A PORTRAIT OF FUNDAMENTALISM
For Will Lee, the Congressional Christmas break was supposed to be a time to rest and recharge. It was supposed to be a time to begin planning for his run for the junior Senate seat for Georgia four years hence. It was supposed to be a time to reconnect with his family in Delano.
Well, he manages that last part just fine. It is the rest that never materializes. On the day he gets back to Delano, he is summoned straight from his plane to the courthouse. A young white male has just been arrested for the rape and murder of a prominent feminist black female. The presiding judge, realizing the political sensitivity of the situation in this late 1980’s time, has requested a special prosecutor / defense attorney combination. And Will Lee is appointed to defend.
The very next day, Will learns that his boss of eight years, the Senator for whom he is chief of staff, Ben Carr, has had a debilitating stroke. And Ben Carr wants Will to replace him in the Democratic primary scheduled for the following summer. In other words, Will is now drafted to run for the major Senate seat rather than the second seat and he is to run this year, not four years from now.
And to top it all off, Will’s fiancée, Kate Rule, has been offered a promotion to an Assistant Deputy position within the CIA. But to take the position, their relationship will have to be shoved even further under the radar than it already is, due to Ben Carr’s position on the Senate Intelligence Committee. She chooses the job over Will but does not break off their engagement. She just stops returning his calls.
But before any of this happens, there is one thing we, the readers, know that Will does not know. A paramilitary group is operating in the Atlanta area. We do not know, at first, if its ideologies are political, religious or both but we can be sure that its actions will intersect with Will’s in a major way. Stuart Woods would not have devoted the Prologue of the novel to its existence if it were to be otherwise. All we can do is follow its progress, feeling the increasing tension as we wonder just when it is going to lay Will low.
That tension, coupled with factors surrounding the murder case, coupled with the complexities and intrigues of the Senate campaign make this novel an into-the-wee-hours page-turner. The fact that this story takes place in the late 1980’s adds to the tension. DNA testing is just making its entrance as acceptable to criminal investigations. The technological advances in communications, media coverage and data research are just not quite there yet. So the reader of the 2010’s must quickly ratchet down the frustration and realign with the reality of the era in question.
However great the writing skill of the author, one thing about this novel angers me to my toenails. And that is the way Woods writes the character of Kate Rule. So from this point on, beware: SPOILER ALERT!
Since this is the first of several series written by Woods and was, in fact, written over two decades ago, the knowledgeable mystery reader knows two things: Will Lee marries Kate Rule and Will Lee becomes not only a Senator, but the President. Even if you have never read this series, but have read others in the Woods stable, Will Lee is often referenced in those novels. So, in this entry, even though Kate leaves Will, they eventually patch things up and marry. And therein lies my problem – the way it happens.
About six weeks after Kate starts her new job and with several weeks of unreturned calls, Will finally reaches Kate, but only because he wakes her up. She throws a fit, calls him a resentful child, curses him soundly and then finds herself listening to a dial tone. Will clears his calendar, flies back to Washington, and insists on a meeting. She is late and when she does get there, she reveals that almost immediately after agreeing to marry Will, she began seeing someone else. Unlike Kate, Will doesn’t hide behind excuses or answering machines; he ends the relationship and sends her away from him.
Four months later, Kate has the nerve to send Will a letter saying that she was not happy with the way their last meeting ended and that she wants to remain friends. Oh, yeah – she really said that! Well, Will sends her a one-paragraph, overly jovial, politician’s response that, in current terminology, amounts to the one word “whatever.” He goes back to the life of a Senatorial candidate and even participates in a professionally risky one-night stand, destined to backfire on him later. But, at least he, unlike Kate, isn’t cheating on anyone.
Then, three months later, after the trial and about one week before the November election, Kate shows up on Will’s doorstep, groveling, trying to explain why she bolted and saying that she has confessed their relationship to the Agency. She tells him that she’s never stopped loving him and she begs Will to take her back.
Now, Will has essentially walked through Hell’s fire to get to this point in his life. Remember, two books ago in “Run Before the Wind,” Will comes of age and nearly loses his life more than once during his two years in Ireland when he and his yacht-building partners find themselves the target of an IRA operation. Well, this time, he gets to come of a different age, and the IRA’s tactics would practically be welcome compared to what he faces in the campaign for Senator.
The night he learns of Kate’s betrayal, his campaign manager and best friend commits suicide in Will’s living room. It comes out that the campaign manager was a closet gay and Will’s political competition is quick to slanderously paint Will with the same brush. Since Will is 41 years old, has never married, hasn’t been seen in public with a woman in over four years and has been slammed sexually in a magazine article written by a reporter whose advances he politely rebuffed, Will has a huge amount of circumstantial evidence to overcome. And the religious fundamentalists attack him on the issue at every turn. Why is that such a big issue? Well, it’s the 1980’s and just about anything that is not missionary-style and heterosexual in nature is illegal in most states, that’s why!
The campaign manager’s secret may have put Will under the bus, but Kate drove over him with the rear wheels. Not one word of sympathy did she utter over the death of his best friend. And for six months, not one word acknowledging a past relationship comes from her mouth. All Will had to do to stop the attacks was admit to the press who his lover was, but he wouldn’t. He never compromised her position with the CIA even though she effectively hung him out to dry.
Yes, Will takes her back. To him, her confession of betrayal and her reasons for it were both sincere and believable. To him, her profession of love was equally so. And to me, her groveling was emotionally dramatic, a bit nauseating, but dramatic.
Every human is flawed. Therefore, every character in a novel is flawed. Will is by no means perfect, but he is honorable and self-aware. Kate, however, has cheated and betrayed and lied. She has been selfish and deliberately cruel. It will be with great suspicion that I view her words and actions in the remaining books of the series.
Cover Art From Goodreads