The fifth of Meltzer’s paranoid fantasies about lowlifes in high places (The Millionaires, 2002, etc.) presses his irresistible formula to the breaking point.
As usual, the exposition is faultless. Matthew Mercer and Harris Sandler are the Washington insiders who make the sausage. Unelected aides to powerful congressmen on the Appropriations Committee, they wheel and deal with their thirtysomething peers to reconcile House and Senate spending bills that can be millions of dollars apart. Their cheek, their staggering freedom, and their complete lack of public accountability all confirm Matthew’s contention that on Capitol Hill, a neighborhood “with too many student government presidents in one place . . . the real shadow government is staff.” In order to add even more spice to their high-wire jobs, Matthew and Harris have joined an unknown group of players to wager on such inconsequential matters as whether, for instance, opponents of an unstoppable bill involving the regulation of major-league baseball will be able to muster as many as 110 votes against it. One day the bet that’s proposed concerns a trivial government-land sale that Matthew has the power to control. Realizing that they’ve been handed an opportunity to break the bank, the staffers bet all their savings on the outcome and then watch a trap door spring open beneath them. Sadly, their mounting danger and its action-packed consequences—their pursuit by a briskly murderous thug, Barry’s unlikely alliance with a 17-year-old Senate page, dark revelations from deep beneath the South Dakota hills about something called the Midas Project—come at a high price: Nothing that follows the monster shock on page 64 is remotely credible, not even in a thriller about hyperadolescent congressional staffers at play.
It all ends up as a series of efficiently managed chase sequences that’ll leave you breathless for no reason that you’ll remember the next day.