Quick Review: HOUSE ARREST by Mike Lawson (Atlantic Monthly Press)

LawsonM-JD13-HouseArrestUSIn the wake of a political assassination, Joe DeMarco is framed as the killer…

As the fixer for Congressman John Mahoney in Washington, D.C., Joe DeMarco has had to bend and break the law more than a few times. But when Representative Lyle Canton, House Majority Whip, is found shot dead in his office in the U.S. Capitol and DeMarco is arrested for the murder, DeMarco knows he’s been framed. Locked up in the Alexandria Jail awaiting trial, he calls on his enigmatic friend Emma, an ex-DIA agent, to search for the true killer.

Emma’s investigation leads her to Sebastian Spear, the ruthless and competitive CEO of the multi-billion-dollar Spear Industries. Spear had a motive for killing Lyle Canton: Canton’s wife, Jean, had once been Spear’s high school sweetheart and the one true love of his life — until Canton won her over. Now Jean was dead, killed in a car crash while driving drunk, and Spear blamed Canton for the accident. But the case the F.B.I. has built against DeMarco is airtight, and not a single piece of evidence points to the grieving CEO. Using her cunning and her D.C. connections, Emma sets out to prove that Spear has been using some fixers of his own.

I’ve been reading Mike Lawson’s Joe DeMarco series since the first novel, The Inside Ring, was published in the UK. Each new book in the series has been a highlight of Spring ever since. In House Arrest, the thirteenth instalment, the series comes to a bit of a head: DeMarco’s life and career are thrown into the spotlight when he is framed for an attention-grabbing, audacious political murder. I enjoyed reading this novel a great deal.

After a prominent congressman is assassinated, Joe DeMarco’s life is quickly upended as the FBI follow the trail of crumbs that have been left to frame him. He’s arrested, locked up, and also exposed: he’s always worked in a rather opaque, obscure capacity for Mahoney the now-Minority Leader in the House. Hired when Mahoney was the all-powerful Majority Leader, DeMarco’s job was to be the mostly-covert bag man. Even if he is cleared of the crime, because the spotlight has been thrown onto him and his relationship with Mahoney, his whole life has been upended. This is the subject of some of the later chapters in the novel, and it poses some interesting questions for the future of the series (I don’t know if there are plans for more DeMarco novels, but I certainly hope there are).

House Arrest isn’t the strongest novel in the series, but it retains many of the traits that makes Lawson’s work so engaging: solid prose, very good pacing, and interesting characters. There’s also some commentary on the American political and judicial systems — because the series runs sort-of-parallel to the real world, the author is able to freely engage with contemporary issues. In this novel, the author does not hold back in his (well, DeMarco’s, Mahoney’s or Emma’s) opinion of the current White House occupant, referring to him at different times as a “fool”, “moron”, and “idiot” — while Trump is never named, it’s quite clear who these epithets are aimed at. There is also some discussion of the nepotistic nature of politics, and the ways in which shifting power structures and status can have an immediate, considerable impact on those lower down the hierarchy of government.

There’s another interesting thing that has come to characterize Lawson’s series more recently: how Joe DeMarco isn’t as central to the narrative as one might expect from the character after whom the series is named. His movements are subject to the actions and whims of others — whether Mahoney, Emma (who is the dominant POV character, I think), or whichever antagonist is the focus of the novel in question. In House Arrest he is, after all, arrested rather quickly, and then spends his entire time incarcerated. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling certain plot-points, but through him we see a little bit more about the prison and jail systems, the ways in which politicians, oligarchs, tycoons, and other criminals can meddle in the system and the lives of inmates. Emma remains one of my favourite characters in the series, and I welcomed her more-prominent role. The side-characters are also very well-written: three-dimensional, realistic, and varied.

So, if you’re a fan of the series, I would certainly recommend you read House Arrest. It’s a solid thriller and political/crime novel: well-paced, engaging and interesting. I really hope we haven’t seen the last of DeMarco et al.

*

Mike Lawson’s House Arrest is out now, published by Atlantic Monthly Press.

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