By Philip Donlay
OPENING NOTES FROM THE REVIEWER: I normally stick with the romance genre in general, and science fiction romance in particular, but I stumbled on this novel while doing some book scouting recon on Amazon and the premise intrigued me. I bought it during my next book haul, stacked it onto my Leaning Tower of TBR© and returned to it when I recently whittled down my Must Read List and it was time to hunt up another brick in the tower. What a great story CATEGORY FIVE turned out to be. It was well-written, suspenseful (*understatement*) and had characters I could root for and hope for. The author did a tremendous job of putting his characters in the exact situations they feared, and then making things even worse. Oh, and it even had a compelling romance (though most of the really romantic action took place off stage).
COVER ART: Excellent! The cover art shows a cockpit overlooking storm clouds through a cracking windshield, and at a glance sums up the major premise of the story. It’s about a collision course between pilots who fly environmental missions, scientists who study meteorological events and a monster hurricane...possibly the strongest ever recorded.
INITIAL IMPRESSION: The story begins in the middle of a developing hurricane in Bermuda and has some major hook factor going on.
MAIN CHARACTERS: Donovan Nash, a crack pilot, and Dr. Lauren McKenna, a scientist. They share a history…and something more. Donovan is Director of Aircraft Operations for Eco-Watch, a research company with a primary mission to study hurricanes, typhoons and meteorological events. At least, that's his cover and the role he chooses to play. Lauren studies hurricanes, and has been granted access to sensitive defense satellites in order to carry out her work.
SUPPORTING CHARACTERS: One supporting character that really stood out was Michael Ross, Donovan’s senior pilot and friend. Michael is witty, entertaining, always has exactly the right thing to say in any situation, and he’s one helluva pilot to boot. The tanned, blue-eyed Michael nearly stole the show from the main characters. I hope he’s back to play a major part in future novels. Another pivotal character is billionaire and father-figure to Donovan, William. William’s influence seemed almost Deux ex friend at times, but I’m sure people do exist that can wield this kind of power, and since main character Donovan Nash is really someone else, I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept the hanging-by-a-hair sequence of events that leads to the climax. There are other various characters including pilots, military and government officials, scientists, reporters, foreigners, family members and friends that all lend their part to this well-wrought tale. Oh, and I can't overlook Eco-Watch's two highly modified Gulfstream jets, Spirit of da Vinci and Galileo, that were characters in themselves.
VILLAIN: A villain surfaces in the story and the shadowy network behind him is hinted at. I didn’t figure him out beforehand, but I think someone more adept at unraveling mysteries would probably have spotted him in a moment. He wasn’t terribly sophisticated as a bad guy, but with the main characters pitted against a monster category five plus hurricane—and worse—who needs crafty villains.
WORLD BUILDING: I was so impressed with the author’s knowledge of his subject— namely pilot culture and military/government hierarchy, bureaucracy and lingo—I had to Google his name after reading the book to find out more about him. He’s a pilot with over thirty years’ experience, so it's no wonder he can very effectively talk the talk.
CONFLICT: The conflict between the two MCs is well-drawn and believable except for one hasty conclusion by Lauren that could have easily been cleared up with a question or two. There’s a big revelation in the story (which the reader is already privy to) that I felt was handled extremely well and with wonderful timing by an intervening Michael. (Did I mention how much I love his character?)
PLOT: This book does what a great story should. It starts in the middle of a tense, dangerous scene, and once the characters are introduced, fleshed out, and manage to escape catastrophe one, things slow down a bit to establish an intriguing back story and a potential plot against Donovan. From there the suspense and tension rises in peaks and valleys to a white-knuckle ride that, just when you think things can’t get any worse, they take a nose dive into hell. As Donovan says, “Dying is the easy part. It’s surviving that’s the real trick.” The author’s knowledge of his subject and storytelling ability in this genre is first rate. There’s a big surprise at the end that’s set up quite well in back story.
ROMANCE: This isn’t a romance, but there is a major romantic element between Donovan and Lauren. It just seems impossible that they’ll both survive the series of disasters in their path to mend the damage that’s been done.
READABILITY: Very readable, highly satisfying, and a definite keeper.
EVIL AUTHORS GUILD STAMP OF APPROVAL: The Evil Authors Guild exists to encourage writers to inflict appropriate amounts of terror, angst and torture into their characters’ lives, and to leave them twisting in the wind at every opportunity. With the series of catastrophes that beset the characters, I must say Philip Donlay has served way above and beyond the call of duty.
SECOND READ: Yes. I’ve already started the second read, and it’s even more fun this time around because of all the nuances and clues I missed in the first run through.
OVERALL RATING: Three short words. What. A. Ride! Mr. Donlay has an encore novel out entitled CODE BLACK, with a return by Donovan Nash’s character (and hopefully Michael’s too) which reviewers claim is an even better book than the first. I’ve already ordered it, and look forward with extreme anticipation to reading it.