Monday, January 18, 2010

Political Thriller: HOUSE SECRETS by Mike Lawson

Those "10 best books" lists are always a challenge to me, as I realize that no matter how diligently I read, I can't keep up! Seattle author Mike Lawson e-mailed Kingdom Books after we posted a list that included his fourth political thriller, HOUSE SECRETS (2009). So I grabbed a copy and dug in.

Joe DeMarco has an office in the Capital Building, but his job is ever shifting; he works for the Speaker of the House, cleaning up messes and checking into constituents' personal issues, to keep them off the Speaker's to-do list. It's frequently an uncomfortable job, and even his situation with his boss is uneasy: Mahoney is Boston Irish by heritage, and DeMarco works from the Italian side -- both drenched in Catholic guilt maybe, but otherwise as different as, well, as handsome talented politician and ordinary slob. And being an ordinary working guy, DeMarco's going to follow up a question from an old fellow who's asked Mahoney to look into his son's untimely death by drowning:
Mahoney snorted in response to DeMarco's question. "If he needed a lawyer, Joe, I wouldn't have given him your name."
DeMarco was offended although he knew he had no right to be. He had a law degree -- had even passed the Virginia bar -- but he had never practiced law. He was too busy doing other unsavory things on Mahoney's behalf.
"It sounds like what he needs," Mahoney said, "is somebody to turn over a few rocks and see what crawls out."
There you go, DeMarco thought. That was his job description: rock flipper and bug crusher. Not very flattering but accurate enough.
DeMarco is no James Bond. His car doesn't transform, he doesn't have electronic gadgets handy, even for computer searches he's clumsy. Lucky for him, he has friends and collaborators. Sure, each one needs motivation, but a very sharp former espionage professional named Emma has reason to help DeMarco flip those rocks, crush those bugs.

Which turns out to be a good thing, or DeMarco might not have survived even half the situations he keeps squeezing into.

This is a suspense-filled page turner, a great read for a snowy weekend or business trip. I resisted the quick character switches and scene changes in the first half, but the intense plot got me wound up in it, and by the quirky ending, I was telling my husband that this thriller is also going to appeal to some readers of noir, who'll recognize the twists and may get the same deep, wry chuckle that I did at the conclusion. Lawson doesn't appear to have entirely given up on all U.S. politicians just yet -- but HOUSE SECRETS will have you questioning whether the motives of the talking faces on cable TV might be more personal than political after all.

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