Review; Greg M. Sarwa’s Debut Novel, The Cattle
Author: Greg M. Sarwa
If you have any preconceptions about the recently enacted Real ID Act in the
USA, I heartily suggest you read Greg M. Sarwa’s debut novel, The Cattle.
Although the narrative is a work of fiction, it certainly reflects some of the
reality transpiring in the USA as a result of 9/11.
The USA in 2005 enacted the Real ID ACT that creates a “machine readable”
federally approved ID card. Supporters of this card argue that the ID card will
help combat terrorism and it will also follow the advice of some of the
recommendations of the 9/11 Commission investigation. What it boils down to is
that commencing in 2008, if you live or work in the USA you will need a
federally approved card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect
Social Security Payments, or take advantage of nearly every government service.
In other words, the Real ID Act would establish a national identity card. In
addition and what is alarming about these ID cards is the information that could
be stored on them. The Homeland Security Department has the power to decide what
information will be included. This may be more than just your name, birth date,
sex, ID number, a digital photograph, and address. Furthermore, it will employ a
common machine-readable technology. This could mean that it could end up being a
magnetic strip, or a sophisticated bar code, or even a radio frequency
identification chip. Would they go as far as implanting a microprocessor in your
The last possibility is the focus of the plot of Sarwa’s novel, where a day
before the National Identification System is to become a reality, all hell
breaks loose. A level 3 computer techie, Brian Warburton, in the employ of the
Homeland Security Department and working out of O’Hare Airport in Chicago
discovers that when he makes a final check of the complicated system that was to
be in operation the next day putting into effect the NIS, he discovers that he
was inexplicably already logged in. Moreover, the technology he witnesses on his
computer screen was only for those individuals with a level five clearance.
According to Brian, the information was supposed to be years away and it should
never have been permitted- it was in his words “against the law.”
Brian had to do something about this newfound information and he decides to copy
it on a computer disk in order that he may be able to warn everyone. However,
unfortunately, after he has completed his copying, Brian mysteriously dies, but
not before he manages to place the disk into the baggage of Anna Tabor, a Polish
visitor who just arrived in the USA.
Trevor Clifton, a high official with the Department of Homeland Security in
Chicago and likewise working out of O’Hare Airport is informed by one of his
subordinates that there was an unauthorized access to the higher level of the
computer system or as it was termed, Digital Gabriel. He just about goes
ballistic and immediately figures out that it could only be Brian Warburton who
was doing the copying.
As all of this is transpiring, newspaper reporter Jacob Reed is working on his
editorial for the next day’s edition pertaining to the National Security
Identification Act. He receives a phone call from police officer Ron Lacosta
requesting that they immediately meet because he has something extremely
important to tell him. When they get together Reed is given a video cassette
that came from one of the video cameras at the airport. Apparently, Lacosta
received the tape from a colleague before the latter died in a mysterious auto
accident in the parking lot of the airport.
What is on the tape and the ensuing chase between Clifton’s men and Reed occupy
the remainder of the novel, wherein Sarwa weaves together a briskly paced
mystery thriller with the requisite elements of detecting and menace.
Sarwa’s writing is sprinkled with some vivid detail and his characters are
nicely drawn and distinctive. And while the novel sounds like the set-up for a
routine thriller, the surprising ending is far from predictable. The Cattle is
Sarawa’s first novel and he has effectively set the hook for future thrillers.