Shining City, by Tom Rosenstiel

Eight stars

Tom Rosenstiel presents this poignant piece that provides readers with a balance of political intrigue and mystery, all set against the fast-pace of electrifying Washington, D.C. Peter Rena enjoys his work as an investigator in the Greater D.C. Area, partnered with politically-savvy Randi Brooks. When news hits the wire that a liberal Supreme Court Justice has died, all eyes turn to the White House to make a new nomination. Inside the Oval Office, President James Nash is mulling over his options and turns to Rena to handle not only the background work on a potential nominee, Edmund, Roland Madison, but also guide him through the entire process, should Madison be chosen to face public scrutiny. Rena and Brooks begin the process by heading to San Francisco to meet with the potential nominee, under veil of secrecy, and uncover some potentially controversial actions back when Madison was a student and Vietnam was at its height. When President Nash rolls the dice and chooses Madison as the man he wants on the High Court, Rena must prepare him for the battle of his life. However, Madison’s past judicial choices are not at issue, nor are the apparently activist moments from his youth, but the nominee’s apparent disregard for the entire Senate hearing process, which is a circus without justification. When Madison lets this be known in front of the microphones, Rena and Brooks must scramble to play damage control, while also keeping Madison on track to answer questions meant to trip him up by the most right-wing political hacks. Will President Nash end up with egg on his face, having chosen a nominee who has little regard for the political process before him? In an alternative plot line, someone has been watching Madison and exacting some form of revenge, killing those who might have some connection to the judge back in his trial days. Rena and Brooks cannot see it coming, but this, too, might create headlines that are hard to dilute at a time when smooth sailing is essential. Rosenstiel offers much fodder in this well-paced novel that exposes some of the most ‘made for TV’ aspects of the Supreme Court nomination process, educating and entertaining readers in equal measure. Equally fitting for political and mystery junkies, the story flows with ease and keeps the reader hooked until the final page.

Having never read any Rosenstiel, I was not sure what might come of this novel. Its title is deceptively brilliant, as it pokes fun at that Shining City with a (Capitol) Hill, where justice is served and the people are heard. Using some wonderfully founded characters, the reader is able not only to learn about the political process of choosing one of the Nine, but also the struggles that come from deception and hidden lives, both key aspects of the Washington world. Rena and Brooks are two well-established characters throughout the story, though their narratives differ greatly. The political heavyweights that grace the pages are not able to trump these two investigators, though Rosenstiel does not pretend the temperature of the political climate is not influential in how things are run. Characters come to life throughout, from the dedicated investigators, the hard-nose political advisors in the Oval Office, through to the entitled senators who seemingly hold all the power. Rosenstiel makes great use of them all. The story is strong and the premise is one that hooked me early on. How the reader could not find themselves fully enthralled, I cannot say, though with numerous plots to follow, there is something for everyone. Rosenstiel does not try to make a blatant soapbox commentary on the entire nomination process, though he does poke holes at times and offers some witty asides. Things take on a life of their own and the reader can decide for themselves by the end, which seems to have an anti-climactic moment that was perhaps the book’s biggest issue.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenstiel, for this book. I am interested to see what else you have written and if I might find myself drawn to them as well. I will surely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a little politics and mystery interspersed in their lighter reading.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: