In _Countdown: H Hour_LTC (Ret) Tom Kratman again sets the standard for military fiction. The third volume in his Countdown series continues the adventures of the private military organization formally known as M Day, Inc., or simply "The Regiment". I won't provide a scene-by-scene synopsis of the novel, as you can, and should, read it yourself, but the overall plot covers a hostage rescue mission undertaken by selected elements of the M Day, something that happens more-or-less concurrently with the rest of the regiment being preoccupied with the events described in the previous volume, _Countdown: M Day_.
Along the way there is no shortage of action from the Philippines, to Horn of Africa, and back again, to include two amphibious assaults, three (if I counted correctly) hostage rescue missions, and various other well-orchestrated bits of mayhem. And it is that orchestration, by conductor Kratman, that sets his Countdown series apart from the competition. Way too many writers of military fiction simply don't "get it". Tom Kratman does, as anyone who has actually been Troops-In-Contact can tell from reading his action sequences. Details matter to him, to include the detail that even the best units are subject to Private Murphy at times, and luck is what happens when training meets opportunity. Or doesn't, as the case may be.
To that end the good guys don't always win, and when they do it comes with a price, to include characters that any other author would be afraid to harm after placing so much effort in creating and nurturing them over multiple pages. There are rarely any two dimensional, Spear Carrier Third Class characters in his books, to include this one, and he is equally ruthless with good guys, bad guys, and those men and women in between. And he is surprisingly generous at times as well. His ability to keep the reader guessing "what will happen to who?" is a sign of his craftsmanship as an author.
As for the military professional reading this book, or honestly any of series, you may not realize it but you effectively got a 50% discount. This is because Tom Kratman generously provides you two books in one, neat package. On the surface there is a military adventure yarn done as well, or better, than any other writer in the genre. But inside are numerous, well thought out lessons on military organization, history equipment, weapons, plus useful tactics, techniques, and procedures. And like any great teacher Kratman sugarcoats the lesson. You can simultaneously be entertained by the tribulations of a private military firm having labor disputes, or have a flashback to when your local, contracted security in Afghanistan went on a wildcat strike.
It may not ever be a class at the Command and General Staff College, but I'll assert the lessons hidden within hit home more than any dry class on "Sustainment", "Military Contracting", or "Force Regeneration", and they are all the more valuable for that impact. Throw in a well-researched essay on philosophy at the end and you have quite a bargain. This in a crackling good tale that references BOTH Bujold and Heinlein, so exactly what more does either a military fiction fan, or even a science fiction fan, want? Free beer?
One administrative note: As mentioned this is the third book in the series. You can read it from a cold start, and will still be greatly entertained, but knowing the background helps. And really, after reading one book, you'll want the first two volumes anyways, so order the set. Be warned, Kratman writes both military and science fiction, sometimes overlapping, so if you go "old school" like this reviewer you may have to look in Sci-Fi, Military, or even General Fiction to find this book at the bookstore. But it's definitely worth the effort.
And a final comment in closing: About the only thing I'd suggest adding to the next Countdown book is either a Table of Organization or a Dramatis Personae, or both. In most books that tends to be a bit pretentious, but given the large cast of characters and the various types of companies, battalions, and auxiliary squadrons that make up M Day, Inc. it could help even us die-hard fans keep track of who's who. That being said _Countdown: H Hour_ is an excellent read, worth every hard earned penny it costs and then some, and I am again eagerly looking forward to the further adventures of the Regiment.