Empire of Lies

Two of his books have been turned into films – “True Crime” and “Don’t Say A Word” – and at least two of his screenplays – “A Shock to the System” and “One Missed Call” – have been filmed. Montecito resident Andrew Klavan is the son of famed New York-area morning radio host Gene Klavan, a contributing editor of City Journal, recipient of two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, and pens opinion pieces for Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and other periodicals regularly. Andrew grew up in Long Island and graduated from UC Berkeley. He recently spent two weeks embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, five of those days in the field.

His latest – 11th – novel, the mystery-suspense-action thriller "Empire Of Lies" ("An Otto Penzler Book,” published by Harcourt) features protagonist Jason Harrow as a formerly depraved big-city denizen turned small-town family man and patriot with religious convictions and a checkered past that converge during the unwinding of the novel’s explosive plot. Klavan’s “coming out” as a conservative novelist has earned him the scorn of the left and praise from the right. The nation’s number-one radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, for example, read Klavan’s recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece that compared President Bush to Batman, in its entirety on his radio show.

Author Stephen King calls Klavan “The most original American novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich.” High praise, indeed: “Rear Window” author Woolrich is often credited as the father of noir fiction.

Andrew Klavan moved to Montecito seven years ago with his family (wife, Ellen Klavan, now a psychotherapist MFT in Santa Barbara, daughter Faith, currently a teacher in New York City, and son Spencer, who attends Laguna Blanca School). The following conversation took place recently, in front of Pierre Lafond in the upper village.

Q. How did you find Montecito?

A. I had been living in London for six and a half years; I loved London, but the millennium drew me back to the U.S. We began to look for a house on the East Coast (in Connecticut), and my wife said ‘Let’s go to California.’

During small talk after a series of meetings in Hollywood, I’d tell those I was meeting with that I was thinking of moving out here and would ask them where I should go.

In meeting after meeting, I got the same answer: ‘Go to Santa Barbara.’

So I sent my wife to reconnoiter with the kids. [She liked it] but warned me it would be a culture shock and wasn’t sure if I would like it. So I drove up the coast and when I got outside of town, I called her and asked, ‘What was it I wasn’t going to like?’ I thought I must be missing the dark side. So, we kind of stumbled on it, but it’s been great.

We’re in Montecito because we got here so late [in the summer] that we couldn’t get our son into private school. We’d heard Montecito Union was a great school so we rented [in Montecito] for two years before buying a house.

Did you or Spencer have a favorite teacher at MUS?

[Sixth-grade science teacher] Mrs. (Marilyn) Bachman. She was one of the best teachers I’ve [witnessed], ever, but Spencer had more good teachers at MUS than I had... ever.

You just returned from a two-week trip embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Why did you go?

I’m writing an article for City Journal; I’ve been writing about how Hollywood mistreats its soldiers and decided I needed first-hand experience. Our troops are incredible people and the key thing everyone should understand is that every single one of them enlisted after 9/11.

I’ve just finished reading your latest novel, “Empire Of Lies,” and will say it is an intensely fast-paced page-turner. When I finished, I felt like the Japanese tourists in “Foul Play” who’d accidentally gotten into the back seat of that cab in San Francisco. I didn’t know exactly what I was in for at first, but the ride was exhilarating. What do you believe prompted AP reviewer Bruce Da Silva to slam the book and label you "a right-wing crackpot?"

["Empire Of Lies"] is a thriller about a conservative, Christian, family man who goes back to the scene of his earlier life – and its depredations – and finds himself on the trail of a conspiracy. What makes it so hard for him to tell whether the conspiracy is real or not is that he finds that the news media, the universities, and the entertainment media are so politically correct and so dishonest and so distorted that he can’t get the facts. So, like any thriller, it’s a thriller about a man trying to get through a web of intrigue and deception, but the web of intrigue and deception happens to be our culture, and that’s the 'empire of lies.' I guess it got the AP reviewer a little irritated.

Irritated by what?

If you look at the arts, they are the wholly owned subsidiary of the left. Every industrialist in a book or a movie is a dirty guy; every corporation is evil. America is always the villain. One of the things my character comes to believe is that the wars we are in are religious wars. They’re about the definition of god, not about whether Christianity is better than Islam.

When you look at the fact that Islamo-fascists are killing people on every corner of the globe and then you count how many movies have Islamo-fascist villains – which is maybe one – it’s very weird that the central reality of our times has just been shut out. So, when you violate that, when you say, ‘No, we actually are in this war of cultures, and we’re the good guys,’ then you violate a lot of the unspoken codes of the left.

I thought though, the one place a person could violate that unwritten code would be in written fiction.

It’s funny, because you can do it, but I’ve done it in a very aggressive way. [“Empire Of Lies”] starts out on the first page when it attacks The New York Times for its views. When you do that, you’re going to get some bad reviews.

You could laugh, because the media is so blind to its own bias it’s comical, but the nasty – the really nasty – reviews are the way they enforce their monopoly. It’s one thing to attack a guy like me, but when guys like Bruce Willis make a movie like “Tears Of The Sun,” in which he praises the American military, he gets savaged, absolutely brutalized. Or, when Sally Field makes a movie like “Not Without My Daughter,” which tells the truth about some kinds of Islamism, and gets brutalized, they learn not to stick their heads over the parapet, and they don’t do it again. Vicious reviews and ignoring people are two of he ways they enforce their monopoly.

I don’t remember the reviews of Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses,” but I do recall what happened to him – that the Iranian mullahs put out a million-dollar contract on him – and Rushdie’s Western defense was, shall we say, muted?

When that happened, I was a very young author with my first paperback mystery out in the stores, and I went out to picket (because Barnes & Noble threatened to take the book off the shelves). I spoke to a very famous author who refused to come with me. “Well, he did insult their religion, you know,” was his excuse for not defending Rushdie. I find that appalling. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the developing attitude of the left.

There is this problem around the world. We’ve been assaulted in New York, Madrid, London, riots in Paris, Moscow, Thailand, and yet, when you notice these things, you are being hateful, Islamophobic. “Why would anyone be phobic about Islam?” they ask.

Mark Steyn, National Review columnist and author of “America Alone,” has run into censorship difficulties in Canada by virtue of statements about Islam in his book. Do you have any thoughts on those developments?

I’m a very big fan of Steyn’s. And, you know, it’s not just in Canada. Brigitte Bardot has been fined in France [for taking on Islamo-fascism], Oriana Fallaci was hounded out of Italy, and a wonderful heroine in Irsi Ali (“Infidel”), was chased out of Holland; she was a Muslim herself and knew whereof she spoke. So there is this conspiracy of silence; they insult and sometimes murder us and we walk around them on our tiptoes. It’s in that world that "Empire of Lies" takes place.

Most of the media will probably shut you out, so where do you expect to get support for your book?

Well, you know, that’s interesting. I’m going to be talking with John Miller on National Review Online, and I’m going to be talking to Glenn Beck [Editor’s note: Andrew Klavan appeared on The Glenn Beck Show in mid-July]. The thing is, I’m counting on the fact that this structure that has dominated our discourse for the past fifty years is beginning to fall apart. I remember when people used to say, “The reviews were bad,” when what they meant was The New York Times review was bad. There are still people who think like that, but there are fewer and fewer, thanks to the Internet and talk radio. I’m hoping I can get the word out.

Are the observations and opinions expressed in this book ideas that your other novels have led to, or is it a radical shift in thought for you?

It’s both. During the period after 9/11, I realized I was going through a major shift in point of view, both religiously and politically.

Religiously? How?

I became a Christian. I became baptized. Before that, I was a secular Jew. It’s not something I wanted to do, but it was something I had to do. My closest friend – Douglas Ousley – is an Episcopal priest; he never preached to me or tried to convert me, but he was the guy I turned to when I saw what was happening. I kind of kept my head down (at first), but then I felt I had landed. I felt I knew what I believed and thought that nobody has written this book.

Conservatives tend to complain a lot about evil Hollywood, evil publishing, evil media, but too many don’t do anything about it. Conservatives tend to understand news and things like that, but they don’t gravitate towards the arts as much as liberals do. And, I thought, ‘Well, here I am.’

I’ve never written anything like [“Empire Of Lies”), and if I can say so without sounding immodest, I’ve never read anything like it.

You expected it may get you into trouble.

Yes, and it already has. The thing that conservatives don’t understand is how important the arts are. We don’t understand how they eat away at our culture. We see that George Clooney can’t pass a law, but over the course of twenty or twenty-five years, when the guilty party is always a religious guy or a gun owner or a businessman, I think that eats away at things until things become acceptable. Recently, we missed losing our right to bear arms by one vote [of the U.S. Supreme Court]. One thing I’d like to see is more conservatives stepping up in the arts, even if it gets them bad reviews, and more conservatives responding to the arts over and above the bad reviews.

As a self-described conservative. Do you have any feeling as to what’s going to happen in November?

I think McCain’s going to win in what I’ll call a mini-landslide.

What will be the deciding factor to bring about such an unlikely result?

It’s a bizarre election. What we’re doing is voting yes or no on Obama. I think when people get to know and understand what he believes and who he is, I don’t think he’s going to win. The thing about McCain is that he’s wrong about so much but he’s right about one big thing – defense of our country.

Where does the Republican Party go from here?

It takes two things for a political party to come to its senses. One, it needs a leader who believes in something, who can shape an actual philosophy, and two, it has to lose enough people so that the light bulb goes on. What we believe in is smaller government. If you’re in the government and you make more money and wield more power if there’s more government, it’s difficult to maintain your conviction for smaller government. There is a lot of stuff that militates against conservatism in government. If we had no Constitution, we’d be gone.