Rankin: Enemy of the State, by John Osier, Memphis: St. Luke's Press, 154 pages, $12.95.
Tom Rankin crouched silently in the brush along the river—again. The security police (Sepos) flashed their searchlight along the riverbank. Rankin shrank deeper into the shrubbery—again. How many times had this scene replayed during the past few months? Rankin couldn't remember. His existence had been a wearying, incessant flight from every living soul in the United States.
Rankin, a loner, a man with a limp, an inconsequential night watchman in Memphis, Tennessee, had become an "enemy of the state." So designated, he was legitimate prey of any man, woman, or child seeking the rich bounty offered by the state to his killer. His own crime? Rankin had failed to kill another outlaw—a wretched, feverish schoolteacher who chanced (Damn it, thought Rankin) to show up on the dock that Rankin guarded to earn a living. A hawk-eyed old lady, eager for some bounty money to ease her out of her poverty, spotted Rankin's lapse—his moment of pity for the poor teacher—and reported him to Sepos.
Rankin: An Enemy of the State, by John Osier, is a gripping thriller. The United States, under the iron heel of a military junta, has only recently emerged from a devastating but inconclusive war. Under pretense that renewed fighting is imminent, the junta becomes Big Brother—watchful of all and in control of everything. Food is rigorously rationed. For the government, the rationing frees up food to sell abroad in exchange for more weapons. Conveniently, it also keeps a hungry population dependent, subservient, and fearful. From this hungry population and the all-powerful Sepos, Rankin flees. Author Osier masterfully absorbs the reader in this flight. As a chase novel, Enemy of the State is first-rate.
But it's more than that. Here and there, hard-working, long-suffering individuals extend a hand to help Rankin, risking their own lives in the process. Their integrity and their resilience make this novel, in the end, an optimistic one, one in which individuals can and do escape the mass psychology of fascism. Rankin himself, once robotic and unquestioning, begins to understand why the poor schoolteacher risked his life to write from memory the Bill of Rights and post it prominently around town. And Rankin's suspicions of the pack of zealous revolutionaries willing to spill the blood of innocent youths to achieve their aims tease the reader into political reflection.
One more thing. Clint Eastwood fans will love to picture him starring in this one.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Brief Review".