Kingpin (A Joe DeMarco Thriller)

Image of Kingpin (A Joe DeMarco Thriller)
Release Date: 
February 6, 2024
Atlantic Monthly Press
Reviewed by: 

“Do the addition here, and what you’ve got is bad fixers against good fixers. Which side will cheat more? What kind of win follows?”

The latest Joe DeMarco thriller from Mike Lawson is number 17, so newcomers to the series have plenty to unearth after reading this one. But there’s no need to already be acquainted with DeMarco, the DC-based fixer for John Mahoney, former Speaker of the House. In fact, this political crime novel opens on the dark side: Boston corporate head Carson Newman “wears suits made by Dior that retail for five grand,” is worth several billion dollars, and doesn’t hesitate to use his connections to hire a murder or two (or three). When he realizes that DeMarco may be sniffing his trail, he’s confident that the DC man won’t be a problem. “And if he started to become one—Well, there were ways to deal with Mahoney’s thug.”

Like the others he works with, creepy Carson Newman has vastly underestimated what DeMarco can figure out and the steps that could follow. When a young intern working for Mahoney is murdered, after telling a former professor that he’s learned something about “politicians taking bribes,” Mahoney expects DeMarco to both solve the crime and handle damage control, like keeping the intern’s mother from involving the police at the wrong moment. Do the addition here, and what you’ve got is bad fixers against good fixers. Which side will cheat more? What kind of win follows?

DeMarco himself is having a complicated summer (with no AC, making him darned irritable). There’s no way he’s ready for Sydney Roma, a smart starting investigator accidentally in the train of the dark fixers. Not only does her boss Dave Morgenthal consider her brilliant, he also admits that “Sydney was prone to self-sabotage, and he could never be sure when that little switch inside her head would flip from normal to crazy.” When an effort on the dark side to erase tracks results in Morgenthal’s sudden murder (yes, the bodies can pile up quickly in DeMarco’s world), Sydney sets herself on a crash course into DeMarco’s otherwise organized life. If she can fix his busted AC, is that a fair trade for the chaos she introduces?

In classic Lawson style, Kingpin flashes rapid scene switches and plenty of trickery and chasing. It’s great to have the battle lines so clear between good guys (mostly) and bad guys (but look out for Sydney). Also enjoyable are the whip-smart women in this thriller, even the ones in bit parts, like the intern’s girlfriend and mother, who between them provide the key to DeMarco pulling apart the threats to his boss.

But Lawson also allows time to follow DeMarco’s efforts in detail as he unearths why the intern was targeted and how much “the kid” had actually known: “The kid had been driven and ambitious and had worked his ass off . . . a hardworking kid, willing to make whatever sacrifices he had to make to succeed, and DeMarco couldn’t help but admire him. But according to [his girlfriend], Brian could also be obsessive and relentless . . . he wasn’t a complete Boy Scout when it came to getting what he wanted.” As DeMarco puts the pieces together, he realizes that an otherwise clean-cut intern might do something underhanded to get results—something that in turn made him a threat. “But to figure that out, he had to find the damn laptop.”

Sydney will prove critical in a world where information lives on the cloud and determines the positions of the most dangerous “bad actors” on scene. Watching DeMarco come to grips with that, and learn to collaborate with a brilliant but often erratic young woman, is definitely worth the ride.