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The Inside Ring (Joe DeMarco Series #1)

The Inside Ring (Joe DeMarco Series #1)

3.9 651
by Mike Lawson

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The Inside Ring is the first novel in Mike Lawson’s critically acclaimed series of political thriller starring Joe DeMarco, fixer for the Speaker of the House. It opens with an assassination attempt on the president. He is only wounded, but his best friend and a Secret Service Agent are killed. It turns out that the attack wasn't without warning.


The Inside Ring is the first novel in Mike Lawson’s critically acclaimed series of political thriller starring Joe DeMarco, fixer for the Speaker of the House. It opens with an assassination attempt on the president. He is only wounded, but his best friend and a Secret Service Agent are killed. It turns out that the attack wasn't without warning. General Andrew Banks, the Secretary of Homeland Security, received a note that the president was in danger, and even more alarming, that Secret Service agents guarding the president had been compromised.

General Banks is reluctant to tell the FBI about the note, partly for self-serving political reasons, and partly because he doesn’t want to damage the Secret Service’s reputation based on something that might very well be a hoax. So he requests help from his friend, Speaker Mahoney, and Mahoney assigns his man DeMarco to determine if the Secret Service was really involved. Moving at a breakneck pace, and packed with plenty of humor and suspense, The Inside Ring is a must-read for fans of political thrillers.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for The Inside Ring

“The kind of whodunit thriller you can’t stop thinking about while you’re reading and can’t stop talking about once you’re done. Smart, original, crafted with true insider knowledge, brimming with vivid characters, and a forward drive that just won’t quit. This book will have the Beltway buzzing—and just about everywhere else. I couldn’t put it down.” –Vince Flynn

“[A] wonderfully complex plot, sardonic humor, and memorable characters…. Lawson has the ability to shade character and evoke meaningful descriptions as economically as possible. In two words… more please.” –Sarah Weinman, The Baltimore Sun

“While Lawson’s debut may look like others in the genre, it's in a league by itself. ... High-level entertainment from a writer who could soon rise to the top of the thriller heap”—Publishers Weekly

“Fresh and entertaining ... an assured debut ... Tight and engaging story, sharp writing, and dialogue that’s good to the last line.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Thrilling enough to demand a sequel.”—New York Daily News

“Enlivened by just the right touch of menace and mystery . . . witty [and] lightening quick.”—Library Journal

"[An] exciting, danger-filled novel." —Booklist

“Mike Lawson shows every understanding of the skills required of a thriller writer to keep a reader fully engaged and utterly thrilled.” –The Guardian (UK)

“Lawson writes a mean thriller and has a sense of humor that hurts. I loved this one.” –The Independent (UK)

“This assured first novel shows Mike Lawson to be a talented storyteller . . . DeMarco makes a likeable hero as he follows an intricate trail through some typically murky American politics.”—The Telegraph (UK)

Library Journal
Lawson's debut novel introduces Joe DeMarco, a lawyer who looks like a "knee-cracker for an Italian bookie" and works as a troubleshooter for a Washington congressman. Loaned out to Secretary of Homeland Security Andrew Banks, DeMarco is asked to investigate a Secret Service agent for possible complicity in an assassination attempt on the President. Thus begins a series of compelling incidents, enlivened by just the right touch of menace and mystery. DeMarco is an appealing protagonist with a familial past he'd rather forget and a group of multitalented friends to help him in his reluctantly assumed quest. While the villains are stereotyped and several supporting characters are regulars in the covert operational game (the computer expert, the surveillance wizard, the telephone company insider), this witty, lightning-quick read is recommended for popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/05.]-Ronnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fresh and entertaining thriller about plots and corruption in places low and high, including-perhaps a first in suspense fiction-the Department of Homeland Security. A former contractor for the U.S. Navy, Lawson makes an assured debut in what looks like a series opener. He begins where many thrillers end, with an assassination plot against the president. The attempt goes awry when a sniper misses his target, killing a reporter and a Secret Service agent instead. A few days later, a man commits suicide, leaving behind a note confessing to the crime. But, of course, that's not that. Speaker of the House John Fitzpatrick Mahoney (one of many vivid and amusing characters) tells Joe DeMarco, a lawyer who does odd jobs for the Speaker, that just before the attempted assassination, Alan Banks, the head of Homeland Security, had obtained a note stating that the "inside ring"-the protective circle of Secret Service agents surrounding the president-had been "compromised," posing a threat to the chief executive. For some reason, Banks kept quiet about the note and now he wants DeMarco to find out what's afoot at the Secret Service. DeMarco turns up little in Washington (though his probes convey an insider's feel for D.C. plots and counterplots). In particular, DeMarco believes that the prime suspect, agent Billy Ray Mattis, is innocent-so DeMarco is all the more startled to see a mobster rub Billy out point-blank. DeMarco is left puzzled by the lack of connection among several sources a friend uncovered by obtaining records of Billy's phone calls to men in Georgia. Off DeMarco goes to Georgia for some nasty encounters with land and swamp critters. The revelations in Dixie uncover a hauntingconnection to the past. Tight and engaging story, sharp writing and dialogue that's good to the last line.

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Joe DeMarco Series , #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt


The receptionist--Boston-bred, fiftysomething, hard and bright as stainless steel--arched a disapproving eyebrow at DeMarco as he entered Mahoney's offices.

"You're late," she said. "And he's in a mood today."

"So since I'm late I guess that means I can go right in," DeMarco said.

The receptionist was married to a successful accountant, a very nice man, very slim and neat and considerate. On those rare occasions they made love she fantasized about burly Italian construction workers. She used to fantasize about black men with washboard abs and shaved heads but the last few months it had been men who looked like DeMarco: dark hair, blue eyes, a Travolta dimple in his chin--and arms and shoulders made for wife-beater undershirts. However, fantasy man or not, she didn't approve of tardiness--or flippancy.

"No, you can take a seat," the receptionist said, flashing a brittle smile, "and in a few minutes, after I finish my tea, I'll tell him you're here. Then he'll make you wait twenty more minutes while he talks to important people on the phone."

DeMarco knew better than to protest. He took a seat as directed and pulled a copy of People magazine from the stack on the coffee table in front of him. He was addicted to Hollywood gossip but would have died under torture before admitting it.

Thirty minutes later he entered Mahoney's office. Mahoney was on the phone wrapping up a one-sided conversation. "Don't fuck with me, son," Mahoney was saying. "You get contrary on this thing, next year this time, the only way you'll see the Capitol will be from one of them double-decker buses. Now vote like I told ya and quit telling me about promises you never shoulda made in the first place."

Mahoney slammed down the phone, muttered "Dipshit," then aimed his watery blue eyes at DeMarco.

"You see Flattery?" Mahoney asked.

DeMarco took an unmarked envelope from the inside breast pocket of his suit and handed it to Mahoney. DeMarco didn't know what was in the envelope; he made a point of not knowing what was in the envelopes he brought Mahoney. Mahoney sliced open the envelope and took out a piece of paper the size and shape of a check. He glanced at the paper, grunted in either annoyance or satisfaction, and shoved the paper into the middle drawer of his desk.

"And the Whittacker broad?" Mahoney asked.

"She'll testify at the hearing."

"What did you have to give her?"

"My word that I wouldn't tell her husband who she's been sleeping with."

"That's all it took?"

"She signed a prenup."

"Ah," Mahoney said. Greed never surprised him--nor did any other human frailty. "So those bastards at Stock Options R Us will spend eighteen months in a country club prison, the guys who lost their pensions will eat Hamburger Helper for the rest of their lives, and her, she'll get her fuckin' picture on Time as whistle-blower of the year. Jesus."

DeMarco shrugged. There was only so much you could do.

"You need anything else?" he asked Mahoney.

"Yeah, I want you to . . ." Mahoney stopped speaking, derailed by his addictions. He reignited a half-smoked cigar then reached for a large Stanley thermos on the credenza behind his desk. The thermos was battered and scarred and covered with stick-on labels from labor unions. Mahoney poured from the thermos and the smell of fresh coffee and old bourbon filled the room.

As Mahoney sipped his morning toddy DeMarco studied the bundle of contradictions that sat large before him. Mahoney was an alcoholic but a highly functional one; few people accomplished sober what he had managed in his cups. He was a serial adulterer yet deeply in love with his wife of forty years. He stretched soft-money laws like rubber bands and took tribute from lobbyists as his royal due, and yet he was the best friend the common man had on Capitol Hill. John Fitzpatrick Mahoney was Speaker of the House of Representatives and only the vice president stood between him and the Oval Office should the President fall. DeMarco doubted the authors had Mahoney in mind when they penned the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

The Speaker was DeMarco's height, almost six feet, but DeMarco always felt small standing next to him. Mahoney had a heavy chest and a heavier gut, and created the impression of a man perfectly balanced, impossible to rush, fluster, or inflame. His hair was white and very full, his complexion ruddy red, and his eyes sky blue, the whites perpetually veined with red. His features were all large and well formed: strong nose, jutting jaw, full lips, broad forehead. It was a face that projected strength, dignity, and intelligence--it was a face that got a man elected to a national office every two years.

Mahoney swallowed his laced coffee and said, "I want you to go see Andy Banks."

"The Homeland Security guy?"

"Yeah. He needs help with something."


"I dunno. We were at this thing last night and he said he had a problem. Something personal. He says somebody told him I had a guy who could look into things."

DeMarco nodded. That was him: a guy who looked into things.

"Go see him this morning. He's expecting you."

"What about that problem in Trenton?"

"It'll wait. Go see Banks."


Andrew Banks, secretary of Homeland Security, was a retired marine three-star general. He was fifty-nine years old, tall and flat-bellied, and his brown suit and olive-green tie resembled the uniform he had worn for thirty-three years. He had a prominent nose, a gray crew cut, and a mouth that was a slash above a thrusting chin. DeMarco noticed that his eyes, magnified slightly by wire-rimmed glasses, were the color of roofing nails.

Behind Banks's desk, framed by two American flags, was a large pre-9/11 photograph of the World Trade Center. The twin towers had been shot looking up from ground level, and they rose, seemingly forever, white and pristine, into a flawless blue sky. The photograph was a vivid, silent reminder of Banks's responsibilities.

DeMarco sat in one of three chairs arranged in a semicircle before Banks's desk. The chair was so uncomfortable that DeMarco wondered if it had seen prior duty in an interrogation room at Guantonamo Bay.

"John Hastings, Congressman Hastings, told me about you," Banks said. "He said he was being flexed by someone to influence his vote. He wouldn't tell me who or how, but he said he went to Mahoney for help and the next thing he knows, there you are, prying things off his back. He said you're some sorta troubleshooter."

Banks stopped as if expecting a response from DeMarco, but DeMarco, like a good witness in court, hadn't heard a question so he said nothing.

"Well I have a problem, maybe a big one, and I don't want a lotta people knowin' about it. I was wondering what to do when I saw Mahoney at this function last night. I asked him what he could tell me about this guy DeMarco I'd heard about. And Mahoney, that prick, you know what he says to me? He says, 'I don't know any DeMarco but he'll be at your office tomorrow morning.' Then he walks away and starts chattin' up some gal half his age."

She was probably one-third his age, DeMarco thought.

"The thing is, I don't know zip about you."

"I'm a lawyer," DeMarco said.

"A lawyer?" Banks said. The D.C. lawyers he knew looked smooth and sophisticated, slick enough to slide under airtight doors. This DeMarco looked like a kneecapper for an Italian bookie.

"But you're also an investigator, aren't you?" Banks said.

"Yeah, sometimes," DeMarco said, and shifted his butt in the uncomfortable chair. "General, are you going to get around, anytime soon, to telling me what your problem is so I can tell you whether I can help or not?"

Banks smiled. It was a smile that said it'd be a distinct pleasure to take DeMarco out into the parking lot and beat him bloody with his fists and feet.

"Mister, I'm trying to decide if I want to hire you and you're not helping yourself, sittin' there saying nothing."

"General, I'm not here for a job interview and you're not hiring me. The federal government pays my salary. I'm here because the Speaker told me to come see you."

Banks opened his mouth to give DeMarco an old-fashioned, Parris Island tongue-lashing, then remembered he wasn't addressing a buck private. He shook his head and muttered, "This fucking town."

DeMarco could sympathize with the man's frustration. He didn't like D.C. himself most days.

Banks rose from his seat and walked over to a window. He turned his back to DeMarco, shoved his hands into his pockets, and stared down at the traffic on Nebraska Avenue. He pondered his options less than thirty seconds--officers are trained to make decisions--and turned back to face DeMarco.

"Hell, I have to get on with this," he said. "I have too much on my plate as it is and I can't take the time to find someone else. And Hastings did recommend you. Hastings was in the corp, you know."

Semper fi, DeMarco almost said, but controlled his wit. "I didn't know that," he said instead and shifted again in the chair. It felt like the damn thing didn't have a seat cushion, just a thin layer of cloth stretched over the hardest wood on the planet. Or maybe it wasn't wood, maybe it was metal or that stuff that rhino horns are made of.

"Okay," Banks said, "but you have to promise me something. You have to promise that you'll keep everything I'm about to tell you completely to yourself, that you won't tell another living soul. You promise?"

"I do," DeMarco said. He considered raising his right hand when he responded but decided that would be a bit much.

Banks studied DeMarco's face, looking for twitchy-eyed indicators of falsehood, but DeMarco, journeyman liar that he was, gave up nothing. And DeMarco was lying.

"You better be tellin' the truth, bud, or I'll rip off your head and shit down your neck."

DeMarco looked at his watch. He suspected Banks's problem was a family thing: one of his kids was in trouble or his wife was having an affair with someone human.

"Okay," Banks said again, and he took in a lungful of air through his big nose as if preparing to dive into deep waters. "I want you to investigate a Secret Service agent named Billy Ray Mattis."

"An agent?"


The name rang a bell.

"Investigate how?" DeMarco said.

"I want you to . . ." Banks stopped.

"Yes," DeMarco said. It was like trying to get a virgin's knickers off, getting this guy to say whatever was on his mind. Finally the dam broke.

"I want you to see if Mattis was an accomplice in the assassination attempt on the President."

"Whoa!" DeMarco said, half rising out of his chair. "Stop right there. Do not say another word."DeMarco shook his head in disbelief at what he had just heard. "And anyway," he said, "I thought the guy who shot the President acted alone."

"Yeah," Banks said, "he probably did."

This was ridiculous, DeMarco was thinking. "Look, General," he said, "you wanted to know about my background. Well, I'll tell you. I'm a lawyer who does odd jobs for Congress. That's it. If a constituent turns into a stalker, I make him go sit in a corner. If a congressman thinks his kid is doing drugs, I find out before the kid becomes a liability. If a politician thinks his wife is cheating on him, I make sure she's not screwing a journalist. That's the kind of stuff I do, sir. Little stuff. Small stuff. Assassinations are out of my league. Way out of my league. So if you really believe this agent was involved in the assassination attempt, you need to talk to the FBI."

"I don't want to do that," Banks said. "At least not yet."

"But why not?"

Banks didn't answer him. He just stood there looking simultaneously guilty, stubborn, and annoyed.

In the four days since the assassination attempt Banks and Patrick Donnelly, head of the Secret Service, had been interviewed by the FBI. The press had camped out on their doorsteps screaming questions at them, and Congress, in a rare and rapid bipartisan gesture, had slapped together a nosy panel that had grilled both men for hours on how the President's security had been so disastrously penetrated. Banks had had multiple opportunities to tell people he suspected a Secret Service agent of involvement in the assassination attempt--yet here he was, telling DeMarco he couldn't.

DeMarco knew he should leave. Just get his ass out of this fuckin' chair, walk out, and never look back. He also knew if he left before finding out what was going on, Mahoney would flay him.

Before DeMarco could decide one way or the other, Banks picked up an index card lying on the blotter in the center of his desk. He held it gingerly, by one corner, as if it was coated with anthrax, and handed it to DeMarco.

"This is what started it all," Banks said. "That's not the original but that's what it said, verbatim. I sent the original to . . . Never mind. Just read it."

DeMarco read: "Eagle One is in danger. Cancel Chattooga River. The inside ring has been compromised. This is not a joke." The note was signed: "An agent in the wrong place."

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Michael Lawson served for years as a senior civilian executive for the United States Navy. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and is currently working on his next Joe DeMarco novel, which will be published by Doubleday in 2006.

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The Inside Ring (Joe DeMarco Series #1) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 651 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What ever happened to the notice of the free friday book in the nook shop menu? As for the book review, if you can bare the language and suggestive themes through out the book than you might enjoy this one. Some readers can't handle crude humor or strong language and that's unfortunate for them since there are some good reads out there that contain such "offensive" content.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
Recently I read Mike Lawson's newest book, House Secrets, and liked it so much that I decided to read his other novels, in reverse order. Since The Inside ring was his first, I read it last. that is, until a certain point in the book where I realized that I had already read it when it was new. That didn't stop me as I liked the story so much. Even still, I was surprised at the ending, just as I am sure I was in 2005. A really good read.
TarHeelGirl00 More than 1 year ago
I took a chance on "The Inside Ring" when it was featured on Free Nook Friday. Though I was afraid it might contain too much "political mumbo-jumbo," this was hardly the case. The book blends fast-paced action and suspense with a memorable cast of characters. DeMarco and Emma, along with Mahoney, create an attention grabbing page-turner as vivid as any major motion picture. I look forward to enjoying their thrilling antics and humor in the rest of the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fantastic thriller that kept me reading all night long. Started the next in the series and, if you like Jack Reacher or Elvis Cole, you'll love Joe Demarco.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read. Many reviewers talked of foul language, but it was sparce and true to character. If a character would be a person to use foul language then they should cuss. You have to be true to your character or your writing and story suffer. I am a devout, church going christian and i am strong enough in my faith to know some people use foul language. I don't condone it, but it is what it is. Great story teller!
rjh1 More than 1 year ago
Who are these people who are complaining about the foul language. Did we read the same book? All I can say is that they must be very easily offended. There was less foul language in this book than I find in many others written by best selling authors. Get a life, people. It was a good story and I enjoyed it. I am about to buy "The Second Perimeter".
auntee9 More than 1 year ago
I wasn't sure I would like this book when I started it, but it soon became a real page-turner! The story had a lot of twists and turns. Interesting characters that end up in a lot of sticky situations. The ending was a complete surprise. It certainly had me guessing throughout the story. I would definitely get another book by Mike Lawson.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Joe Demarko is a fixer for the House Speaker in DC. As assassination attempt has been made on the President and the version presented to the public leaves a lot to be desired. Those of us who remember the assignation of President Kennedy and the subsequent Warren report still think there is more to the event than has been told! Here we have art imitating life. Joe is “loaned” by the speaker to work with the head of homeland security to investigate and thus spins the story into motion. The investigation brings into conflict homeland security, secret services and other high ranging government department heads. Sort of a “whose got the biggest tallywacker” conflict, but waits there’s more! Each department head has an agenda and turf to protect and the assassination attempt seems of little importance. Kind of like now, where getting elected, and building a government fiefdom is of paramount importance and actually doing anything is inconsequential. Joe has an interesting background with a mob hit man as a deceased father. He got through law school and the speaker hired him and buried him within an agency. Joe uses his years of contacts with a number of interesting characters to get the job done. As the story unfolds, a number of twists and turns develop which is typical of this genre when it is well written. Joe gets little cooperation in his investigation even from his sponsors and his findings are challenged and he is relegated as incompetent because his suppositions can’t be backed with facts. This is the lawyers’ version; nothing is illegal, immoral, incompetent, or unethical unless it can be proven in court. Government department heads want to protect their turf, looking good trumping finding the facts. Joe ultimately unravels the mystery with his life put in danger a number of times as the bodies continue to pile up. The story leaves you with the view, perhaps cynical, that all those in high ranking elected and government positions are greedy, self serving and covet power, with their service to the public of inconsequential importance. I look forward to reading other books about this character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my fears is that this is often how things actually work in Washington. In it's essence, this is a story about political corruption, the power elite, and how absolute power corrupts! Pretty unique plotline with plenty of twists and turns to leave you guessing who dunnit and why right up to the end! Well worth the read! This is my first Lawson novel, but won't be my last! As an aside, to those reviewers who complained about the language...I suggest you stick to Goodnight Moon...it's more your speed! I've read a lot of political and mystery novels and didn't find the language to be gratuitous or out of character to those who were speaking or the position they are in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very enjoyable read. The story is fast paced and the characters are really likable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the book and couldn't put ot down.
junebugYH More than 1 year ago
This shows how things work in Washington...and I'm not sure it is all fiction! Scary to think that it could be even a little bit true. Can't wait to read more Mike Lawson/Joe DeMarco books!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book and it really held my interest and kept me guessing the whole time. I really didnt enjoy some of the language, this book is definitely the equivalent of a rated r movie. Although this is not the type of book that I usually read, it has a great plot. I love to read books that arent predictable, where the plot can surprise at every turn, and this book definitely delivered!! Also, it was fun to read a fiction book written by a man.
TerryRFL More than 1 year ago
My husband and I both thought this book was great! We bought the next book in the series and we can't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kept me on the edge of my seat. I really enjoyed this book and quite possibly will read others by Lawson using the DeMarco character.
ilive2rite More than 1 year ago
Inside Ring pulls the reader in and locks the door. Within a blink of an eye, a world unfolds that sports political good, bad, ugly and the deadly. Great pace, wonderful characters and a believable plot. I enjoyed this book so much I bought three more in the series. Worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book read more like a movie than a novel. There was a lot of imagery that might have been a great place to pause for a commercial. The climactic parts were maybe a bit too violent. The ending seemed disjointed and abrupt. Not a bad read, but wait for the movie.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Short and to the point...I loved this book. Its the first Mike Lawson book for me and wont be the last! Nothing like a great political thriller to keep you reading!
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282 Nook pages. DW
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not the book for you if you're squeamish about off-color language or graphic violence. But these devices fit the characters and help this thriller be believable and vivid. I also appreciated a wry wit and humor. I would definitely read another book about Joe Demarko, but will need a break first reading something light, sappy, and upbeat to counter the villains in this book who weren't uplifting--to say the least.