A Book Spy Review: ‘Three Minutes to Midnight’ by A.J. Tata

Three Minutes to midnight.jpgThree Minutes to Midnight opens by introducing fans to Maeve Cassidy, an Army Reserve officer who has just returned home after a year in Afghanistan. We quickly learn that Cassidy, a geologist who specializes in natural gas drilling and fracturing–more commonly known as fracking–was sent to study shale drilling as part of a top secret United States energy program.

Upon her return home, a week early I might add, Cassidy is questioned by some people at Fort Bragg about her actions in Afghanistan, and whether or not she brought any classified information home with her. She was burned and in trouble–so she ran.

Maeve ran right out of Fort Bragg, jumped in her car and forcibly made the guard at the gatehouse open the gate so she could exit. An hour later she was at home, where her own daughter, Piper, barely recognized her. Saddened by that fact, but more concerned for her child’s safety, Maeve instructed the babysitter to take Piper to her house. They left immediately, at which point Maeve went upstairs to find the perfect hiding spot to stash some key information.

Removing the back of a picture frame, Maeve drew a pyramid on the back of the photo, then scribbled a coded message beneath it. She quickly put the picture back into the frame, then sealed it and closed it shut before placing it back on top of Piper’s dresser. With that done, she headed out to find her husband with what precious little time she had left.

Hot on Maeve’s tail was an ex-Russian Spetsnaz Special Forces solider named Maxim Petrov. Eventually he catches up with Meave and is ordered to take her hostage and force her to help with some drilling at a nearby construction site.

While all of this is happening, Tata’s protagonist Jake Mahegan is searching for revenge. Jake, formerly a Delta Force operative who fell out of favor when he shot a handcuffed prisoner who constructed a bomb that killed his best friend, is still haunted by a tragic scene he stumbled into when he was just a teenager.

At fourteen years old, the freakishly big, strong, and athletic Jake returned home from school to find his mother being raped by four men. Jake snapped, killing two of the men and injuring the others.

It wasn’t initially made clear, but the author later stated that his mother actually died from injures she sustained during the attack. Jake did two years in a juvenile detention center, while the surviving men walked without charges thanks to having the right government contacts in their pockets.

Jake’s father visited him just once while he was locked up to promise payback. He was going to find the men who murdered his wife– Jake’s mother–and kill them. One of the men, Jake learned, died in a fire. He hoped deep down that it was his father who ignited the inferno that ended the man. The other guy owned a profitable construction company, and was reaping the benefits of a fat government contract.

Jake heard about some immigrants stationed at a local gas station who get picked up for odd jobs, usually by construction or farmer-types who needed some hard labor for little money.  It was the construction work that interested him, as he was on the lookout for the same company name written on a truck that was parked outside his house the day he came home and found his mother being raped–James Gunther and Sons Construction Inc.

As luck would have it, Jake happened to be at the right gas station one day when a truck bearing that same company name came pulling in looking for some hired help. Jake was among the three men chosen to help build a fence, and soon he was riding in the back of the pickup truck on his way to the construction zone.

As more info comes out about the construction company, Jake also learns about the kidnapping of a woman who was in the Army but hired by the CIA to do some secret drilling in Afghanistan. Here’s where Jake Mahegan and Maeve Cassidy cross paths, as Jake is tasked with finding and rescuing her.

Ultimately, while trying to track down Cassidy, Jake uncovers a secret, evil operation that reaches all the way to the American government. Bloodthirsty for revenge, Jake must first find a way to stop an attack that could destroy America from within–and then he can go after his mother’s killer.

Tata’s strength is relying on his career in the military to notice the small things that regular untrained and unsuspecting citizens would normally miss. Where I see nothing out of the ordinary, he sees potential threats. I admire that, and it’s what makes him a good thriller author. No book is perfect, though, and in Three Minutes to Midnight there’s a few minor missteps here and there.

The action is superb, and I really like that Tata’s hero is Native American. Chayton “Jake”Mahegan is a strong character, but the book’s plot was a bit too complex at times. It also requires suspending your disbelief a tad more than normal, which in itself isn’t an awful thing. One would hope these types of threats aren’t actually probable. And if they are, well, I definitely want Tata and Jake Mahegan on my side when the bullets start flying!

That said, parts of the story are a little far-fetched. For instance, I’d like to think no fourteen-year-old could throw me though my sliding glass door. But If you can overlook those misteps and a few others (heck maybe Jake’s adrenaline really brought that kind of ferociousness out of him?) then you’ll probably enjoy the book.

The Strengths

Without giving away the plot, A.J. Tata has thought of a creative scenario that makes sense and works well as the plot of a thriller. The action, as I already stated, is written very well. The pacing is pretty good, and the dialogue is believable. The author excels at smart-mouthed one liners, both with male and female characters.

It’s not quite as good as Tata’s earlier work, and the plot seems a little too improbable and coincidental at times, but in the end Three Minutes to Midnight is a solid thriller that fans of John Gilstrap, Matthew Dunn and Marc Cameron will likely enjoy.

Book Details

Author: A.J. Tata

Pages: 352 (Hardcover)

Publisher: Kensington

Release Date: April 26, 2016


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