It's fitting that in an election year, we would be bombarded by presidential thrillers. Even presidential vampire thrillers. I previously reviewed Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth, which follows the story of a secret vampire agent who is bound by oath to every president of the United States since the 1860s. That novel already has a sequel, The President's Vampire.
Now we have Pursuit of Darkness, in many ways the best of the lot, partly because it is written by a Washington insider and drenched in D.C. politics. Jeff Gillenkirk, the author, is a former speechwriter for Mario Cuomo, among others, and he has an excellent grasp of Washington political culture.
The story: We are in a presidential campaign, and, for the first time, the Democrats may run a woman. Nate Hallberg, our protagonist, is a Washington Post reporter who has fallen on hard times. An alcoholic, Hallberg was moved from the politics beat to crime when he fell off the wagon. Now sober and attending a lot of AA meetings, he is asked to do a profile of Jonathan Drees, a powerful GOP operative known as "the Prophet." Drees is a master of the negative ad. Think Karl Rove or Roger Ailes. Surprisingly, Drees tells Hallberg that he wants the current Republican candidate — a total anti-government type — to fail, and for a short time, Drees even gives advice to the campaign manager of the Democrats.
There are games beyond games in this book — real insights into the political machinations of Washington and the clueless nature of even the best media. When Drees tells Hallberg that he is really a 200-year-old vampire, you might think it's the story of the century, but Hallberg is given no data and nothing can be proved. He is reluctant to believe it himself, but he has some evidence that Drees has been around a lot longer than a normal human life would allow, and has historical insights to match.
Hallberg realizes that there are vampires in the halls of power, and that they have their own agenda, which is later revealed. But he is powerless to take action. The plot has wicked twists and turns, and, without giving too much away, it is never clear how much of what happens is of Drees' making, or that of other players that Hallberg comes across. By the end of the book, Hallberg has taken enormous risks, made complex choices and paid a heavy price.
The book is a gripping page-turner, and it's actually much more of a political novel than a supernatural one. And, since vampires have been a symbol for Wall Street this year, why not use them as a metaphor for our political paralysis? Whoever is controlling our elections these days, given money and superPACs, it certainly isn't ordinary people. Why not imagine the undead?