As a veteran of the Washington Post newsroom, its likely that Leonard Downie Jr. has given this advice to more than a few junior writers: Write what you know.
And thats exactly what Downie, who served as executive editor of the Post for 17 years, does is in his first novel, The Rules of the Game.
The novel follows the winding path of a young political reporter, Sarah Page, as she investigates a crooked defense company with ties to national political figures.
The novels strengths lie in its realistic plot details: Pages investigation is plausible enough for both political insiders and a mass audience to understand and enjoy. Whats more, many of the characters appear familiar, even though Downie apparently started writing the novel years before the 2008 elections.
Page is rumored to resemble Post reporter Dana Priest, who has been nationally recognized for her own investigative work at the newspaper. Pages promiscuity, however, would likely make Priest blush.
Downies realistic plot details dont carry over to a knack for character development. Although Page is a solid protagonist, her personality and dialogue often fall flat when she is faced with exciting or tragic circumstances. Page never evolves as a character enough to draw the reader in past her escapades and adventures.
Speaking of promiscuity, however, Pages reporting colleague Mark Daniels is a more compelling character and Roll Call would love to know which Washington Post reporter he is modeled on.
Daniels chronically sleeps around on his wife and two children, but he meets his romantic match early on in the book. Unlike Page, Daniels character evolves over the volume and eventually leaves the reader, well, satisfied.
A female vice presidential candidate, Susan Cameron, also plays a prominent role in the novel although she is no former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin or Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Cameron comes onto the political scene after her husband, a former Silicon Valley millionaire-turned-Senator, endures a widely publicized cheating scandal and the governor then appoints her to the seat in his stead.
Rules gives the reader a more intimate portrait of a prominent female candidate: Cameron is vulnerable but determined. While some of her actions in the book are completely unrealistic for todays politics for example, Cameron elevates one of her former Senate press secretaries to be a senior aide in her White House her characters fallibility presents a unique middle ground between Clintons severity and Palins inexperience.
Downies work is weighed down by an overuse of foreshadowing. The narrator often suggests what is to come for a certain character or overstates the meaning of a moment in the greater context of the plot. Yet, in most cases, these statements keep the novel flowing at a digestible pace for a political thriller marketed at a wider audience.
Along the same lines, Downie also tends to overplay the title and theme in the book leaving readers little to figure out on their own.