Sen. Bob Graham labels his cover-up thriller 'fact augmented by fiction'
By Marilyn Bowden
In "Keys to the Kingdom," Sen. Bob Graham, two-term governor of Florida and a US senator for 18 years, serves up a chilling thriller about deceit and cover-ups at the highest levels of government following 9-11.
It's made all the more unsettling by his admission in a postscript that the book, his first work of fiction, is "the result of my passion to tell a story — fact augmented by fiction — of betrayal and courage.
"I have chosen to do so as a novel in order to answer questions for which there are real answers, but answers which to date have been withheld. This work represents the next best thing: informed speculation."
The senator is the first speaker of the Brickell Avenue Literary Society's 2011-'12 season. He'll talk about his new book at a members-only meeting scheduled for noon Sept. 21 at Northern Trust Bank, 700 Brickell Ave.
The novel's protagonist, Tony Ramos, an analyst in the State Department's Office of Intelligence and Research, plans to travel to Miami at the behest of his mentor, the recently retired Sen. John Billington. But before he can clear his calendar, Billington is mowed down by a hit-and-run driver.
Like his creator, Billington served as governor of Florida before moving to the Senate. The fictitious Billington family, like the Grahams of the real world, developed the city of Miami Lakes, and the senator's first four daughters share the names of the author's children, to whom the book is dedicated. Sen. Graham has essentially recast himself as a murder victim in this alternate reality.
Ramos's search for the killers ensnares him in an international web of deception. A former Special Forces operative of Afro-Cuban descent raised in Hialeah, he's a tough idealist whose mission as an intelligence analyst post 9-11, as he sees it, is "to understand the nature, objectives and capabilities of our enemy. And I also want to understand why we have exaggerated its threat."
The author adroitly uses Ramos's background, political ideology and ambition to comment on contemporary social attitudes, from the classism implicit in the jokes and put-downs of a blue-blooded colleague to the unexpressed but obvious racial prejudice of a white girlfriend's parents.
Joining Ramos in his investigative efforts is a fifth Billington daughter, a celebrity photographer who, fortunately for the Graham family, appears to have no real-life counterpart. Her access to mover and shakers around the world is invaluable — but her duplicity and self-absorption make her mad, bad and dangerous to know.
"It got so complicated so quickly," Ramos muses. "Have you ever had the feeling that you were watching a movie and at the same time were one of the actors? That's how it's been for me."
The Brickell Avenue Literary Society is sponsored by Northern Trust Bank and Miami Today. For information, call (305) 789-1536.
"Keys to the Kingdom," by Sen. Bob Graham, 320 pages, is $25.99 hardbound from Vanguard Press. Details: www.vanguardpressbooks.com.
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