24: Declassified
Operation Hell Gate

Author: Marc Cerasini
Pocket Books
RRP 6.99
ISBN 1 4165 1169 5
Available 11 November 2005

Within twenty-four hours a nightmare will be unleashed that could cause the death of untold millions and devastate a great nation. It's plot being carried out by the unlikeliest of allies. A powerful mole within the deepest reaches of U.S. intelligence has secretly conscripted the very criminals he's been charged with investigating - former IRA terrorists, Latino and Asian gang members, Middle Eastern assassins and others - creating one of the most insidious terrorist networks law enforcement has yet to take down...

In Operation Hell Gate, one man stands between the destroyers and the death tide: Jack Bauer, lone wolf operative for America's brand-new elite Counter Terrorist Unit. But he's three thousand miles from the CTU command centre without backup in a strange city, New York. He's been artfully set up and is being hunted by the FBI for the murder of two of its agents.

Operation Hell Gate is a pretty gripping adventure, based on the characters of the 24 universe. While this is a great read, and will certainly appeal to 24 fans, I did have a few small issues with this book.

The book opens with an explanation that CTU was started after the 1993 World Trade Center attack. Anyone outside of America will think that the CTU universe is separate to our own, that the 2001 World Trade Center attacks have, for some reason, being shifted forward in time to 1993. It would have been a little more helpful if CTU's origins had been explained a little better, and that they were not the same attacks as 11 September 2001. While American's will be aware of these attacks, I doubt many other readers will have a clue what happened in 1993.

Why do authors always insist on picking out the most indigenous sounding names when they write about characters from a foreign land? Why do they insist on making all Scottish characters have Christian names like Jock? Or Welsh villains with the surname Mr Jones? Is it so that the reader can instantly associate the character with their birthplace? In these multicultural times, isn't this a little patronising? Author Marc Cerasini falls into the same trap here calling one of his villains Shamus and another Liam. It's a bit of a cliché to use these names for Irish characters. I suppose it could have been worse. We could have had Paddy, Murphy (Oh! wait... there is one of these!) or Patrick as well.

Another problem with this series is the fact that, as all the stories are going to be set before the first season of the TV show, when a new character is introduced you know that before the end of the book they will have been killed or left CTU (I doubt that an author will have been given the green light to create a new character that will run across the entire span of this series). This then means that a lot of temporary staff will be arriving at CTU, undertaking some specialist task, and then leaving. As this book opened, a new character was assigned to CTU and I was betting that she would be dead by the end of the book (as it happens, it was a lot sooner than that).

But, to be fair, this isn't an overly annoying problem. It wouldn't have mattered when this book was set, it's very unusual for a novel based on a TV series to introduce new characters that will still be there when the next book is published. It's pretty formulaic that the authors must leave the universe in pretty much the same shape at the end of the book as it was at the start.

Cerasini also seemed at a bit of loss with what to do with Tony Almeida - there's a bit of a redundant section where he ventures out of CTU. Also Milo Pressman has a very unhealthy relationship with his girlfriend. I can't remember whether this was ever hinted at in the first series, but his partner's constant insecure phone calls really started to get annoying after a while. Surely this should have been cleaned up outside of CTU, and taking a phone call while in the middle of a crisis was a little silly.

From my above ramblings, you'd probably get the impression that I didn't really enjoy this book. On the contrary, it's a great read. Cerasini has managed to write a believable story under very difficult writing constraints (that the events must chart a 24 hour time period, and that several of the characters have already met a sticky end in the TV series).

I also loved the fact that an incident in the opening chapters of the book, which seemed like a bit of sloppy writing, was actually revealed later to be something much more sinister. When I first read the events that led to the plane with Bauer and his prisoner being shot out of the sky, I really thought this was a terrible piece of narrative. Why would someone deliberately shoot down a plane in an attempt to rescue a fellow criminal? The chances were that the plane would have gone up in flames and all onboard would have perished. However, later in the book this rather odd rescue attempt is explained in much more detail (when a plot to shoot down another plane is being formulated) and it does make sense.

At the end of the day, this is a good solid read (despite my anal complaints) which will keep fans happy while they are waiting for another season of 24 to materialise.

Pete Boomer

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