In this political thriller, a talented tech guru helps a controversial real estate magnate become president and becomes embroiled in his nefarious dealings.
In a remarkable upset, billionaire businessman Harold P. Franks—modeled, in large part, on Donald Trump—wins the presidency, defeating seasoned political veteran Eleanor Wilson. He wins by divisively pandering to disgruntled racists and unrepentant nationalists. Eli Green, a tech wizard working for a prominent data analytics firm, contributed to the victory, and he so thoroughly impresses his superiors that he’s invited to join Franks’ administration. He’s tasked with compiling and parsing data on voter fraud, but first, he’s given a more sensitive assignment—to prepare a cellphone for Franks that’s entirely private and unknown to members of the so-called “deep state” who might want to listen in on his communications. As Green accomplishes this, he stumbles upon a text message to Franks that reads “don’t forget,” along with a video of the president apparently about to have sex with a young Russian girl. Green finally decides that he not only wants to jump ship, but also blow the whistle on his boss, and he contacts the FBI and a New York Times reporter. But when the journalist turns up dead, Green realizes that bringing down a president isn’t so easy. Debut author James shines most brightly when delving deeply into Franks’ idiosyncrasies, and he sensitively limns his—and, by extension, Trump’s—strange public power: “When he spoke, the words were nearly always empty, or so full of contradiction that it rendered them meaningless; and so the listener projected an image of the world they already identified with, for better or worse.” However, the plot borrows very generously from current events; indeed, the author meticulously—almost journalistically—re-creates multiple controversies that have swirled around Trump’s presidency, including a possibly collusive relationship with Russia, an adversarial contretemps with an FBI director (whom Franks finally fires), and an embattled standoff with the press. As a result, readers looking for a fictional reprieve from political news won’t find it here.
An intelligently crafted novel, but one that’s more interested in reproducing real-life events than inventing new ones.