This novel was originally published as Firing Point, then reissued as Hunter Killer to tie-in with the movie based on the novel. Even more confusingly, the entire series of novels is now the Hunter Killer series, which makes this novel the sequel to what is now called Hunter Killer #1: Final Bearing. This novel continues characters from that novel, and makes occasional references to their previous mission.
There are two authors. George Wallace is a submarine veteran. Don Keith is a retired journalist.
I watched the movie first, then read the novel. I would recommend reading the novel first, although the movie's plot is substantially different.
The premise is the same: Admiral Durov, commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, takes the first step in his grand plan by sinking one of his own subs (sabotage). When a U.S. sub investigates, another Russian sub ambushes and sinks it.
So what are the differences? Durov in the movie is a little guy leading a coup attempt by the Navy, who wants a naval confrontation with the U.S.; Durov in the novel is an tall older man with a bad heart, a legendary commander who is leading a nationalist revolution with support from the military and the Russian mafia. In the movie, Durov is just a bad guy, not well explained; in the novel, we see much of the action through Durov's eyes, though the author keeps us in suspense about his ultimate plans.
Soon, Joe Glass and the Toledo hunter-killer sub is on the way to the Barents Sea to investigate a missing U.S. submarine. In the movie, he sinks an ambushing Soviet sub and rescues the captain of the sabotaged sub, who becomes a key figure in the rest of the novel; in the novel, you get the story of the sunken Russian sailors (half the crew is rescued!), and those Russians exit the storyline quickly.
Meanwhile, the novel includes a major plotline which isn't in the movie: the New York Stock Exchange is about to switch to a new trading system from OptiMarx. However, Durov's mafia partner has planted two Russians on the software team. The OptiMarx CEO and CTO also seem to be up to no good. Can an SEC investigator find the flaws in the system in time? Can the plotters ruin Western financial markets to prevent interference in their plans to seize control of Russia?
Three more differences between the movie and the novel: In the movie, Russia is a naval power; in the novel, Durov's navy is decrepit. The movie takes place in warm weather; the novel takes place in the dead of winter. In the novel, the Russian president is a small ex-professor whom Durov despises as weak; in the movie, he's a large man.
A SEAL team is sent in to check Polyarny Naval Base and its large, covered submarine dock. Unlike the movie, it's a large team, and they don't just stroll onto the base; they parachute over Scandinavia, glide into Russia, then hike through the snow before setting up a vantage post to watch the Russians. Meanwhile, after Joe Glass and the Toledo transport the Russian sailors to safety, they take on a different mini-sub and are sent to extract the SEAL team.
It turns out that Durov has secretly kept five Akula-class subs in operating condition, and is sending them out one-by-one from Polyarny on unknown missions. This introduces one more plotline, as one of the Akulas tries to run along the Norwegian coast, stalked by a U.S. commodore onboard a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser.
If you watched the movie first, don't be surprised when Joe Glass isn't the dominant character, nor is he saving the world with his wise decisions. The movie's Washington subplot is largely missing in the novel, and Admiral Donnegan (played by Gary Oldman in the movie) is not hyperactive. Nor is the sub XO such a pain in the ass. None of the SEALs in the novel die, nor do they bring their swimgear.
Flaws? It's never really explained how Durov got connected with the Russian mafia, and the hacking subplot doesn't fit well with the main plot. The SEC investigator is slow to do the obvious.
There's a lot of novel here, lots of two-dimensional characters. I thought it started out well, bogged down in the middle, then finally got fun in the end as all the plots tied together and Durov's full plot was revealed.
Recommended if you don't mind a long read, and like military details done right.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .