First novel deeply immersed in current issues

DRONE. By Mike Maden. G.P. Putman's Sons. 414 pages. $26.95.

The world is becoming increasingly populated with a diverse assortment of remotely piloted vehicles, or drones, ranging from the size of a housefly to that of a 737. While most are passive reconnaissance vehicles, some are active shooters.

The most contentious issue regarding their use is the occasional "collateral damage," Washington-speak for killing more folks than you intended.

Mike Maden, in his first novel, deals with the next most contentious issue: Who should be allowed to remotely pull the trigger?

Maden has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California-Davis, where he specialized in international relations.

After a decade of other activities, he was challenged by friends to write a novel. He chose to write a techno-thriller of the genre pioneered by Tom Clancy and employed with great success by others.

The targets here are not located in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan but nearby in Mexico. When the son of the president of the United States is killed as an innocent bystander during internecine battles between Mexican drug cartels, the stakes are raised to a new level.

Troy Pierce is the founder and president of a private security firm with access to the most advanced drone technology and a friend of the president.

Such a setting is rich soil in which to grow an exciting tale with no dead spots. It is a page-turner from beginning to end.

That said, the development of the plot lines and the execution of the narrative are sometimes formulaic. Maden has obviously read many novels of this nature and is only just beginning to find his own voice.

According to the publisher, there will be more Maden books to follow in a series with some of the same protagonists. It is a proven format, and I would happily read another.

The technology discussions are first rate; the scenarios are "real world" and the storytelling, while familiar, is lively and well-crafted. For a first novel, Maden has succeeded in grabbing the gold ring.

Reviewer Frank L. Cloutier is a retired engineer living in Hanahan.