This week’s New Title Tuesday, Shining City by Tom Rosenstiel, is a novel that promises to take readers inside the Washington D.C. seats of power. Frankly, because the news feeds are saturated with real (and fake) political news and scandals, I was hesitant to check it out. But then I read these lines from the first page, “Rena and his partner were sometimes called fixers, but the term didn’t fit. They never fixed problems-they just ended them.” And the author’s turn of phrase, “He would take another cauterizing sip of martini…” made me decide that Rosenstiel’s prose was begging me to read on.
Publisher Summary: Peter Rena is a “fixer.” He and his partner, Randi Brooks, earn their living making the problems of the powerful disappear. They get their biggest job yet when the White House hires them to vet the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Judge Roland Madison is a legal giant, but he’s a political maverick, with views that might make the already tricky confirmation process even more difficult. Rena and his team go full-bore to cover every inch of the judge’s past, while the competing factions of Washington D.C. mobilize with frightening intensity: ambitious senators, garrulous journalists, and wily power players on both sides of the aisle.
All of that becomes background when a string of seemingly random killings overlaps with Rena’s investigation, with Judge Madison a possible target. Racing against the clock to keep his nominee safe, the President satisfied, and the political wolves at bay, Rena learns just how dangerous Washington’s obsession with power—how to get it and how to keep it—can be.
Written with razor-sharp political insight and heart-pounding action, Shining City is a hugely impressive debut that announces a major new talent.
Since the subject matter of confirming a new Supreme Court Justice writes itself as ripped-from-the-headlines, formulaic standard fare, Rosenstiel’s background in journalism and experience as the executive director of the American Press Institute and as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute brings an insider experience. In addition, Shining City is – dare I say it – fair and balanced since Rena and his partner Brooks are on opposite sides of the political divide.
In an interview with Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Rosenstiel explained one reason he decided to write fiction:
If a journalist writes a novel, there’s a couple of itches that you’re trying to scratch. One of them, I think, is to tell the truth about things that’s very hard to get at as a journalist. As journalists we live in the world of evidence and proof — you write what you can prove, but you can’t write everything you believe. So the hidden motivations of people are very hard to get at, and if you’re trying to tell the story of “Why does our politics not work?” you need to be in the hearts of people who are talented and make decisions that turn out badly. These are not evil people who populate our city, they’re people who’ve found themselves in a situation where doing what they think is right keeps ending up in the wrong place.
I think I also felt like there was a part of me that, as journalism has changed and become disrupted, you don’t have the ability to go out and tell stories contemplatively, with enough time to get into character. Things move
Perhaps it’s this ‘itch’ to thoroughly understand how the sausage can be changed is what made me want to read and why I enjoyed both the prose and content of Shining City.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
Non-fiction by Rosenstiel:
Strange Bedfellows The acclaimed inside account of how TV news covered–and was changed forever by–the presidential campaign of 1992. With the explosion of tabloid journalism, the exploitation of talk shows and the presence of Ross Perot, all the rules changed. Rosenstiel won the 1991 Lowell Mellett Award for outstanding media criticism. 16-page insert.
Non-fiction by Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach:
The elements of journalism are:
* Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
* Its first loyalty is to citizens.
* Its essence is a discipline of verification.
* Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
* It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
* It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
* It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
* It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
* Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
Like the authors’ classic book The Elements of Journalism, Blur is a unique and readable discourse on how information culture is changing. Yes, old authorities are being dismantled and new ones created, and the way we obtain knowledge has changed. But seeking true and reliable information remains the most important purpose of journalism-and the object for those who consume it. In an age when the line between citizen and journalist is becoming increasingly fuzzy, Blur is an indispensable and serious-minded guide to navigating this new twenty-first-century media terrain.