Mark Vertreese states in his introduction that he hopes his book will inspire someone else to write their version of The Great American Novel. Had he been a little less modest, he could quite easily have challenged writers to: ‘Do better than CHIEF OF STAFF, if you can!’
CHIEF OF STAFF is a political thriller, following the story of a successful young man by the name of Eric Julian. Eric’s world is turned on its head when he is approached by US Senator Tanner to replace Tanner’s late chief of staff, and possibly even succeed Tanner himself one day. It soon becomes clear that everyone around Eric has a hidden agenda, from his forthright secretary Claudia to his forbidding grandmother Christine, and it’s not long before skeletons are clanking out of closets from every angle. When Christine receives a phone call demanding fifty million dollars in return for silence about her past, a past that could destroy her elevated and jealously guarded position in wealthy black American society, Eric employs his own private detective in an attempt to outwit the blackmailer. What is uncovered, however, is a web of deceit that spans Eric’s entire life. Is there anyone that he can trust?
In Eric Julian, Mark has created a protagonist who is well moulded, believable and likeable. Yes, he has his faults; yes, he messes things up sometimes; and yes, he can be dishonest. He’s a politician, what do you expect? He is also an impressively strong lead character, and anyone familiar with my reviews will know how important characterisation is to me. I have in the past cast too many books aside after a few pages, bored by the one dimensional characters and not caring how their stories pan out. I can assure you there will be no casting Eric Julian aside! The reader becomes acquainted with the book’s other characters through Eric’s interactions with them, and there isn’t a weak link amongst them.
CHIEF OF STAFF starts off quite slowly as the reader is introduced to the hierarchical world of the wealthy black American, and to life at the very top of the American political system. Being British I occasionally found the American political terminology a little confusing, but not so much that it detracted from my enjoyment of CHIEF OF STAFF. Mark’s descriptive narrative is a joy. Scenes such as Eric laying on his grandmother’s veranda gazing up at the stars, or admiring the vista over Washington, DC, from his office window, are brought to life by the author’s well chosen words, and it’s easy for the reader to conjure up the images for themselves.
It may be possible to read the first half of CHIEF OF STAFF at a leisurely pace, but fasten your seatbelts for the second half when the story really hits the ground running. At risk of sounding clichéd I simply couldn’t put the book down, eager to find out what happens next as the story twists and turns at lightning speed. Sometimes brutal, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilariously funny, CHIEF OF STAFF hurtles to a conclusion there’s no point even trying to predict.
I have to confess that the political thriller is not a genre I would normally choose to read. If you are a fan of the political thriller, then I highly recommend you add Mark Vertreese’s CHIEF OF STAFF to your reading list. Even if, like me, you are not normally a fan, why not give CHIEF OF STAFF a read? You may well find yourself converted.