If you can accept the proposition that a luck-of-the-draw airline captain is capable of safely landing a DC9 jet and its 100 passengers on the deck of a World War II-era aircraft carrier, this book is for you.
"Forced Landing" moves rapidly; it has lots of high drama, many gory, overdescribed deaths and enough characters to populate a Cecil B. De Mille spectacular. They pass in review at double time so we never really get a chance to find out what makes them work, but that doesn't matter because the author affixes terse labels to help us.
The prime villain in this improbable tale of a high-tech hijacking is a Vietnam-era CIA veteran, who is therefore insane. He enjoys killing people. He recruits (that's what CIA types do) an extraordinary collection of other villains who, we learn, are evil.
The wife-murderer needs more adventure than he could find on Wall Street; the one-armed submarine commander has a grudge against the Navy; the airline employe is greedy, and the retired Navy chief necessary to the plan is capable of being duped primarily because he feels guilty about the accidental drowning of his two grandchildren. Deep down, we can tell from the beginning, he will turn out to be a good guy.
Our hero, the airline captain, is named Drew O'Brien. Don't you like the ring of that name? Drew O'Brien. What we learn about him is that none of the women he has met in his life before the one he meets in this book have been anything like her. He also makes clear, careful, reasoned decisions under stress and provides good leadership. He doubtless has clear blue eyes.
The liability lawyer and the newspaper reporter, who play irritating minor roles, are both scum, a view airline pilots commonly hold of people in those professions, sometimes with reason. Author Thomas H. Block is an airline pilot.
A lust for $20 million in gold drives the villains. A desire to stay alive drives the good guys.
Block's failings in character development are not all that critical in a fast-paced adventure novel. Further, his explanations of the inner workings of submarines and airplanes and what it takes to get an old aircraft carrier under steam again have the sound of accuracy.
The book is filled with technical details (radio-activated bombs, nerve gas canisters, secret codes) and duplicity (how else would you steal a submarine from the Iranian Navy?). It even involves politics, with several references to the "new administration's" determination not to be caught treating with terrorists and hijackers. One is reminded of the less probable adventures of James Bond.
"Forced Landing" is a quick read, perfect for a warm afternoon at the beach and not so incredible as to be ridiculous.
Furthermore, according to officials at the Federal Aviation Administration, it is technically possible to land that DC9 on an aircraft carrier, given a safety net to catch the plane. Our hijackers thoughtfully provided a safety net.
"You couldn't design a plane better than the DC9 for that purpose," one expert said, "but I wouldn't want to try it." Neither did Drew O'Brien, but his options were limited by the requirements of a midsummer plot.