Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: Available Now
Synopsis: The debut political thriller from Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent and the New York Times bestselling author of “The Outpost”—-1950’s D.C. intrigue about a secret society and a young Vongressman in its grip.
Charlie Marder is an unlikely Congressman. Thrust into office by his family ties after his predecessor died mysteriously. Charlie is struggling to navigate the dangerous waters of of 1950s Washington, DC , alongside his young wife Margaret, a zoologist with ambitions of her own. Amid the swirl of glamorous and powerful political leaders and deal makers, a mysterious fatal car accident thrusts Charlie and Margaret into an underworld of backroom deals, secret societies, and a plot that could change the course of history. When Charlie discovers a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of governance, he has to fight not only for his principles and his newfound political career…but for his life.
I have a confession to make. Jake Tapper is not only one of my favorite journalists, but I also have a secret crush on him. Plus he has my eternal admiration for the way he interviews Kellyanne Conway without ever losing his cool when she’s spouting her “alternative facts”. So, when I heard that his first foray into fiction was coming out I knew I had to request it.
The Hellfire Club starts out very strong and immediately grabbed my attention. I love the time period of the early 1950s and Tapper, not surprisingly knows his stuff when it comes to politics during the McCarthy era. All the big political players are here: Jack and Bobby Kennedy; Joe McCarthy and his legal minion Roy Cohn; Senator Estes Kefauver who led a highly publicized investigation into organized crime, and many other well known personalities of the time. Dropped into the Washington swamp is the young and naive Charlie Marder. I liked a couple of the characters, but most of them were a little two-dimensional. The plot turned into something so convoluted it further spoiled my enjoyment. There are too many subplots that cover everything from juvenile delinquency, to comic books, to farm bills, to Puerto Rican revolution, and even wild horses. If Tapper had just focused on the secret society and conspiracy angle, I think this would have been a great political thriller. I love conspiracies much as the next reader, but there was so much much going on my head was spinning. There were also too many parallels to what’s going on with Washington politics today and they came across as forced and contrived.
It breaks my heart to give The Hellfire Club a poor review. The concept and premise is wonderful, but for me the characters and contrived storyline just never meshed. I’ve read a couple of Jake Tapper’s nonfiction books—The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor (2012) and Down & Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency (2000). The first book detailed one of the deadliest battles between U.S. troops and the Taliban. The second was an intriguing breakdown of the Florida election debacle that took place in 2000. Both were meticulously researched and captivating, and I’m saying this as someone who doesn’t read a lot of nonfiction. If Tapper decides to try his hand at another fiction book, I’ll probably try it, but I’m hoping he won’t because I suspect it’s just not his forte. The Hellfire Club is receiving mixed reviews, so if you’re interested by the premise, as always I encourage you to check this out for yourself.