A reluctant politician learns that codes of honor never survive the vicious process of electing an American president.
After flushing out the filth of Wall Street in his debut novel, Brunt (Ghosts of Manhattan, 2012) turns his attention to the seductive world of American politics. Our entree into this scene comes via Samantha Davis, an attorney who has parlayed her skills and looks into a job as the White House correspondent for UBS, a major news network. In this fiction, the U.S. is under the leadership of President Barack Obama’s successor, a bizarre and domineering Democrat named Mitchell Mason. Meanwhile, a conservative attorney named Tom Pauley is tapped by GOP leadership to take a term as governor of North Carolina and ultimately agrees to take his shot at the big job. Brunt takes his time weaving together the stories of these three players, who ultimately prove to be far more connected than they might seem. The book’s primary crisis surfaces when Samantha comes under the sway of Conner Marks, a political fixer who shares with her the crumbs of a political scandal that could send Mason’s comfortable lead tumbling down if it surfaces. As this drama unfolds, Pauley—a fiscal and social conservative with middle-class American values—finds his own beliefs crumbling under the weight of obligatory ethical concessions as Election Day draws near. There are a few well-worn tropes (the first lady’s lesbian affair joins a host of torrid liaisons that always seem to inhabit this kind of closed ecosystem), but they don't derail the narrative tension. Overall, the novel presents a well-researched portrait of the incestuous relationships between the media and Beltway power players while avoiding the broad humor of Joe Klein’s Primary Colors. Tonally, it’s much closer to Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, which itself was memorably adapted to film as The Ides of March.
A Machiavellian political thriller that makes Heilemann and Halperin’s nonfiction Game Change look sedate by comparison.