It’s unfortunate because the concept itself is a good one. Set nine years before the first series of 24, which itself in the 24 timeline is at least twenty years ago now, if not more, it features Jack Bauer as an agent of the CIA before he would face the Drazen family in Operation: Nightfall that would change his career and life, and in the early days of his marriage to wife Teri with their daughter Kim only a young child. We don’t see them, mind you, as the story takes place on the small Japanese island of Okinawa where Jack is under deep cover as a mercenary in the employ of one Tateos Gadjoyan, a powerful Armenian arms merchant who is attempting to pull off a deal with aged Japanese arms dealer Miroji Jimura. Inevitably, the deal goes badly wrong, Jack ends up on the lam with fellow mercenary Amorah Banovich, and complications ensue.
To Ward’s credit, those complications do befit the world of 24; you have Dale Connelly, a Marine on the verge of retirement being blackmailed in real-time by criminals who want him to break into the Army compound on Okinawa or they’ll kill his family; there’s harried CIA boss Abigail Cohen attempting to keep Jack safe & make contact, while keeping the situation stable; then there’s half a dozen other characters and threads weaving through from investigators, rival crime lords, and not to mention Jack himself spiralling around as we move through the, appropriately, twenty-four chapters over one day. Jack, too, does sound like Jack, trying to maintain his cover and fend off Amorah’s sexual advances while preventing a bigger international incident.
It’s just simply a tough read, primarily because without the visuals, silly technology or Kiefer Sutherland’s intense charm, you realise that 24 isn’t really all that much fun as a reading experience – it’s quite bland, regurgitating information, with too many characters to truly invest in, and a plot which takes forever to go anywhere. As a prequel movie, like 24: Redemption was, Trial By Fire might well be a really interesting standalone case exploring a younger Jack Bauer in a Far Eastern environment, in the aftermath of the Cold War. On the page, it’s hard work – you’d be much better off popping Netflix on and watching Bauer instead. DAMN IT!!