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House Arrest by Mike Lawson

Published by Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press on February 5, 2019

House Arrest is, I think, the thirteenth Joe DeMarco novel. I haven’t kept up with the series because I can’t read everything, and the couple I did read struck me as being okay but nothing special. House Arrest, on the other end, is a book I truly enjoyed.

DeMarco is a lawyer who does off-the-books projects of various kinds for John Mahoney, the Democratic majority leader in the House. He’s occasionally loaned to other politicians who need help. The books are set in the current political world (it is clear that the unnamed president in this book is Trump and that the unnamed House Speaker is Paul Ryan), but the key political characters are fictional. The novel takes place before the 2018 midterms, so Republicans still control the House.

As the novel opens, someone wearing a wig and a Capitol Police uniform kills Congressman Lyle Canton, the Republican Whip, in his Capitol office. Nobody liked Canton, but his biggest enemy was Sebastian Spear, a billionaire who had an affair with Canton’s wife before she got drunk and drove into a tree.

Joe DeMarco was in his office in the subbasement of the Capitol when the murder occurred. An FBI agent interviews him and finds his explanation for being in his office late on a Friday night unconvincing. It doesn’t help that DeMarco’s father was a Mafia hit man and that the FBI can’t figure out what DeMarco’s job is. A search of his office reveals evidence that links him to Canton’s murder. A dozen heavily armed agents in full body armor smash into DeMarco’s home as he’s making dinner and, as the novel’s title suggests, place him under arrest.

It’s good to have friends in high places, including the House leader of the Democratic Party. While Joe languishes in jail, his friend Emma, a retired-but-still-active spook with the DIA, pulls some strings and takes a look at the formidable evidence accumulated by the FBI. But even friends in high places might be an inadequate shield when DeMarco is attacked by prisoners attached to MS-13.

The novel rather drastically changes DeMarco’s life, in that his career has always depended on keeping a law profile. After his arrest for killing a congressman, DeMarco is front page news and will not be able to play the same invisible role for his boss. Whether he will even have a job depends on the election result, which Mike Lawson notes in an afterword was unknown to him when he finished writing the book. Series fans can breathe a sigh of relief that DeMarco might not be evicted from his basement office.

DeMarco actually lurks in the background (he’s either in jail or in a hospital bed) during most of the novel, but Lawson managed to craft a tight, imaginative plot without him. When DeMarco finally returns to action, the story reaches a satisfying climax. The DeMarco novels I’ve read have been uneven, which is why I haven’t tried to read them all. House Arrest, however, benefits from a creative plot that encouraged me to renew my interest in the series.


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