Reviewed by Doris Joe DeMarco is a fixer. Some might even call him a political bag man. He works for the Speaker of the House of Representatives John Mahoney, and his job is to do dirty little political jobs protect Mahoney’s interests which frequently coincide with the interests of the United States. Sometimes it’s as easy as picking up a “contribution” to Mahoney’s campaign war chest. Sometimes it involves guns, shooting, car chases, crazies trying to overthrow the government, and federal agencies stabbing each other in the back.
Mike Lawson has done six thrillers centering on Joe DeMarco. Using his experience as a former senior civilian executive for the U. S. Navy, Lawson’s behind-the-scenes knowledge of Washington politics gives his books the ring of truth. They are also funny, action-packed, and loaded with interesting, a bit off-kilter characters. Among critics and readers Mike Lawson has made a name for himself as one of the most entertaining and insightful writers focusing on the dirty games played in our nation’s capital.
Interesting character #1 is Joe. Just as Joe graduates from law school with visions of becoming a partner in some big New York firm, his father is exposed as a Mafia hit man with numerous murders to his credit. Heartbroken to find out the father he dearly loved is a murderer, he also sees any chance he had of being hired at a prestigious firm disappear. Then his aunt Connie pulls a rabbit out of the hat. Years ago when she worked in Washington, D. C., she had an affair with a young politico named Mahoney. Mahoney has become Speaker of the House, and Joe finds himself in a basement office no one knows exists, in a job no one can track to the Speaker’s office. As the years pass, Joe becomes an average guy dealing with debt, divorce, an unreasonable boss, and a job he can never put on a resume.
Interesting character#2 is John Fitzpatrick Mahoney. An icon of American politics, Mahoney is a womanizing, functioning alcoholic with all the political savvy of Tip O’Neill combined with the power of Sam Rayburn. A ruthless and righteous Speaker, Mahoney is always walking on the edge of some disaster. He sends Joe into these disasters without a thought about Joe’s immortal soul, just a grin, and the warning, “Don’t mess up.”
Interesting character#3 is Emma. She is a “retired” agent for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Tall, aristocratic, several times smarter than Joe, Emma often has to help Joe with not messing up. She has contacts all over the world, and Joe often wonders if she is really retired. He is always glad to see her, if for no other reason than Emma knows how to shoot a gun. Why does Emma help Joe? Good question! Joe actually saved her life purely by accident and she feels an obligation to save him. When it becomes more and more apparent that Joe is often in way over his head, she knows she is the only thing standing between Joe and death.
Lawson’s books are thrillers much like those of Baldacci, Child, and countless other writers of the genre. I like his books because they make just a bit of fun at the whole political thriller scene. The plots are fast paced and often right out of the headlines. As already mentioned, the characters are interesting, and I have become rather attached to Joe and Mahoney. Lawson would great fun to take to dinner and discuss what he really knows about Washington.
The Joe DeMarco series in order: The Inside Ring—there is an assassination attempt on the President. He is only wounded, but his best friend and a Secret Service Agent are killed. It turns out that the attack wasn't without warning. General Andrew Banks, the Secretary of Homeland Security, received a note that the president was in danger, and even more alarming, that Secret Service agents guarding the president had been compromised.
The Second Perimeter—when the Secretary of the Navy’s nephew tells him that two colleagues at a naval base are committing fraud, he is skeptical and reluctant to start an official investigation. He asks Speaker of the House John Mahoney to send his fixer Joe to check out the story. Joe and Emma soon realize that what they thought was a low-stakes government swindle is something far more terrifying. Soon they’re mixed up in a deadly conflict with Chinese spies, and not only is Emma’s life in danger, but Mahoney’s is as well.
House Rules—a terrorist bombing of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel is narrowly avoided. Then a private plane headed straight for the White House ignores warnings and is shot down. Suspects in both attacks are Muslim. An atmosphere of fear and panic overruns the country, and when the junior senator from Virginia proposes to deport all noncitizen Muslims and run extensive background checks on all Muslim Americans, his bill gains surprising traction. Speaker of the House John Mahoney is not pleased. He knows it is the kind of knee-jerk response people will come to regret, like Japanese internment camps, and he needs to find a way to kill the bill before it exposes a secret he wants to keep. So Mahoney calls on Joe to get to the bottom of the attacks.
House Secrets—Joe is sent by Mahoney to look into the accidental death of a mediocre newspaper reporter who, in the days before his death, claimed that he had a lead on the biggest political scandal since Watergate. It turns out that the reporter was on the trail of Senator Paul Morelli, the handsome and gifted rising star from New York, considered a shoo-in for his party’s presidential nomination. Morelli’s past has already been scrutinized and he looks clean, but then why is Joe being followed by a pair of thugs who freelance for the CIA?
House Justice—an American defense contractor goes to Iran to sell missile technology, and the CIA knows all about it thanks to a spy in Tehran. But the story is leaked to an ambitious journalist and the spy is burned, brutally tortured, and executed. The Director of the CIA isn’t about to let the callous sacrifice of his valuable spy go unpunished. Speaker of the House John Fitzpatrick Mahoney has his own reasons to get to the bottom of the leak: he once had a fling with the journalist, and now that she’s in jail for refusing to reveal her source, she is threatening to tell all unless he helps get her out. DeMarco and the CIA aren’t the only ones looking for the source of the leak. Someone else wants to avenge the spy’s death, and is tailing Joe hoping he’ll lead him to his prey. House Justice is classic Mike Lawson— fascinating characters, inside-the-beltway intrigue, and a gripping plot packed with surprises.
House Divided: When the NSA accidentally records the murder of two civilians, there's a bit of a problem: the wiretap was illegal. As a four star general and a master spy face off, DeMarco finds himself in danger-- and Mahoney isn't around to help him.
House Blood--DeMarco is asked to look into the murder conviction of a lobbyist. But he has other worries on his mind: his boss is no longer Speaker; his girlfriend has left him, and his friend Emma may be dying. DeMarco doesn’t expect to free the lobbyist – much less to become the target of two of the most callous killers he and Emma have ever encountered.Show More