Book Review: Grace's 'Liberty Intrigue' echoes today's political headlines

From Allen Drury???s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Advise and Consent” to “Primary Colors” by Joe Klein (alias ???Anonymous???), the political novel has been a staple of modern American literature. The latest in that line, and certainly one of the most ???outside-the-box??? of political thrillers, is Tom Grace???s sixth book “Liberty Intrigue.” Not only will readers not want to wait to see what happens next to its fledgling presidential-candidate-hero but may conclude before they are finished with the book: ???Gee, wish we could have really nominated him for president!???

Not since Fletcher Knebel???s mid-1970???s thriller “Dark Horse” has an author portrayed a candidate who came out of nowhere to make a serious run for the presidency. Knebel???s ???dark horse,??? Eddie Quinn, is a highway commissioner from New Jersey who is given the unwanted Republican standard for president after the original nominee dies and it is assumed this will be a venue for exposure of Quinn to run for governor of his home state the following year.

But Quinn, street smart and plain-spoken, has other ideas and soon, his appeal to blue-collar Democrats makes him a formidable national candidate.

Fast forward ahead to 2012 and meet Ross Egan, a plain-spoken engineer and ???Yooper??? (from Michigan???s Upper Peninsula) who builds a power plant in a developing African nation. For his dramatic role in helping guide that nation to democracy, Egan is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One thing leads to another and, in a year when Republican grows loud grumbling that none of their candidates are exciting, the national convention turns to Egan (who had previously signaled he would run as an independent).

Egan???s beliefs in small government and the free market, his questions about the validity of climate change (???all I am willing to say about the earth???s climate is that we don???t know enough about it . . . the appropriate term is realist???), and his inventive concept of tying the issue of illegal immigrants in the U.S. to a tax rebate for American citizens, soon catch the imaginations of Americans. By fall, novice pol Egan is in a horserace with the sitting president???unnamed but a liberal Democrat, tall and intellectual, and himself a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Coupled with its high political drama, “Liberty Intrigue” also features subplots involving murder, the Chinese, the hand of the federal government in people???s everyday lives and even romance (Candidate Egan is a widower). Floating in and out of the story with wry commentary is Garr Danby, a wise-cracking, cigar-smoking, radio talk show host with a nationwide following.

While you won???t wonder for long who Danby is, you may have some trouble figuring out Egan. Where Frank Skeffington of Edwin O???Connor???s “The Last Hurrah” was clearly Boston???s roguish Mayor James Michael Curley and Arthur Fenstemaker of Bill Brammer???s “The Gay Place” was inarguably Lyndon Johnson, Egan???outsider, engineer, and lover of trucks and farm life???is really modeled on no one on the contemporary political scene. In that sense, Ross Egan is everyman, and a reminder that in America, one can come out of nowhere and achieve great things. A reading of “Liberty Intrigue” contains so many thrills and so much fun that one will start to say: ???Hey, it???s too late in ???12. But can we find Ross Egan for ???16????