Saturday, August 30, 2008

Brad Meltzer: The First Counsel

My first Brad Meltzer book is The First Counsel. I re-read it, partly to see why I started buying his books. I’ve read three more since the first reading. As a matter of fact, I’ve been doing quite a bit or re-reading lately because I have slowed down on buying new books. Besides, if you never re-read, what’s the point of owning books in the first place.

We meet Michael Garrick on his first date with recent college grad, Nora Hartson. He is a young lawyer working in the office of the White House Counsel. She is the First Daughter, the only child of the President of the United States. Nora has convinced Michael to let her drive his car. And after an incredibly reckless car chase, she manages to ditch her Secret Service escort. She is certainly no meek child. Is Michael in over his head?

They end up at some bar where no one recognizes her. Then Michael notices that it’s a gay bar, which Nora thinks is hilarious. Much to his surprise, Michael sees his boss Edgar Simon, The White House Counsel. Simon is married with a family. What’s he doing in a gay bar? He leaves right after receiving a sheet a paper from another man. Is Michael over his head yet?

Remarkably enough, Michael and Nora decide to follow Simon. Ultimately they find where he leaves $40,000 cash under a tree. All that happens within the first twenty-seven pages. So I don’t feel too guilty revealing it. But I’d better stop now. But with an opening like that, you can imagine that life gets complicated for Michael Garrick. In fact, he may be in over his head.

Remarkably, despite that first date, Michael and Nora continue to see each other. But work relations between Edgar Simon and Michael become very strained. Throw in an office murder, an FBI investigation, and a notorious drug dealer and things become truly precarious. And worse, this is an election year, with President Hartson slipping in the poles, and his campaign terrified of a major scandal.

Helping Michael are Trey and Pam, his best friends at work. Trey works for the First Lady and has the inside scoop on everything. Pam is a fellow lawyer who shares the office suite with Michael. (I really enjoy Trey’s role as a supporting character.) Michael is also befriended by Deputy Counsel Lawrence Lamb. Lamb’s more important titles are Presidential Friend, and Nora’s Godfather.

Michael is trying to balance his career, loyalty and friendship with Nora, political infighting, and election politics. Meanwhile the FBI wants information he does not want to give, and a drug dealer he suspects of murder is trying to contact him. Michael’s easiest solution would probably be to dump everything on Nora. But that would ruin his relationship with her, and cause the scandal he would like to avoid. And having the other party win the White House would obviously end his White House career.

My only frame of reference for White House intrigue is the TV series, West Wing. The First Counsel is also an exciting romp through the corridors of power, although in a much darker sense. But most aspects of the story rang true. The characters were interesting, and fit well in the plot. I can see why I bought more Meltzer novels.

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