four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-The Rules of the GameLeonard Downie Jr., who served as executive editor of The Washington Post for 17 years, has written two books about American journalism. In this newspaper procedural, his first work of fiction, he reveals his deep knowledge about Washingtonian journalism and politics.

The Story: Washington, D.C., investigative reporter Sarah Page, assigned to ferret out the truth about the higher echelons of U.S. government, keeps a close eye on powerful lobbyists, congressional members, and military contracts. Nothing, of course, is what it seems: her reporting reveals lobbying scandals, questions over national security, and corruption at all levels of the political machine. No one is immune from her probes as she uncovers dark secrets amid death threats and even murder. Soon, Susan Cameron, an inexperienced California senator who suddenly becomes the U.S. president, must face a shadowy conspiracy as she fights for political survival.
Knopf. 320 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0307269612

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Knowing the city, the neighborhood, Downie is artful in describing the public monuments, the byways, the physical surroundings of the U.S. capital, in developing plot events, and in insistently jangling the reader into being in Washington. … This book is a gripping political thriller, more sophisticated than many." Michael Pakenham

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The details are so believable that you may forget you’re reading an imaginary tale. … Politics has never been so interesting." Lisa Palmer

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The devil in this well-worn genre is in the details, and Downie—whose watch at the Post yielded 25 Pulitzers—knows the details. … The Rules of the Game is a compelling read, and also a primer in How Things Work in Washington." Mary Ann Gwinn

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Downie] writes about the corridors of power as if they all lead to an exclusive back room at a Vegas casino, where several high-stakes games are in progress, each watched over by a remorseless security team with an agenda all its own. … Downie’s best scenes involve meetings in which the give-and-take of Washington power is dramatized: a newspaper publisher standing up to the CIA after being summoned to Langley, a lawyer striking a plea arrangement for a client, a congressman and reporter delineating the limits of the personal and professional before jumping into the sack." Stephen Amidon

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As the reference to Deep Throat suggests, the plot is not particularly original and doesn’t contain many surprises. Despite its familiarity, The Rules of the Game is an intelligent, well-written first novel." Mary J. Elkins

Critical Summary

Let’s be clear: newspaper critics like books written by newspaper editors about newspaper reporting. With that filter in place, critics agreed that this smart debut novel provides an engrossing take on Washington politics; Downie’s years of experience at the Washington Post and as a Washington insider give the novel an authenticity—from the setting to the characters, all of whom seem to play by their own rules—rarely found in the genre. But it is Downie’s first work of fiction, and a few reviewers noted the contrivances, unsophisticated prose, and somewhat predictable story lines. Still, they were more than willing to overlook these minor flaws and praise the book as more substantive and entertaining than most, "a gripping political thriller" that "will make one hell of a movie" (Philadelphia Inquirer).