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Book Review: The Price of Liberty by Keir Graff

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For Jack McEnroe, the price of liberty has nothing to do with politics or patriotism. It’s based on keeping his job.

Jack works at a Red Rock, Montana, prison under construction and meant for terrorists. It’s named Liberty and is funded, through some nefarious means, by Halcyon Corporation, which sounds eerily like the Halliburton Corp. of reality. The protagonist is in trouble for punching out the boss’ piggish son, Shane Fetters, and has been demoted to clean-up duty, which angers him well enough. In the recent past, his wife, Kyla, left him because he spent all his time building a dream house for his family instead of spending time with her and kids. Now Kyla, who works as a secretary for the boss (and is secretly sleeping with him), has discovered that executive Dave Fetters has been double-billing Halcyon. She worries about whether she should blow the whistle.Keir Graff

Little does Kyla know but she leaves her tracks on the computer, and Dave realizes she’s been into his super-secret double-billing file. He also knows she’s been querying the word “whistle-blower” on various search engines. He realizes he’s in trouble deep, but doesn’t want to harm Kyla. Trouble is, Shane knows too, and he’s like a roaring bull moose that can’t be stopped.

Jack’s in the middle and has to stop Sean from destroying his family and everything else he holds dear in the name of Liberty.

It’s a fine plot that novelist Keir Graff has woven in the wilderness thriller The Price of Liberty. What looks to be a book about survival in the wilds of Montana is more like a book about surviving political wiles in Washington, D.C. Senators and corporation big-wigs get handouts, everyone glad-hands, and plenty of money is exchanged. Fetters takes the big shots on fake “hunts” into the wilderness where nothing is killed, but they all retire for a venison meal at a swank restaurant and fat Cuban cigars. That’s the way business is done in this version of America, the one no one of Jack’s class will ever see.

Up until the double-billing is discovered, everything goes swimmingly for Dave Fetters. However, he doesn’t know that a couple security folks from the feds are on to him. They have full names, but like most secret operatives, they just go by last names: Starr and Mosley. Mosley is the most interesting: a vet of the Iraq war, he seems able to slip in and out of every emergency, and track any illegal activity. He’s been watching Shane. Starr has put it more bluntly to Dave; he’s told Dave that his son has been identified as a security problem. What’s a father to do?

It all goes haywire in a wicked and wild way when Shane cuts loose with some sort of half-baked plot to restore his honor and keep the ill-gotten loot. Rotten to the core, he’s not afraid to blow away innocent gawkers along the way. Mosley quietly cleans up the mess in the name of damage control. Jack strikes out on his own doing counter-insurgency, if you will, getting friends and co-wokers to battle back at Shane. Dave’s caught in the middle. I won’t leak any spoilers, but his filial love could have shone in a better light.

All in all, Graff has produced a terrifically ironic look at America today, where the terrorist prisons stand in for the real-life legislators who are terrified of housing terrorists. (Although our maximum security prisons house the worst serial killers, rapists, and child killers.) The double-funding for the Halcyon Corporation mirrors the messes we’ve gotten into with Halliburton and now the Xe Corps. No explanation needed. Missing taxpayer money? Someone in Washington, D.C. is knee-deep in it. And even though Red Rock, Montana, is about a thousand miles from nowhere, it’s a perfect microcosm of Everywhere, USA.

My only beef is that Graff’s tight and almost journalistic prose (that’s a good thing, by that way), tends to make Red Rock sound like a cold, barren place where no one would want to live. I doubt that was his intention, for Kyla and the kids are relieved when Jack lets them know he doesn’t want to move away. Making the landscape sound less forbidding and more ruggedly beautiful might have softened the edges of the book.

But that’s a tiny complaint about a first-class thriller that sweeps the reader along on a bouncy, jarring ride, almost as dangerous as the trip in Jack McEnroe’s SUV. It will grip you, it will feel real, and it will make you think about American values.

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