Monday, March 26, 2012

“Capital Crimes” by Stuart Woods (Signet/Penguin)

Woods-CapitalCrimesA ideologically-motivated serial killer in DC?

When a prominent conservative politician is killed inside his lakeside cabin, authorities have no suspect in sight. And two more seemingly different deaths might be linked to the same murderer. From a quiet D.C. suburb to the corridors of power to a deserted island hideaway in Maine, Will, his CIA director wife, Kate, and the FBI will track their man, set a trap-and await the most dangerous kind of quarry, a killer with a cause to die for...

This is the second novel in Stuart Woods’s Will Lee series that I’ve read, and I blitzed through it quicker than my first, The Run. It’s tightly plotted, engaging and extremely fast-paced. Despite not focusing on politics quite as much as I would have liked, this novel is very enjoyable, and I was hooked from the very beginning.

In Capital Crimes, we get an interesting twist on politically-charged thrillers: rather than a right-wing conspiracy aimed at taking out liberals and centrists, the victims in this story are proclaimed “part of the vast right-wing conspiracy that is eating away at the heart of our democracy, with their constant attacks on civil liberties and any federal spending on programs that help people instead of the rich.” Given today’s political atmosphere and rhetoric, I thought it interesting (as with The Run) how similar political discourse remains, nine years later. The killer’s victims are a particular type of far-right conservative personality and official, so this is by no means a Democratic attack on Republicans in general, but rather a critique of the more… fervent conservative types.

It was kind of fun to guess who the characters and victims were meant to represent from real life. A couple were obvious: Van Vandervelt is probably Rush Limbaugh, while Tim Brennan and Evan Turner are clearly Hannity and Coombes, respectively. The latter pair’s inclusion leads to a nice, simple little comment that speaks volumes:

“He watched as Brennan and his cohost signed out of the building and left. They paused out front, shook hands, and departed in opposite directions, which seemed appropriate…”

Despite the premise of a politically-motivated serial killer, the story is far more about hunting the killer and stopping his spree than it is about politics. Will Lee’s place in the story is actually quite small, with his wife (now Director of the CIA) featuring more than Will. His place in the story is interesting, though: after all, the killer’s bumping off his opponents and antagonists. As with The Run, I thought a little bit more could have been made over the political aspects and fallout of the case, letting the reader know a little bit more about the impact it has on Washington, D.C., as a whole, but Woods focuses pretty much exclusively on the criminal aspects of the story. With two novels in the series now read, however, I think it’s safe to say that Woods is sticking to his area of expertise, and that’s with the thriller aspects – which, it should be stressed, he does very well.

Woods writes engaging, believable and diverse characters. There are some familiar types included – for example, the political-appointee FBI Director, who is totally out of his depth, and therefore utterly unsuited to his position: he’s dense, bumbling, and about three steps behind everyone who works for him, not to mention quite ignorant about precedent and the law. It allows for some amusing, cynical asides and quips from aides and colleagues (as well as the president).

I still find Will and Kate a strange couple, and difficult to get a bead on. They’re not bad characters per se, but there’s a strange, sanitised coldness about them, like Woods was trying too hard to make them as clean and sinless as possible. In other words, they are unusual cast members for his scandal-ridden Washington, D.C. Everyone around the First Couple is more interesting and engaging. Maybe if I went back and read Grass Roots and Deep Lie, I’d get a better handle on Will and Kate. Given how quickly I can blitz through Woods’s novels, I most likely will do that – although, not in the immediate future, as the next Woods novel I read will be Mounting Fears, the last-to-date in the Will Lee series.

Will and Kate are not the only characters I couldn’t quite get a handle on, however: the portrayal of the British Prime Minister in a meeting with a General and British intelligence officer (the latter of which I presume was in an earlier Stone Barrington novel), is frankly bizarre. We’re not ALL twee, thank you so very much, and it just didn’t ring true from an author who is, otherwise, rather good at writing believable, realistic characters. It leaned a little too much on aristocratic stereotypes. That being said, when the Prime Minister met President Lee, I found it easy to replace him in my head with David Cameron…

One of these days I’ll try his Stone Barrington series (maybe starting with D.C. Dead, which seems to have a bit of cross-over with the Will Lee series – although, that’s number 22 in the series, so I don’t know how easy it will be just to dip in at that point).

Overall, Capital Crimes is a very polished, brisk thriller. I found myself flying through the pages and chapters, unable to put it down. As with The Run, I read it well into the night, and read it in just two sittings. Quite impressive and pleasant, if you’re looking for a thriller with some political undertones, then this series is a must. Very enjoyable, Woods is a gifted author.

For Fans of: Kyle Mills, John Sandford, David Baldacci, Richard North Patterson, James Patterson, Margaret Truman, Philip Margonlin, Steve Martini, Dan Brown

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