Our Man In Washington
Set in 1923 Washington DC, this novel uses historical figures as characters, though many of their actions have been fictionalized. Henry L. Mencken is a well-known and respected journalist and editor. James M. Cain, who narrates, is a rising journalist who hopes to write articles for Mencken. Disgusted by the corruption in the Harding administration, the two set off undercover for Washington with a plan to remove whiskey from government storehouses. In the process, they make contact with Jesse Smith, an aide to Attorney General Harry Daugherty, who introduces the pair to Washington’s most dangerous citizens. Throughout the book, Mencken and Cain stumble upon murder, blackmail, Presidential incompetence, and corruption on a grand scale.
I found Hoopes’ style to be a bit simplistic, although to be fair, the author tries hard to make readers feel as if they are listening to Cain tell the story. However, the details used to set the atmosphere for each scene were often repetitive.
The author states in the Preface that many of the thoughts expressed by Mencken in the story are, in fact, based on Mencken’s own writings. I found these passages to be the hidden jewels in this book. Many of Mencken’s pontifications are hilarious and, strangely, quite applicable to modern politics.
Hoopes has succeeded with this novel in a number of ways. First, he invites readers to see that underhanded politics and corruption have always accompanied democracy and probably always will. Second, he brings to readers’ attention the loss of excellent journalistic writing the world has suffered with the proliferation of real-time, sound bite news. And lastly, Hoopes reintroduces Henry L. Mencken, a witty journalist whose writings I am now determined to research more closely.