It’s been a while since I last added an entry to this irregularly recurring blog series, but hey! It’s actually something of a quiet day at Ward Manor so I figured it was a good time to freshen things up a bit around here.
The idea behind this oddball series is fairly simple: Every so often I take a stroll down Memory Lane with a nostalgic look at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. Most of the time this has meant something from Way Back When, such as visits with novels based on Planet of the Apes, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, and Space: 1999 among others. I’m also up for taking a gander at more recent entries to the genre if the mood strikes (hint: keep reading). Then there are anomalies like the novels that kinda sorta tie into the Die Hard franchise, because I was feeling froggy one evening.
For this latest entry I’ve decided y’all need to stock up on certain catchphrases like “Damn it!” and “Trust me!” and maybe even one or two shots of “Chloe, there’s no time!” Yep, we’re diving into the realm of novels featuring everybody’s favorite troubled counterterrorist agent, Jack Bauer, and the world of 24.
If you’ve never watched the show–and sure, I guess there are people out there who’ve managed to avoid seeing even a single episode over the years–its setup is like this: Every season represents a single day in the life of Jack Bauer, a federal agent with the Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), with each of the season’s 24 episodes depicting an hour in “real time.” The series ran for eight seasons from 2001-2010 (including a 2-hour movie set between seasons 6 and 7) followed by a 12-hour “event series ” 24: Live Another Day, in 2014 and a spin-off, 24: Legacy, which premiered in 2017 and lasted for one season. Legacy didn’t feature Bauer, though one other familiar face from the original series still managed to pop up at a key moment.
I’ve been a fan of 24 from the first minute. I watched every episode, followed every plot twist, howled at every mole and double cross and ever-increasing levels of insanity as bad guy schemes, contingency plans, and fallback plans from those were unveiled with every season. I figured there would be tie-in novels (and comics, as it turned out) sooner or later, especially after the first couple of seasons and the show started gaining popularity.
The first tie-in I came across wasn’t actually a novel, but instead a nice twist on the idea of an “episode guide” for the show’s first season. Released by HarperCollins in early 2003 as the show’s second season was in full swing, 24: The House Special Sub-Committee’s Findings at CTU presents a recounting of “Day 1’s” events, hour by hour, in the form of transcripts from congressional testimony, excerpts from “official documents,” dossiers and other evidence, and newspaper articles, with the whole package having been “leaked” to media outlets. Bauer obviously is prominent throughout the book as is fellow agent Tony Almeida along with other characters who factor prominently (and survive) the first season’s rollercoaster of events. Author Marc Cerasini did a great job turning the “episode guide” approach on its head and creating a fun “in-universe” recap of Jack Bauer’s very first terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It’s a shame the subsequent seasons weren’t given the same treatment.
In the summer of 2005, HarperCollins began publishing a series of 24 tie-in novels. Under the umbrella title 24: Declassified, eleven novels were published between September 2005 and April 2010. Marc Cerasini was the lead-off hitter for this series with Operation Hell Gate, which would be the first of four novels he ultimately contributed. Author John Whitman followed with Veto Power in October 2005, and like Cerasini would end up writing four of the Declassified adventures. Indeed, the two alternated writing duties for the first six volumes, which were published in sporadic fashion between September 2005 and May 2007.
David Jacobs joined the lineup in December of that year with Storm Force. Cerasini and Whitman contributed one more novel each in 2008, after which Jacobs would finish out the series with its last two novels, released at yearly intervals in April 2009 and 2010.
Like the show itself, the Declassified novels mimic the show’s setup, translating the format to the written word with one chapter covering (more or less) one hour of the 24-hour day. Almost all of the novels are set prior to the events of the 24‘s first season. As such, they offer opportunities for the authors to showcase characters seen only in the early seasons (a significant number of whom met untimely fates as the show went on). The lone exception is David Jacobs’ Storm Force, which is set between the events of Seasons Three and Four. As such, a deep knowledge of the show isn’t necessarily essential to understanding or enjoying any of the books. In fact, they function very well as a sort of 21st century successor to the heyday of “Men’s Adventure” books from the 1970s/80s/90s. You know, Mack Bolan (The Executioner), Remo Williams (The Destroyer), and so on. Hardcore 24 fans will be pleased to note that all eleven novels fit into Jack Bauer’s trusty messenger bag with room left over for fifty or sixty magazines of ammo for his pistol.
After the TV series ended in the spring of 2010, the 24 brand went mostly quiet for the next few years. This included tie-ins, with the last of the Declassified novels, Death Angel, published in April 2010. Likewise, comics also dried up, with the last of those being published in early 2008. In the show continuity and at the conclusion of “Day 8,” Jack Bauer was on the run from pretty much every law enforcement entity on the planet. It would be four years before fans found out what he’d been up to with the Live Another Day event series. With the revival came the promise of new tie-in material.
On the prose front, this came in the form of three new 24 novels published by Tor’s Forge Books imprint. The first of these, Deadline by James Swallow, was published in August 2014 and is set immediately after the events of “Day 8,” with Jack just getting started on that whole “running for his life” thing. Of course he can’t just slide into anonymity and hunker down somewhere; not when he can jump into the middle of a crappy situation and save some people who need saving while levying some of that Jack Bauer Justice(tm) on bad guys who truly deserve it. Naturally this ends up with him getting even deeper into an already pretty deep ocean of shit. Such is Jack’s lot, amirite?
The original idea for the new run of 24 novels was to fill in the four-year gap between Season 8 and Live Another Day. The second book, David Mack’s Rogue, was published in September 2015 and picks up the action about 20 months after Deadline. At this point, Jack is really out there on the edge of everything, with few options and even fewer friends. At this point he’s taken to using his skills to basically rain hell down upon the world’s various flavors of low-lifes.
It was this thread the third book was originally supposed to pick up on, perhaps even laying breadcrumbs and pulling together plot threads in order to lead right up to the doorstep of Live Another Day, but the folks at Fox had other ideas. They asked that book’s author (a guy you might know and who might have written this very blog entry you’re reading right now) to do something different: a prequel. They didn’t quite want a “Jack Bauer origin story,” but something set before the events of the series, and even before the stories told in the Declassified novels. The result was Trial By Fire, published in August 2016 with a very pre-CTU Jack Bauer on one of his first field missions with the CIA, and of course everything goes to hell.
While Trial By Fire follows Deadline and Rogue‘s lead with the 24 chapters/one chapter per hour format, I opted not to explicitly call out the “clock” anywhere within each chapter. To me, Jack Bauer and the ticking clock are like 007 facing down the gun barrel at the beginning of the James Bond films: it had to be earned, the way we see Daniel Craig’s Bond get to that point in 2006’s Casino Royale, and how we don’t hear the iconic “James Bond Theme” until the end of that film. With that in mind, I decided to embrace the spirit of the template without overtly calling it out, sprinkling in references of varying subtlety to the time of day or night as the story’s 24 chapters unfolded and hinting at what was to come in the years and adventures ahead.
With no more 24 on television for the foreseeable future, it seems unlikely there will be any more novel adventures for Jack Bauer. That said, I’ve learned to never say “Never” when it comes to this kind of thing. If the TV gods allow us to find out what happened to Jack after Live Another Day and more books come to pass? Hell yeah I’d be up to write another one.
Meanwhile, if you’re a 24 fan and these books have somehow escaped your notice to this point? BOOM. 14 more days of hell for our pal Jack. Have at ’em.