Investigating the background of a Supreme Court nominee, a problem-solver for hire falls into the path of a killer.
The author of several nonfiction books and a former reporter for Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times, Rosenstiel makes his fiction debut with an uncertain blend of Washington-insider novel and thriller. What may be a series launch doesn’t yet click. Rosenstiel crafts a hero, Peter Rena, who has many soul mates in this genre. Rena has a troubled past. After West Point, he ran into trouble in the Army. He’s divorced, and he’s got the tough-guy vernacular down pat. Of a congressman caught misusing funds, Rena says, “Someone found a loose string about Derek Knox and pulled.” Now a behind-the-scenes problem-solver to the powerful in Washington, D.C., Rena, says a friend, is “the guy who comes in when PR won’t work." Rena works with Randi Brooks, his complement: she’s a liberal Democrat, he’s mostly a Republican. President James Nash summons the partners to the White House. A conservative Democrat faced with a dysfunctional Congress (one of many topical aspects here), Nash wants Rena and Brooks and their staff to dig into the background of his nominee to the Supreme Court, Edmund Roland Madison, who, Brooks says, will be "nothing but trouble." An iconoclast who disdains compromise, Madison is conservative on gun control yet liberal on free speech, race, and discrimination. Brooks and Rena’s investigation and their interviews with quirky Madison are slowly paced and, for readers who follow the machinations over court appointments in the press, too familiar and predictable. To ramp up suspense, Rosenstiel cuts periodically to an overused thriller trope—a lurking killer carrying out a series of brutal murders, graphically described. Eventually the assailant goes after Madison, bringing focus, momentum, and a fair degree of suspense to the proceedings.
Sure to steady the pulse.