Cover image of "The Good Lie," a Washington political thriller

Finding the truth behind a smokescreen of lies in Washington DC isn’t just a challenge for crack investigator Peter Rena. It’s downright dangerous. But when the President of the United States asks you to take on a job, you don’t say no, no matter what your misgivings. And this time those misgivings rise quickly to the surface. Islamic terrorists have attacked and overrun a US outpost in North Africa, killing an American general. No one admits to knowing he had been there, or why—including the president and his national security advisor—and those who do know aren’t telling. In the midst of rushed investigations undertaken by the Department of Defense, the CIA, the FBI, the “Washington Tribune,” and Congress, the firm of Brooks, Rena & Toppin must somehow get to the truth before anyone else. The stakes couldn’t be higher in this Washington political thriller.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The backstory

Peter Rena is the protagonist of what are to date four novels in a series of political thrillers by veteran Washington journalist Tom Rosenstiel. Rena had served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a military policeman in the Special Forces. His brilliant military career came to a sudden end when he attempted to investigate a sexual assault charge against a powerful three-star general. Back in Washington, a prominent US Senator from Michigan took him under his wing and put him to work on his staff.

After a time, the senator connected him with a pair of other Washington investigators and helped them launch a firm of their own. Now, Rena leads Brooks, Rena & Toppin with his partner, Randi Brooks. Almost uniquely in the capital among consultants to the political class, they operate across party lines. Rena is a moderate Republican, Brooks an outspoken liberal Democrat. Their stellar reputation has led the incumbent Democratic president, James Nash, to hire them to take on their most explosive assignment to date in The Good Lie.

The Good Lie (Peter Rena #2) by Tom Rosenstiel (2019) 332 pages ★★★★☆

Image of Iraqis storming the US Embassy like the terrorists in this Washington political thriller
This riot at the US Embassy in Iraq is similar to the attack on the American diplomatic outpost in North Africa that is the focus of this novel. Image: Wissm Al-Okili/Reuters via New York Times

A daunting challenge fraught with danger

The challenge Rena and Brooks have taken up is intimidating. President Nash seems not to trust anyone involved in national security except Diane Howell, his National Security Advisor. Neither of them has an inkling of what went wrong in Oosay in the North African Republic of Morat, where Brigadier General Brian Roderick died. Someone among the other principals must know what took place. But he or they aren’t telling James Nash. Not the president’s Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence, or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Someone, maybe several of them, are stonewalling him.

Somehow, Rena and Brooks and their resourceful team must work around the edges of the national security establishment to ferret out the facts that someone is taking great pains to hide. Their investigation will take them into the most deeply hidden recesses of the nation’s intelligence community. We know, of course, that they’ll eventually succeed (since this is a novel, after all), but along the way they will face great danger. And, in the midst of the action, Rena attempts to navigate a cross-continental relationship with Victoria Madison, daughter of the Supreme Court Justice Rena and Brooks had helped steer through his confirmation in a previous novel.

Insight into today’s fraught national political scene

Tom Rosenstiel is one of the most incisive observers of politics inside the Beltway, but his long life there has jaded him. From a passionately nonpartisan perspective, he casts blame equally on both parties, whereas one so clearly bears most of the responsibility. Here, for instance, he analyzes the scene in the words of his character, President James Nash. “Our politics has become cannibalistic. We are so divided as a country, each party now engages in tactics that are slowly dismantling the system of government in which they serve.

“Once a party has power in Congress, it throws out the old rules to get what it wants because the other side won’t cooperate and the parties won’t compromise to get them to do so. When power changes hands again, there is no peace, only revenge, more rules tossed out. Once all the rules are gone, there will be nothing left to stop the devil. We are destroying our government from within.”

I don’t share that jaundiced perspective. But I do agree with another that Rosenstiel offers up in the words of his character, James Nash. “People today seem to think they will find freedom in their own selfishness and own separateness. We have a whole new digital economy built on it. They’re wrong. We find freedom in tolerance and common purpose. that’s what is at stake here.”

About the author

Image of Tom Rosenstiel, author of this Washington political thriller

Tom Rosenstiel has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years, spending extended periods at the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek and later as executive director of the American Press Institute. He is the cofounder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. He’s a graduate of Oberlin College and the Columbia School of Journalism. To date, he has written four books in the Peter Rena series.

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