In his third outing (following The Inside Ring and The Second Perimeter), Lawson goes to the heart of Washington’s wheelers and dealers. An ambitious junior senator from Virginia is pushing a bill to deport non-citizen Muslims and execute thorough background checks on all Muslim-Americans. Given a recent spate of attacks - a small plane headed for the White House, the near-bombing of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel - public fear and paranoia is high and rising.
Tapping into that fear, Senator Broderick is pushing his bill through the senate, the only man standing in the way the Speaker of the House, John Fitzpatrick Mahoney. Unfortunately, personal issues interfere with Mahoney’s usual course of action in defeating the bill: he is friends with the family of the man who flew the suicide mission toward the White House. Questioning such outrageous behavior from a man with a stable background, Mahoney is frustrated; unable to act, he retains the services of his very useful fixer, Joe DeMarco.
Under the job title Counsel Pro Tem for Liaison Affairs, DeMarco is really Mahoney’s man behind the scenes, ready to do his boss’s bidding without bringing the speaker’s name into the conversations. Beginning an investigation under the radar is no easy task; DeMarco must work agency sources and track witnesses without attracting the notice of Broderick’s office.
Gathering what few facts are available, DeMarco calls on old friends (from the prior novels) to help him retrieve information that would otherwise be unavailable. Wedging in a week’s getaway in Florida, DeMarco rattles a few people without realizing he has triggered alarms, focusing on the attempted terrorist attacks and those involved.
Before long he has a longer list of potential villains than he knows what to do with: Washington power brokers with big checkbooks, agency insiders, data-mining companies, an attractive female assassin, and a methamphetamine drug lord with an army of thugs.
Bit by bit, DeMarco and his cohorts fit the pieces of an alarming puzzle together, one that suggests nefarious motives and the exploitation of the country’s deepest fear. Ex-spy Emma is of considerable assistance, retaining her insider connections and uncommon talent for ulterior motives, especially those grounded in greed.
There are plenty of exciting scenes, almost-bombings, fusillades of gunfire and menacing goons, but Lawson fails to deliver many surprises. Caught up in the action, he fails to maintain the suspense, the theme pretty clear halfway through the book. DeMarco is an appealing protagonist but could use a bit more sophistication and less bravura. Lawson is capable - maybe next time I will be pleasantly surprised.