Mark Terry

Monday, April 23, 2007

On Your Reading Radar: Capitol Threat by William Bernhardt

April 23, 2007
I'd never read anything by William Bernhardt--or even heard of him before, which is odd given he's written something like 23 books--when Capitol Threat crossed my desk. I liked the cover (see my cover for The Devil's Pitchfork) and I liked the description of the book, focused as it was on the WONK-ish delights of a Supreme Court judge nomination. So...

Capitol Threat
by William Bernhardt
Ballantine Books
Hardcover. $25.95
ISBN: 978-0-47017-1

A Republican President nominated Thaddeus Roush to the Supreme Court. Roush seems appropriately conservative and he's passed his apparently lame background checks. During a White House rose garden press conference presenting his nomination, Roush announces he's gay on live TV. Suddenly the Republican President isn't very interested in Roush as a judge, although he can't very well back out now, but he can try to kill the nomination via his party. The Democrats, on the other hand, find themselves in the unusual situation of wanting to sponsor and support a Republican Supreme Court nominee. The case, already rather sticky, gets even stickier--or weirder--when during a press conference a dead body shows up in Roush's backyard.

In steps Senator Ben Kincaid from Oklahoma. Most of Bernhardt's novels have featured defense attorney Ben Kincaid, but now we find him the very, very junior senator, appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma after the death of the sitting senator. Since he has the least to lose out of all of the Democratic senators, he is chosen by the Democratic leadership to be Roush's consultant/lawyer/representative during the Senate hearings.

The book then pretty much alternates between the hearings, which are the most enjoyable part of the book, and Kincaid's investigator, Loving's, search for the identity of the dead woman. I loved the political part of the book and was entertained by Loving's investigation, although the tone seems wildly different to me. The hearings are all political wordplay and dueling ideologies, while Loving's investigation borders on the ... well, the word that keeps coming to mind is burlesque. Anyway, the plot is convoluted and improbable (like most crime novels aren't?), but I really enjoyed the hell out of this book. It has any number of twists and turns and plenty of drama, action and adventure and intrigue. I thought it worked far better as a political thriller than as a murder mystery, but there's enough of both to satisfy most readers of either genre. Highly recommended.

Mark Terry


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