The Ambitionby Lee Strobel
A corrupt judge in a mob murder case. A disillusioned pastor, hungry for power. A cynical reporter, sniffing for a scandal. A gambling addict whose secret tape threatens the lives of everyone who hears it. New York Times bestselling author Lee Strobel weaves these edgy characters into an intricate thriller set in a gleaming, suburban megachurch, a big-city
A corrupt judge in a mob murder case. A disillusioned pastor, hungry for power. A cynical reporter, sniffing for a scandal. A gambling addict whose secret tape threatens the lives of everyone who hears it. New York Times bestselling author Lee Strobel weaves these edgy characters into an intricate thriller set in a gleaming, suburban megachurch, a big-city newspaper struggling for survival, and the shadowy corridors of political intrigue. The unexpected climax is as gripping as the contract killing that punctuates the opening scene.
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By Lee Strobel
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2011 Lee Strobel
All right reserved.
As he walked toward the metal detector in the lobby of the Cook County Criminal Courts building, Tom O'Sullivan's heart pounded so hard and so fast and so loud that he was almost afraid a sheriff's deputy would hear it. Or that someone would notice the sweat on his upper lip. Or that a security guard's suspicion might be aroused by his awkward smile, a rather transparent attempt to act naturally.
Through the years, Thomas Ryan O'Sullivan III, attorney at law, had entered the squat, concrete building on Chicago's West Side countless times to defend drug dealers and second-rate thugs charged with felonies. But this time was different; today this scion of a once-powerful political family was coming to commit an egregious crime of his own.
A sheriff's deputy picked up Tom's attaché case from where he'd dropped it on a table for inspection. The deputy made brief eye contact with him; there was a glimmer of recognition, and the officer didn't even bother to open the case. Tom had counted on the fact that attorneys warrant only casual attention from the security force, especially frequent visitors like himself.
"G'morning, counselor," the deputy said with a nod, handing Tom the briefcase after he emerged from the metal detector.
Tom didn't linger. "Have a good one," he said, grabbing his case with one hand and scooping his watch and car keys from the plastic container with his other. He turned and walked briskly toward the elevator. His footsteps echoed loudly in the cavernous hall, and he forced himself to slow down.
Is the deputy still watching me? Should I have shot the breeze for a few minutes? What about the security cameras—will anyone watch where I'm going?
Reaching the elevator, Tom glanced back toward the entrance. The deputy was busy patting down a defendant who had arrived for trial. Tom sighed deeply, shoved his personal effects into his pocket, and pushed the call button. He took out a handkerchief and dabbed at the perspiration from under the modest wave of reddish-brown hair that swept across his forehead.
How many times, he wondered, had his father dispatched thugs—the kind Tom usually represented—on clandestine missions like this? It was the first time he had ever allowed himself such a thought. He preferred to remember his dad the way he saw him while growing up—powerful, connected, warranting universal recognition and admiration.
He tried to suppress memories of the way his father's life ended—the dishonor and ignominy, their entire family buried in humiliation. And now, here he was, wallowing in the same corruption—the last place he ever expected to find himself.
More than anything, Tom wanted to run, to hide, to escape, to call off everything. But he knew he had no choice. And in a twisted way, that provided some comfort. The decision had been made. There could be no backing out. The consequences of abandoning his assignment went beyond his imagination.
He gave his lapels a yank to straighten out the gray pinstripe suit. The only thing he could do at this point was to concentrate on not getting caught.
Garry Strider threw himself into a maroon vinyl booth at Gilke's Tap. "The usual," he called over to the bartender. "Just keep 'em coming, Jerry."
The place was virtually empty. Jerry glanced at his watch—a little after three—and let out a low whistle. He hustled together a J&B Scotch with a splash of water and brought it over, slipping into the seat across from his long-time customer.
"Had lunch?" Jerry asked. "Want a burger?"
Strider didn't hear the questions. "It's unbelievable. Unbelievable!" he said, gulping his drink.
For seventeen years, Jerry had run a hole-in-the-wall tavern strategically located between the offices of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Examiner. During that time he had learned more about newspapers than most ivory tower journalism professors would ever know.
For him, the clues on this particular day were obvious: it was mid-afternoon in the first week of April and the chief investigative reporter of the city's second largest paper looked like he should be on suicide watch.
"So," said Jerry. "The Pulitzers were announced."
Strider downed the rest of his drink and removed his wire-rim glasses, tossing them on the table and massaging the bridge of his nose, his eyes shut.
"We worked eighteen months on that series," he said, more to himself than to Jerry. "We proved that lousy forensic work by the Chicago police lab had tainted dozens of criminal cases. Scores of cases. Two guys were released from death row. Seven cops resigned; a grand jury is investigating. We may nail the chief yet. We won every award in the state. What more do we have to do?"
Jerry knew more drinks were in order. He stepped behind the bar while Strider kept talking. "And who do they give it to? The Miami Journal for a series on nursing homes. C'mon—nursing homes? Who even cares, except in Florida?"
Jerry shoved another drink into Strider's hand and plopped down a bowl of pretzels.
"You remember Shelly Wilson," Strider continued. "The redhead? Nice legs?"
"Oh, yeah, I had to pry the two of you apart a couple of times." Strider shot him a sour look. "Don't tell me she won it."
"She was an intern when I hired her," Strider said. "I taught her everything—undercover work, public records, Internet research, milking informants. Maybe I taught her too well—she dumped me and ran to the Journal when they offered her more money and her own team. And now she screws me again."
Jerry shook his head. He felt terrible for his friend. For as long as he had known him, all of Strider's focus had been on winning a Pulitzer —although Strider had never come right out and admitted it.
They both knew it: a Pulitzer turbo-charges a career like nothing else. It means a shot at the New York Times or Washington Post. It becomes a proud label for the rest of a reporter's life: "In his commencement address at Harvard University, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Garry Strider said yesterday that blah, blah, blah ..." It would have been in the lead of his obit someday.
Most importantly, bagging the Pulitzer would have gotten John Redmond off Strider's back. Hard-driving and relentlessly arrogant (and, yes, recipient of a Pulitzer back in 1991), Redmond demanded big results from Strider's three-person investigative unit. His willingness to let Strider spend month after month pursuing a single series of articles was predicated on him bringing home a prestigious Pulitzer for the paper.
Now that he had failed—again—to win the big one, it was unclear what the future would hold. Would he get one more chance? Newspapers were cutting investigative reporters around the country. When tough economic times hit, they were often the first to go.
"You told Gina yet?"
Strider slipped on his wire-rims. "Yeah, I called her. She listened; she sympathized. What else could she do? Then she said she had some news of her own." He polished off his drink, holding out the glass for another refill. "Unbelievable."
On the fourth floor of the Criminal Courts Building, Tom O'Sullivan walked up to the door of Chief Judge Reese McKelvie's courtroom. He grabbed the brass handle—then paused, shutting his eyes tightly.
How did he get to this point? How did everything go so terribly wrong?
He was such an unlikely candidate for something like this. For much of his life, he had lived a golden existence—never having to work hard, never having to worry about his future. In Chicago, the O'Sullivan name had been the key to opening any door that was worth going through.
The O'Sullivan legacy went back to his great-grandfather, Ryan, who emigrated from Ireland in 1875 and bullied his way into a job as an organizer for the new American Federation of Labor.
Ryan's eldest son, Big Tom O'Sullivan, was the first to make a mark on Illinois politics. Gregarious and brash, conniving and charismatic, Big Tom scratched his way through law school and then gained notoriety by successfully defending six Irish teenagers who had been framed for a killing committed by an off-duty cop. When the alderman of his heavily Irish Ward died of cancer, Big Tom rode a wave of popularity into office.
Over time, he systematically consolidated power. The street smarts he had garnered at the knee of his father, mixed with his larger-than-life personality, made him an irresistible leader. His lock on Ward politics continued until his death in 1957.
His son—Tom's father—blended seamlessly into the Ward's political machine during the last several years of Big Tom's life, but his ambitions were loftier. The year after his father's death, Tommy Junior was elected to the Illinois General Assembly.
Though not as affable or loquacious as his father, he was equally adept at manipulating the levers of power. After three terms, he easily advanced to the state Senate, where he gained control of key committees dealing with appropriations and transportation.
Growing up an O'Sullivan in Chicago meant every door flew open for Tommy Junior's namesake son, his only male heir. Tom had learned quickly that mediocrity was more than sufficient in a world that revolved around his well-connected dad.
He partied through college and used his father's clout to get into law school. But then everything collapsed overnight when the Examiner disclosed that Tom's father had been caught sponsoring a "fetcher bill"—a proposed law whose only real purpose was to negatively impact a particular industry so that it would "fetch" a payoff in return for killing the legislation.
Headlines came fast and furious as allegations multiplied. Contractors told the grand jury that Tommy Junior had steered highway construction projects to friends in return for a piece of the action. It was classic Illinois "pay to play" corruption.
Before long, the investigation, led by Debra Wyatt, a bulldog federal prosecutor intent on making a name for herself, spread like cancer. The senator never discussed the investigation with Tom or his sisters. The closest he came was one morning when he walked into the kitchen and found them reading the Examiner.
"Lies," he muttered without looking up. "Wyatt wants to be governor—that's what this is about."
Then came the seventeen-count indictment: mail fraud, tax evasion, extortion, racketeering. Tommy Junior's health collapsed. And that's when prosecutors turned up the heat. Come into the grand jury, Wyatt whispered in his ear, and implicate every friend. We'll cut you a deal.
Not a soul expected him to turn state's evidence—until a story by Garry Strider, based on a leak from prosecutors, landed on the front page of the Examiner, alleging that the senator had agreed to tell everything.
The leak was a lie, designed to chase away Tommy Junior's friends so he'd feel isolated and more likely to testify against his colleagues. He could've shouted from the top of the John Hancock Center that he wasn't cooperating with the authorities and nobody would have believed him. His fate as the biggest pariah in state politics was sealed. But within seventy-two hours of the story hitting the streets, Thomas Ryan O'Sullivan Jr. was stricken by a massive heart attack. Tom still blamed Debra Wyatt and the Examiner for hounding his father into an early grave.
Tom barely made it through law school and still wasn't sure how he'd done it. The O'Sullivan name became political poison. He passed the bar on his first attempt, but then nobody would hire him. He ended up opening his own office and taking run-of-the-mill criminal cases—anything to pay the bills.
Only one thing still reminded him that he was alive—gambling. The thrill of placing the bet, the rush of eternal optimism that this one was it—this horse, this hand, this roll of the dice. Only he was losing more and more, the price steeper as his financial hole deepened. Now, as he swung open the Chief Judge's heavy oak door, he was taking the biggest gamble of his life. And the odds, he feared, were stacked against him.
Jerry's coffee did a pretty good job of clearing the buzz in Garry Strider's head. The walk through the cool air to the front of his DePaul area townhouse helped too. But opening the door and seeing the living room couch made into a bed—well, that's what finally jolted him back to full mental acuity.
"Uh, Gina?" he called, closing the door behind him.
She emerged from their bedroom, carrying a pillow and a newly laundered pillowcase. Her fresh-faced beauty still startled him at times—how did he get so lucky? Strider braced himself, figuring she was going to lambaste him for his drinking binge. Instead, she smiled and greeted him with a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Hi, Strider," she said—everyone called him that. "I'm really sorry about the Pulitzer thing. Honestly, they're idiots. You okay?"
"Total disaster," he said. "Someone spending the night?"
Gina clad the pillow and tossed it onto the couch. "Honey, no. Listen, we should talk. You eaten? There's lasagna I can heat up."
"What's with the couch, then?"
"You want a sandwich?"
"I want to know about the couch. What's going on?"
Gina sighed and eased her slender form onto the sofa's edge. "Look, sit," she said. Strider lowered himself into a recliner. She thought for a moment, then gestured toward the makeshift bed. "This is for me."
Before Strider could interrupt, she added: "Now, don't get all excited. This isn't the end of the world. I just think, well, that we should cool it a bit—at least physically. Not forever—just until ... well, if we get married."
For Strider, this did not compute. "What is this—the 1950's? We've lived together for nearly a year! Suddenly, you don't want to sleep together? If this is pressure to get married—"
"No, it's not that. I mean, yeah, you know I'd like to get married. But I'm realizing that we shouldn't continue to be, um, intimate until it's, like, y'know—official. It's just ... what I feel."
When he didn't respond, Gina continued. "Strider, I love you. I'm sorry this comes on such a bad day for you. I'm not saying we shouldn't be together; I'm just saying we shouldn't be sharing the same bed anymore. Not for a while."
"So you're going to live out here?"
She sighed. "No, I'm moving in with Kelli and Jen."
"You're leaving?" Strider rose to his feet, his eyes riveted to her.
"No, I'm not leaving you." She stood to face him. "I want us to be together—just not living together. Not until we get married—and I'm ready to do that whenever you are. This isn't about breaking up; it's about doing what's right."
"What's right?" That heightened Strider's suspicions. "Where is this coming from? Is this about the church that Kelli's been dragging you to? Is that what this is about?"
Tears pooled in Gina's eyes. She hated it when Strider raised his voice to her; it reminded her of her father's drunken tirades when she was growing up. The last thing she wanted to do was cry.
Softened by seeing her tears, Strider pulled her toward himself. "Babe, what's this about?" he asked in a gentler tone. She hugged him back, and now the tears flowed.
"I know ... everybody lives together," she said between sobs. She kept her head on his shoulder; it seemed easier to talk without looking him in the face. "But I've just been thinking a lot about relationships and love and sex—the pastor at Kelli's church has been teaching on it, and I think he's right about some things. I don't want to lose you, Garry. Let's just try it this way for a while. Please?"
Strider was seething, but he knew enough not to argue with Gina when she was emotional like this. And he didn't blame her, really—she was still young, impressionable. No, what he wanted to know was who this sanctimonious preacher was to butt into their lives? What kind of fundamentalist garbage was he peddling?
"Please," she whispered.
Strider didn't know what to say. "Gina ..." He pulled away slightly, holding her by her shoulders and looking her in the eyes. "Gina, it's not the right time for this."
Excerpted from THE AMBITION by Lee Strobel Copyright © 2011 by Lee Strobel. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Lee Strobel (www.LeeStrobel.com), with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale Law School, was the award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. He is a New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty nonfiction books. A former atheist, he served as a teaching pastor at two of America’s largest churches. He and his wife live in Colorado.
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Here's my impression of The Ambition by Lee Strobel ~ WOW ... Riveting ... Superb! I guess from the above statements you've pretty much gotten the picture but just in case you haven't (LOL) let me write this ... The Ambition is Mr. Strobel's debut fiction novel and well, this book is fantastic! Not being an regular reader of suspense novels, I found the prologue to be a bit unnerving and I began to question why I had agreed to read a suspense novel. Well, my attitude changed into the first two pages of Chapter 1! The story is well written, fast paced but not laced with blood and gore. The characters are interesting, challenging and fully developed. The plot twists and turns are amazing and they kept me in suspense with my adrenaline rushing the entire time I read this book. I highly recommend this book and I look forward to reading more of Lee Strobel's books in the future! Many thanks to Kim at Nancy Berland Public Relations for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for a review on this blog. My review is based on my honest impressions of this book.
Popular Atheist turned Christian nonfiction author Lee Strobel, noted for his widely read "Case For" series of books on the intellectual support for the Christian faith, has made his fiction debut with a legal thriller novel. The action is based in Chicago and focuses on Eric Snow, pastor of a suburban megachurch. The engaging mystery weaves intriguing characters into a fast paced story line. A corrupt judge, a cynical reporter and his girl friend, a gambling addict in possession of a secret tape, Snow's best friend and fellow pastor, an Elder in his church, his wife, and a mob king-pin all converge in a tale where the Governor's appointment to a vacant Senate seat is a stake - along with the lives of everyone who hears the secretly made tape recording. New York Times bestselling author Lee Strobel takes his readers inside a suburban megachurch, a big-city newspaper struggling for survival, a court system tainted by corruption, and the local and national political scenes. The action takes place in Chicago and includes the familiar sights, sounds, history, traditions and tastes of the Windy City. Having lived in Chicago, Strobel treats the local color perfectly. Only someone who truly knows that city could pen an entire page describing the nuances of a Chicago-style hot dog, for example. An unexpected climax avoids any cliché ending (with all the good guys living happily ever after.) In fact, readers are left looking forward to another installment in the form of a sequel. Strobel, who has been prolific in nonfiction, writes with a confident and crisp style as he jumps over to fiction writing. He successfully avoids turning an excellent thriller into something less, with his measured injection of Christian themes. The story isn't interrupted by preaching, but the Christian worldview vs. opposing ideas is definitely included. Strobel's personal background includes involvement in a magachurch which leads to some very real feeling portrayals in that area. His background as an award winning legal journalist makes for a realistic portrayal of the legal and journalism themes in the plot as well. One character clearly mirrors Strobel's background in legal journalism. However, the author commendably holds back from resolving that character's skepticism, before the book ends, in parallel with the author's own journey to faith. With a growing interest in faith-based films, I would expect this story might well make it to the big screen one day. This one definitely belongs on your summer reading list if you haven't already devoured it like a tasty slice of Chicago-style deep dish pizza by then.
A bookie meets his end at the hands of the no-nonsense Mafia mobster, Nick Moretti. That event will foster a series of conversations and illegal actions that focus on how not to get caught and have one's future ruined. A typical scenario? Well, this one's got a bit of a different twist to it. An Illinois Senator has been criminally convicted and is forced to resign. It's up to the Governor to appoint an interim Senator. His choices are a Chicago Judge, Reese McKelvie, or an evangelistic preacher, Eric Snow. The former engages in some manipulation in order to free the murderer, Nick Moretti; and the plot unwinds with him telling the Bugatti family. As the violent consequences follow, it seems there's no way to pull back the forces aiming to eliminate all threats to the Judge's senatorial selection! At the same time, Eric Snow and his legal adviser are doing everything possible to secure the position as well. Meanwhile, miracles are happening in his former church, and he only wants to distance himself from acknowledging the special answers to faith-filled prayer. His once faith-filled life becomes divided until inspired words break through the hard veneer he's been developing. Ambition has different meaning to those reaping its different consequences. The Ambition is a novel about examining choices and looking around at the lives one affects on all levels of life and death! Lee Strobel has crafted a realistic, conscious-raising story that every reader will long remember and ponder! Outstanding!
The Ambition A Novel Lee Strobel 2011 Zondervan Fiction/Suspense Reviewed by Cindy Loven Eric Snow is a pastor of a mega church in Chicago, but he is restless. Perhaps it is time to move past this phase of his life, after all, he is a rich man, from his previous career as a software designer. He feels that perhaps the time has come where he can be more useful in a different arena, perhaps the political arena. A new elder in his church is gently nudging him toward this, Debra Wyatt, a former high profile federal prosecutor, now in private practice has been informing him that the current Senator is fixing to be forced to resign. Since he has had one political success he is on the governor's radar to replace the Senator. Tom O'Sullivan, a sleazy lawyer who defends criminals has found himself in a position he never would have dreamed of, he is forced by the mob to take a bribe to a federal judge, to fix an arraignment. He is terrified, but knows his deep gambling debt to the mob makes it impossible to refuse this little errand. Garry Strider a long time newspaper man, is determined to dig up something on the Diamond Point Fellowship Church. He is initially angered by what he feels is their interference in his life, by swaying his long time live in girlfriend to move out. He is sure he can find something negative to report. He will dig deep, and uncover whatever dirt he can find on Pastor Eric Snow and the Diamond Point Fellowship. A book filled with desperate people who will do whatever it takes to make their way, Lee Strobel will pull you into this story. As his first fiction book, you will admire his writing, and be drawn into the story. I enjoyed the story, it totally caught my attention and kept me interested to the end. Filled with scenes that are easily imagined, you will too find yourself drawn into The Ambition. 283 pages $24.99 US Hardback 4 stars. This book was provided by Authorsontheweb for review purposes only. No payment was received for this review.
In Chicago, the Bugatti brothers need to insure the right judge controls a murder trial that they have a vested interest in the outcome. Thus the siblings send money to Judge Reese McKelvie who is running for a U.S. Senate seat. The current incumbent Senator Barker was forced to resign due to corruption as he had mob connections. Reese's opponent is Pastor Eric Snow, head of a mega-church. Gina D'Orazio attends Pastor Snow's church. She believes living outside of wedlock is a sin so she moves out of the home of her boyfriend investigative reporter Garry Strider. Upset and cynical Strider investigates candidate Snow and his mega-church as he expects to find plenty of corruption to write about; he finds much more than he anticipated as his inquiry expands into the political arena. The Ambition is an exhilarating political thriller that grips the audience who will wonder if government office denotes corruption as cynical Strider is like a modern day Diogenes only he finds dishonesty. The story line is fast-paced throughout setting up the convergence of the key players. Although the climax feels abrupt, fans of Lee Strobel's nonfiction bestsellers and legal thriller readers will enjoy The Ambition that supersedes ethics. Harriet Klausner
For his foray into fiction, Lee got a bit ambitious and bit off more than he could chew. The writing was so-so. The plot seemed to move along pretty good, but then just stopped. Character development was minimal and at times one-sided. Characters did things that just didn't fit with how they were originally written. Spiritual change in the characters was almost non-existant. This could have been a much better book. I felt very let down after finishing this one.
The Ambition by Lee Strobel is the best-selling journalist's first novel. Several stories of high-powered men in Chicago come together in a climactic way. The Bugatti brothers are known for their control of the Chicago mafia and their business as cut-throat loan sharks. Tommy O'Sullivan has coasted through much of his life on his last name until a gambling addiction puts him deep in debt to the Bugattis and he participates in a bribe that will change the city forever. Eric Snow is a respected pastor of a megachurch in Chicago who is thinking about switching careers to politics, but his best friend questions his motives. Garry Strider's life is going pretty well, with a successful career as an investigative journalist and live-in girlfriend, Gina. But when Gina gets some religion, she moves out and starts pushing him to consider finding faith himself so they can be married. Instead Garry starts investigating the pastor at Gina's church, Eric Snow. Strobel takes these disconnected stories and weaves them with suspense until they come together with a crash. Where Strobel really shines is in his portrayal of Snow and his church. The church tries so hard to fit in with pop culture, that they try to play it down when miracles begin occurring there. They refuse to call them miracles or anything supernatural in order to keep from being attacked by scientists and atheists. Strobel really doesn't have time to develop the characters too deeply but the story is entertaining and thought-provoking. Strobel wrote the premier apologetic work of the late twentieth century in The Case for Christ. This doesn't live up to that level of writing, but it's a good read that will keep readers turning the pages. I hope that Strobel gives fiction another shot soon.
Absolutely different. Not in a bad way, mind you. Lee Strobel is an amazing author when he is writing his Case books. I love them. My dad has a whole collection of them, that I love to break into from time to time. They are stunning and amazing. But, when he writes fiction, well....let's just say that while his writing is not terrible, it's certainly not as good as I hoped it would be. With that being said, The Ambition's plot is awesome. The way the story line had to flow, with mobs, and megachurches, and politics. Very intriguing to see the way the characters were created for that plot. Each character was interesting and flowed well. I really was captured by the fast pace that this book entailed. The thrills of the book were good, the action was heart pounding and the suspense was fascinating, but for a debut novel, it could use some tuning. Not anything overly bad, just a few minor tweaks here and there with some grammar and issues with wording. I do recommend this book to those of you who love thrillers and politics. The suspense, the intriguing, thought provoking happenings of mobs and megachurches will have you on the edge of your seat with this Lee Strobel novel. Four stars and I am looking forward to another book by this otherwise fantastic author, in hopes that it will be even better! *This eBook was provided for review by Zondervan*