Thursday, January 05, 2006

BOOK REVIEW - The Zero Game

The Zero Game
Brad Meltzer
468 pages
Warner Books, 2005

Well, lets start off the year with a book review, shall we? And of a book I neglected to list as being on my night table, too. Oh well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

If not for his work on Green Arrow and then Identity Crisis for DC Comics, I would never have picked up a book by Brad Meltzer. It is not that there is something about his books that turns me off, but rather the fact that my non-recommended book purchases diminish more and more each year, and they tend to be very random, so the chances of me picking up a Meltzer novel is fairly low. Actually, check that, there is one thing that actually lowered the chances of me picking up a Meltzer novel: the packaging. With titles like THE FIRST COUNSEL, DEAD EVEN, and THE TENTH JUSTICE and the breathless flap copy that mentions lawyers and their life-and-death struggles more than once I was likely to look at a Meltzer novel and write it off as a faux Grisham, and for me the real Grisham is bad enough. Fortunately I did pick up Meltzer’s THE ZERO GAME sometime last year and finally got around to reading it this week.

After you’ve been doing the same job for several years things start to get a little boring. You see the same people day in and day out and their stories never seem to change. You find yourself answering the same questions from a whole new crop of idiots who will be gone in six months. I know. I have experienced this very thing rather recently in my life. You get jaded. It happens to us all. So you start to do things to have a little fun around the office. For example no one could blame Matthew Mercer and Harris Sandler, two congressional staffers, if they placed a Lorax lapel pin on Congressman William E. Enemark’s jacket as he is answering nature’s call. It is important to remember that Enemark, “…was the number one recipient of campaign money from the timber, oil, and nuclear power industries,” in the last year and he would, “…clear-cut Oregon, hang billboards in the Grand Canyon, and vote to pave over his own garden with baby seal skins if he thought it’d get him some cash.” Clearly environmental issues are high on this particular Congressman’s list of things to not address. And remember kids, the Lorax? He speaks for the trees.

But how often do you think they have the opportunity to have a little fun at an elected offical’s expense? How quickly does the thrill of the Great Lorax Adventure of 2004 fade?

Not long, I am betting, so they start playing a larger game. Gambling on legislation. Whether such-and-such a bill will pass, or whether staffers can successfully insert a small rider on a bill. It is never anything important, and it is never for very much money (as far as gambling goes). It is The Game. Your only connection to the game is the person who brought you in and each person can only bring one other person into the game. Then the perfect opportunity comes across Matthew Mercer’s desk. A company is seeking to buy an old, abandoned gold mine in the hinterlands of South Dakota and to cut through the red tape they would like the sale of the mine to be approved in the Interior Appropriations bill. The bet is to get this rider inserted into the bill and get it passed. This is the very bill that Matthew is currently working through with his counterparts from the Senate before the bill goes for final approval. He sees his moment to milk the game for everything he can and with the help of his friend Harris, he manages to place a $12,000 bet on getting this rider.

Then things start to go wrong.

I won’t discuss any more of the plot points since this is where the book really starts to take off and to divulge anything else would begin to spoil the plot. Suffice to say that Meltzer has put together a superior thriller with a tightly crafted and plausible plot, interesting characters, and a couple of twists, some of the predictable nature and some a bit surprising. All of this adds up to a fun read and means that at some point I will probably read more of his novels (I know I will get to read more of his comics as he is doing a JLA arc this coming summer.) Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the genre.

On deck: A STORM OF SWORDS by George R.R. Martin

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