The book’s protagonist is a Jewish librarian named David Goldberg, who works at a college library in D.C. After his colleague, a stereotypical shrinking-violet librarian asks him to take over a job archiving papers for an elderly billionaire, his life takes an abrupt turn for the chaotic. The old man is Alan Stowe, who is surprisingly innocent for a ruthless developer and investor. He loves Kipling, which speaks volumes about his worldview. He has his sins, as we find out later…
The other major character is Niobe, wife of Jack Morgan, who has a pretty high position in the NSA. She works at the Octavian Institute, a place Scott created essentially for wives to work to give the Republican party the appearance of gender equality. She is alternately strong and weak, but is always flawless and enchanting and spends a lot of time fawning over men, and is therefore kind of a male fantasy character. She’s named after a Greek woman who bragged about her fourteen children and then had all her children (and in some versions, her husband) killed by Leda, so we know there will be something of a “pride before a fall” story going on with her. She does take offense to sexism, but only when it’s very very explicit (as it will be – rage warning for feminists). She accepts the order of things on the outside while trying to suppress her doubts and more radical ideas. She can be pretty manipulative and more than a little dangerous.
Jack Morgan immediately dislikes David Goldberg, first because he’s a Jew, second because he’s a librarian, and eventually third because he knows about the Republican plot to rig the vote and secure Scott a second term. Most of the story’s tension comes from Morgan sending his goons after Goldberg to knock him off before he can divulge their secret to anyone (under the premise of a bestiality charge). The problem is that Goldberg doesn’t actually know the secret, so he can’t come out to the press and has to keep running while searching for incriminating evidence.
The election is one of the most interesting parts of the story. Watching Anne Murphy, the Democratic candidate, completely destroy Scott in a debate is by far the most satisfying part of the book. It’s like watching Jill Stein debate Mitt Romney, which unfortunately never got to happen because she wasn’t allowed into the debates. Ann Murphy spent her youth treating wounded men in the Vietnam war, and because of that she has more reserved policies about going to war than Scott. Scott is written as basically a rich brat, and there’s an anecdote about his father introducing trading into his Little League team. His father also got him into the National Guard instead of serving in Vietnam, and Murphy uses this to undermine his war-hawk platform. Murphy is a likable, decent character, but we only get to see inside her head for maybe two chapters, and most of the time we’re stuck in David’s witty, if whiny, psyche.
The characters are kind of cliched, but the plot is interesting, and I’d recommend this as a light read for the politically-minded. I do want to caution readers about the very bizarre horse sex scene (horse on horse, this isn’t Equus). It’s symbolic, but not plot-essential, so you could probably skip it if you wanted.