A fictional chronicle of Washington political intrigue, intended as a parable about the dangers of partisanship.
In his debut novel, Wohlsen presents a politically charged cautionary tale. Herb Benjamin, a Republican senator who’s represented Pennsylvania for more than 30 years, suddenly dies from a stroke at the age of 62. His death sparks a flurry of self-interested campaigning for the newly vacated senatorial seat, eventually resulting in the appointment of Herb’s son, Clark, his longtime chief of staff. Clark, however, is a different kind of political animal than his father was; while Herb prided himself on being an uncompromising party man, Clark is a moderate centrist, more interested in making the right decision than appeasing his political allies, and insistent on keeping some shred of his political idealism intact. Meanwhile, an outgoing Democratic president struggles to manage a foreign policy debacle when it appears that Iran has shot down an Israeli plane carrying its prime minister—a clear act of war. However, there are some reasons to believe that Iranian authorities didn’t order the assassination and, as a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Clark is immediately thrown into the middle of a political tinderbox. The novel’s action is brisk, and its multiple storylines seamlessly cohere into a grand theme. However, the author’s warning against blind partisanship, explicitly acknowledged in his prefatory remarks, can come across as a bit heavy-handed, or even didactic. Each chapter, for example, begins with a short, sometimes preachy commentary (“[W]hen neither party is interested in what the other has to say, diplomacy reverts to silly word games that attempt to justify one side’s position without acknowledging any validity for the other”). Characters also have a tendency to announce their political viewpoints. But when the narrative is allowed to stand on its own, it does so admirably, often grippingly. In response to the charge that he doesn’t understand political reality, for example, Clark counters: “You know, Chase, believe it or not, I do understand the rules of the game. For fifteen years, I watched my father play that game in pursuit of acceptance and power. Unfortunately, during that time, I also witnessed his idealism bastardized in the pursuit.”
A fast-paced tale of suspense that captures the dysfunctional character of American politics.