Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dan Armstrong: Prarie Fire

Guest Review by Kit Bradley

September 20, 2009

Readers of my contributions to this blog, at least those with very good memories, will have noticed that I went a little crazy at the annual Authors and Artists Fair (benefiting the Eugene Public Library) in December of 2007 and bought eight books written by local authors. I bought Prairie Fire by Dan Armstrong that day, and then gave it away as a Christmas present, intending to borrow it back and read it. This summer I met Dan at another fair and bought a sequel to Prairie Fire, and that prompted me to finally borrow the book back and read it.

Wow! This is a great novel! After the first fourth or so, the action picks up, and it becomes very hard to put the book down. I think the typical novel goes through about three quarters of the book building up background elements for the story, and then builds to an exciting climax in the last quarter. Prairie Fire is the opposite; the story is set in the first quarter, and the excitement builds up and holds for the rest of the book.

Dan Armstrong no doubt has a political agenda in writing this book. In the story we are very concerned about the damage industrial farming is doing to the land, the political efforts to control global oil supplies, the ability of industry to influence government in furthering its agenda, the free-wheeling antics of the CIA, and the list goes on. In Prairie Fire, however, there is an also all-inclusive sense. Republicans and Democrats collaborate, environmentalists and right-wing militia work side-by-side. On the other hand, while the government, the military, the CIA, and big industry have somewhat complimentary agendas, they are not as visibly cooperating.

Prairie Fire is a story about grain and oil, and it has a bunch of sub-plots that develop over the story. Linda Bennett is a political columnist who is investigating government, financial, and industry handling of various oil and grain issues. Ex-Colonel Nathaniel Cromwell is a highly awarded military hero who has returned to a quiet life of farming. Linda is attractive and single; Nate is handsome and single; you just have to assume something will come of that.

Early in the story Forest Mahan, president of the national farmers’ grange, talks Nate into leading a new farmers’ union, which will immediately make some demands to the agriculture industry and the government. They are prepared for a radical strike if need be. And General Vincent Hayes, head of the Montana Militia (with links to all the states), agrees to provide the sort of support his militia can uniquely give.

There are quite a few other players and sub-plots, which keep the story more complex and interesting. James Kenaghy, the President of the United States, is important to the story, but he is so powerless in Washington that we continually wonder about his ability to deliver. Kenaghy was elected to office with a popular liberal mandate, but in three and a half years he has been out-maneuvered and out-voted by the power interests in Washington.

As the story proceeds, there are successes and disasters. The good guys are sometimes smart, sometimes not. The CIA is never far from the surface and is uncannily prescient. Warning: There are some very X-rated scenes.

Prairie Fire is a very timely book, and as I read it, I felt like most of the story could really happen, indeed, parts may be happening right now. Our current president was elected with a popular liberal mandate. Is he succeeding? Or is the Washington power structure fully in control, running the country for the benefit of big industry? (Think about health care reform.) This added to my motivation to keep reading the book. And to check out Dan Armstrong’s website ( to see what else he has to say (a lot).

When is the movie coming out?