Cover image of "Shining City," an insightful novel about Washington politics

He’s a private detective of a sort but is never called that. Some refer to him as a fixer or a problem-solver. But Peter Rena and his partner, Randi Brooks, don’t think of themselves as problem-solvers. ‘They never fixed problems—they just ended them.” Their consulting firm, Brooks, Rena, and Toppin, advertises “Research and Security.” In reality, they’re crisis consultants. They go to work when things go bad. But they stand out from the K Street crowd in that the firm works with both Republicans and Democrats. In a time when partisanship reigns in Washington politics, they’re regarded as freaks.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Controversy surrounds a Supreme Court nominee

Rena himself is ex-military and a Republican. Brooks is an outspoken liberal Democrat. (Their ex-partner, Toppin, is retired.) But “most of their work isn’t political; corporations wanting background checks on potential CEOs or troubled executives, law firms with big cases, sports teams with stars in a fix or draft prospects surrounded by rumors.”

However, as Shining City opens, Rena is involved in a political case. He’s cleaning up one mess on Capitol Hill—and the whole firm will soon be engaged in a much bigger one. Because the President of the United States personally has hired Peter Rena and the firm to vet a controversial candidate for a seat on the US Supreme Court. The job will involve Rena and Brooks in a protracted campaign to investigate and then manage federal judge Roland Madison’s months-long effort to gain confirmation by the Senate—all the while an assassin is on the loose and a mole is working on their team.

Shining City (Peter Rena #1) by Tom Rosenstiel (2017) 373 pages ★★★★★  

In many ways, the US Supreme Court lies at the very center of Washington politics
In recent decades, the debates that emerge over nominations to fill seats on the US Supreme Court have become increasingly politicized. That’s the theme of this superb political thriller. Image: The Economist

A balanced view of Washington politics

Tom Rosenstiel is an eminent journalist with an impressive working knowledge of Washington politics gained from more than thirty years in the field. In Shining City, he conveys—even-handedly—a detailed picture of the collision between the courts, the White House, the Senate, and the interest groups on both Left and Right that erupts whenever a seat opens up on the Supreme Court. The novel features insightful pictures of maverick Democratic President James Nash; liberal firebrand Deborah Cutter, head of Fair Chance for America; Right-Wing lobbyist Josh Albin of Citizens for Freedom; and crusading journalist Gary Gold. Some of those portrayed resemble real-world personalities. Albin, for example, is a stand-in for Grover Norquist, lobbyist and organizer for the far-right Taxpayer Protection Pledge. A few of the Senators seem to have their counterparts in the real-life Senate, too. All told, it’s a compelling picture of Washington politics laid bare.

About the author

Image of Tom Rosenstiel, author of this novel of Washington politics
Tom Rosenstiel. Image: American Press Institute

Wikipedia describes Tom Rosenstiel as an American author, journalist, press critic, researcher, and academic. In addition to the four Peter Rena novels has published to date, he has written, coauthored, or edited seven nonfiction books on journalism. For nine years, he served as executive director of the American Press Institute. He is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Columbia School of Journalism. Most recently, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland as a visiting professor on the future of journalism.

This is one of The five best novels about politics.

I’ve also reviewed the author’s three subsequent political thrillers:

And if you enjoy reading good novels about politics, check out the work of Thomas Mallon:

For one of the deeply insightful novels of Washington politics by the acknowledged master of the craft, see Echo House by Ward Just (Who wields the real power in Washington, DC?). And I’ve also reviewed what many consider the classic political novel Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (This novel is set at a time when Congress worked well). But I do not recommend it.

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