Written by Mike Lawson – House Blood is Mike Lawson’s seventh Joe DeMarco thriller. DeMarco is a dogged, if not heroic, protagonist, and House Blood is fresh and filled with tension. Joe DeMarco is a lawyer who works for member of Congress John Mahoney. In House Blood, Mahoney is no longer Speaker of the House, but remains a powerful legislator who needs DeMarco as a troubleshooter.
DeMarco is good in this role, and far more adept at underhanded tactics than we might expect – even from a lawyer who works for Congress. All Mahoney needs at the outset of House Blood is some reason to silence his nagging wife. The son of Mary, Pat Mahoney’s friend, is in prison for murder, and Mrs Mahoney wants her powerful husband to intervene. John Mahoney passes the case off to Joe DeMarco.
DeMarco is skeptical: Brian Kincaid’s lobbyist partner was shot with Kincaid’s gun, and the gun was found in Kincaid’s trunk. Kincaid and his partner didn’t like each other much, but DeMarco isn’t convinced that this is motive for murder. Nevertheless, the man was murdered and if Kincaid didn’t do it, DeMarco needs to find out who framed him. Initially, he doesn’t want to do anything other than just glance over the case and reassure his boss that nothing can be done.
Then Joe DeMarco becomes convinced that Kincaid is innocent, but he doesn’t realise how dangerous proving Kincaid’s innocence will be. The case is intertwined with a groundbreaking Alzheimer’s cure pioneered by a ruthless pharmaceutical executive. What’s more, the people working for the drug exec are even more ruthless than DeMarco. Soon he has to contend with a pair of brutally efficient assassins. And Joe DeMarco can’t help dragging his longtime friend Emma into the case. Her CIA skills and contacts are helpful, but she also becomes a target for the global conspiracy that has murdered more than once.
The action in House Blood ranges far beyond the confines of Capitol Hill. While Washington, DC, and its suburbs figure prominently, Lawson also takes us to Philadelphia and Memphis – not to mention unethical drug trials in Peru and Uganda. The characters may not change very much over the course of the novel, but they are complex enough to be compelling. With several exceptions, his creations are well-rounded and display surprising characteristics that make them more believable. Readers are not likely to pick up House Blood as a character study, however. The characters have intriguing quirks, but exist only to serve the plot as it makes its way towards Lawson’s destination.
House Blood is a thriller, and Mike Lawson succeeds in crafting a plot that will keep you turning the pages. The suspense will keep readers off-balance, and Lawson delays gratification to keep us guessing. Even the ending isn’t exactly a happy one, but it fits the sober thriller. That said, Lawson probably delays gratification a bit too long in House Blood. A central component of Brian Kincaid’s conviction is resolved about halfway through the novel, and suspense flags near the end. Lawson’s prose is certainly adequate, but unspectacular.
Still, readers who make a connection with Joe DeMarco will want to see how it all turns out. DeMarco is unimposing for a Capitol Hill fixer, but he is very relatable as he negotiates the labyrinthine twists and turns once he is convinced of Kincaid’s innocence. House Blood is a solid thriller. It doesn’t rocket through explosive events, but catches your attention and doesn’t let go until Lawson is finished telling his story.
Atlantic Monthly Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars
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