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Suspense/Thriller

House Rules, Mike Lawson, Atria, $23.00.

House Rules by Mike Lawson

Atria has a strong stable of wonderful—and slightly under the radar—writers. William Kent Krueger is one, and Mike Lawson is another. My husband picked this book up because he was moderating a panel with Mike at Bouchercon, and he wanted to read most or all of the books by everyone on the panel, which included Harlan Coben and David Ellis. We both were clueless about Lawson, but that's over. This is the work of a terrific, straightforward, completely entertaining storyteller. Lawson's main character, Joe DeMarco, son of a low level mobster, now works in a somewhat nebulous capacity for the Speaker of the House, with offices no-one quite knows about in the basement of the Capitol. I guess you'd call DeMarco a "fixer", but he's refreshingly violence free—at one point he's handed a gun, and he actually has to try and remember the last time he used one (it comes back to him). And yet, this book is remarkably suspenseful and incredibly well put together. Awful things happen it in—they just aren't down to DeMarco.

The plot is complex—think Jeffrey Deaver or Thomas Perry for a comparison—but it's so well done that reading it is a seamless experience. It's kind of like riding in a really nice car: you know the ride will take you where you want to go without breaking down, so you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride. Obviously, it's set in Washington D.C., and the flavor is not overwhelming but a total part of the story. The basic plot revolves around a series of terrorist acts committed by Muslims who have seemingly no connection to one another. I won't give them away and say what they are, but I will say I had one big reaction (and so did my husband): mainly, was this author a right winger who dislikes all Muslims? Happily, the answer to this is "no" but the story is told in such an even handed manner it only becomes clear later in the book. The thing that really gets the ball rolling is the fact that something feels slightly off about each incident in one way or another. Meanwhile, a Republican senator is trying to get a bill passed that would require all Muslims living or entering the United States to "register" with the government. As more incidents occur, the bill gains more support, and the Speaker (a Democrat) gets DeMarco to look into things.

What was unusual, and made this book a lot more than a garden variety thriller, was the nuanced look that Lawson takes at the present political climate of the U.S. If it makes you feel vaguely uncomfortable while you're reading it, that's probably a good thing. At the same time, this is such a non-stop thrill ride of a read you probably won't care about the politics involved while you're reading it. You'll just very happily want to turn the pages.

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