Picture a time of oil wars, a constant specter of terrorism and trampled civil liberties, all orchestrated by a corrupt political system. Think you’re living in it? Sorry, today’s world is child’s play compared to the one imagined by Michael O’McCarthy in his new book, "Rebels in Hell."
The novel accelerates the fears of today into the realities of a not-too-distant tomorrow. And it’s not pretty. Assassination is a political weapon wielded freely by corrupt power brokers to neutralize opponents, silence dissent or to just avenge hurt egos.
One such death order – of a liberal blogger who writes a tad too liberally – sends the reader down a path toward revolution. The journey isn’t obvious. Several plot twists shift the central character focus until it finally lands on a young man, who calls himself Coilean, La Artista, and his small make-shift family of rebels.
A disclaimer: O’McCarthy’s lengthy writing resume includes political blogging for a site I ran. (I was uninvolved with editing this book and read it for the first time after it was published.) So, I am well versed in Michael’s political views, as well as with his work as a writer. "Rebels in Hell" is the best of it.
The pacing of the action is quick and the story concise without losing its color. The book spans five years of a fictional future, set just after the current Bush administration. The settings jumps around from the paradise of the Florida Keys, to the rough beauty and driving conditions of Costa Rica, to the atmosphere of Miami’s Little Havana and finally to the excess of Washington, D.C.
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In "Hell" you’ll meet assassins, insurgents, rockers and even a woman U.S. president. Here, you are no one without an alias – the primary protagonist has multiples by only 18 years of age — or a code name. Think The Assassin. The Agent. The Spider. The Patron. The veiled identities make it difficult to keep track of the story’s many shady operatives. But perhaps that’s the point.
As for the author’s politics – he self-identifies as a "democratic socialist" — those clearly shine through in his portrayal of the Beltway elite. Each member is skewered as morally bereft or sexually perverse. Usually both. And what is their goal? As one bureaucrat puts it: to "make the world safe for globalized capitalism and its appropriate form of democracy." To that end, no individual’s life, nation’s sovereignty or American’s freedom is safe if it gets in the way.
The personal tragedies of the central duo, Coilean and his girlfriend Petra, drive their agenda: to stop those same powers-that-be. By any extreme means necessary. Ultimately that means employing the same strategy of violence they fight against. "We bask in our rebellion," reprises the song of Coilean.
The novel’s political overtones are impossible to miss, though overall the author is surprisingly judicious. Violence pervades the entire book, but delivered in a measured tone and therefore still jarring.
Some readers may complain that the complex plot is tied up a little too easily. Too neatly. But I won’t complain. It’s a satisfying price to pay for an engaging story told in a tidy 133 pages.
This one is a quick read. I consumed it all while waiting for a delayed flight. It occurred to me while reading that Michael O’McCarthy must believe that the world we now enjoy is rapidly headed in the direction of the fictional one he paints – one of dictatorships and Front Line Defenders. His tale is intended as cautionary. Sitting there in the airport, after enduring liquid-free, shoeless security queues and listening to incessant loudspeaker warnings to report suspicious activity, it was easy to wonder if elements of "Rebels in Hell" were just a little believable for comfort.
Kathleen Hayden has covered politics online for 13 years for Time Magazine, CNN and, currently, as an executive producer at AOL News.