Quick Review: THE GOOD LIE by Tom Rosenstiel (Ecco)

RosenstielT-PR2-GoodLieUSA tragedy abroad causes a domestic political scandal: but what really happened?

When a shadowy American diplomatic complex is attacked in North Africa, the White House is besieged by accusations of incompetence and wild conspiracy theories. Eager to learn the truth, the president and his staff turn to Peter Rena and his partner, Randi Brooks. The investigators dive headfirst into the furtive world of foreign intelligence and national security, hoping to do it quietly. That becomes impossible, though, when it blows up into an all-out public scandal: Congress opens hearings and a tireless national security reporter publishes a bombshell exposé.

Now, Rena and Brooks are caught in the middle. The White House wants to prevent debilitating fallout for the president, the military appears to be in shutdown mode, the press is hungry for another big story, and rival politicians are plotting their next move. Rena learns the hard way that secrets in Washington come with a very high price. 

In this second novel featuring political fixer Peter Rena, he and his consulting firm are hired by the president to investigate the bombing of an overseas American military base. An interesting and intelligent investigative story, I enjoyed this. 

For most readers, the political theatre of the Benghazi “scandal” will certainly be brought to mind when reading The Good Lie. The primacy of politics over principle, for example, is laid bare in the behind-the-scenes discussion and negotiations. Rosenstiel draws inspiration from real-life events to inform his fiction.

As a long-time, accomplished journalist and professor of politics, Rosenstiel adds plenty of excellent details into the book — about Washington, politics, and also journalism (there are some investigative journalists among the cast circling around the investigation and hearings). As a result, every character feels realistic, even familiar.

There are a number of twists in the story, which makes discussing the plot a bit tricky. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll stick with this: if you’re interested in a story that looks at the less-respectable agendas and motivations of elected officials, without veering into the ridiculous, then I would certainly recommend this novel and series. The story and plot always feel grounded in reality — the author avoids many Hollywood tropes and the impulse for action for the sake of action. In fact, there isn’t any, really. I really appreciated this approach. I also liked the ending, which I thought was realistic and mostly satisfying (for the reader, if not the characters).

There were times when Rosenstiel’s familiarity with Washington, politics and journalism maybe got the better of him: sometimes, his digressions run just a little longer than they perhaps should. For example, each new character is introduced with a mini-biography (even minor characters), which had the occasional result of slowing down the storyline and once making me forget why the character had been introduced to begin with. (A minor quibble, but it did happen.) In the SFFH genres, we call this info-dumping. Each mini-bio was interesting, however.

The Good Lie explores many contemporary political and cultural concerns — specifically, those related to state secrets, the corrupting and damaging impact of the never-ending campaign and also the never-ending wars in the Middle East. Well-written, intelligent and accessible, this is a good novel about American politics and international relations. Recommended.


Tom Rosenstiel’s The Good Lie is out now, published by Ecco Books. The next novel in the series, Oppo, is due to be published in December 2019 (and I’m really looking forward to reading it).

Also on CR: Review of Shining City

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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