Monday, June 27, 2011

Keys to the Kingdom

By Senator Bob Graham
New York, Vanguard Press, 2011
310 pages    Fiction

Senator Bob Graham is a retired US Senator from Florida, and he also served as the governor of Florida. In his years of service as the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he was part of the lead up to the Iraq war and privy to all the inside information on weapons, oil, Osama Bin Laden and everything else that has preoccupied the American people over the last ten years. The author of several books of policy, this is his first novel. In an interview with the LA Times, Graham said,  "One of the reasons I wrote the book is that coming out of 9-11, I was convinced that there were some secrets that had been withheld from our congressional inquiry, most of which involved the Saudis. I thought that maybe a novel would be the way I could talk about some of these issues."
His alter-ego in Keys to the Kingdom is Sen. John Billington, a retired Florida Senator. Hmmmm. Initially I was suspicious that the book was going to be all about him and his ability to solve the world’s problems. The description that helped set this mood occurred in the first chapter when his assistant Tony muses that Billington “was one of the few individuals Tony had met in public life who seemed to be able to take in the big picture—past, present, and future—in one view.”

But perhaps luckily, Billington is killed off by page 45, and Tony becomes the protagonist as well as the heir to the Billington philosophy and all the world’s problems. Biillington’s daughter Laura, as well as Tony, and another policy analyst named Carol, travel the world in a few short days trying to solve Billington’s murder and a vast conspiracy that evolves into the first nuclear attack since World War II.
The plot is dense; there is plenty of action in exotic locales. This is the stuff of most novels of intrigue. What separates it from most other books of this genre is the unique insight of the author. One has to think that Graham has been plotting this book for a long time, mulling over potential scenarios and characters.
 Keys to the Kingdom has a definite point of view and follows the political leanings of the author. The reviewer in the Jacksonville newspaper mentioned,. “Graham may know ‘where the truth lies,’ but he is not telling us. This is not a whistle-blower or even an insider novel. It's just another run-of-the-mill thriller.” It would have been interesting if Bin Laden had been killed before Keys to the Kingdom was written, because his presence permeates the plot.
What is lacking in this book is some finesse; it is clumsily written and awkward. A description of a former lover of Tony: “Their lovemaking was as competitive as their tennis.” A nervous Laura: “Laura felt a slight moistening of her underarms.” The Secretary: “Everything in this city is politics, not politics as in Socrates, but politics as in power. I feel as if I don’t even belong here anymore.” There’s plenty of sex, too, but in the words of a reviewer: ". . .the novel does have a lot of kiss. But the sex scenes are down-right embarrassing. It's like having your beloved grandparents discussing the act or watching Bob Dole tout Viagra.”

Graham’s analysis of the war is rather concisely put toward the end of the book with Tony saying, “I’m thinking we need a strategy for cutting our losses and refocusing like a laser on al-Qaeda in Pakistan and the other places it has established a beachhead, beginning with Somalia and Yemen.”

In a novel of intrigue, character development is not a priority, nor is dialogue or literary style. Plot is everything, and this novel is no exception.  I kept reading because I became engrossed in the details of the plot, not because I cared about any of the characters. If Graham is to continue to write novels, he will want to breathe more life into his characters and spiff up his writing style.

I read this book at the behest of the publicity company. Despite its flaws, Keys to the Kingdom is an exciting read.

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