As I've mentioned before, Stuart Woods started his career at the top. Not necessarily in terms of sales or recognition, but certainly in terms of ambition and achievement.
Chiefs, a murder story that spans three generations in the American South, is just about as good as crime fiction gets. I can't think of another historical crime novelist, in fact, who takes the chances Woods does with this one. And he pulls them off.
In some ways, Woods's latest novel, The Run, returns to his roots, involving as it does the Lee family of both Run Before the Wind and Grass Roots. If this novel doesn't have the depth of the former or the sheer brute passion of the latter, it is nonetheless a quick, clever, and shrewd take on our political system involving a vice president with Alzheimer's and a comatose president. Not exactly a slow news day.
Our hero, and the man who must decide how to steer a course through these turbulent and muddy waters, is Senator Will Lee, who wants to be president himself. He has some tough decisions to make. Woods is particularly good at showing us the mixture of ego, cunning, and fear that goes into making the kind of decision that can end a political career if the least thing goes wrong. Talk about night sweats.
Woods has spent the last several years writing popcorn thrillers of a very high order. Lots of cliffhangers, lots of glitz, lots of derring-do. If you think making these things work is easy, try it sometime. Woods is an adroit craftsman.
The Run combines some of the dark introspection of Grass Roots with the dash of the recent thrillers. The fusion is a fetching one; it turns into one hell of a good read, and a very serious look at the fragile state of our political system now that it has been turned over to consultants and talking heads.
A very enjoyable and accomplished book.
Read an Excerpt
United States Senator William Henry Lee IV and his wife, Katharine Rule Lee, drove away from their Georgetown house in their Chevrolet Suburban early on a December morning. There was the promise of snow in the air.
Kate sipped coffee from an insulated mug and yawned. "Tell me again why we drive this enormous fucking car," she said.
Will laughed. "I keep forgetting you're not a politician," he said. "We drive it because it is, by my reckoning, the least offensive motor vehicle manufactured in the state of Georgia, and because Georgia car workers and their union have shown the great wisdom to support your husband's candidacy in two elections."
"Oh," she said. "Now I remember."
"Good. I'm glad I won't have to put you in a home right before Christmas." He looked in the rearview mirror and saw another Suburban following them. "They're there," he said.
"They're supposed to be."
"How did they know?"
"Because I called them last night and gave them our schedule."
The week before there had been a terrorist attack on CIA employees as they had left the Agency's building in McLean, Virginia, and certain Agency officials had been given personal protection for a time; Kate Rule was the deputy director for Intelligence, chief of all the CIA's analysts, and was, therefore, entitled.
"Oh," Will replied, sipping his own coffee and heading north toward College Park, Maryland, and its airport. "They're not going to follow us all the way to Georgia, are they?"
"I persuaded them that wouldn't be necessary."
"It's a little like having Secret Service protection, isn't it?" she nudged. "Does it make you feel presidential?"
"Nothing is going to make me feel presidential, at least for another nine years."
"What about the cabinet? If Joe Adams is elected and wants you for Defense or State or something, will you leave the Senate?"
Joseph Adams was vice president of the United States and the way-out-in-front leader for the Demo-cratic Party's nomination for president the following year. "Joe and I have already talked about that. He says I can have anything I want, but he doesn't really mean it."
"I always thought Joe was a pretty sincere guy," Kate said.
"Oh, he is, and he was sincere with the half-dozen other guys he told the same thing. But I don't really have the foreign-policy credentials for State, and while I think I really could have Defense, I don't want it. I don't want to spend eight or even four years doing battle with both the military and Congress; the job killed James Forrestal and Les Aspin, and it's ground up a lot of others."
"What about Justice? Your work on the Senate Judiciary Committee should stand you in good stead for that."
"I think I could have Justice, if I were willing to fight for it tooth and nail, and there's a real opportunity to do some good work there."
"I think I'll stay in the Senate. Georgia's got a Republican governor at the moment, and if I left, he'd get to appoint my replacement, and we don't want that. Also, if Joe's elected, three or four top senators will leave to join the administration, among them the minority leader, and I'd have a real good shot at that job. And if we can win the Senate back, then the job would be majority leader, and that is very inviting."
"It's the kind of job you could keep for the rest of your career," she said.
"But you don't want to spend the rest of your career in the Senate, do you?"
"You know I love the Senate."
"Will, you've been awfully closemouthed about this, but I know damned well you want to be president."
"One of these days, sure," Will replied.
"You mean after Joe has served for eight years?"
"I'd only be fifty-seven. Why not? I might even appoint you director of Central Intelligence."
"Yeah, sure," she said. "The world would fall on you."
"If Jack Kennedy could appoint Bobby attorney general, why couldn't I appoint my wife to be head of the CIA?"
"Well, it's a nice thought, anyway," she said.
"Listen, here's a thought; Joe's going to owe me after the election, and if I'm not going to ask him for a cabinet job, I could ask him to appoint you DCI."
"Would you really do that?"
"Let's just say that I know the candidate well and have the highest confidence in her. It's not as though you're not supremely well qualified."
"Mmmmm. I like the sound of it."
"Of course, I'd want my back scratched a lot if I pull this off, and I mean that in the literal, not the figurative sense."
"I'll start growing my nails now." She laughed.
"I think about it sometimes," she said.
"Scratching my back? Less thought, more action!"
"No, I mean your being president."
"And what do you think when you think about it?"
"Mostly about what a huge pain in the ass being first lady would be."
"Oh, it might have its up side—weekends at Camp David, travel on Air Force One, that sort of thing."
"I'd have to make a lot of speeches, and you know how I hate doing that."
"Well, how about this? If Joe has already appointed you DCI, I could reappoint you. Then I could hire a first lady."
"Just run an ad, you mean?"
"Well, I must admit, the idea of being appointed and then reappointed has its appeal, but the substitute wife doesn't."
"I'm glad to hear it." Will turned into the entrance of the little airport at College Park, which had been founded by the Wright Brothers and was located on the grounds of the University of Maryland. He drove down the taxiway to where his airplane was tied down, got out of the car, and unlocked the cabin door. The airplane was new, a Piper Malibu-Mirage, a six-seat, pressurized single-engine aircraft, loaded with the latest equipment. Will had traded his elderly Cessna for it a couple of months before, and it made trips back to Georgia a lot faster and more comfortable. The Run. Copyright © by Stuart Woods. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.