The following is part of a new segment on The Real Book Spy where various authors will provide guest reviews, covering some of the genre’s biggest hits over the last fifty years. First up is Landon Beach, author of the Great Lakes Saga, who chose to review #1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Thor’s iconic debut, The Lions of Lucerne.
Originally published in 2002 by Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Thor’s first book introduced the world to former Navy SEAL turned secret service agent (and eventually the nation’s top counterterrorism operative) Scot Harvath. Right from the get-go, it was clear that Harvath was unique—and not only because he spells his name with one T. Following the path forged by names like Flemming, le Carre, Ludlum, and Clancy, Thor showed the publishing world that readers were hungry for more headline-beating, action-packed, up-all-night, can’t-put-’em-down thrillers. And he’s built a career on churning out “faction,” a coined term to describe his work because oftentimes readers cannot tell where the facts stop . . . and the fiction begins.
With the release of Black Ice this summer, Thor is now twenty books into his series, and next year marks the twentieth publishing anniversary of his powerful debut. Incredibly, he’s shown no signs of slowing down so far. In fact, the case could be made that, unlike anyone else we’ve ever seen, Thor continues to get better with each new offering. And that means his just-announced next thriller, Rising Tiger, is already one of the most anticipated books of 2022.
But enough about present day. Let’s go back a couple of decades to once again appreciate where Harvath got his start, and Brad Thor was just starting to make a name for himself.
— Ryan Steck
Twenty years later, Lions still roars.
The name Brad Thor is now synonymous with the phrase #1 New York Times Bestseller. In the midst of a fabled career with an annual summer moonshot created by each new release, it’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t the yearly Thor stimulus package that got injected into the publishing economy. For me, it has always been interesting to revisit the genesis of a publishing phenomenon—an author who achieves the rare feat of achieving the coveted distinction of becoming a household name in the book biosphere. So, where did the journey begin? Just as Transfer of Power takes center stage on the shrine-like bookshelves of the late Vince Flynn’s fans, The Lions of Lucerne occupies the same position of honor for the loyal enthusiasts of Brad Thor. And rightly so. It is a tremendous debut novel.
The hints of the author’s later refined skill of making each book a one-sit read are present throughout The Lions of Lucerne. Even though the chapter length is a product of the thriller market at the time (2002)—exceeding 3,000 words in some chapters—the pacing is still brisk. However, this is not to say that Thor doesn’t slow the novel down when he needs to, such as setting the scenes of glamorous locales, hidden rooms behind bookcases, lairs beneath churches, or getting inside Scot Harvath’s head for the first time. The geopolitical maneuvering and stakes are of the highest order and drip with intrigue—elements that are hallmarks in each of Thor’s subsequent thrillers.
And then there is the action.
In this author’s opinion, the opening ski sequence is one of the finest ever written. What a set-up: a ski holiday for the President of the United States (POTUS), a diabolical international power player with his group of “Lions” hidden in the snow, lasers to blind the Secret Service skiers and POTUS, snowmobiles, sophisticated weaponry, Harvath zooming down and across a bowl of ice and snow toward the only shelter available with the deafening roar of an avalanche and its mountain of snow closing in…while holding POTUS’s daughter…I’ll stop there. The opening chapters are spectacular with well-earned moments on the other side of the catastrophe that serve as the catalyst for the ride to come: an escape from D.C., disguises, a doomed meeting in an Ice Palace, betrayals and perfectly-timed reveals, Swiss military mountain fortresses—all leading up to the memorable showdown beneath the seven-thousand-foot summit of Mount Pilatus.
Finally, we return to D.C where motives are exposed and loose ends are tied up…with one exception. Enter the Epilogue: payback time—another Thor trademark.
Twenty years later, The Lions of Lucerne remains a fast and fun escape from the daily grind and a harbinger of a career that was ready to take off. I’m certain that the concept of likening Thor’s newest Harvath release to the power unleashed by the God of Thunder’s hammer has been used often enough over the decades of Brad Thor’s storied calling to seemingly weaken the apt parallel, but, one look at the sales numbers, reviews, and popularity undeniably proves that the comparison still hits the mark.
To stack promotions and spend beaucoup bucks to make a run at even landing on the Times list is one thing—and never guaranteed of success. But, to climb the same mountain, year after year, summit, enjoy the view, and then descend to safety only to regroup, train at basecamp, and then tether yourself to your main character once again for a summit bid from a different face, while avoiding the complacency that has caused many an author and protagonist to slip down into an unseen crevasse never to be seen again is almost an impossibility after half-a-dozen books. However, in Thor’s case, how about planting the flag at the top after twenty-plus books in the same series?
That, my friends, is a winning brand (almost invites us to say ‘Brand’ Thor)—an institution.
That, my fellow authors and readers, is staying power.
And the seed of that power was planted with The Lions of Lucerne—now, more apparent than ever—a once-in-a-generation debut thriller.
Landon Beach lives in the Sunshine State with his wife, two children, and their golden retriever. He previously served as a Naval Officer and is currently an educator by day and an author by night. Find out more at landonbeachbooks.com.
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. Additionally, he co-hosts ThrillerTalk, a new podcast with K.J. Howe. His debut thriller is set to come out in August 2022. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.