Bagman/fixer Joe DeMarco, who has a law degree but has never practiced law, gets to see a whole new side of the legal system when he’s expertly framed for murder.
DeMarco’s minding his own business, working late in his subbasement office in the Capitol, when an assassin shoots House majority whip Lyle Canton, who’s also minding his own business in his spiffier office upstairs, to death. The ubiquitous security cameras strewn throughout the building catch little of note. But since DeMarco’s patron, House minority leader John Mahoney, has been a frequent target of Canton’s attacks, and since the killer sticks around for long enough to plant some highly incriminating evidence in DeMarco’s office after he leaves, it’s not long before he’s arrested. DeMarco, who, incredibly enough, has heretofore spent only a single night in jail despite his checkered career (House Witness, 2018, etc.), can now expect a stay of at least a year while his attorney, Janet Evans, prepares his defense. The most likely way his stay can be shortened lies with billionaire businessman Sebastian Spear, the lover whom the slain politician’s wife, Jean Canton, had been on her way to meet when she wrapped her car around a tree. It’s pretty obvious to pretty much everyone except the police and the FBI that Spear hired Canton’s murderer; now he’s trying to reach inside the Alexandria jail and have DeMarco killed, too. So the story quickly settles into a high-stakes groove of thrust and counterthrust: Bill Brayden, Spear Industry’s head of security, keeps hatching more and more inventive schemes to get DeMarco’s fellow prisoners to kill him; Mahoney and his well-connected allies do everything they can to head off most of these attempts, foil the ones they can’t head off, and bring down Brayden, Spear, and the actual killer before they succeed.
Lawson’s matter-of-fact tone, walking a fine line between satire and reportage, propels his tale forward despite its limited capacity for surprise. And his final sequence, both blackly comic and ineffably sad, provides the perfect conclusion.