Alas, Babylon (1959) by Pat Frank. If you are of a certain age, you may have been required to read this title in high school or college. I did not read it as a nuclear war was about the last thing I had on my mind as a teenager. Just as well. I would not have appreciated the book as much at that point in time.
When I recently learned the novel was set in Florida, the book caught my interest. The used copy arrived from abebooks.com just as I was ready for a new title to keep me busy. Turned out my $4 had not been wasted. It was almost like the story was ripped from today’s headlines. Get comfortable and start reading.
Welcome to 1959 central Florida and the small town of Ft. Repose (you may know it as Mt. Dora) where Florence Wecheck, manager of the local Western Union office, is listening to Tampa’s Channel 8 morning news reports. The Russians have sent up another Sputnik. Also, something sinister is going on in the Middle East. Israel is being threatened. Remember, this is 1959, not 2021!
Randy Bragg, youngest son of a local prominent family, receives a call from Western Union telling him there is a telegram from his brother Mark. Florence reads the message to Randy: “Urgent…you meet me at Base Ops McCoy noon today. Helen and Children flying to Orlando tonight. Alas, Babylon.”
Alas, Babylon was the Bragg Family private signal. Mark, in SAC Intelligence, was more than aware of what was brewing around the world. Mark had quietly warned Randy of what could happen when he last visited the family. Alas, Babylon set Randy into motion.
He tells his housekeeper, Missouri, to ready the house for guests. He begins to make lists of what is going to be needed. As he works on that list, he realizes they would need to stockpile everything, not just food and staples. That, readers, covers the highlights of Chapter 1.
Several other characters become part of this survivalist novel. Some become very creative and unlikely heroes who will be needed while others become hoarders, thieves, killers. Not one person or place could be considered safe. But there was still hope.
Personally, I found it difficult to put the book down until the final page. So many places here in Florida were mentioned that will surely be familiar to you. As usual, be sure to read the Forward and Preface before starting this novel, as well as the information that follows the end.
Little did I know when I picked up David Baldacci’s Long Road to Mercy (2018) that a connection could be made to Alas, Babylon. This first in a new series introduces Atlee Pine, FBI Agent.
This fast-moving read opens with Atlee making a non-sanctioned FBI visit to a high security prison. There she meets up with the evil dirtbag who kidnapped her twin sister when the girls were just six-years-old.
After that disturbing stop at the prison, Atlee heads to the tiny town of Shattered Rock in Arizona where she is assigned as an FBI Special Agent. You will learn quickly that Atlee prefers to work alone so the small one agent office is to her liking. Her assignment there includes protecting the Grand Canyon. Again, she prefers field work to sitting behind a desk. It is perfect for Atlee.
Always at the ready with her weapons, a Glock 23 as a sidearm and her Beretta Nano in the ankle holster, Atlee is always prepared to move. 60-year-old secretary, Carol Blum, who has worked with the FBI for decades, is her one support person in the office.
Atlee is called to the Grand Canyon to find out and why one the trail mules was found gutted with two letters carved in it’s hide. Ben Priest, who was assigned that mule, has disappeared without a trace. His emergency contact information leads to pretty much a dead end except for a brother who lives in Maryland and a job of some kind with an unnamed government contractor.
It does not take too long before Atlee realizes that her secretary is much, much more than a picture-perfect professional with a likeness in dress and attitude to the era of Mr. Hoover. Mrs. Blum may dress and act the role, but it does not take long until Atlee realizes Mrs. Blum is a real gem.
As the investigation into the slaughtered mule and the missing guest grows, the two ladies realize a road trip to D.C.is in order to get some much-needed answers. During that trip (think Thelma and Louise), one roadblock after another gets in their way. These two women turn out to quite a dynamic duo.
Of course, several other characters add to the action-packed fast read. Sam Kettler is a park ranger, managed the mules, and was formerly with the Army Special Forces. Then there is Sun Nam Chung, a North Korean who seems to pop up everywhere. These two both help make this a page turner. The Russians are in the mix and creating issues with their nuclear weapons. And just who is the missing man? Is there an undercover government plot? It all seems rather outlandish with conspirators in every federal agency involved.
It all works! Atlee is one strong female character with a back story that teased me into getting the next book in the series, A Minute to Midnight.