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New thriller by Dorgan is absurd fun

FARGO — Insidious world powers threaten to send the United States into the dark ages, and it’s up to an unlikely hero to save the day.

That would be North Dakota county sheriff Nate Osborne, the protagonist of “Gridlock,” a book released July 2 and penned by former North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan and mystery writer David Hagberg.

This is Dorgan and Hagberg’s second book together, following last year’s “Blowout.”

In “Gridlock,” as in “Blowout,” Dorgan draws on his experience from his time in Congress to argue a point: In a time when it’s hard to keep our enemies clear, America’s energy grid is extremely vulnerable to attack.

Dorgan and Hagberg hammer that idea home from the beginning. In an authors’ note, they write that what they’ve written in the novel “is well within the realm of possibility.”

“And if it happens the U.S. will be in serious trouble; more trouble than could be imagined, a thousand, ten thousand times worse than 9/11,” the note says.

From there, Dorgan and Hagberg aren’t afraid to go big. “Gridlock” zips from country to country and racks up quite the body count along the way.

The novel begins along the Iran-Turkmenistan border, and throughout its more than 400 pages darts between various North Dakota locales, the Twin Cities, Amsterdam, Washington, D.C., Caracas and more.

Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and outgoing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad make appearances. There’s also a shadowy Russian assassin, rolling energy blackouts and a near-breakout of war between the U.S. and its enemies.

At the center of it all is the one-legged Osborne, jet-setting around the world, trying to save the country.

To keep the plot chugging along amid all these elements, Dorgan and Hagberg ask readers to make plenty leaps of faith. There are more than a few times you may want to pause and wonder how exactly a character came to a certain conclusion.

If that sounds a little bit absurd, it’s because it is. Dorgan and Hagberg sacrifice elements of plausibility to make their point about the U.S. needing to find a new, more secure, energy policy.

By the end, they manage to get that message across. Unfortunately, it ends up buried beneath the forgettable characters and unnecessary chunks of dialogue that make up the book’s complicated plot.

Yet, “Gridlock” is still readable, and actually manages to be a fair bit of fun. The prose is simple in a way that manages to propel the plot while still ratcheting up the tension.

After 400 pages of buildup, the book’s conclusion comes across as unsatisfying, but at least readers should be invested in what happens up to that point.

So if you’re looking for an easy thriller this summer that’s mixed with a few dashes of familiar North Dakota names and places, you could probably do worse than “Gridlock.”

Sam Benshoof | Forum News Service

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