It’s not uncommon to see fictional political heroes portrayed as populist figures who stand for the people and against the establishment, fighting corruption and bucking the system in order to usher in a brighter future for the American people. What’s rare, though, is for those characters to stand for conservative values—as if the liberal philosophy is the only force for good in the world today.
But in his new novel The Liberty Intrigue, author Tom Grace deviates from the trend and serves up a fiercely entertaining political thriller featuring a conservative champion who stands for the principles on which America was founded.
The setting for Grace’s book is not too dissimilar from the world we know, and its political landscape is quite recognizable to even a casual observer of modern-day politics in America.
The story begins in war-torn Africa, where a fledgling democracy is struggling to maintain its autonomy in the face of a neighboring warlord bent on raping the country of its resources. It is from the fires of this conflict that Grace’s hero is born—an American patriot with an undying devotion to his country, an understanding of the Constitution, and the ideal that liberty is not a gift from government but a natural right that belongs to all humankind.
From there, Grace’s story pivots to a U.S. presidential primary battle in which conservatives are searching for a proverbial white knight to take on the sitting liberal President who has the support of the fawning mainstream media and entrenched labor unions. Their desperation for a new direction is fueled by an economic and fiscal crisis ripped right from today’s headlines—sky-high deficits, out-of-control government spending, millions of unemployed Americans, calls from the left for higher taxes, and a progressive President wedded to failed Keynesian economic theory.
The parallels to today are no doubt deliberate, allowing Grace to use archetypes the reader knows so he can give timely, direct commentary on America’s challenges, just as Ayn Rand voiced her objectivist philosophy through works like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in the 1940s and ‘50s. Grace’s philosophy is an unabashedly conservative one, and his words are informed by thorough research and a rock-solid understanding of America’s challenges, the policy prescriptions advocated by the left, and conservative solutions from the right.
The contrast between the two is presented in stark relief by way of a series of presidential debates in which Grace articulates the central conflict between political ideologies that underlies modern American politics—on the left hand, a movement for government intervention in the marketplace and a massive expansion of the state, and on the right hand, a return to the ideals of liberty, limited government, free markets, and individualism that made America great.
But Grace’s achievement is not just in capturing the zeitgeist of the day, though his novel certainly succeeds as a relevant and timely political commentary. Much more than that, he has crafted a compelling, fast-paced, wide-ranging political thriller with gripping twists and turns, high-tech schemes, dastardly corruption, and murder.
The delight of reading The Liberty Intrigue is that woven through this political thriller is an intelligent articulation of the conservative philosophy and that holding the pen is an author who understands that the real miracle of the American experiment is a love of liberty that can be found even in the farthest corners of our world.
At a recent appearance at The Heritage Foundation, Grace spoke of his challenges in bringing The Liberty Intrigue to readers—namely, that editors refused to take on a project in which the main character is a conservative. As Grace explained, publishers “don’t mind taking money from conservatives; they just don’t want to have their name brand sullied by their connection with a conservative writer.” Fortunately, that didn’t stop Grace, and his words made it to the printed page for all to enjoy. [Mike Brownfield—The Heritage Foundation]
Where is Ross Egan when we need him?!
Talk about a timely novel. Tom Grace’s The Liberty Intrigue is set during election season. The sitting president is liberal and corrupt, but the Republicans have a wide array of candidates, beating each other up in the primaries, none of them rising to the top. A few short weeks ago, this was the story for the Republicans; for what it’s worth the nomination has been sealed up by Romney by now. Back to the novel: over in Africa, Ross Egan, a somewhat obscure American electrical engineer has risen in prominence and leadership in a nation that has just come out of a civil war and is now instituting American-style democratic reforms. He and the president of the African nation become co-recipients of the Nobel Prize. Unable to come to a consensus at their nominating convention, the Republicans draft the independent Egan.
Egan is exactly the candidate tea-party, free-market, freedom-loving Republicans long for, without the baggage that so many candidates bring, and with a practical means to solve America’s energy problem. That’s a weakness of the book: the reader ends up frustrated by the end, faced with the reality of the candidates he has to hold his nose to choose among. While Egan is wholly fictional, one character in The Liberty Intrigue is immediately recognizable. Conservative talk-show host Garr Denby is a completely unveiled tribute to Rush Limbaugh. I think some of the phrases must have been taken directly from the show. Oh, and the sitting president? Let’s just hope that Grace isn't privy to some insider information; the picture he paints does not compliment Obama!
Besides conservative politics and talk-radio hosts, Grace also gives a not to Ayn Rand. You may recall the catchphrase from Atlas Shrugged, "Who is John Galt?" In several scenes in that novel, the phrase shows up by surreptitious means. Similarly, throughout The Liberty Intrigue, the phrase, "Who is I" appears, accompanied by selective blackouts and computer hacking.
As much as I loved the message of the book, I will admit that after the opening scenes, I got a bit bogged down. It seemed like Denby’s monologues got a bit too long… . But after the halfway point or so, the story recovered and became a fun read. Now if we could only find a real Ross Egan! [Reading Glutton]
One of the nicest perks about having a slightly well-known blog is the fact that authors and publishers occasionally ask me to review a book. In this way, I get the opportunity to read books that I otherwise wouldn’t even know exist. My approach to book reviews is simple: If I enjoy the book, I’m happy to review it, because I want to share my good fortune with my friends. If I don’t enjoy a book, however, I don’t give it a bad review. Instead, I don’t review the book at all. I find it impossible to write about a book that bores or disappoints me. This is why, at my blog, you’ll only read positive reviews.
As you’ve guessed by now, I’m very happy to give a positive review to Tom Grace’s newest book, The Liberty Intrigue. Let me start with the publisher’s own description of the book, before I get to why I liked it:
Ross Egan has quietly labored for years in the West African nation of Dutannuru—a tiny republican democracy that emerged from the wreckage of the brutal civil war that claimed the brilliant engineer’s wife and child. When a neighboring despot threatens Dutannuru with renewed violence, Egan is abruptly thrust onto the world stage at the center of the deadly international crisis. Egan’s actions and resulting notoriety land him on the short list of individuals capable of challenging the progressive incumbent for the presidency of the United States—if only he can be convinced to run. A political neophyte, Egan is intrigued by the challenge of unseating a ruthless political operator seen by some as the most dangerously leftist president in the nation’s history. To win the White House, Egan must mount the most unorthodox presidential campaign ever attempted— and navigate through a daunting new world marked by character assassination, high-level corruption, armed raids, and political murder.
I have to admit that, for the first two chapters, the book didn’t engage me because I didn’t “get” it. The Liberty Intrigue begins in the fictional African nation of Dutannuru. Reading those chapters, I thought that, despite the run for the White House that figures in the book, most of the action would take place in Africa. I had visions of a bloody thriller with hero Ross Egan on the run from machete-wielding African militias. I like thrillers, even bloody thrillers, but Africa isn’t one of my favorite venues for these books. There’s a reason for this: Africa depresses me. It’s a country continent [with a face palm for my silly error] that is rich in natural resources (human, mineral, environmental, etc.), and yet it is a perpetual basket-case. (Incidentally, one of the best books on this subject— a book that, sadly, is not outdated despite being almost 20 years old— is Keith Richburg’s Out Of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa.) The sad fact is that a thriller set in Africa is never going to have a happy, or even a satisfying, ending.
Fortunately for my reading pleasure, I stuck with the book, which didn’t stay in Dutannuru for long. The Dutannuru beginning was not wasted time, though. It establishes Egan as a man who combines idealism with pragmatism, both of which are rooted in his faith in the American Constitution as a template for a successful society, one in which citizens can both work and dream. The America to which Egan returns from his Africa sojourn, however, is not a Constitutional America. Instead, it’s an America that has been under tight Progressive control for three years.
It isn’t a coincidence that the fictional America has the same political posture as the real America. From the moment Egan returns to the states from Africa, he is confronted with an America that looks precisely like America in 2012— only the names are changed. The president is a hard core Leftist who wants to substitute social justice for Constitutional principles, all while enriching himself and his friends; the Vice President is a buffoon, who exudes a certain shadiness, and who has a knack for saying the wrong thing; the president’s campaign manager mirrors David Axelrod insofar as he lives to dig for opposition dirt and disrupt democrat processes; and the President’s closest friend and most powerful backer is a Soros-like multi-billionaire who manipulates world markets and funds various hard-core Progressive organizations. Those are the novel’s statists.
The individualist side of the book has several important characters who move the plot forward, but only two are carefully delineated spokespeople for conservativism. First, we have Egan, who powerfully articulates core constitutional arguments and positions. Of course, I’m sorry to say that this means he is not analogous to any modern conservative politician. The other dynamically drawn conservative character is a talk radio host, Garr Denby, who sounds uncannily like Rush Limbaugh. (It really is uncanny. Grace has a perfect ear for both Limbaugh’s style and substance.) The book details the way in which Egan’s friends, who believe he is the only one who can save the nation, work with him to create an unconventional campaign that keeps the Progressive president perpetually off balance.
Large parts of the book are straightforward polemics. Grace has the president make speeches and conversational asides that support Progressive political principles, while Egan and Denby counter with speeches explaining why America’s constitutional freedoms provide the best solutions to economic problems and illegal immigration. (For the most part, Grace shies away from discussing foreign policy issues.)
Normally, I find polemical novels boring, since they’re wooden and artificial. By using a presidential election as a format for his novel, however, Grace overcomes the artificiality problem because he’s able to have the characters state their positions in the natural context of political speeches, debates, strategy conferences, or talk radio shows. Grace deals with the wooden speech problem simply by having a good ear. As I noted above, Grace’s take on Rush is perfect. It’s almost possible to believe that Rush himself helped Grace write Denby’s lines. When the Progressives speak, it sounds as if Grace copied their familiar tropes and talking points, so they’re scarily realistic. And when Ross Egan speaks, Grace has him say what we all wish our inarticulate Republican candidates (e.g., McCain or Mitt) or our slightly loopy Republican candidates (e.g., Newt or Ron Paul) would say. It’s something of a relief to see any candidate saying these things, even if he’s only a fictional character in a novel.
In some ways, as you’ve probably gathered from this review, I found the plot almost a secondary feature in the book. (Which is unusual for me, as I like my books plot driven.) The Liberty Intrigue has clever and often exciting twists and turns, but the book’s real value lies in Grace’s ability to articulate clearly and elegantly core conservative principles, and to stress how these principles stand in direct opposition to the damaging governance the Progressives are visiting on the United States today, not in a novel, but in real life and in real time.
I enjoyed The Liberty Intrigue very much. I was fortunate enough to get a courtesy review copy, but I can confidently say that this is a book I would happily buy right before a vacation, which is the one time of the year I always dig deep and buy actual books for flights, train rides, at-sea days on cruises, etc. More than that, I would buy The Liberty Intrigue, not as an e-book, but as an actual paper book. That way, I could leave the book behind in the hope that some other vacationer would pick it up and learn something. [Bookworm Room Review]
“The Liberty Intrigue is wildly entertaining and thoroughly edifying. Tom race spins a dazzling thriller that races across the dangerous terrain of a US presidential election with style and aplomb. A celebration of American exceptionalism found only in the power of the individual-a yarn you can't put down. Simply awesome.” —-David Limbaugh, #1 NY Times bestselling author of Crimes Against Liberty “Fresh, intelligent, and emotional, The Liberty Intrigue is a gem of a read. Tom Grace explores his brilliantly conceived political landscape with wit and intelligence. All of the right elements combine for an evocative tale that will leave you panting for more.” —-Steve Berry, #1 NY Times bestselling author of The Jefferson Key