Enjoying the gritty depictions of Washington power players in the fabulous House of Cards series on Netflix?
Then you might also check out The Solomon Scandals, which predates the Netflix program. Like so much of House, as well as the classic novel All the King’s Men, Scandals is about the conflict between friendship and duty.
The Solomon Scandals is not only about the crimes hinted at in the title, but also about their ripples—right up to the late 21st century. It mixes suspense, tragedy, and satire. Along the way, the novel goes beyond the bare-bones approach of the standard Washington nonfiction, exploring the personal lives of journalists, real estate tycoons, federal contracts officers and other Washington players.
Politicians blackmail and corrupt in The Solomon Scandals. A high-rise on the Potomac may fall. A dictator launders his money with help from the D.C. elite. Spies and journalists court each other in a moral or not-so-moral mist, and lines can blur between the two occupations. A gossip columnist kills herself. What starts out as a campaign-donations investigation ends up going lethally awry in more ways than one. A nuclear-regulatory scandal fuels a subplot.
While on the surface a beach read or airplane book, Scandals has plenty lurking below. The author, a columnist for the Georgetown Dish, grew up on the outer fringes of the D.C. elite (a future Watergater lived almost next door), and the novel offers the nuances you would expect from a Washington-area native. Partly inspired by now-forgotten events, including a Senator’s secret CIA-related investment reported on the NBC Night News but not in Washington dailies, Scandals was required reading in a course at George Washington University, as a roman a clef weaving together “the various strands of politics, big business and media in a concrete (no pun), character-driven way.”
The Seymour Solomon in the title is a massive ex-bricklayer with two fingertips missing. Ever attentive to the crew at the General Services Administration, from the administrator on down, Solomon leases acres and acres of office space to the federal government.
Tens of thousands of bureaucrats work in Solomon’s buildings. An immigrant’s son, he has managed to break into the highest reaches of Washington society, not so coincidentally befriending his share of powerful politicians, judges, and building inspectors. Jon Stone, the reporter, discovers that Solomon has stinted on construction of the huge Vulture’s Point complex on the Potomac River. In researching the story, Stone is aided by Margo Danialson, a spirited young medieval studies graduate trapped within the bureaucracy Solomon has bought off. By the end of the book, thanks in part to Margo, not just the scandals, Stone is a different person. During the investigation, Stone must struggle with resistance from his editors and even his own father, who works for a PR and lobbying firm representing a bank that has financed Solomon’s projects.
If you’re familiar at all with Washington and its ways, you’ll nod at the observations in Scandals. This D.C. is not the mystical city—of white stone monuments and secret ceremonies—that one reviewer saw in The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Instead it is the city of lawyers and lobbyists, strategically targeted campaign gifts, and other “practical” concerns. At the same time, Scandals offers hope in a funny afterword different from anything else you are likely to read in Washington fiction.
Recommending David Rothman’s novel, the Washington City Paper says that “we get to relish his chatty first-person narrator spinning characterizations of D.C. with the same dark zeal Hammett held for Frisco or Chandler had for Los Angeles.”
Scandals is available as both a trade paperback and an electronic book, and of the latter, the City Paper observes: “It’s hard to call an e-book a page-turner—novels like The Solomon Scandals require a new word.”
Related: Buying information and Major characters—from the millionaire ex-bricklayer to the Spinoza-crazed reporter.