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A Deadly Position
Veteran journalist Brian McGrory, former White House correspondent for The Boston Globe, knows Washington. His debut novel, The Incumbent, recreates the ambiance of the capital -- from its bars and private clubs to the inner circles of the corridors of power -- with, well, unimpeachable authority. Fortunately, McGrory is also a first-rate storyteller, and manages, his first time out, to deliver a lively, suspenseful narrative with more than its share of twists, turns, and unexpected revelations.
The story begins when narrator/hero Jack Flynn, political correspondent for The Boston Record, receives an invitation to an early morning golf outing with incumbent President Clayton Hutchins. The outing occurs just 12 days before the conclusion of a hotly contested presidential campaign and culminates in a series of startling developments. First, Hutchins offers Flynn the post of press secretary in his newly restructured administration. Within minutes of that offer, a lone gunman opens fire from a nearby equipment shed, wounding -- but not killing -- both Hutchins and Flynn.
The bulk of the narrative concerns Flynn's efforts to uncover the truth behind what only appears to be a politically motivated assassination attempt. The initial investigation, conducted by the FBI, points to the involvement of a radical militia group. Flynn's own subsequent investigation contradicts that theory and opens up a series of disturbing, ultimately dangerous questions, such as: What is the identity of the anonymous informant who warns Flynn repeatedly that "nothing is as it seems?" What lies behind the FBI's failure to identify the would-be assassin? Most significantly, what is the connection between a disastrous 1979 armored car robbery and the violent events of the present? Flynn's determination to pursue these questions leads him through a hall of mirrors where nothing really is as it seems, where buried secrets threaten the stability of the highest political office in the land.
The Incumbent is a vital and exciting thriller, but not a perfect one. McGrory relies a bit too strongly on coincidence, and certain key plot elements stretch the bounds of plausibility a bit too far. In the end, though, The Incumbent transcends its own limitations, generating a surprising amount of tension and emotional strength. Its sense of place, its fresh, humorous narrative voice, and its deep-seated belief in the possibility of personal redemption signal the arrival of a gifted new novelist, one clearly at home in the overlapping worlds of modern journalism and high stakes, cutthroat politics.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has just been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).