Friday, August 27, 2010


The Overton Window opens with Eli Churchill at a pay phone in the middle of the desert, roll of quarters in his hand, calling Beverly, and spilling the beans on a conspiracy involving a missing two-point-three trillion dollars and eleven nuclear weapons. In two and a half pages, Beck has laid out the entire plot. To hell with suspense, or mystery. No one wants that in a thriller, right? And to say this is poorly written is an understatement. The writing is clunky, stiff, amateurish. It reads like fan fiction, with apologies to writers of fan fiction.

Let's just jump right in, shall we?

He cradled the pay-phone receiver against his shoulder, glanced down the narrow, rutted Mojave dirt road he'd traveled to get here, and then up the long, dark way in the other direction.

In this much quiet your ears could play tricks on you. He could have sworn that there'd been a sound out of place, like the snap of a stalk of dried grass underfoot, even though no other human being had any business being within twenty miles of where he stood, but he couldn't be sure.

So, Churchill is in the middle of the desert, twenty miles from nowhere, on a dirt road. Using a pay phone. What? Are there lots of pay phones in the Mojave along narrow, rutted dirt roads? That seems... unlikely. And I wonder if the author has heard of this new thing they have out now called a "cellular phone." Cool thing is, you can buy disposable cell phones now, and they are completely untraceable. That's probably easier than finding a pay phone in the vast expanses of the Mojave desert.

He worked his last six quarters from their torn paper roll and dropped them one by one into the coin slot.

He had just three minutes left. In a way, it was ironic. After years of planning, he'd brought all the evidence he needed to back up his story, but not nearly enough change to buy the time to tell it.

Oh the irony. One more reason to get one of those disposable cells.

"Now where was I ..." As he riffled through his pile of photocopies a couple of the loose papers got caught up in a gust and went floating off into the night.

"You were talking about the money."

"Yes, good, okay. Two-point-three trillion dollars is what we're talking about. Do you know how much that is? From sea level that's a stack of thousand-dollar bills that would reach to outer space and back with thirty miles to spare.

Okay, as is revealed a few paragraphs down, Churchill has infiltrated this deadly conspiracy involving trillions of dollars and stolen nukes, as part of a plot to build a new "political and economic and social structure" and Eli still needs to check his notes to see if he's got this right. I mean, it doesn't sound like the kind of thing one would figure out then be unclear on afterward. Maybe he was checking his photocopies to see how high two-point-three trillion dollars would stack. And again, as if "to outer space and back" was something you'd need to reference your notes on. Not that the stacking height of great gobs money means anything. Not really anyway.

It's a lot of money, and here's what they're doing with it (just who they are will be revealed in coming chapters, no doubt):

"I've seen the place, one of the places where they're getting ready for something—something big—planning it out, you know? I got a job inside in maintenance, as a cleanup man. They thought I was just a janitor, but I had the run of the place overnights.

"I saw what they're planning to do. They're building a structure." He checked his notes to make sure he was getting it right. "Not like a building, but like a political and economic and social structure. They've been working on it for a long, long time. Decades. When they collapse the current system, this new one they've put together will be all that's left."

So, you got that? They're building a new structure. Political and economic and social. Whatever that means. It's vaguely NWOish.

"They're changing the books so that in a generation from now almost nobody will remember what this country used to be. They've got the economy set up to fall like a house of cards whenever they're ready to tap the first one at the foundation. They've got the controlled media all lined up and ready to carry out their PR campaign. And they've got people so indebted and mind-controlled and unprepared, they'll turn to anybody who says he's got the answer."

I think this is the controversial part. The part where Beck, in his author's note, implored us to think. Yes, think, because the media is controlled, the media is some great bugaboo. As if Beck himself isn't part of the media, as if Beck himself isn't a commentator on one of the biggest and most influential media outlets in the world, as if Beck's radio show doesn't pull in 9 million-plus listeners. A very influential media personality tells his audience to listen to him and not listen to influential media personalities? Ummm.... okay.

Churchill warns Beverly "they're going to stage something soon to get it all started" right before he's killed.

A glint of brilliant red light on the wall of the booth caught his attention. He turned, as the man behind him had known that he would, and let the phone drop from his hand.

Eli Churchill had enough time left to begin a quiet prayer but not enough to end it. His final appeal was interrupted by a silenced gunshot, and a .357 semi-jacketed hollow point was the last thing to go through his mind.

Oy. Really? An assassin shows up, in the middle of the desert where this phone booth is and using a silenced 357 with a laser sight, shoots Churchill dead? Because he was a janitor working undercover who made photocopies of the "new structure's" plans to use two-point-three trillion dollar and eleven nuclear weapons to topple the government. All of which he needed to tell Beverly. Whoever she is.

You know, "a .357 semi-jacketed hollow point was the last thing to go through his mind" may sound cool when Morgan Freeman says it, but on paper, it's downright silly. But then, everything about this book appears to be pretty silly.


  1. "They're changing the books..."

    Yeah, 'cause it's totally the left who advise teachers to razor out or glue together textbook pages which talk about evolution. And it's those left-wing school boards in Texas who voted to cut influential figures out of the history books. Yeah.

  2. I wonder what '70s thriller this scene was cribbed from. It's too out-of-date to come from anything more recent or have actually been thought up this decade. Not only is a pay phone in the middle of the Mojave extra silly in the age of cell phones, but the change business suggests that this was written before the 1980s and '90s when people used calling cards so they wouldn't have to drag bank bags of change around with them.

    (For that matter, I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that phones take credit cards these days - supposing one hasn't bought a pre-paid cell phone like a sensible free-lance secret agent or whatever the heck Not-A-Janitor is.)

  3. A .357 with a laser sight? I don't know much about guns, but is that possible? And somehow, there's a silencer for it. It's like this gun was made up by a eleven-year-old boy.

  4. Well, there was once a phone booth in the Mojave Desert:

  5. One of my students bought me this book as a gag gift. I might need to read it now and follow along with this blog.

    If you're in the middle of the desert, 20 miles from anyone, and you're going to kill someone who Knows Too Much, why would you (a) need a silencer; (b) need a laser sight; (c) WANT a laser sight that would attract the target's attention with enough time to yell (into the phone) the punchline of the conspiracy. I mean, if the idiot is taking the time to explain how tall a trillion dollars is, you don't want to clue him in that he's only got 5 seconds left rather than 2 minutes to say his piece.

  6. While sharing this with a friend, she remarked that the whole 'huge amounts of money and stolen nukes' thing is vaguely like the Philosopher's Legacy of the Metal Gear Solid series. I am sure this book would be far improved by electric Russians, psychics and men covered in bees, and probably no more insane than it already is.

  7. What sort of crappy assassin needs a laser sight?