Capitol Punishment, “…this fine example of political noir, for which aficionados of smart crime fiction will vote with enthusiasm.” That’s the conclusion of the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the latest outing of a certain Columbus-based private investigator. It’s just in time for presidential political convention season, which gets underway today in Cleveland. It’s also today’s extended, get-up-and-go quote. Thank God It’s Monday!
At the intersection of politics and reporting, relationships can be marked by friendliness and respect, tension and disdain, on both sides and within each.
But murder seems a bit extreme.
That’s what private investigator Andy Hayes faces, though, in “Capitol Punishment” (304 pages, Swallow Press, $27.95), the third thriller in Andrew Welsh-Huggins’ series featuring the Columbus, Ohio, resident, a disgraced former quarterback for Ohio State.
When freelance reporter Lee Hershey contacts Hayes to request bodyguard duty, Hayes reluctantly agrees and witnesses encounters between the journalist and several people connected with Ohio government.
One night, Hershey asks Hayes to meet him, but the investigator doesn’t show up, someone having slipped a tranquilizer into his beer at a bar. And when Hershey is found dead in the Rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse, Hayes feels guilty.
State Sen. Ed Tillman is soon charged with the murder, and defense attorney Burke Cunningham calls on Hayes, who sometimes does jobs for him, to help investigate.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of the presidential campaign, in which Ohio Gov. Thomas Hubbard is auditioning for the vice-presidential slot on the Democratic ticket while trying to shepherd a school-funding plan through the state Legislature, in which Democrats control the Senate and Republicans the House.
Welsh-Huggins, who covers legal affairs for The Associated Press in Columbus, excels at plot, characterization and setting — Columbus itself becomes a primary character. His snappy dialogue and wry prose add to the fun, and his take on the sausage-making process that passes for governance reflects reality.
But don’t let the laughs fool you. Darkness, complexity and a slew of suspects fill “Capitol Punishment” as more people die, threats fly and corruption and crimes that make Watergate look almost paltry are exposed.
Hayes’ beer isn’t the sole heady brew in this fine example of political noir, for which aficionados of smart crime fiction will vote with enthusiasm.