Poisoned Penn Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1464206078 (paperback)
I am, in general, a fan of Michael Bowen’s books. The first two Thomas and Sandrine Curry books are amazing, but the set-up for the books severely limited how long a series it could be. (Thomas Curry is a lawyer who voluntarily surrendered his law license for good and sufficient reason; Sandrine is his fiancé-and-then-wife; Thomas does legal research for his father’s firm, as does Sandrine betwixt working on her treatise on geology.) The five Richard Michaelson books are even better (Michaelson has retired for the foreign service and has a position at the Brookings institution while waiting for someone to persuade the President to make him secretary of state of the director of the CIA). (Interestingly, one of the titles in the Michaelson series is Collateral Damage.) The set-up is, again, somewhat limiting. His third series (Rep and Melissa Pennyworth—Rep is an intellectual property lawyer in Indianapolis, Melissa is an assistant professor of literature at a local university) is not (in my opinion) as good, but all five are worth reading. The last one of these was published in 2009, and I had given up hope for any more.
But he has returned with Damage Control, just published and apparently the first book in a projected series. Josie Kendall (age 27) works for a NGO as a fund-raiser, and has been working on a somewhat shady venture capitalist (Jerzy Schroeder) for a $1 million donation to fund activities in support of wind power. As they are leaving his home for a meeting, Schroeder is shot, obviously from a distance, with a high-powered rifle. Suspicion falls pretty immediately older husband, Rafe (mid-50s), who is a literary agent. Josie, born, raised, and educated in Louisiana, has an uncle whose political career is somewhat unorthodox. Josie and Rafe take it upon themselves to shift suspicion away from them and, if possible, to identify the actual killer.
And there are a sufficient number of suspects—another venture capitalist with a reputation for taking no prisoners, whose solar power scam is the target of Schroeder’s machinations; and Schroeder’s ex-wife, who has an interest in taking over where Schroeder has involuntarily left off are the main two. There’s also an ex-CIA agent-turned-thriller-author (represented by Rafe), who is Rafe’s alibi. In the course of trying to save herself and her marriage, Josie also has to continue trying to do her job, which involves a fairly ethically sleazy pitch to the NRA. Not surprisingly, all ends sort of well, if also sort of unexpectedly.
I’m not sure Bowen quite has a grip on Josie as a character yet, and his skepticism about D.C. politics (evident in the Michaelson books) has, if anything, become greater. But the book flows well, and he does well enough with his principals to make me willing to see what comes next.