After witnessing the prelude to a young woman’s murder, an assemblyman’s chief of staff gets caught up in an investigation in Ziman’s tense political novel.
New York City politico Ryan McNeil witnesses state legislators debate the death penalty, and his boss, Assemblyman Nickolas Somatos, reads out Ryan’s impassioned speech against it. Out on the street, Ryan sees Kathy Wilet enter a limousine; readers find out that her boyfriend murdered her with a golf club not long afterward, after they discussed some secret files. As part of an investigation into her disappearance, Ryan gives his witness statement to a police detective, who’s skeptical about Ryan’s timeline of events. Ryan’s girlfriend, Caroline Tierney,works at a law office in a support capacity, and they both embark on a hunt for the truth. As Ryan digs further into Kathy’s past, his actions prompt the governor to deem him a person of interest. Sometime later, Ryan marries Annie McNeil and moves to Washington, D.C., to work for Somatos, who’s become a member of Congress. Back in New York, Caroline continues to probe financial leads in her investigation, which leads her to an arsonist and some very bad actors in the governor’s office. It all ends with multiple unexpected deaths of major characters. At times over the course of the narrative Ziman’s writing style reveals some distracting quirks, as when he introduces his characters fragmentarily, with details about their names, dispositions, and bodily features separated by pages at a time. The author also has a tendency to veer into passive sentence constructions (“A dinner of shrimp, mussels and pasta had been consumed”) and to haphazardly switch between past and present tense, which can be distracting. In addition, some aspects of the plot add unnecessary complexity. That said, the pace of the story is consistently propulsive throughout, which is sure to maintain readers’ interest.
A sometimes-intriguing but often convoluted whodunit.
Brimming with barely contained tension and a razor-sharp political edge, Girls, Crimes, and the Ruling Body by Barry R. Ziman is a linguistically rich ride through the halls of power.
Ryan McNeil works in the messy world of New York congressional politics, but also gets unwittingly tangled up in the disappearance of a young woman, as one of the last people to see her alive. The high-profile case could tank his career, but also threatens his freedom, leading him and his dauntless girlfriend to begin an investigation of their own, despite the mounting dangers and the target that has settled on his shoulders. What unfolds is an unpredictable and complex political conspiracy that cuts far deeper than a single murder, and stretches to the nation’s capital.
For political junkies and conspiracy theorists alike, this fast-paced drama ticks all the boxes, but there are some execution issues that can’t be ignored. The plot jumps around frenetically, with characters being only partially introduced before a new piece of this sprawling puzzle is introduced. The prose is overworked at times, with unusual syntactical choices that give the author a unique voice, but makes the verbiage feel forced, obfuscating meaning and impact for the sake of a clever turn of phrase. In contrast, the dialogue moves the story along, but occasionally feels monotone, which can undercut the suspense in some scenes.
That said, given our uncertain times, the clear theme of toxic politics versus righteous truth-telling is compelling, and Ziman’s obvious love for language and character building shines through this spiraling political mystery.