Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fantasy Politics: Review of Joseph Flynn's The President's Henchman

Fall is football season, and for many, fantasy football season. Participants study stats and games, carefully choose their players by whatever method is allowed and works for them, praying all the while to the gridiron gods and performing arcane personal rituals to choose and strengthen their players. At the end, their carefully nurtured teams reward the participants' hard work by playing opposing teams. I used to think politics worked kinda like that, but apparently not for the current Congressional lineup. Their infantile temper tantrums make a bar full of inebriated enthusiasts during the big game look like, well, rational grownups in comparison.

Author Joseph Flynn has put together a charming fantasy First Family team for us in his series of political thrillers featuring Jim McGill and his beautiful wife, President Patricia Grant. When Jim got his P.I. license after the election, the Secret Service changed his code name from "Valentine" to "Holmes." He couldn't imagine spending four or eight years in the White House cutting ribbons or offering cooking tips while Patricia did the heavy lifting for the country, and he had no interest in running the FBI or the CIA. With her complete approval and his 25 years experience as a cop, P.I. seemed a good fit for him.

It was a second marriage for both of them. After the then-Chicago cop had been shot and nearly killed, his first wife, Carolyn, felt that she couldn't cope with the stress, and they parted amicably. She had since remarried, but they remained friends and Jim saw his three kids often. He first met then-Representative Patricia Darden Grant (R-IL) when the life of her billionaire philanthropist husband Andrew was threatened by a radical religious group who wanted her vote on an extreme anti-abortion bill in Congress. She voted her conscience, and despite the best efforts of the police and FBI, the terrorists accomplished their threat. Within 12 hours, McGill had arrested Erna Godfrey, wife of fundamentalist preacher Burke Godfrey, and several others for the crime. Erna had been tried in federal court and was currently on death row in a federal facility.

McGill will accept only one member of the Secret Service and one White House driver as escorts, and chooses both very carefully. Young mixed-race agent Donald "Deke" Ky is his choice as bodyguard. Leo Levy, McGill's driver, is a good ol' Jewish boy from North Carolina, a veteran driver of the NASCAR circuit. Leo, while not willing to take a bullet for McGill (that's not his job, and besides, his mother would kill him if he got shot) helpfully offers to run over any shooter several times.

McGill rents himself a third floor office in a rehabbed building near Rock Creek Parkway and opens for business. After spending two weeks politely turning away lobbyists whose principals want to offer him five- or six-figure retainers "just in case" they ever require his services, he realizes he needs serious help, so places a call to his former police partner and family friend Margaret "Sweetie" Sweeney, an angelic looking ex-nun described as a cross between a Valkyrie and the Archangel Michael.

With Sweetie guarding his door, the crowds vanish and his first actual case appears. Chana Lochlan is the White House reporter for a Fox-type cable news service. She is receiving phone calls at her private number from a stalker who calls her "Gracie" and describes her body in intimate detail. She is sure she has never heard that voice before, and none of her lovers has ever called her by that name. He had opened their first conversation with the question "Do you remember the last time we made love?" Chana wants him caught and stopped, but is unwilling to go to the police––she reports the news, and doesn't want to make it. McGill accepts the case.

Meanwhile Patricia, a moderate Republican loathed by the extreme elements of both parties, has been handed a very hot political potato her first weeks in office. Carina Linberg, a colonel in the Air Force, has been accused of adultery with a married officer in the Navy. The Air Force is considering whether she should be tried for "conduct unbecoming an officer." Her married lover is the sole witness for the prosecution, and will not be charged. If found guilty, she could be dishonorably discharged and spend several years in Leavenworth. It has been assigned by the general to a very inexperienced lieutenant, in the obvious hope that he––and his results––could be controlled by his superiors. The President, in her position of Commander-in-Chief, takes direct charge of the investigation, assigning Lieutenant Welborn Yates an office in the White House for the duration and requiring him to report directly and exclusively to her.

The U.S. Congress or a barroom brawl?
Joseph Flynn is a seriously gifted storyteller with a wicked sense of humor, who leavens serious commentary and legal procedure with amusing and often outrageous incidents. McGill strolls around the city with only one Secret Service agent at his side and his car crawling a half block behind (wouldn't D.C. drivers just love that!) talking to anyone who stops him in the street. The President's Henchman is a huge tapestry of conflicting and interlocking interests that never stops moving; a feel-good story for America just when we badly need one.

It could have been ripped from the headlines, except that it doesn't go far enough in describing the intransigence and ninny-fication of our present Congress. Truth has outpaced even Mr. Flynn's fertile imagination there. For me, the saddest words in this book are the publisher's disclaimer: "This book is a work of fiction...Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental." That's a pity. Surely, we the people of these United States can, in sanity and good will, put together a pair of fantasy teams that can settle their disputes like competent adults within the framework of law to get our government working again! Go team, whichever side you're playing; let's not just sit on the sidelines, whining.


  1. Peri, this book sounds fun.

    I like your word "ninny-fication" to describe our present Congress. Sam Rayburn, Henry Clay, et al. must be rolling in their graves.

  2. Georgette, truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. The second book in the series, The Hangman's Companion, has an 'unfortunate' incident at the G8 conference that still makes me giggle.

  3. Maybe Bill Clinton can start the paperwork for a private eye's license now.

    An "unfortunate" incident at a G8 conference is too good to pass up. Much better in fiction than the embarrassing spectacle our US Congress is making in front of the whole world.

    Thanks, Periphera.


  4. I need to check out some of these Joseph Flynn books. They look amazing! I am almost finished reading, "No One Can Know" by Adrienne LaCava- a fantastic political thriller/suspense which takes place during the time of the JFK assassination. I am so sad to finish it- I wish it could go on forever. I just love the author's writing style and I could tell that she had done a lot of research on the topic - I like that she took a different approach of informing readers, in a sea of nonfiction or time travel fiction on the same topic. I am on the prowl for something new to read. I am going to check out some of Joseph Flynn's books. Thanks for recommending him!


  5. Yes Nikki, that wife and husband team idea offers interesting possibilities, both at home and abroad. Can't envision Bill Clinton on stakeout, though.

    Betty, I remember Kennedy's assassination very well. Something broke in America that day, and a lot has been written about it since, from very silly to serious. No One Can Know looks interesting; I'll take a look at it.

  6. Thanks for letting me stop by and comment. I hope you enjoy "No One Can Know" as much as I did.

  7. Thanks for the kind words — hope that's not a breach of etiquette.

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Mr. Flynn. I am just finishing the third in the series and still enjoying it very much. Some of the issues these books raise warrant wider airing; the 'Share America' idea for one.