cover image The Hellfire Club

The Hellfire Club

Jake Tapper. Little, Brown, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-47231-9

CNN’s chief Washington correspondent Tapper (The Outpost) makes his fiction debut with an intriguing if uneven political thriller set during the McCarthy era. In December 1953, a New York seat in the House of Representatives becomes vacant upon its occupant’s mysterious death. Charlie Marder, a Columbia University academic and WWII veteran, is appointed to fill it after some backstage maneuvering from his well-connected father, a Manhattan power broker. Marder and his zoologist wife, Margaret, make the move to D.C., which is in the grips of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare, as well as the dual shining lights of the Kennedy brothers. It’s soon clear that Marder is more pawn than player in a political chess game, even when he tries to stand up against money being funneled to a company that produced shoddy gas masks during the war. He makes friends with the veterans on Capitol Hill, joining them in liquor-soaked poker games. Tapper, whose intimate knowledge of Washington is undeniable, initially spends more time building up the Communist-hunting ambience of the 1950s than developing the plot, but once Marder closes in on a secret society and its tentacles within the government, the action rapidly picks up. Fans of well-researched historicals will be rewarded. [em]Author tour. Agent: Robert Barnett, Williams & Connolly. (Apr.) [/em]