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L. Neil Smith's

Number 845, November 1, 2015

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The Folly of Steve Berry
by Sean Gangol

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Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

(Contains some Spoilers)

For nearly eight years I have been a fan of the author that goes by the name of Steve Berry. For those who are unfamiliar with this man's work, he usually writes thrillers that have the same mystery and intrigue as a Dan Brown novel with the fast paced action of an Indiana Jones movie. I would also say that Berry's novels also have a slight touch of 007 thrown into the mix. I have pretty much enjoyed every novel that Steve Berry has written to some extent. Though I have been somewhat disappointed by his last two books.

The plots of Berry's books usually center on a lost treasure, a lost civilization or some ancient secret. While Berry occasionally writes standalone novels, the majority of his novels are part of what I like to call "The Cotton Malone" series. Most of the novels involve the historical backgrounds of various nations outside the US. The two most recent novels, The Lincoln Myth and The Patriot Threat have actually involved American history.

With The Lincoln Myth I thought it started off well enough, especially when it mentioned that Abraham Lincoln had actually perverted the whole concept of state sovereignty, by claiming that the states didn't have a right to secede from the union. So far so good. Unfortunately it would go downhill, when the plot involved a delusional Mormon who believes that he is being called upon by an arch-angel to find evidence that proves that the states do indeed have the right to secede from the union so that he could create the ideal society that their founder, Joseph Smith, wanted to create. The government of course wants to keep the knowledge suppressed out of fear that it would tear the country apart. As usual our protagonist, Cotton Malone, a former Justice Department operative is drawn into the whole conflict. It's funny how Malone seems to go on more adventures during his retirement, then he probably did during his time as an operative. The book's biggest short coming was the lame cop- out at the end, where all evidence that pertains to the right of a state to secede from the union is destroyed. I have never been a fan of the whole" ignorance is bliss" premise that I have seen in lesser novels, so I was really disappointed when Steve Berry sank to that level of writing. This was the very thing that made me throw the novel The Last Templar into the trash.

Sadly, my disappointment wouldn't be confined to that particular novel. In his most recent novel, The Patriot Threat Berry uses a similar formula, where he has the government scrambling to keep a hidden secret from seeing the light of day. This time it involves "The Sixteenth Amendment" that gave us our lovely income tax system, not being properly ratified, therefore being invalid. The government not surprisingly, doesn't want this knowledge to get out because it would compromise the way the government collects taxes and would make it difficult, if not impossible to pay its debt. The person who has knowledge of this secret is a nutty "right wing" tax evader and the main antagonist is a disgraced member of the North Korean ruling class, who wants to use this knowledge to bring down the US. At one point, there is even a condescending part where it is mentioned that the book written by the tax evader wasn't taken serious by anybody except the anarchists. Berry, doesn't really tell us whether he is referring to anarcho-capitalists or the wannabes who like to cause chaos at protests. It is worth pointing out that limited government libertarians, as well as fiscal conservatives have also advocated bringing down the income tax system. Apparently libertarians and fiscal conservatives don't exist in Steve Berry's world. Then once again we are treated with the same" ignorance is bliss" ending as his last novel, where all evidence proving the illegitimacy of the income tax amendment is destroyed.

I was even more disappointed by this same ending in The Patriot Threat then I was with the previous novel. Not only do I consider that the whole "ignorance is bliss" ending to be nothing more than a lazy cop-out that is far beneath the talent of Steve Berry, but I find it down right insulting that he thinks that it is for the greater good that people should have their pockets plucked, their property seized and their freedom taken away just so the government can recklessly continue to spend the country into the poor house. Apparently, Berry thinks that the existence of an organization like the IRS, which can deprive a person of their property or their freedom with little to no due process, is necessary for the greater good as well. The way I see it, the government shouldn't be doing most of the things that require the massive consumption of our tax dollars. So their inability to not live within their means is really their problem and not ours.

Berry's previous novels have also had somewhat of a statist bent, but it really wasn't as blatant as his two recent novels. I find it somewhat disheartening because I am one of Berry's biggest fans. Whenever I go on vacation during the summer, I always take his latest novel. I have always thought his novels were the perfect example of summer reading. Steve, I am not trashing your work just for the sake of trashing it. I really want to like your books. You just need to get away from having plots that are highly political. Also you really need to get away from those "ignorance is bliss" endings. Not only are they really getting old, really fast, but this is something that I would expect from some lazy hack writer and not from someone of your caliber.

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