Marine Force One
The book Marine Force One is an example of a “51% book” that is elevated by the context in which it stands.
The book tells the story of an elite commando force tasked with hunting SAMs in the Balkans, in a conflict that feels like a jumbled mix of historical recollections of Operation Allied Force (evasive SAMs! Stealth fighters lost!) and think-tank reports (Resurgent Red Russians!) all tossed together. The Cobra Force of our heroes has to hunt the SAMs while butting heads with a Spetsnaz force assisting their Slavic ally.
If there’s one thing distinctive besides being dated, it’s that the main character, Maj. David Saxon, is an ass. He’s a one-dimensional figure who gave up his material possessions and marriage to focus on being in the military (and doesn’t miss his ex or even his son at all), he punches someone for being annoying to him during a debriefing, and when (however briefly) off-duty, he just uses prostitutes as the sole “relationship”. Yet rather than have his seriously flawed character be taken advantage of, Saxon is otherwise treated as a Mary Sue who can do what the rest of the military can’t. Very few other characters, even the villains, enjoy such detail.
Other than that, everything is just good enough. The action is just good enough but not the best. The pacing is at least fast, if not the best. The exposition can be annoying but isn’t too annoying, and so on. So why did I feel better about this book than I ‘ought to’ have? Well , the first part is that sometimes a 51% book is what one needs.
The second part is that given the publication date of 2001, the beginning of a very, very dark decade for technothrillers, the “competition” is less serious. In a context full of overpriced, under-proofread self-published books, legacy series continuing on pure inertia, and the few remaining editor-proof super-authors, a nice light 51% book isn’t bad at all.