Constant Fear – One Novel’s Mixed Messages About Prepping

I read Constant Fear, an adventure novel by Daniel Palmer, published in 2015. A member of a writers’ group I belong to thought I might enjoy the story because a main character is a prepper.

I debated about whether to share these thoughts with you, but I decided what follows might be of some interest. While it’s noteworthy that prepping takes a prominent place in this novel not specifically intended for preppers, Palmer sends a mixed message about prepping. It seems to me he wants to capitalize on a trend. But is he reflecting society’s ambivalence about it?

Jake Dent is a single father raising a 16-year-old son, Andy. In earlier years Jake had been a professional baseball player, but a drunk driving accident put and end to that. Andy was diagnosed with diabetes as a toddler. That was too much for Jake’s wife, Laura, and she left.

After a period of depression, Jake turned to prepping, where he found empowerment. He became hard core–what I’d call a survivalist. It was common for him to do bug out drills with Andy at 3 AM.

Jake secretly built a well equipped bug out location in tunnels underneath the prestigious school Andy attended. He could do that because he was a custodian there, and his brother ran the academy.

Andy headed up a small club comprised of five other students who became hackers. They stole petty amounts of bitcoin from wealthy parents and gave the money to those they thought needed it more.

One of the kids got cocky and stole two hundred million dollars worth of bitcoin. Then someone stole part of those funds, leaving them with no way to retrieve it due to issues with encryption, keys and such.

Unbeknownst to the kids, that large sum belonged to a man with ties to a Mexican drug cartel. This got the attention of a band of blood thirsty thugs who stage a chemical spill which led to the evacuation of the prep school and the kidnapping of Andy and his hacker friends.

Spoiler alert. Jake puts his militaristic survival training into action and rescues the kids. But his bug out location goes up in flames.

What about that mixed message on prepping?

Earlier in the story Jake becomes romantically involved with policewoman Ellie Barnes. He’s too ashamed to tell her he’s a survivalist. She doesn’t find out until the FBI searches his trailer during the height of the hostage situation. It may not surprise you to know they think he’s a crazy terrorist who’s as much a danger to the kids as the Mexican mobsters.

Though disappointed upon the discovery of Jake’s hidden preoccupation, Ellie sticks by him, and things work out for them in the end.

At another early point in the story, Jake and Andy go to a prepper expo and sit in on a seminar on the topic of the threat from an EMP. Andy stands up and challenges the presenters claims and tells his dad he’s through with all this survivalist stuff.

Andy asks his dad to think about dismantling his fortified hideout spot. Jake doesn’t do it. But as noted above, subsequent events take care of that for him.

If you like fast action thrillers with intrigue and romance thrown in–and where the good guys win–Constant Fear may appeal to you. To me, too much was far fetched. It stretched the limits of my suspension of disbelief.

And then there’s that ambivalent attitude toward preparedness. Yes, Jake came out as the hero. But how that unfolded doesn’t strike me as the best way to entice readers to get prepared for the realities we face in the here and now.

What if there was a novel featuring a normal person or family preparing for a soon to be abnormal world? Would that be too boring?

Author: John Wesley Smith

John Wesley Smith writes and podcasts from his home in Central Missouri. His goal is to help preppers as he continues along his own preparedness journey.