The 500, by Matthew Quirk (hardcover, $25.99)

This is a smart, clever, well-written book. It's a horror story of sorts because it hypothesizes (or reveals?) the inner workings of how influence is peddled and how the real decision-making process works in the hollow (certainly not hallowed, according to this book) halls of government.

Michael Ford is a young go-getter with a shady past. It reminds me of one of the best books I've read over the past couple of years, The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton. In that book the young narrator begins by admitting that he is telling his tale from jail. In a similar fashion, The 500 begins with Michael in tremendous trouble of some sort, and both stories proceed backwards in time from there. Both Michael Ford and Michael Smith, the protagonist of The Lock Artist, are street-clever and talented. They try to escape their pasts, and their struggles provide the story-telling spine for their respective books.

In short, the story is that Ford, fresh out of Harvard Law, is recruited by the best influence-peddling firm in DC. Callow in the ways of politics and idealistic, Michael sets out to show his bosses he can bring in the goods. The goods being ways to get the people in power to do what the firm's clients want.

There is a well-balanced amount of action and cerebral stuff. As the main story proceeds, stories from Michael's past surface. His relationship with his imprisoned father, his dead mother, his wayward brother are all blended into the mix to provide the explanation to who Michael was and what he has become. In the best hero fashion, Michael must decide where his loyalties, interests, and ideals lie, and once having decided, how to make sure he survives the fall-out of his choices.

As captivating and moving as Matthew Quirk's writing makes his characters, it is the addition of the insights into the grift, the con, the soft spots in our structured and fortified society and its elected representatives, and the nuts and bolts of being a burglar and thief that produce an extraordinary book.

Although there were a couple of brief moments when I thought, "Well, isn't that convenient" or "That'll play well in Hollywood," The 500 is an original, well-paced, and thoughtful book.

I am pleased to give it an MBTB star.