“House Odds” by Mike Lawson (Atlantic)

Lawson-08-HouseOddsThe Latest Joe DeMarco Political Thriller

Washington D.C. fixer Joe DeMarco has been asked to handle a lot of difficult situations over the years for his boss, congressman John Mahoney. But nothing has ever been quite so politically sensitive, or has hit so close to home, as the task Mahoney hands DeMarco now.

Mahoney’s daughter, Molly, has been arrested and charged with insider trading. An engineer with a high-flying technology firm, she allegedly placed a half-million dollar bet on one of the firm’s clients. DeMarco’s job is to clear Molly’s name and keep his boss clean. But how did Molly get her hands on so much money to invest in the first place? Before long, DeMarco uncovers that there’s far more to Molly’s case than meets the eye, and the risk to Mahoney is more than just a little political embarrassment.

In this eighth novel featuring Congressional fixer Joe DeMarco, we get a look at the sordid underbelly of Beltway politics, complete with manipulative gangsters and politicians, crooks and thieves. I’m a big fan of this series, ever since I read the first in the series, The Inside Ring in a single day. Each new novel has been an addictive, well-written and expertly-plotted thriller. House Odds is no exception.

The synopsis does a great job of providing all of the information you need, so I’m not going to go any deeper than that, and keep the review short. House Odds hooked me from the start, and yet kept me guessing until the end. Things do not play out at all as I expected, as DeMarco comes across a number of liars, conflicting agendas, hidden motives, and the desperation of a powerful family brought low. It’s a novel filled with grey, and very little black or white. Lawson isn’t afraid to let the muck stick to both his protagonists and antagonists, which makes this a very satisfying and more realistic read.

Throughout the novel, as DeMarco tries to first get to the bottom of what Molly allegedly did, to then trying to get her off the hook, he is left questioning who, in fact, are the good guys. The plot is winding, and perhaps more so than previous books in the series, as Lawson keeps us guessing. The first half deals with one mystery, and the second half another, as our hero is faced with a near-impossible job. Strange alliances will be forged, threats will be made, and leverage will be exercised. House Odds shows us just how dirty politics can be.

As with Lawson’s previous DeMarco novels, there’s plenty of good commentary on the American political system – especially the egos involved. In addition, his characters are well-rounded and realistic. The author’s prose is stripped down, streamlined, and well-composed. The plotting is excellent, too, and I blitzed through this.

I really can’t recommend this series enough. If you have any interest in thrillers set in and around the world of American politics, then Mike Lawson is a must read. House Odds is excellent. Very highly recommended.

The Atlantic Weekly, Stephen King & “Voice”

AtlanticWeekly-20130728In the current issue of The Atlantic Weekly (July 28th), there is a very good, short piece by Stephen King about opening lines. In the article, part of The Atlantic’sBy Heart” series, King also offers the following opinion on voice. Many bloggers discuss or focus on voice in their reviews (some obsessively so), and I thought this might be of interest to them, as well as readers, of course…

“… for me, a good opening sentence really begins with voice. You hear people talk about ‘voice’ a lot, when I think they really just mean style. Voice is more than that. People come to books looking for something. But they don’t come for the story, or even for the characters. They certainly don’t come for the genre. I think readers come for the voice.

“A novel’s voice is something like a singer’s; think of singers like Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, who have no musical training but are instantly recognizable. When people pick up a Rolling Stones record, it’s because they want access to that distinctive quality. They know that voice, they love that voice, and something in them connects profoundly with it. Well, it’s the same way with books. Anyone who’s read a lot of John Sanford, for example, knows that wry, sarcastic amusing voice that’s his and his alone. Or Elmore Leonard – my God, his writing is like a fingerprint. You’d recognize him anywhere. An appealing voice achieves an intimate connection, a bond much stronger than the kind of forged, intellectually, through crafted writing.

“With really good books, a powerful sense of voice is established in the first line.”

Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, a new follow-up to The Shining, will be published in September 2013 by Hodder (UK) and Scribner (US).

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US / UK Covers

Also, here is a rather nice photo of Stephen King, which I found connected with this interview with the author over on Parade:

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Joe Fassler (the journalist behind the “By Heart” series), inspired by Stephen King’s piece, conducted a survey of some other authors’ favourite first lines, here. Other authors to feature in the “By Heart” series, who have also featured on Civilian Reader, are Susan Choi (CR interview), and Benjamin Percy (interview, Red Moon review).

Upcoming: “The Divine Sacrifice” by Anthony Hays (Corvus)

Hays-TheDivineSacrificeThe Divine Sacrifice is Anthony Hays’s second Arthurian Mystery, following on from the well-received The Killing Way (2011). Sadly, I wasn’t able to get around to the first novel, but I have been interested in historical thrillers ever since I read some of Bernard Cornwell’s novels (true, not technically “thrillers” per se, but I history nevertheless). With the release of this second novel, I just might get my act in gear and try to catch up. Here’s the synopsis:

Welcome to fifth-century Britain: the Romans have left, the Saxons have invaded, the towns are decaying and the countryside is dangerous.

Malgwyn ap Cuneglas, an embittered former soldier who lost a limb in combat, is now a trusted advisor to Arthur, the High King of all Britannia. When a monk dies in horrific circumstances in Glastonbury Abbey, the Abbot calls for Malgwyn to investigate.

His search for the truth will draw him into an intricate web of religious, economic and political deceit – and a conspiracy that could endanger everything Arthur has fought for.

The Divine Sacrifice will be published in the UK by Corvus in April 2013. (It would appear that Corvus also has US eBook rights, as it is listed on Amazon.com as well.) The Divine Sacrifice was published in the US back in 2011 by Forge Books.

Also on CR: “Influences & Inspirations” Guest Post by Anthony Hays