Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent and author of The Outpost (2012), takes readers back to 1953 in The Hellfire Club, his highly-anticipated fiction debut.
Charlie Marder is happy with his life as a Columbia professor and author of a nonfiction novel, a life he shares with his wife, Margaret, who is a zoologist. He’s also a World War II veteran, rounding out an impressive resume that would be perfect for, say, a career in politics, something Marder has zero desire to chase. That is, until a New York seat in the House of Representatives becomes available, vacated by the mysterious death of the congressman who originally held it. Charlie’s father, a big-time player in New York City thanks to his connections as a well-known Republican attorney, pulls more than a few strings to see to it that his son, who has no real interest in the job, is appointed to the empty seat.
Their lives rapidly changing, Charlie and Margaret move to Washington, D.C., where they do their best to adjust to their new lives as that of a sitting United States congressman and his wife. The transition isn’t easy, and it only gets harder when Charlie attempts to stand up to the large, well-known corporation that produced faulty gas masks, which resulted in at least one American soldier dying in France.
Marder quickly discovers that he’s even lower on the totem pole of Washington elites than he initially thought and faces serious consequences. Over time, he begins to learn how to navigate his way through Washington, bumping into a number of fascinating characters who make appearances — including the Kennedy brothers, Lyndon Johnson, and Joseph McCarthy. But the deeper Charlie plunges into the world of politics, the darker he becomes, until he’s eventually boozing it up and doing things he never would have imagined back when he was a happy professor. It all leads to a terrible decision that results in a car accident and the death of a cocktail waitress who went flying through Charlie’s windshield.
The already awful situation worsens yet again when Charlie is forced to deal with the aftermath of the crash, which reveals a secret society that stretches to every end of the American government. . .
There’s no question that when it comes to Washington and the inner workings of our nation’s capital, Jake Tapper knows what he’s talking about. It’s interesting that he chose to set his debut novel in the 1950s rather than the present day (especially when today’s political climate is such a hot-button issue), but Tapper really brings the past to life with his acute attention to detail and intimate knowledge of the plot’s subject matter. The one downside, if there is one, is that a significant portion of the story (especially early on) is dedicated to setting the scene and explaining how things worked sixty years ago. Tapper’s a good enough writer to hold the reader’s attention during those pages, but it does slow down the book’s pacing a bit, taking longer for the plot to develop. That said, when Tapper does serve up the meat of the story, the end result is a five-star worthy experience.
If Brad Meltzer ever set one of his books in the 1950s, it’d look a whole lot like Jake Tapper’s The Hellfire Club, a well-written inside look at Washington. . . with a killer twist along the way.
Author: Jake Tapper
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: April 24, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.