This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and our initial news coverage.
Laissez Faire Books is serializing a novel by John Hunt, a libertarian and student of Austrian Economics. Titled Higher Cause, it promises to be an epic adventure story. The first installment (of 22) consists of a prologue and the first two chapters. The remaining installments will be published every Wednesday, followed by my reviews every Friday.
I am generally in favor of eschewing prologues, and though the present one was not uninteresting, at this point I feel it was unnecessary. It seemed to set up a mystery, but then the mystery was solved at the end of the first chapter. Also, all the major points of the prologue were covered in chapter one, in brief. I would say it was better to just get to the first chapter.
However, the author does a good job of enticing us with vague but interesting possibilities. In chapter one we meet Petur, who comes to a rich investor with a proposal in a manner reminiscent of Atlas Shrugged. The details are withheld from the reader, but some great error that threatens humanity has been discovered, and Petur is attempting to set things right, before it is too late, with a market-oriented plan of attack.
In the second chapter we meet Jeff, an undercover agent trying to throw a monkey wrench in the gears of a Mexican drug lord’s machine. He runs into a little trouble and a small twist at the end.
The opening did most of what I want a story’s beginning to do: it laid out the beginnings of a plot and got me intrigued. I might have wished for a stronger sense of character or personality from the two protagonists, but all in all it seems like a decent beginning.
There were a few times when something pulled me out of the story. These culprits ranged from a strange and unnecessary metaphor, to a sudden switch to present tense for one paragraph describing the city of Tijuana to this odd bit, given to us after an extensive physical description of Jeff has already been read: “Jeff, tall and handsome, opened his eyes to see the smaller and plainer man in front of him beaming gleefully.”
I also think the momentum could be better preserved by avoiding jumps back in time. Both the prologue and the first chapter introduce us to a character in a setting, only to jump back in time to tell something else. Both of these instances were avoidable, I believe.
In chapter two we do less jumping back but there is a lot of tell when a bit of show would have been more compelling. Jeff’s character and history are extensively described, soon after we are introduced to the setting and therefore delaying the action. I do not think it necessary to tell us that much about him before the story gets started. It might have been better to give us just a small bit of his character, but shown through his interactions in the scene, not told in exposition.
I do like the way the author describes a scene. Atmosphere is important to a story, in my opinion, and descriptive writing can really bring a piece alive. Hunt focuses on details here and there to bring the smell, look, sound, and feel of a place to the mind’s eye.
All in all, a pretty decent start, and there is no mistaking the libertarian bent. Let us see where it goes from here…