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Jack Zaleski, Published March 24 2012

Zaleski: Dorgan’s ‘Blowout’ is a mind-blower

I’m well into Byron Dorgan’s novel, “Blowout,” and it’s so good I’d rather be reading it than writing about it.

The former U.S. senator from North Dakota co-wrote the eco-thriller with David Hagberg, an Air Force veteran and author of several best-selling suspense novels. His expertise regarding weapons, military culture and some of the technical information in “Blowout” works well with the North Dakota flavor of the story that Dorgan brings to the book. Together the co-authors have written a compelling and plausible tale.

Without giving away the plot, the novel opens in western North Dakota’s Badlands. Several of the characters spring straight from Dorgan’s knowledge of the people of his state. He’s a Regent native, so his feel for the west rings true in the book. We all know someone like the North Dakota players in the book.

The stage for accelerating thrills, suspense and violence is set early. The authors weave everything from climate change and an unfolding energy crisis to political corruption and corporate criminality into a rollicking saga that (thus far in my reading) shows no sign of slowing. Early along the way, the contest between good and evil pits the good guys against a gaggle of mercenaries (former U.S. military) who are little more than crazy anarchists and social misfits. As the story unfolds and plunges into a rabbit warren of intrigue, the entire tale is told in the context of on-the-edge, but tenable science.

A bonus for North Dakota readers: The book is set mostly in the Badlands south of Medora, where a top-secret energy experiment, the Dakota District Initiative, holds the promise to end the nation’s dependency on oil and solve the CO2/climate change problem. That prospect alone generates enemies – political and corporate – who will stop at nothing to destroy the Badlands project.

Better yet, it looks like a hero and heroine are emerging, both of whom will resonate with North Dakotans.

If you like scientific and military thrillers, “Blowout” is your kind of read. Think Clive Cussler’s “Arctic Drift” or Steve Berry’s “The Emperor’s Tomb.” Dorgan and Hagberg measure up to, even surpass the best of the genre with “Blowout.” It’s an impressive first novel for Dorgan, whose previous books have been nonfiction works about jobs, trade and the U.S. economy.

The senator is in Fargo on Monday at Barnes & Noble Bookseller to talk about “Blowout” and sign copies. Things get started at 7 p.m.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.