Review Summary: An honest politician – Is there such an animal? Read on to find out.
Senator Davis Hudson has a silver tongue that has so far kept the stress off those lesser political organs, the heart and the brain. But he’s just made a political speech that will transform him from a Senate back-bencher to a public figure and presidential contender—whether he’s ready or not—and suddenly he wants his words and actions to mean something. It’s a crucial time in his political career, and Davis needs all the publicity he can get. He just doesn’t expect the highlight of his first CNN interview to be the conversation he has with makeup artist Kurt Lamb.
Kurt is smart, politically savvy, and uninterested in being part of a congressional sex scandal, which is why he tolerates being Davis’s dirty little secret. Despite the poor timing, Davis falls for him hard.
But Kurt isn’t the only skeleton in Davis’s closet. Davis’s ex-wife isn’t happy that he’s pursuing the presidency now, after all her years of hard work, and he has at least one more enemy on the Hill. Between them, they have all the tools they need to ruin a presidential candidate—and maybe his shot at happiness too.
I can’t resist books about politics or politicians. Sometimes I’m disappointed in these stories, but more often than not I’m pleasantly surprised at the depth of the characters and the complexity of the plots. The last book I reviewed with this theme was Where There’s Smoke by L.A. Witt which I absolutely loved. I wasn’t sure about Inside the Beltway when I started reading it but quite soon I was engrossed in the characters and realized once again that politicians play by different rules to the rest of us.
Representing his constituents as the Democratic Senator from Connecticut was a bit of a comedown for Davis Hudson after being CEO of his business and subsequently elected as Lieutenant Governor. He had grown tired of being one of 100 Senators dependent on his colleagues’ goodwill or reciprocal favours to get any bills passed, plus it was hard to get noticed in a crowd. With a year to go before he needed to campaign and raise funds for his re-election, his options were wide open. He felt the pull to do something tangible and exciting so he decided to take a run at the presidency. Although he didn’t say that was what he was doing, it was obvious to everyone that he was considering going after the job of being the man in the White House. As expected, his carefully crafted speech on the floor of the Senate with this objective in mind created quite the buzz, and he was on all the news feeds later that day, which was a good thing; except he still wasn’t sure whether he wanted the job should he be lucky enough to win his party’s nomination.
Kurt Lamb was the CNN make-up artist charged with making Davis’s face look even better for the cameras, and they made the usual small talk as he went about his job. After the interview as he was waiting for his driver Davis saw Kurt again and they chatted to pass the time. Davis was so impressed he suggested that they meet for coffee since Kurt seemed to have a lot of fresh ideas. Of course one meeting wasn’t enough and soon Davis realized that he was in trouble – he was attracted to Kurt who was quite upfront about his sexual orientation. Kurt pointed out that it was a bad idea for them to even be friends given their relative status, but human nature being what it is very soon Davis wanted more than friendship. Their first kiss was a revelation to him and he knew that it would be a mistake to continue seeing Kurt, but he was too emotionally involved by this time and despite his misgivings, they started an affair at the worst possible time for Davis.
Helen, Davis’s ex was furious when she heard the rumours that he might be considering a run at the presidency. His timing meant that she would not share in the glory she felt she deserved, should he win. Part of the reason why their marriage had fallen apart was they had different goals at the time. She was very ambitious and he preferred to go with the flow; she was bitterly disappointed that Davis didn’t have bigger ambitions beyond being a Senator and policy maker. That he was considering running for the presidency at this particular time, something that she had strongly urged him to do when they were married, was galling, and she was determined to stop his campaign in its tracks with the help of her well connected friends
It was fascinating to watch Davis strategize his next moves without appearing to be running for the job everyone knew he wanted. He grew a lot during the course of this book from someone unsure of what he wanted in life to a man who knew what was really important in his life.The biggest issue he faced was his relationship with Kurt. Was America ready for a gay president or could Davis’s campaign be over before it had even begun? There was no issue about his choice between his love for Kurt vs his political ambitions – Kurt would win hands down.
One reason I love stories about politics and American politics in particular is because most of the characters in these books are so complex, the issues are almost incomprehensible, the objectives are unattainable, and everything is bigger than in real life. Manipulation, backstabbing and outright sabotage are not unheard of from those who should be above petty oneupmanship. It was amazing to see how dirty the fighting became when Davis stepped on one toe too many, and his various enemies conspired to bring him to his knees.
Kurt, the other MC, was a wonderfully crafted character. Although he worked as a make-up artist he had a background in media analysis and politics so he and Davis had a lot in common and weren’t the mismatch they appeared to be on the surface. Davis knew he could absolutely trust Kurt to have his back and that he would never betray him, no matter the cost. He was the one person in Davis’s life who gave everything he had unconditionally, and he never expected anything in return other than Davis’s love. Kurt sneaked up on me when I wasn’t looking and I fell for him as much as I did for Davis.
The writing was excellent and I would definitely read another book by Ellen Holiday. She did a great job of showing the inner workings of the Senate without too many boring details, (a difficult task I’m sure) and in addition demonstrated the level of intrigue in a place where the members are revered but a few are unprincipled, barely restraining themselves when bent on revenge.
Inside the Beltway is told from two POVs – Davis’s and a limited POV of his ex wife Helen. I almost didn’t give this book 5 stars because of Helen’s character who was the usual one dimensional manipulating, cunning, bitter witch of an ex wife bent on destroying the man she had once loved. I wish she had at least one redeeming quality to offset the “evil witch” portrayal, but her characterization ran true to form for most females in this genre. However the book deserved to be rated at the highest level in my opinion, so I disregarded this one flaw.
Inside the Beltway was incredible in the way it showed Davis’s conflicts about the job he wasn’t sure he wanted, his ambitions, his need for more meaningful and challenging work, as well as his emotions expressed in his love for Kurt. I liked that both MCs were older – Davis was 46 years old and Kurt not much younger, and there was no attempt to make Kurt into a great looking man, in fact his looks were quite ordinary which made Davis’s love for him more special. In case you were wondering, this is also a wonderful love story. 🙂
Some of the other characters of note were Senator Pierce Randolph, the Chamber’s longest serving member and a man of integrity, who was a great friend to Davis and acted as his conscience and sounding board; on the opposite side of the ledger was Junior Senator Harry Adams who was not the kind of person one should ever cross; another great character was Alex Hu, Davis’s Chief of Staff, a smart and ambitious woman who was very well drawn – flaws and competence make for a heady mix.
To answer the question in the summary – yes!
America will probably never be ready for a gay president, but If you’re looking for a complex, highly entertaining story about US politics you shouldn’t miss Inside the Beltway. A wonderful debut novel.