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Columnist Karen Gardner: This mystery is hard to put down

  • The Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the grounds of the White House Complex viewed from the Washington Monument, Wednesday, Sept. 18, in Washington. AP

Published: 10/8/2019 8:00:14 PM

I love a good mystery and the one I’m reading right now is such a compelling story that I find myself totally immersed in all its twists and turns. This one reminds me of those great stories by John Grisham — packed full of criminal and legal storylines, sometimes with politics thrown in as well.

Those Grisham books were always hard to put down, but this one, wow, I can’t seem to take my eyes off it. Every page brings new revelations of wrongdoing overlaid with intrigue, corruption and human drama.

The lead character, though ignorant and immoral to the bone, has managed to move quickly up the ranks to lead a huge and powerful organization. Somehow, he has bamboozled everyone in his world into supporting him, even though he is clearly unbalanced and dangerous — a criminal in a blue suit. This man has no compunction about smearing and destroying anyone who dares to disagree with what he says or does.

He employs hateful rhetoric to incite his many supporters to hatred and violence toward anyone not like themselves, and he lies, obfuscates and blames others for his obvious misdeeds. And to top it all off he is criminally enriching himself from his organization.

In an interesting plot twist, it appears that this crime can’t be proven since the leader is not required to reveal his tax returns, unlike what is expected of the leader of the country in which the story takes place.

This man is both feared and reviled by those close to him, but adored by those at the lower end of his vast organization who think he’s the best thing since sliced bread. What a character! Only a great fiction writer could come up with such a villain.

The other characters in the story, the leader’s inner circle, fill the air with lies to defend and cover for him. They allow him to behave as he does and to break the law, even though they know it is wrong and that it puts them in danger as accessories to the leader’s many crimes. They can’t seem to stop themselves; being so close to this kind of power is intoxicating and seemingly impossible to give up.

But these supporting characters are beginning to understand that the end is coming, and so they’ve begun to consider how to save themselves. I know that as each bit of information becomes public, one and then another of the characters involved will begin to come forward to save their own skin. It will become ever clearer that if they don’t, they will be left to go down with the leader who so clearly deserves it. It’s a great story and I find myself, as with all good stories, unable to look away.

It occurs to me, though, that maybe I’ve read this story before, decades ago when I was young. Yes, I remember, I picked up that story just after my son was born and then couldn’t put it down. Again, the leader was a crooked, unstable man, supported by his underlings who allowed him to do as he pleased.

But this man was secretive, keeping his craziness, his misdeeds and racist rants private. Fortunately, it turned out that he was so enamored of himself, that he secretly tape-recorded every single word that was uttered in his office over a two-year span.

That story had a dark ending for the leader. But what a great story it was as the steady drip, drip, drip of revelations from his staff and “the fake news media” — oh wait, I’m confusing my stories — revealed the existence of the tapes and the incriminating information they contained. The Supreme Court in that story managed to do the right thing and forced the release of the tapes. That was quite the read.

Glued as I am to every page of this new story, I find it an even better read than that one from long ago. And though there are lots of similarities, I can see that the lead character in this new story is much more dangerous. He doesn’t hide his law breaking, rather, he makes it crystal clear, while at the same time telling his many supporters, repetitively, that what he’s done is perfectly legal and OK. He thinks that will keep him safe from being fired and brought to justice. And strangely enough it does seem to work, at least in this latest chapter.

But those characters close to the leader are starting to crack, as there have now been a few who have come forward to testify against him. I know that the next chapter will be full of the inevitable rush to spill what they know, and that will be the best chapter of all.

Well, except for the last chapter where I hope I’ll read that the leader is no longer… the leader.

Karen Gardner of Haydenville, a retired computer programmer, is a bird watcher, nature photographer and ukulele player. She can be reached at

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