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08/16/2007 Archived Entry: "Joel Simon's Songs of Bad Men and Good"

JOEL SIMON OR J.K. ROWLING ... Joel Simon or J.K. Rowling? It was a dilemma when the library delivered Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at the same time Lulu.com and the post office delivered Joel's Songs of Bad Men and Good.

I opted for Simon, with no regrets.

So who are these "bad and good" men? That depends on your perspective. Some might say that the chief "bad" man of this smoothly written, never-stop novel is Michael Owens (or his alter-ego, known only as the god of war).

Owens, whom you met before if you read Walt's Gulch, is a prolific and inventive killer. If I tried to count up all his victims in this story, I'd run out of fingers and toes.

Joel notes in an introductory letter that one early reviewer called the book an "unrelenting bloodbath." Alas, that reviewer may have been me, after I read the book in manuscript form and sent comments to Joel. But Joel, did I mention that Songs of Bad Men and Good is one damnfine bloodbath? A very satisfying one?

Perhaps even a necessary one?

Michael (and the god) are killing people who deserve to be eliminated forever from a free country. Think of the petty mobsters (aka cops) who killed great-grandma Kathryn Johnston in the name of the drug war. Think of the home invaders (aka cops) who burned Salvadore Celaya's house to the ground, then absolved themselves of all responsibility. Think of the murderers of Sammy and Vicki Weaver and the men who laughed at, mooned, and threatened the women and children of the Branch Davidians before finally burning them to death. Think of those who Tase old ladies and diabetics and epileptics because it's easier and "sexier" than using good judgment. Think of the cops who've forgotten "protect and serve" and who treat every encounter with a citizen, even the most harmless citizen, as an opportunity to inflate their power and force "civilians" to cower before their authority.

Those are the people Michael Owens kills. Or their kissin' cousins. He kills them while they -- especially his old nemesis, FBI agent Albert Winston. try desperately to track him.

Meanwhile, a good man, Art Barnett, known as The Traveler, breaks the law in a gentler way -- driving his van between isolated western gulches, bringing medicines, machine tools, and other trade goods to people who've "taken to the hills" to create better lives than an increasingly tyrannical government is willing to allow them.

The novel rolls into motion when the FBI pulls a SWAT raid on Owens' home that erupts into disaster. From there, it never stops. But the "bad" Owens' deeds are magnified and put to greater use when he crosses paths with the "good" Barnett. Barnett is angry not because of anything done to him or his family, but because of federal acts against his trading partners and friends -- acts seemingly unrelated to those Owens is avenging.

I'm uncomfortable with the idea of revenge in real life. And I'd rather see freedom restored without violence. But when you live in a time when cops kick down the doors of houses at midnight and pay no consequences (or rarely ever pay consequences) for the wrong houses they invade, the innocents they terrorize and kill, the cash they steal, the drugs they plant, and the lives they ruin, something's got to give.

Books like this one and Unintended Consequences open relief valves.

If you've read UC and are wondering why you should read another grassroots-revenge novel ... well, there are a lot of reasons. In the real world, a lot more corrupt, bullying cops-playing-soldier have gotten away with a lot more tyranny in the years since John Ross wrote UC. A lot more innocents have been terrorized, slaughtered, maimed, or imprisoned. This is a very different book about very different people in very different circumstances (and Michael Owens is no law-abiding wannabe like Henry Bowman).

And finally, Songs of Bad Men and Good is written by a pro -- and a good one. This novel is well plotted, well constructed, written with confidence. Joel's writing is impeccable. More than once, I came to a halt just to re-read something that was so damned good and true.

Among other things, the book contains the best and most concise statement I ever read about why government brutality keeps getting worse and why we're so hesitant to act against it:

The equation was so damned lopsided. The result of resisting power was destruction; the result of using it was gratification without consequence. So of course it got used; over and over, more and more.

As long as Our Glorious Leaders and their hopped-up, house-invading henchmen continue to terrorize harmless people without paying consequences -- very personal, very painful, very swift and certain consequences -- we need Michael Owens, the god of war, and books like this one to help us live with ourselves.

Besides, it's just a damned good read and written by a good friend of liberty. Go get yourself a copy.

Posted by Claire @ 02:45 PM CST

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