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Book Review: National Contender by Edward Simmons

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National Contender is the story of Travis Banks, a man who approaches life with a must-win attitude. Nothing will discourage him or put him down, particularly if it involves a physical challenge. As he explains, “competitiveness was bred into me.” Travis’ winning, boxer-like stance towards life appears to come:

1) from imitating his father’s work ethic and his mother’s caring attitude for others

2) from his grandfather’s advice: “Boy, never hang your hat higher than you can reach"

3) from his belief that God spoke to him in a dream: “I will never quit on you"; like a tall bamboo plant, “You will rise high.”

Although Travis claims early in National Contender that gambling was only a hobby, as his story develops, gaming seems to be a central part of his life. In fact, the belief that he could lay a bet and win is precisely what allowed him to travel from Florida through Louisiana and back to Las Vegas.

While visiting relatives left homeless and helpless because of Katrina, Travis experienced the wholesomeness of the human condition. He talks of witnessing neighbors helping one another with repairs as best as they could. People shared their provisions and emptied their food stores as if a block party was going on.

But the lack of quick aid by the U.S. government obviously bothered him. Later in National Contender, Travis speaks of the shame cast on America by politicians who do not address problems such as disaster relief, poverty, and joblessness, while these same politicians sit back in comfortable, stylish, well furnished homes in non-blighted neighborhoods.

The driving force for most of the novel is the result of Travis’ reaction  at a casino. When he returns from a men’s room, he notices two large men hitting on Akanke, his intimate girlfriend, who is cornered by the two men. He hears one man say, “What’s wrong bitch, you too good to take a drink from me?”

When this man grabs Akanke’s arm, Travis steps in at once. What appears to be a one sided fight breaks out. Within a few minutes, Travis decks both men. He asks onlookers to get them medical attention, then he and Akanke exit the casino.

Because one of the men leveled by Travis happened to be the current world boxing champion, word quickly spreads. The media grabs this story and Travis’ life is forever changed. Talk shows host him. Who is this powerful character? How did he best not only the world champ but also his buffed companion?

Of course Travis speaks out. Because he is such a well meaning hero, talk show hosts ask his opinion on all sorts of current problems. His biggest complaint is that government bureaucrats live like millionaires, misusing taxpayer’s money as if it is their own personal font of wealth. He feels these officials have little concern for the common man, many of whom must eke out a jobless existence while desperately trying to keep their families together.

Travis Banks is quickly drawn into the political arena because this is a presidential election year. With an uproar of growing popular support, Travis becomes a candidate. One can only begin to imagine the obstacles he faces as a third party candidate.

The hurdles he leaps in are monumental. He refuses to be shoved aside. With Akanke by his side for inspiration, Travis' popularity continues to grow as the candidate for the common man who promises to go to Washington and “throw out the bums” or at least expose them.

National Contender moves an extremely fast pace. Travis becomes entrapped by plots to end his career and his life. He becomes involved in foreign intrigue in which he tries to stop a nuclear attack on Vatican City.

The words spoken to Travis by God in his dream, “You will rise high,” are evident in almost every page of this tale. The man never looks back with regret or wallows in minor defeats. He seems to welcome their challenge.

I would recommend National Contender to any reader seeking an extremely fast paced thriller. Written in first person, the author uses words and expressions which seem to venerate a machismo attitude toward life, the world, and its problems — a Clint Eastwood approach. I’m certain the author intended to portray that attitude.

The story is easy to follow in a rather straightforward chronological order. It does not leap back and forth with interrupting flashbacks like so many books and movies. Each chapter begins where the last one ended.

Travis Banks’ has a realistic grasp of the problems facing our nation today. More fascinating are his suggested down-to-earth solutions to these issues. During our last national election, both John McCain and Barack Obama seemed to dance around certain issues, afraid to alienate voters. Travis Banks dances for no one.

The alarming, unexpected ending to National Contender will shock you. It comes as a nightmarish warning! Beware Americans, of public officials who do not have America’s best interest at heart. One never knows from whence the next demon of terror springs.

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