In CNN anchor Tapper's first novel, a thriller set in the 1950s, freshman Congressman Charlie Marder is rudely awakened to the killing realities of Washington politics.
Marder was a history professor at Columbia University, with a bestselling book to his credit, when he was appointed to a vacant congressional seat thanks to the string-pulling of his attorney father, a Republican power broker. Shortly after taking office, this World War II veteran causes a stir by daring to oppose appropriations to a big tire company whose defective gas masks led to the death of a fellow soldier in France. Caught up in cutthroat politics, Marder is soon drinking too much, bending to pressure, and making compromises that alarm and distance his pregnant wife, a zoologist. This is the heroic former army captain she married? As revealed by the long list of sources Tapper presents, he did his research. And his writing has a relaxed, flowing quality. But in surrounding his protagonist with heavy hitters, including Jack and Bob Kennedy ("No one who knows him calls him Bobby"), Lyndon Johnson, Joseph McCarthy, and Roy Cohn, Tapper falls into the old foreground/background trap: Nothing in Marder's story, as fraught with personal tension as it may be, can measure up to the stories of the people to whom he is in thrall. Ultimately, the human scenery of this You Are There for adults overwhelms the narrative. Scant attention is paid to the death of a cocktail waitress who apparently was picked up by Marder at a hotel bash and thrown from the car he was driving. He can't remember a thing. Worse, he is unable to imagine that everything may not be as it seems.
Tapper's backstage portrayal of Capitol Hill circa 1954 is breezy and knowing but lacks the ingredients that would make it a successful political thriller.