The double crossings and plot twists are dizzying in this thriller, Snyder’s first novel.
University of Virginia law student Jackson Cole spent last summer boozing and flirting at a prestigious D.C. firm. His prior career as an entrepreneur making millions off of smartphone applications isn’t enough to get him invited back to the firm for his second law school summer, and he just discovered that his longtime girlfriend appears to have found a new guy. At loose ends, Jackson replies to a mysterious advertisement in the law school newsletter seeking candidates for a “non-traditional legal opportunity” for someone with “problem solving skills and the ability to handle confidential information.” But when Jackson appears for an interview, the private investigator that placed the ad has been killed by a gunshot to the head. While mulling over the shooting at a bar, Jackson meets Caroline Mills, a former Wall Street big shot now mucking out stables for John McAllister, a wealthy landowner who also runs a secret distillery. Instantly attracted to one another, Jackson and Caroline are quickly plunged into a dangerous power play between McAllister and other members of his organization for control of the distillery, which harbors other illegal activities as well. And the organization isn’t a bunch of backwoods criminals; it includes a U.S. senator, members of the FBI, and the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. No one knows who to trust as the characters all try to assess others’ motives and allegiances while the bullets fly. It’s difficult to worry about the possible impact of the scandal and battle for power when the main characters are little more than pretty magazine cutouts. When Snyder does try to flesh out his characters, the language is often maddeningly vague. At one point, John McAllister is described as having a “non-worrisome demeanor.” Overly formal language also slows down the action—a waitress does not bring Jackson a drink, she “obliges his request” for one; characters do not talk when they can “converse”; and to stop talking, they “cease the conversation.”
For a novel about whiskey, this thriller doesn’t go down easily.