Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 745, November 17, 2013

The most common threat to individual liberty in the
United States of America is "local law enforcement."

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Castigo Cay by Matthew Bracken: A Review
by Sean Gangol

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Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Contains Spoilers

I admit that I am somewhat late with this review. I had originally planned to publish this review about a year ago, but I got caught up with other things, which put me behind on my writing. Before I begin, I want to point out that I have been a longtime fan of Matthew Bracken, ever since he published his first book Enemies Foreign and Domestic. In his most recent book, Castigo Cay, the plot revolves around an ex-Marine Corps sniper named Dan Kilmer who sails from port to port in a boat he calls "The Rebel Yell" (possibly the coolest boat name ever). He does this to stay free from any form of government interference in his life.

The novel begins when Kilmer has a falling out with his girlfriend, Cori. He refuses to take her to Miami so she can fallow her aspirations of being a model. Kilmer refuses out of fear that the government will confiscate his boat for the back taxes that he supposedly owes the government, even though it has been years since he last set foot in the country. Deciding to act like a spoiled pre-Madonna, his girlfriend leaves on another boat full of complete strangers, which predictably leads to bad results.

Kilmer later finds out from a fellow boater, named Nick Galloway that his ex-girlfriend is being held against her will on Castigo Cay, an island that is supposed to be off-limits to the general public. When Kilmer and Galloway make their way to Castigo Cay, they find out that the boat carrying Cori, is now headed to Miami. Risking his life and possibly his freedom, Kilmer, along with his new friend decides to go to Miami to rescue his ex-girlfriend. Once they reach Miami, we are shown how the United States has been ravaged by economic depression and its citizens are forced into a single payer healthcare system. We are also shown how parts of Miami are so crime ridden that the authorities routinely use police state tactics to keep it in check. At the same time the United States keeps the entire country under constant surveillance, which is why Kilmer fears being detained by the government.

One of the most interesting contrasts of this novel from Bracken's Enemies trilogy is the way we are shown America's decent into totalitarianism. In the Enemies trilogy, the dystopian narrative seems to be the major plot point of the book. In Castigo Cay it serves more as the background of what is happening around the plot.

The strongest aspect of the book is the way that Bracken generates suspense by having our protagonist race not only against time to save Cari, but to do so while flying under the government's radar. As much I enjoyed the book, I still have two minor complaints. One of them involves a scene where our protagonist is confronted by a government agent, who offers Kilmer a job, while looking the other way on his so-called back taxes. This occurs mid-way through the novel, but it is never brought up again. This is what the critics of would call a "Big Lipped Alligator Moment." It could be that Bracken may be saving this plot point for his next book, but it seems odd to create a seemingly important scene, only to forget about it later.

Another one of the book's flaws is the predictable climax. From the title of the book alone you could probably guess where the final showdown takes place. My biggest problem with the climax is that it had the typical clichés that are seen in many modern day action movies. The most notable of course are the 007 movies, which have been parodied countless times. The first cliché comes when our hero does something stupid to get himself captured. Though to be fair Kilmer's capture was probably a plot device that was necessary for the setup of the final showdown. The down side is that it created the same cliché that seems to surround every Bond villain. Instead of simply putting a bullet in the head of our protagonist, the villain decides to toy with him, which predictably leads to the bad guy being defeated by his own ego. There is even a part where Kilmer throws down his weapons for a mono to mono scene that involves hand to hand combat with one of the henchmen.

Though some would consider a story revolving around a man trying to rescue a damsel in distress to be the oldest cliché in the book, I would have to give him a free pass on it. For one thing, our protagonist needed a reason to risk his life and his freedom. Second, his need to save Cori seemed to be based more on the promise that he made to her father then some corny romantic subplot. That was probably why Bracken didn't have the two get back together in the end, and I was glad because I wasn't particularly fond of Cori. She is what the critics at would call a Dumbass in Distress.

Despite some of these minor flaws, Castigo Cay is definitely a good read. Bracken did an excellent job creating both tension and suspense throughout most his novel. I thought that making the main villain a billionaire who made his fortune through the Ponzi scheme known as green energy, was a nice touch. I look forward to seeing more novels about Dan Kilmer and the Rebel Yell. The idea of a man sailing his boat from port to port, just to stay free from the long tentacles of the government, makes for good fiction.

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