Here at Houstonia, most of our days are taken up by the pursuit of graceful sentences and a faux-literary feel, but we do have an idle hour here and there during which we like to devote ourselves to related causes. Celebrating the Great Houston Novel, for instance, which, conveniently, only requires an idle hour here and there, there being no great Houston novels.
But that is only a matter of time, we are told, as our metropolis is becoming a hotbed of literary activity. Tom Abrahams, for one, is writing novels.
“Houston is such a diverse, large, underappreciated city, I wanted to set a large portion of the book here,” he says over drinks at the Algonquin Round Table, by which we mean Dr Pepper at the West Alabama Ice House. The book to which Abrahams refers is Allegiance, his political thriller just published by Post Hill Press. “I also love West Texas. And you can’t do Texas politics without Austin,” he tells us. “But the part with Houston, I wanted you to feel like you were in Houston.”
Having previously read Allegiance—no, devoured the page-turner—we congratulated Abrahams on having achieved his goal. And while making a reader feel like she is in Houston while she is in fact reading his book in Houston may not seem like much of an accomplishment, Abrahams—like all good authors—has managed to make the familiar seem new. (When we think of the George R. Brown Convention Center, we don’t usually imagine snipers on the roof. That sort of thing.)
The novel tells the story of Jackson Quick, a man who works for an unnamed but Rick Perry–like Texas governor who gets caught up in a conspiracy involving multinational oil companies, the governor’s race, the secession of Texas, and—but of course—nanotechnology. Throughout, shadowy figures attempt to kill the Dr Pepper–loving Jackson (although not for that reason). And so, clad in a blood-stained Kinky Friedman T-shirt, he races from one assassination attempt to another, all the while trying to figure out who’s trying to murder him and why. It happens that the list of suspects includes his own girlfriend, who also works for the governor. But she is also smoking hot, a red flag in this genre if ever there was one.
Jackson is chased through the streets of downtown, the Hyatt, the tunnel system, the Bank of America restrooms, and the Southwest Freeway, where hunter and hunted get stuck in traffic (realism!) and a battle of wits ensues as each tries to maneuver through it (also realism!).
Of course, a Great Houston Novel can’t be great unless non-Houstonians read it, and so Abrahams occasionally elaborates for their benefit. Example: “Greenspoint, which is framed to the west by I-45 and to the south by the north beltway, was not a great part of town. The mall is known by police and reporters as ‘Gunspoint’ after a sheriff’s deputy was kidnapped from the mall parking lot and later killed. That happened in 1991 and the mall was never the same.”
But any members of the Houstonia literati expecting the author to trip up on local details should know that Abrahams is a reporter for Channel 13. Thanks to his journalistic chops, Allegiance has a marked penchant for accuracy. (“The stores in the mall at Greenspoint, they’re real stores. …The bus schedule from Austin to Houston—that’s realistic.”)
We thought we had him on the book’s opening scene, in which the snipers escape the convention center roof by car before jumping onto Hwy. 59. Really, Tom? Yes, really, he says. There are elevated loading docks in back that connect to Avenida de las Americas and Chenevert, both of which access the freeway. Why didn’t we know that?