Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Solomon Scandals by David Rothman (book review)

cover of Solomon Scandals

The Solomon Scandals
a novel by David Rothman
Published by Twilight Times Books
January 2009
ISBN: 978-1-60619-042-5
Paperback, 252 pages, $ 16.95
Ebook: $ 5.95
Sample chapters at:

Reviewed by Michael Pastore

Just for fun, go to Google and type into the search box: "scandals Washington D.C." In a fraction of one second, more than 3.7 million results appear. Whereas other East Coast cities are notorious for a unique genre of scandal — Boston for stranglers, New York for Wall Street, and Philadelphia (the City of Muggerly Love) for mundane street crime — Washington D.C. is unique for the variety, inventiveness, and chutzpah of its offenses. The city ennobled by George Washington, Thom Jefferson and Abe Lincoln has a checkered past encompassing Watergate, the Plame outing, missing persons, missing emails, briberies, conspiracies, frauds, tax evasions, spying, lying, and the D.C. Madam, whose client list included more than 10,000 customers.

David Rothman's new novel, The Solomon Scandals, depicts a Washington D.C. tainted with corruption on a grand scale. There's no small stuff sweated here: these are Madoffian white-collar crimes that pay splendidly, and involve some of the city's most respected kingpins. The novel tells the story of a ballsy Jewish reporter, Jonathan Stone, who investigates a rich, powerful pillar of the Jewish community, Seymour Solomon. Stone's efforts are hindered by an ethically-challenged editor hoping to hush the inconvenient truths; and helped by a grad student who shares her bathtub and her bed. Politicians are exposed and the media skewered in this comic-tragic tale of Washington D.C. laid bare.

Three things about this novel impressed me. Real settings (D.C. by someone who knows it intimately), and real events -- for example, the collapse of the Ronan Point housing project -- are skillfully interweaved with the fictional characters and plot. The book's women are especially likable: they radiate that screwball-comedy pizzazz ala Roz Russell's Hildy Johnson in the film His Girl Friday. And humor: though the theme could hardly be more serious -- and the book's conclusion comes as a sad but inevitable shock -- this is often a subtly funny book. Stone getting grilled by his meddling parents, and the first meeting between the honest reporter and his sleazy subject are two scenes that made me laugh out loud.

There is a fine thread that connects good fiction to genuine reality. This novel makes us stop and wonder: Is this story an exaggeration only, or is real-world politics equally depraved? ... With a new American president in the White House, we hope and believe that the clouds of deception have blown away, and a sunny ethic of honesty now pervades our nation's political heart. In as much as the news media can reflect this kind of seismic shift, this year's news has been shockingly mild. Already, it seems, many people miss the pre-Obama frenzy: the flood of outrageous D.C. revelations that characterized life under our former emperor.

Fortunately, all the corruption we could ever desire — artistically rendered and skillfully told — is tucked inside the pages of The Solomon Scandals. Financial rip-offs and large-scale shady deals may always be with us. But they are far more fun to read between the covers of a well-written novel, than on the front pages of our troubled newspapers and magazines.