What did Trelawny snatch from the funeral pyre at Viareggio? If you know the answer, you’re a natural for a secret Yale society that makes Skull and Bones look like the Elks.
There’s skullduggery afoot, and plenty of political intrigue, in this latest by accomplished mysterian McCarry (Christopher’s Ghosts, 2007, etc.), whose overarching message might be that one has no friends in Washington, those who call you friend are likely to do you harm, and when Republicans call you friend—well, schedule an appointment with the undertaker. McCarry’s setup is out of the headlines: A conservative presidential candidate wins office via electoral fraud. This time, however, his opponent has evidence. Enter the FIS—the heir to the CIA, replacing it “after it collapsed under the weight of the failures and scandals resulting from its misuse by twentieth-century Presidents.” Enter spooks, defense contractors, lobbyists and assorted other denizens of the District of Columbia—and, to boot, a few deranged assassins and Yale graduates up to no good. The plot thickens and thickens—it has to, after all, since, among other things, part of it turns on a presumptive president’s debating “the advantages and disadvantages of appointing a man he believed to be an enemy of democracy as Chief Justice of the United States.” There’s more than one clef in this roman, which has all the requisites of a Frederick Forsyth–style thriller but adds a few modern twists, some the product of a supersecret Moroccan-born agent whose stiletto heels are the real deal. She’s not the only hotty, and there’s the requisite steamy sex, too, told in requisite steamy language: “His great ursine weight fell upon her with a brutality that made her gasp with pleasure.” Other gasps await good guys and bad guys alike, especially when drilled by tiny bullets to the thorax and other unpleasant means of dispatch.
Will democracy survive? Readers will be left guessing until the last minute. A pleasing 21st-century rejoinder to the 1962 novel Seven Days in May, and a capable whodunit.