"Bootlicker," by Steve Piacente
Part social commentary and part political/media thriller, "Bootlicker" is an authentic, thought-provoking and entertaining look at what happens when greed tramples goodness and decades-long deceit devours a decent man's soul.
Ultimately, though, "Bootlicker" is a story of redemption and of right (eventually) toppling might.
It's often said an author writes about what he or she knows, and that's evident in Piacente's second self-published novel. ("Bella," about a widow's quest to uncover the truth about her soldier-husband's battlefield death, was the first.)
He spent more than two decades as a print journalist, including stints in Charleston, S.C., and Washington, D.C., two of his new book's most prominent settings.
One of the main characters of "Bootlicker" is a cocky news reporter, Dan Patragno, who earns his promotion from the night cops beat by finagling an exclusive interview with a grief-numbed woman whose husband has just killed their baby and himself.
Patragno is assigned to cover the 1992 race in which small-town mayor Ike Washington is attempting to become South Carolina's first black congressman since the Civil War.
But Washington has a secret that threatens more than his political chances.
As a teenager, he stumbled upon a Ku Klux Klan lynching in progress, led by "Mac" McCauley. The county judge gives young Ike a choice: He can join the man at the end of the rope or he can keep his mouth shut and help McCauley secure support from black voters to further his ambitions.
Decades later, with McCauley firmly entrenched in Congress, many of Ike's supporters agree he had no real choice.
As for Patragno, he has choices but too often makes the wrong ones until, through perseverance and no shortage of luck, he lands the story that saves his job and catapults him to his dream employment.
The author's descriptions of back-room political deals and newsroom decision-making are spot on, as is his dialogue between Patragno and his editor.
Many novelists have featured reporters as central characters with varying degrees of accuracy.
Readers who want authenticity would do well to pick up Piacente's novels. His depictions of journalists and the way they go about their jobs, for better or worse, are the real deal.