An ailing political heavyweight’s secret history is gradually disclosed in this busy thriller from the industrious Yale Law School prof/sociopolitical theorist/bestselling novelist (Palace Council, 2008, etc.).
Rapidly aging Jericho Ainsley, retired from successive tenures as Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor and CIA Director, is stricken with cancer and believed to be about to reveal numerous incriminating secrets. That’s what’s understood, anyway, by private-sector single mom Rebecca DeForde, once Jericho’s subordinate and lover, when she’s summoned to Ainsley’s fortified retreat in the small town of Bethel in the Colorado Rockies. Instead, Beck finds the “dying” old man still possessed of contrary life and bile—and still harboring secrets. She seeks further explanations from and butts heads with Jericho’s intemperate daughter Pamela; his sister Audrey, a peacemaking nun; his ally Brian Navarro, who shares the former spymaster’s commitment to Nixonian power politics; his would-be biographer Lewiston Clark; and the sometimes helpful, sometimes intimidating Bethel police department. Nobody turns out to be precisely who she or he appears to be. Jericho’s imperiled state seems connected to the scandalous collapse of a huge international financial firm, but that doesn’t fully explain the discovered body of a murdered dog, a prowler seriously injured in a fall from the roof or an approaching assassin known as “Max,” whose concealed identity holds the novel’s niftiest surprise. It may sound like fun, but this by-the-numbers caper is too frequently turgid and redundant; Beck’s catfights with Pamela and her worried phone calls home to check on daughter Nina, for example, are both monotonous and momentum-destroying. Things get awfully generic in the crowded climactic pages, and an ending intended to be ironic simply falls flat.
Let’s hope the real Stephen L. Carter reappears soon, displacing this unsatisfying Robert Ludlum clone.