Glenn Beck's The Overton Window has all the elements of a great political thriller. An underground movement that's the opposite of what it seems. A vast media/government/business complex where conspiracy theories themselves are the tools that let the people with power get more. A shocking twist where the ultimate conspirator turns out to be the hero's own father. Like I said, all the elements of a great political thriller. And that thriller is Richard Condon's Winter Kills.
The Overton Window also contains the elements of a pretty funny black comedy disguised as a thriller. Potshots at marketing and the mass media, loose nukes, false choices and a terrorist plot that turns out to be a charade to help insiders fix an election. And that pretty funny black comedy would be Charles McCarry's The Better Angels.
But mostly The Overton Window resembles a pretty feeble self-published 2005 techno-thriller called Circumference of Darkness.
Except for one thing: In Circumference of Darkness, the villains planning the next 9/11 are an ultra-right militia movement. In Overton Window, the right wing nuts are the heroes.
Here's what happens in Circumference of Darkness. Our hero -- "an overweight, pasty, plain, and unassuming non-presence" -- figures out that 9/11 was an inside job carried out by an unsuccessful 1976 presidential candidate and a bunch of backwoods racist loons. A flabby arrogant shut-in, our author surrogate romances an impossibly beautiful blonde 22-year-old virgin he meets online, by beating her at chess. She turns out to be working for the government, and not, oddly "To Catch a Predator." Naturally, she can't stop thinking about him, so she takes off her "gray cotton shorts and her junior high Bon Jovi tank top," gets in the shower and gently paws at herself while "the soap and warm water washed the long night from her body." Meanwhile, Tubby gets drugged and kidnapped by the right wing nuts, who reveal they've got loose nukes and a plan to:
"Incite the Jew-puppets in Washington to panic and revoke the Constitution, cripple the economy and ignite a separatist-populist political uprising based on individual rights, and give the country back to its people."
They try to turn Tubby with torture, but he escapes the pain by going deep inside his own incomparable mind with a photographic memory "as deep and wide as the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian combined."
Pretty soon the 22-year-old blonde virgin rescues him and they stop the nuts -- pretending to be Arab terrorists -- from setting off their nukes. To be continued.
Here's what happens in The Overton Window. Our hero -- "reasonably fit and trim for an office jockey" meets and romances an impossibly beautiful woman while he's getting his daily Tootsie Rolls out of a vending machine. She's all over him, but it turns out she's working for a patriot militia lead by an unsuccessful 1976 presidential candidate. Before she and our author surrogate, an arrogant bore, an get it on, he's drugged and kidnapped by a public relations firm full of rich, powerful, Saul Alinsky-reading elitists who work for the government. They reveal that they've got loose nukes and a plan to frame the patriot movement, repeal the Constitution, and create:
One world, one government -- not of the people this time, but of the right people: the competent, the wise, and the strong.
Oh, and 9/11 was a deliberate distraction, created by the elitists, to get the public's mind off Donald Rumsfeld.
They try to turn Tootsie Roll with torture, but he escapes the pain by going deep inside his own incomparable mind and remembering one of Rudyard Kipling's worst poems.
The loose nuke goes off but doesn't do much damage so nobody really blames the Tea Baggers. The beautiful girl escapes. Our hero pretends he's gone over to the evil public relations firm but really he hasn't. To be continued.
(One sort of touching difference between Circumference and Overton? Only the one with Glenn Beck's name on the cover includes a chapter than begins with the single word sentence "Bacon.")
So why -- except for the completely inverted politics -- does The Overton Window read so much like Circumference of Darkness? Because they were written by the same guy, a 52-year-old computer programmer named Jack Henderson.
He gets sole credit on Circumference. (And why shouldn't he? He published it himself.) On Overton, he gets thanked by Beck for "pouring his heart and soul into this project."
And, apparently, his leftover plot.
Every Friday, HuffPost's Culture Shift newsletter helps you figure out which books you should read, art you should check out, movies you should watch and music should listen to. Learn more