cover image The Sun King

The Sun King

David Ignatius, David Agnatius. Random House (NY), $21.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44861-7

Washington Post columnist and accomplished spy novelist Ignatius (A Firing Offense) here largely abandons the mechanics of espionage and sets a character study of ambition and intrigue against the workings of a great Washington paper. The Washington Sun and Tribune, is, like the Post, a serious, family-owned business. David Cantor, the novel's cynical narrator, is the editor of Reveal, a debt-ridden society magazine at the other end of the spectrum. Providentially for Cantor, a feature he writes on mysterious new D.C. billionaire Sandy Galvin gives him a new lease on life. Galvin is intent on buying the Sun, and in exchange for some inside information, he promises to make Cantor his lifestyle editor. Cantor and Galvin are both Harvard men, though Galvin never graduated, and their business relationship becomes a friendship shot through with a shared sense of nostalgia and unrealized ambitions. All goes according to plan: Galvin panics the Sun's owners into selling to him, then shakes the place out of its stodgy slumbers with bingo contests and a cable-TV station hook-up. Cantor eventually realizes, however, that Galvin's real aim is to win back his one-time Harvard girlfriend, gorgeous Candace Ridgway, the paper's patrician foreign editor, a woman left with a ""cold heart"" after the Vietnam-era suicide of her father, then deputy secretary of defense. As Galvin's rise leads to his inevitable fall, Cantor watches from the sidelines, playing Nick Carraway to Galvin's Gatsby. A thoroughly involving narrative with a sharp, satiric edge, Ignatius's contemporary take on the tragic confluence of love, power and ambition is a sophisticated look at the media mystique and the movers and shakers in our nation's capitol. His stylish, fluent prose, anchored with fine atmospheric detail, gives the story texture and momentum. Agent, Raphael Sagalyn. (Sept.)