Rules of the Game

Rules of the Game

3.0 5
by Leonard Downie

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From Leonard Downie Jr., longtime editor of The Washington Post, an eye-opening novel of corruption, deception, and intrigue in our nation’s capital.

Sarah Page, a rising star at the Washington Capital, has been assigned to cover the dark world of politics and money in Washington. But when she begins to investigate an influential lobbyist


From Leonard Downie Jr., longtime editor of The Washington Post, an eye-opening novel of corruption, deception, and intrigue in our nation’s capital.

Sarah Page, a rising star at the Washington Capital, has been assigned to cover the dark world of politics and money in Washington. But when she begins to investigate an influential lobbyist and his clients, she realizes that little is what it seems. As Sarah digs deeper, one of her sources is murdered and others disappear. She herself is the target of a car bomb, and a late-night caller warns that she is jeopardizing national security. And while she is determined to pursue the story wherever it leads, her own romantic indiscretions leave her vulnerable.

Sarah is helped by Pat Scully, an evasive, cryptic source in hiding; Kit Morgan, a ubiquitous presence in the national security community whose employer remains a mystery; and Chris Collins, a cooperative congressman whose motives are obscure. When President Susan Cameron—suddenly thrust into the job when her predecessor dies in the White House—is confronted with what Sarah has found, the scheming of her top aides and her own political survival come into conflict with her duty to the country.

No one knows more about Washington, its inner workings and secrets than Leonard Downie Jr. And no novel has better captured the tensions among business interests, politicians, and the press, or the morally ambiguous ways in which all three really work. The Rules of the Game is a riveting and searing debut.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Stephen Amidon
The Rules of the Game is an engrossing read whose main value is its cunning take on the twisted gamesmanship that underlies Washington politics. Despite often resembling a pack of underfed hyenas, Downie's characters all see themselves as playing by rules that are fundamentally ethical…a persuasive piece of storytelling.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Downie, from 1991 until early 2008 the Washington Post's executive editor, delivers a nicely executed newsroom procedural in his fiction debut. Sarah Page, a Washington Capital investigative reporter who's been assigned to the national politics staff after being chastised for a romantic involvement with a colleague, is covering the presidential race between Democrat Monroe Capehart, an elderly Pennsylvania senator, and Republican Warner Wylie, the U.S. vice president. The race escalates after Susan Cameron, California's popular junior senator, becomes Capehart's running mate. Those looking for similarities between Cameron and Sarah Palin will be disappointed, but the same dramatic possibility that haunts the real campaign occurs shortly after the election is decided. Downie (Justice Denied) exposes corruption at the highest levels and shows how national security trumps pretty much everything, including justice, in an entertaining if familiar tale of murder, cover-ups and personal courage. (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This first novel from a former editor of the Washington Post recounts an investigation into the inner circles of Washington's political machinery. Young, beautiful, smart, and ambitious, Washington Capital reporter Sarah Page is covering the financial aspect of a presidential election. She begins looking into the dealings of one Trent Tucker, a former acquaintance, who is involved in political consulting, fund-raising, lobbying, and everything else. The book charts the course of the campaign as an aging Democrat is elected, dies suddenly, and is replaced in office by the young and relatively in-experienced woman he had chosen as his vice president in a controversial move. As Sarah digs deeper into the relationships among political advisers, well-connected lobbyists, and businessmen running shadowy military subcontracting firms, she learns of a former high-ranking general who seems to lurk behind most of the biggest deals. Threatening phone calls follow, as do double crosses, murders, and many love affairs and sexual liaisons. Taking cues from recent headlines, the book mentions the Abramoff scandals, and other recent events like the Blackhawk Security Company situation seem to be the taking-off point. A solid mystery novelist, Downie is convincing in his portrayal of the newsroom's operations and personalities, and the plot carries the reader along swiftly. Recommended for all collections.
—Jim Coan

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


It was a moment Sarah Page had been working toward ever since she first walked into the Washington Capital newsroom six summers earlier. Yet it felt as though she was being punished.

“I have rules,” Ron Jones, the political editor, was warning her. “And I expect you to follow them.”

Jones, a big, burly man, overwhelmed the little desk that separated them in his cramped, glass-walled office on the edge of the newsroom.

“Do I have to explain it all over again?” Sarah asked. She knew she had to keep her composure or miss this opportunity to move onto the national politics staff. She sat as tall as she could in a chair facing Jones.

“Of course not,” he told her, softening his tone. “And I’m not blaming you. Evans should’ve known better. He was an editor.”

“He wasn’t really my editor,” Sarah said. It was important that she not be seen as a victim, a naïve young woman seduced by her boss. She didn’t want special treatment.

“Investigative projects get pretty intense. At least this one did,” she said softly. “Is that why I’m being moved?”

“Hell, no,” said Jones. “I wouldn’t let the local staff dump anyone on me. I asked for you. You did good work on those lobbyists in Maryland.

“And you were tough but fair with the governor,” he added, “even though she’s a woman.”

Sarah hated being constantly reminded that politics was still mostly a man’s game. In Annapolis, the suggestive comments of leering legislators and dismissive slights by some of the veteran reporters had made it clear she would never be one of the boys. In the newsroom, she had faced the widespread assumption that male colleagues had the inside track to the national politics staff.

Before she could respond, Jones smiled knowingly, as though sharing an inside joke.

“C’mon, look at me,” he told her, spreading wide his huge arms. “Don’t you think people have always seen a big bad black man before thinking anything else? It’s only made me more aggressive. Sometimes, in this business, it helps to have a chip on your shoulder.”

Sarah thought about that for a moment.

“You think I do?”

“I know it’s a cliché,” Jones said, looking at her intently. “But I see a determined young woman fighting for respect. I also see something of an idealist, but we’ll cure you of that.”

Sarah saw herself as a fighter, too, but not necessarily an idealist. Her parents, who had grown up in the sixties and worked as reporters in Washington, had always talked about a sense of mission in journalism after Watergate. But that was before they switched to public relations and lobbying, where the money was.

“So why aren’t there more women on your staff?” she asked Jones.

“Fair question. I inherited these guys, and nobody ever leaves. So I asked for you the minute I heard they wanted to separate you and your editor friend.”

“Former friend,” Sarah shot back. “He dumped me.”

“Sounds like you’re still pissed.”

“I am. It’s all over the newsroom, for heaven’s sake. But I’m dealing with it. I just have no social life.”

“You don’t have to be a nun,” Jones told her. “But there’re no secrets in political reporting. So it’s not a good idea to fraternize on the beat.

“Some of my guys aren’t happy about you,” Jones added. “They don’t think you’ve had enough experience. And a couple of them are close to Evans. They resent your coming over here after what happened to him.”

“So you’re really not doing me any favors.”

“Listen. I know how badly you wanted this. And you’re getting it a few years early.” Jones leaned back in his chair. “You know, when you think about it, you should be kissing my ass.”

They both laughed, and Sarah relaxed enough to make her pitch.

“I’d like to cover money.”

“That’s just what I figured.” Jones smiled at her directness. “And I don’t have anyone on it full-time yet. The Democrats are raising and spending more than ever to take back the White House, and the Republicans are matching them dollar for dollar. I’m particularly interested in what Trent Tucker will be doing.”

Sarah nodded.

“You know who Tucker is, don’t you?” Jones asked. “He’s running Monroe Capehart’s campaign for the Democrats. I think he did some work for Elizabeth Tawney in Maryland.”

Sarah froze for a moment. Was he testing her?

“I met him when I was covering Governor Tawney,” she said carefully. “He was a consultant for her campaign.”

“Well, he might be a good place for you to start,” Jones said. “He’s a walking conflict of interest. A consultant and a lobbyist. He helps put them into office and then he lobbies them on behalf of his business clients. If Capehart wins, Tucker will have the run of the White House.”

Sarah had known she wouldn’t be able to avoid Tucker if she covered money and politics. But she felt she had prepared herself for it.

“I’ll send you to the conventions so you can meet everyone,” Jones said. “You’ll have a few weeks to do some homework before the Democrats go to Chicago. I’ll make sure your new colleagues help you.”

“I’m okay on my own,” Sarah said. “I’ve always been pretty independent— you know, the only child of two workaholics.”

Jones could already tell she was a loner, the kind of instinctive outsider who, in the news business, often gravitated to investigative reporting. But he wondered who she was trying to convince, him or herself?

Less than five minutes after Sarah left Jones’s office, Mark Daniels strolled in. Jones made a show of looking at his watch.

“What took you so long?”

“You’re not really bringing Sarah Page over here, are you?”

Mark knew the decision had been made, but he didn’t like it.

“Why not?”

“She doesn’t understand politics,” Mark said, casually perching himself on the edge of Jones’s desk. “She’s really an investigative reporter.”

“She was investigating politicians.”

“That was in Maryland. This is the big leagues.”

“C’mon, Mark,” Jones said. “Your real problem is your friend Evans. He gets busted. She gets promoted. And that doesn’t seem fair to you. Do married guys who fool around have some kind of club?”

“Low blow.” Mark slid off the desk and flopped onto the worn black leather couch on the other side of the office. “I’ve never messed around with anyone in the newsroom. Anyway, whatever became of consenting adults?”

“They had to be separated.” Jones went through the motions of explaining what Mark already knew. “Evans was one of her supervisors on Metro. He broke the rules, so he gets exiled to a suburban bureau. I asked for Page because she has potential, and I needed more bodies for the campaign. I wanted someone who could do money, which she did in Maryland.”

“I heard she thought everybody in the legislature was on the take.”

“Some of them were, including a couple of the governor’s allies. Page did Tawney a favor.”

“Tom told me he had to rein her in.”

Jones leaned forward over his desk.

“So,” he said, slowly and emphatically, “Evans wasn’t just screwing around behind his wife’s back. He was also bad-mouthing his girlfriend behind her back.”

“I shouldn’t have said that.” Mark straightened up on the couch.

“Damn right,” Jones told him. “Sarah’s part of the team now. I’m sending her to the conventions, and I want you to show her around.”

A few days later, on the Fourth of July, Sarah allowed herself to sleep late in the small house she shared in the old Palisades neighborhood, just beyond Georgetown on a bluff above the Potomac River. Her housemate, a lawyer, who was intent on becoming a partner in her firm, had already left to spend the holiday working downtown. Sarah’s task for the day was nearer at hand.

The late morning sunlight was filling her upstairs bedroom. She threw on a T-shirt, shorts, running shoes, and a baseball cap that covered her short black hair. Rather than going for a run or to the gym, as she did most mornings, she walked over to MacArthur Boulevard, where she knew the Fourth of July Palisades parade would be starting.

It was a distinctly neighborhood affair, with fire trucks from the local engine house and police cars from the Second District sounding their sirens, a big refrigerated truck from Safeway honking its air horn, and open convertibles carrying parents and children from local churches and schools. It was traditionally political, with the mayor and members of the city council marching amid supporters who handed out campaign buttons and bumper stickers. It was also eclectic, with representatives of the Oldest Inhabitants association in antique cars, a Bolivian dancing troupe in brightly colored costumes, Scottish bagpipers in plaid kilts, and a gay marching band called D.C.’s Different Drummers.

Sarah walked the length of the parade route down to the edge of the Georgetown Reservoir and back toward Palisades Park, studying faces in the crowd through a reporter’s curious eyes. She encountered neighbors, newsroom colleagues who lived nearby, and a lawyer who had once been a source of hers.

When she saw the energetic young mayor coming toward her, shaking as many hands as he could, Sarah decided to introduce herself. He was only a few years older than Sarah, and she noticed how fit he looked from his well-publicized running and exercise regimen. His shaved head glistened like polished mahogany in the sunlight.

“Good to see you again, Miss Page,” the mayor said, taking her by surprise. “We met last year, when I was visiting the governor in Annapolis. I hope you haven’t been demoted to covering me. You’re too tough.”

Sarah was impressed that he remembered her and flattered by what he said. She was about to tell him about her new assignment when the mayor recognized an older woman pushing toward him.

“Mrs. Landry, so good to see you,” he said, reaching out his hand. “Thanks again for that reception in your beautiful home.”

I guess I’m not that important to him, Sarah thought, remembering that it wasn’t the first time she had taken a politician’s fleeting attention too seriously. She slipped away and continued down the street.

Just as she neared Old Chain Bridge Road, a winding lane that tumbled downhill into MacArthur Boulevard, she spotted Trent Tucker. Wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt, with shorts as white as his legs, open-toed sandals, and a floppy hat and sunglasses, he was off by himself, sprawled in a lawn chair on the grassy hillside.

“Sarah Page, my darlin’,” Tucker called out before she could reach him. He took off his sunglasses to better assess her tanned, athletic body. “Aren’t you still a fine-lookin’ woman.”

How could I have forgotten that down-home accent he uses when he turns on the charm? Sarah thought. She knew that Robert Trent Tucker III, who hated the traditions of old Southern families like his own and never used his full name, liked to manipulate people.

“I didn’t know you lived around here,” Sarah said, acting surprised. Actually, she had already looked up his address—just up the hill on Old Chain Bridge Road—and had spied on the castle-like stone house from outside its gates. She had also checked on what he paid for the house and the amount of the mortgage, which, according to city land records, was held by a company called Malin Associates.

“No ‘Hello, how’ve you been?’ darlin’?” Tucker drawled, easing into the lopsided grin that women found inexplicably captivating. “I know it’s been a long time, but there’s no need to be cold about it.”

“Just businesslike, Trent. They’ve moved me to the national political staff.”

“We’re reunited? Hallelujah!” Tucker waved his sunglasses in mock celebration but made no move to get up. Sitting in his lawn chair, his chalky legs splayed in front of him, he was at eye level with Sarah, who was standing just below him on the hillside.

“So,” she asked, as though she hadn’t heard him, “do you live around here now?”

“Sure do, darlin’, back a ways up the hill and round the bend.” He motioned toward Chain Bridge Road. “What about you? Are you a neighbor? Or are you here workin’ the parade? I saw the mayor come by a while ago.” He paused, still grinning. “But then, you just said you were coverin’ national politics now, didn’t you?”

“I live on the other side of MacArthur, toward the river,” she said, ignoring the teasing she had once found so amusing.

“Sounds nice. Maybe we can take a walk round the ’hood some time.”

“You don’t walk, Trent,” Sarah said. “I wonder how you’re going to get back home when the parade’s over.”

Tucker laughed.

“That’s my car, parked right over there, the big Beemer. I drove down, darlin’. That hill’s real steep.”

“They’ve assigned me to campaign finance,” Sarah told Tucker, turning serious to put him on notice. “I’ll be in touch after I get up to speed. And I’m going to the convention in Chicago. Maybe I’ll see you there.”

“Happy to see you anytime, darlin’.”

Tucker put his sunglasses on, and Sarah walked back down into the crowd watching the parade. He’s got a bit more paunch, she thought, but otherwise he didn’t seem to have changed much. But everything else had. Once, she had been his quarry. Now he would be hers.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Leonard Downie Jr. was executive editor of The Washington Post for seventeen years, during which time its news staff won twenty-five Pulitzer Prizes, including three Pulitzer gold medals for public service. His books include The New Muckrakers and The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril (with Robert G. Kaiser), which won the Goldsmith Award from the Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is now a vice president of The Washington Post Company and lives with his wife, Janice, in Washington, D.C.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Rules of the Game 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
For my money, Leonard Downie's The Rules of The Game is a good read. He gets the tension in Washington politics correct, and his writing keeps the reader involved. Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a cardboard tale about cardboard characters. I was most disappointed that professional reviewers wrote positive reviews about this book. It had numerous failings which they failed to mention.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
badgerpop More than 1 year ago
I wish I could say that I liked reading Leonard Downie, Jr.'s, new novel, "The Rules of the Game." I'm a Washingtonian, like political novels and journalism novels and skullduggery by villains dangerous and nefarious. But there was, to me, a fatal flaw in this novel that made me irritated while I read it and disappointed when I finished it. It's all about sex. Downie doesn't really write about sex, but his characters, male and female, are obsessed with it and they seem to all have slept with each other at one time or another or are planning on it. And it just screws up the story and any believable character development for me. Sarah Page is the protagonist and she is obviously physically attractive. There are several mentions of that fact. She also uses her appearance to dangle as some kind of bait for various subjects she approaches to break a big story on corporate and executive branch and legislative branch corruption that involves national security-or so she is told and we are to believe. There is not one but several Deep Throat-type characters involved who contact her mysteriously or contact her not so mysteriously but with secret information that leads her on. There are murders and disappearances and there is the constant sexual bed-swapping that makes the book seem more and more like an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" than a serious political thriller. Toss in a female President of the United States who is also attractive, single and a bit horny and it gets even yuckier. The question is: could there have been a good political thriller here without the constant sexual tensions? My reluctant answer is "no." Too much of "The Rules of the Game" is written as if from a guide of "Rules of the Political Intrigue Novel Game" as first drafted by Allen Drury and followed later by a relentless parade of authors who use the naturally tense atmosphere of American politics as backgrounds for mayhem, both physical and political. It just breaks no new ground. The issues are admirably complex on the surface: corporations contributing to dummy foundations that are nothing much more than money-laundering operations for political bribery and politicians and operators, both inside and outside government, taking the money and running. The only Good Guys are the journalists who are investigating what's going on and, of course, trying to get into each others' pants. On the scale of things all the illicit sex is as serious an offense to the moral code as jaywalking is to the traffic laws. I found nothing particularly intriguing in the sex and, when I analyzed the nest of evil that was being plumbed by Our Intrepid Girl Reporter, I realized that the number of corporations on the take made for no real increase in complexity of the case. It seemed that the more, the uglier. Leonard Downie was and is an excellent journalist. He was the Executive Editor of the Washington Post for seventeen years and under his stewardship the Post continued its growth and influence in American journalism. I'd like to think that he'd fire a reporter as conspicuously promiscuous as Sarah Page without much regret and without delay but, perhaps like the editors he creates for Sarah in this novel, he would have decided he needed her story more than her character. There are better and will be better political novels written about Washington. Take a pass on this one.
harstan More than 1 year ago
After receiving a reprimand for a tryst with a colleague, Washington Capital investigative reporter Sarah Page is assigned to the national politics desk. She currently covers the presidential contest between elderly Democrat senator from Pennsylvania Monroe Capehart, and Republican Vice President Warner Wylie.

Capehart surprisingly chooses California Senator Susan Cameron as his running mate, which excites some with the selection of a woman and disappoints others who claim she is too inexperienced to be one elderly heartbeat from the White House. However, it is after the election is decided and Cameron is the new PROTUS with the death of Capehart Sarah learns that under the guise of national security even murder at Pennsylvania Ave or that of a nosy journalist getting too close to the truth is acceptable.

THE RULES OF THE GAME has some obvious ties to the Palin connection, but Cameron is a different personality and more significant is her side wins and her running mate and boss dies. The story line is fast-paced and filled with twists as Page seeks to uncover a conspiracy that uses national security to rationalize any action even when the tie to the country¿s safety does not exist except as a political cover. Fans will enjoy this engaging investigative thriller with its cautionary warning that the Bush Legacy is to hide everything inside the wrapper of 9/11-like national security concerns when there is not the remotest connection.

Harriet Klausner