If you want to know what “Price on their Heads” is about, check out this Associated Press article published on October 18, 2014:
“Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen sounded an alarm Friday about widening economic inequality in the United States, suggesting that America’s longstanding identity as a land of opportunity was at stake.
“The growing gap between the rich and everyone else narrowed slightly during the Great Recession but has since accelerated…robust stock market returns during the recovery helped the wealthy outpace middle-class America in wages, employment and home prices.
“Income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years.”
There you have it. The gap in wealth between the “one-percenters” and the vast teeming masses of “everyone else” is as big as it’s ever been and getting bigger at an accelerating clip. In “Price on their Heads,” author Jeff Posey uses this undeniable fact of modern economic reality to craft a taut, well-written thriller that seems ripped from today’s headlines.
After years of research, Texas A&M economics professor Dr. A. Jackson “Jackie” Key puts the final touches on his scholarly paper that calculates the positive “ripple effect” benefits that would result if the financial holdings of the wealthiest Americans were to be redistributed throughout the economy. He advocates doing so by means of a Constitutional amendment. But his research leaks out before the paper is published, and people on his most-wealthy list start to turn up dead. Soon Jackie and his companion, a journalist with her own agenda, are on the run and trying to stay alive, fleeing from shadowy forces—the U.S. Government, private security firms, foreign interests?—that will do anything to suppress his research.
When Mr. Posey sent me a copy of “Price on their Heads” in return for an honest review, I was interested immediately. With my very broad reading tastes, its subject appealed to my penchant for complex, multi-dimensional yarns about ordinary people caught up in situations out of their control. Think the bookish, low-level CIA analyst on the run in “Six Days of the Condor,” for example. “Price on their Heads” is a manic, fast-paced roller-coaster ride of thrills, ranging from the halls of academe, across America, into Mexico and in a hidden Colorado mountain cabin. With a skillful and conversational style, Mr. Posey segues effortlessly from esoteric discussions of economic policy to action-packed shoot-’em-ups, and everything in between. His characters are well drawn and distinguishable, he conveys a great sense of place in the locations he describes, and he throws in enough plot twists and turns to satisfy the ardent conspiracy theorist. I don’t often say that I couldn’t put a book down, but in this case that’s almost literally true. As for his politics—well, I’ll just say that I found myself nodding in agreement with his treatments of characters on both the left- and right-wing fringes. ’Nuf said.
If you’re looking for a topical thriller about economic conditions that affect all of us, and what those conditions could lead to if they continue, you can’t do better than to read “Price on their Heads.”
Author Posey writes with authority but his prose is nevertheless rich in description as he grapples with his protagonists Jackie and Jimmy Key. The boys grew up not exactly on the other side of the tracks, but close. Jackie and Jimmy are the sons of servants working for an ultra-rich man, one Mr. Willoughby.. Mr. Willoughby, one of the several Midases in the book, was heard to label his working class employees as “subhuman.” Jackie's Marine brother Jimmy stabs Mr. Willoughby with a knife belonging to the kitchen. He wipes the bloody knife with a dish towel and pushes the towel under the closed door of the kitchen. When confronted by police after the body of Mr. Willoughby is discovered, Jackie accurately and conveniently recognizes the murder knife left at the murder scene as belonging to the kitchen.
The poor cook consequently takes the rap for Jimmy and is packed off to an insane asylum. Jackie spends the next twenty-five years seeking justification for the murder, an atonement, a way of washing the blood off his hands, and yet he does believe Willoughby deserved to die because he had formerly raped his mother, killing her unborn baby girl. Mr. Willoughby deserved to die for calling his (Jackie's) family sub-human. He deserved to die because he was the 127th richest man in America.
Jackie becomes in time a professor of Economics at Texas A&M, his academic expenses having been paid for by a scholarship provided for in the will of the hated Mr. Willoughby, who had remarked to Jackie “ you are the only one,” meaning that the boy is the only member of his working class staff who is not sub-human.
The premise of “Price on their Heads” is that the ultra rich, including huge corporations, must be neutralized (perhaps castrated is a better word) before they destroy the middle class. The playing field on which the workers of the world struggle is not level between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots, but of course we know that, it's always been that way and it probably always will unless the likes of Doctor Jackie Key can reverse the trend. But in studying the economic ripple effect of Willoughby's assets and advocating the breakup of hoards of wealth, and of the rich men he names specifically, Jackie incurs the wrath of the University bigwigs and he is dismissed from his faculty position and goes underground along with his newly acquired reporter girlfriend. Maura. He is also on the FBI's Top 10 most wanted list as the law thinks Jackie advocates the assassination of the Top Five richest men in America.
A college professor on the run is certainly an original concept and some of the the most intriguing parts of the book describe Jackie's and Maura's attempts at various disguises, wigs, hayseed clothing, an old decrepit Volkswagon. They have to learn street smarts to evade the law. The novel has a very left-wing bias advocating the trust buster techniques of F.D.R. The story is therefore not politically correct but even if you do not snuggle up to author Posey's political stances, there is a lot to learn from the narrative, it is practically economics 101. But Posey rubs your nose in it if you're right-wing. Jackie's ex-wife, Kathy, is a “mindless right wing apologist” and skinny, with little breasts until she becomes bulimic and three times her earlier size. Arch-conservative Kathy simply can't win. Girlfriend Maura is Liberal, with a nice big bosom and all the right curves. The story nevertheless will keep you turning the pages even if you love Ronald Reagan.
Jimmy, Jackie's brother, now a professional assassin, enters the story when of all things he kidnaps Jackie and Maura. Jimmy has become the mastermind of a team of killers targeting Jackie's Top Five who are “too rich to exist.” The big difference between the philosophies of Jackie and Jimmy is that Jackie wants a peaceful distribution of the Big Five's money, Jimmy wants to bump them off. This strange menage a trois runs from city to city at a pace that will leave you breathless, every hideout a dramatic scene of excitement and mayhem. In Colorado Maura, sitting on a rock, is spotted by a mountain who creeps up on her. And then there are Jimmy's hangers on, a weird group of misfits all bent on murder, the way they get their jollies.
While on the lam Jackie wins the Nobel Prize in Economics. Meanwhile a presidential election is near. A Libertarian candidate could win because he advocates a proposed constitutional amendment limiting wealth and reining in the influence of political puppets. With the Nobel, Jackie falls off the most wanted list but how is he going to escape the clutches of his brother Jimmy? Will he live to accept his Nobel?
An action packed political thriller that could be more real than fiction, especially when one is aware of current events. The characters and events come across as believable and the theme is eerily frightening. The storyline surrounds two brothers, Jackie and Jimmy Key. Jackie Key, an economics professor at Texas A&M, writes a paper on the affects of what would happen if there was a redistribution of wealth in the United States. This serves as the catalyst for a series of events where people are turning up dead and seemly, evil forces are at play to cover up Jackie's research by any means necessary. The intensity and intrigue of this book reminds me of the book, "Absolute Power" written by David Baldacci which later became a movie starting Clint Eastwood, that came out in 1997.
Overall, a well written book with a fast paced plot, excellent story with well developed characters with depth and multi-layered to appeal to all readers of this genre. Well executed on all fronts. Well done and one novel that is as insightful as it is entertaining.
This novel is like medicine wrapped in delicious cake. The two main protagonists are a byronic hero and a straight up anti-hero, crazy irresistible at several points in the book, while simultaneously troubling to outright disturbing. The backbone of the book is a contention about the consequences of unprecedented wealth inequality in the United States and what, if anything, should be done about it. Macroeconomic theory can be mind-boggling, and I am not sure there is any subject that better lends itself to confirmation bias (translation: it is more art than science, and even very very smart people seem to let their personal frameworks drive their conclusions about how resources should be distributed for the highest "good.")
But the story in which that dry, elusive subject matter is presented is a well-written, thrill-a-minute pot-boiling page turner. I began Price on Their Heads, fully prepared to hate the book. I thought this is going to be preachy or un-fun for one side or the other of the economic divide or poorly written or boring, and it was none of those things.
Rather, it was fun and uncomfortable at the same time - it plays on the emotional aspects of the class war, and, personally, as a member of the torches and pitchforks side of that dispute, I felt very conflicted about some parts of the plot. The cake is delicious, and the medicine? Well, I guess it depends on what ails you. Might be a little bitter for some, just what the doctor ordered for others.
*I was provided with an electronic copy of this book so that I could read and review it.
Jeff Posey’s novel can be truly described as a thriller. Action-packed is another accurate descriptor, for the characters make dizzying rushes from city to city and hideout to hideout, with violence and passion in nearly every chapter. Fast paced barely begins to describe it. But buried amidst the conflict, romance, and sex is some thoughtful discussion of a topic more often read in Paul Krugman’s column or in Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital In The Twenty-first Century: income inequality and the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the mega-rich.
The main characters are two brothers, Jimmy and Jackie, who in their youth suffered great family tragedy and in response took equally drastic action. Years later, as adults, Jackie is now an economic s professor while Jimmy makes his way as a soldier of fortune and contract killer. The time is the present. The US is becoming an increasingly unequal nation controlled by plutocrats who manipulate public policy through their elected puppets. A Presidential election is underway, and for the first time in many years it appears that a third party candidate may win, thanks to his support of a proposed constitutional amendment limiting wealth and putting curbs on its political influence. Naturally the mega-rich who are targeted by the amendment are doing everything in their power to block its progress. Jackie and Jimmy are swept into the middle of the whirlwind of intrigue, along with a beautiful reporter and a number of men and women who may, or may not be, working for the plutocracy. That’s a barebones description of a complex and exciting plot which features many Machiavellian twists and turns leading to a somewhat equivocal conclusion.
Price On Their Heads confronts its readers with some uncomfortable truths about the state of the American and world economy and does so in an exciting, perpetually page-turning way.