The Congressional elections are finally over and political junkies will have to wait several more months before the 2015 gubernatorial campaigns kick into high gear. With four candidates already announced and millions of out-of-state dollars looming to stoke the flames, there are sure to be plenty of fireworks to grate on our collective psyches by the time a successor to Gov. Bobby Jindal is chosen.
But for those who can’t wait that long, New Orleans author Steven Wells Hicks may have the appetizer as a prelude to the entrée of hard-nosed, in the gutter, take no prisoners Louisiana politics to which we have become accustomed.
Destiny’s Anvil (Pan American Copyright Conventions, 283 pages) is a rich mix of ambition, corruption, old money, oil and payback that keeps the action moving right through the final page.
The book’s title is drawn from a quote by German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “You must either conquer and rule or suffer and lose, be the anvil or the hammer.”
The story revolves around brothers Tucker and Carter Callahan and their boyhood friend Will Guidry, the sitting Louisiana attorney general who has the single-minded obsession of reaching one objective: the office of the governor of Louisiana. Guidry doesn’t let lifelong friendships stand in the way of his stated goal and everyone around him pays a hefty price for his political drive.
Carter is the protagonist through whom the story is told with skill and directness that lays bare the back room machinations of Bayou State politics.
Tucker is a political strategist who gets Will elected first as district attorney of Charbonnaux Parish and later as attorney general. Carter, meanwhile, stays home in New Acadia and takes over the family’s thriving oil exploration business.
And what story about genteel southern living would be complete without the obligatory love triangle? This one manifests itself in the person of Katherine Ormande (Kayo) Laborde who early on was in love with Carter but by the time we meet her, she is married to brother Tuck. But it is her deep-seeded and understandable hatred of Guidry that fuels this story.
All four are reared in Charbonnaux Parish and the political and legal conflicts that arise between Will and the brothers provides a sordid—and believable—backdrop into the free-for-all that has come to symbolize Louisiana politics right down to the inclusion of pigs in TV political ads (The pigs, by the way, will evoke memories among the older set of Earl Long once claiming that opponent Sam Jones fell into a mud puddle occupied by pigs. A passerby observed that one’s character could be judged by the company he keeps. “The pigs got up and left,” was Long’s zinger to the story.)
Hicks confuses the story somewhat by mixing real places like Shreveport and Baton Rouge with fictional localities such as Charbonnaux Parish and New Acadia but if you can get by that small inconsistency (and it’s easy to do), the book is an enjoyable read for those familiar with the uniqueness of Louisiana politics which at times passes for a contact sport which other states seem to be trying to imitate but are unable to quite duplicate.
As the story unfolds, events begin to spin out of control and the twists in the plot will transport the characters to the surprise ending in rapid fire fashion while leaving the reader wanting more.
There is one slight inaccuracy that can be attributed to a simple memory lapse or even a typo and is certainly forgivable.
On page 59, the political kingmakers of Louisiana are discussing the attributes of a candidate to whom they will lend their not insignificant support. Discussing the merits of a fictional senator from Louisiana, he is compared other powerful U.S. senators. “He was indeed a senator’s senator,” said J.X., “and a Southern gentleman to boot. Like John Stennis, Lyndon Johnson, and even our own Earl Long.”
Earl Long was never a U.S. Senator; he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1960 but died 10 days after the election and never took office. Hicks, of course, may have intended his reference to Earl’s brother, Huey Long, who did serve in the U.S. Senate until his assassination in Baton Rouge or more likely to Huey’s son Russell who served 39 years in the Senate. “I don’t know how I managed to make a mistake like that,” Hicks said when contacted about the error. “I certainly knew better.”
But he more than made up for that gaffe with a most profound sentence that should (but sadly, does not) sum up what should be the required mantra of all who hold political office:
“The responsibility for building and maintaining our way of open and honest government belongs in the hands of those who elected our leaders and not the leaders themselves.”
That one sentence speaks volumes about how our political structure should function but sadly, does not and the ethical code to which it should strive.
And it, in and of itself, makes the book well worth the read.