- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2010


By Andrew Klavan

Thomas Nelson, $14.99, 352 pages

Reviewed by Sonny Bunch

It’s clear that mystery author Andrew Klavan has a political point to make in “The Long Way Home,” his second entry in the “Homelanders” series aimed at “young adults.” That clarity is occasionally a hindrance, one that turns his work into a somewhat pedantic and predictable thriller that seems more interested in scoring political points than moving the plot along.

But as in any good thriller, there’s a twist. Mr. Klavan is - gasp - a conservative author arguing in favor of conservative ideals: the inherent goodness of America, the inherent evil of moral relativism, the inherent nobility of our fighting men and women. The message is more palatable than most of the force-fed leftist nonsense coming from the entertainment-industrial complex, certainly - check out the new Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon movie “The Green Zone” if you doubt that Hollywood sometimes descends into liberal claptrap and anti-Americanism - but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good thing.

“The Long Way Home” concerns a young man named Charlie West who is on the run from both the cops and a sect of Islamofascist terrorists (the Homelanders) seeking to bring down America. He has been framed for the murder of his best friend, Alex - or so he thinks. He can’t remember anything that happened in the past year, you see, other than that he has been tried and convicted of Alex’s murder in an American court of law, that the Homelanders think he is one of them and that he has to prove his innocence to keep from being sent back to jail.

Along the way, we meet Charlie’s noble karate instructor, Sensei Mike, a former soldier who stands for all that is just, as well as Charlie’s callow high school instructor, Mr. Sherman, who stands for all that is wrong with the liberal establishment. As Charlie describes Sherman, “he fancied himself some kind of big-time radical. He was always trying to get us to ‘question our assumptions.’ … Mr. Sherman’s point of view was that nothing was really good or bad, it was just a matter of how you thought about it.”

Sherman then goes on to make fun of such concepts as liberty and freedom and Mom and apple pie. Well, maybe not the last two, but hopefully you get the point: He’s not a real character but a cardboard cutout of a campus liberal (even if he’s located on a high school campus instead of a college one).

Digressions of this sort abound. Consider this passage, when Charlie discusses how his near-death experiences and year on the run have affected his thinking:

“[T]he things that frightened me were different. They were real. Not ghosts, but people - bad people - who didn’t believe we should have the freedom to think and say whatever we wanted and live the way we thought was right. They hated America because we had those freedoms. They wanted to hurt our country and they wanted to hurt me.”

Again, a very palatable sentiment, but one that pulls the reader out of the action and reduces the stakes to a paper-thin rendition of the issues at the heart of the matter. Stuffing the book with passages such as these - political soliloquies barely masked as storytelling - opens up Mr. Klavan to the same criticism those on the left such as Mr. Damon deserve. The first concern should always be with telling the story, not racking up political sucker punches that distract from the matter at hand.

The story here is relatively entertaining, as far as literature for those in middle school goes. Mr. Klavan has a clear flair for the dramatic and an intuitive grasp of the minibeats within an action sequence. Before his latest foray into junior fare, he wrote the novels “True Crime” and “Don’t Say a Word,” which were turned into movies starring Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas, respectively. He’s a solid storyteller with a keen eye for detail and vivid descriptive power. Indeed, this is the sort of story I remember being drawn to as a tween myself - “The Long Way Home” is something like “The Hardy Boys” crossed with the “My Teacher Is an Alien” series.

Turnabout being fair play, the left won’t have much room to complain about the politicizing of this work. I’m sure that won’t stop them, but their lack of self-awareness will make them seem all the sillier. Still, one can’t help but think Mr. Klavan could have been a little subtler in his messaging and a little more concerned with telling an entertaining story than indoctrinating the nation’s youth.

Sonny Bunch is a Washington writer.

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