Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

House Secrets

A Joe DeMarco Thriller

by Mike Lawson

“Excellent . . . The action builds to a stunning final twist.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 384
  • Publication Date July 21, 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-1885-1
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $22.00

About The Book

Mike Lawson’s previous novels starring Joe DeMarco, The Inside Ring, The Second Perimeter, and House Rules, have earned him a loyal following from thriller afficionados and a place among the most talented and captivating thriller writers focusing on our nation’s capital. In his latest, House Secrets, Lawson sends Joe DeMarco, an average guy who works as a fixer for the Speaker of the House, on his most risky investigation yet.

It all begins with a simple request from the Speaker, Joe’s hard-drinking, glad-handing political boss from Boston, John Fitzpatrick Mahoney. One of Mahoney’s old colleagues has doubts about the supposed accidental death of his son, a middling newspaper reporter who had claimed, in the days before his death, that he had an incredibly hot story. But then again, he always said things like that, and nothing ever panned out. Mahoney just wants DeMarco to turn over some rocks around Washington and see what crawls out.

It turns out the reporter was on the trail of Senator Paul Morelli, the handsome and gifted rising star from New York, considered a shoo-in for his party’s presidential nomination. Some politicians are lucky, Morelli just happened to be luckier than most, but his opponents’ scandals and accidents had already been scrutinized and he looks clean. It seems like there’s nothing for DeMarco to do. But then some very dangerous things start to crawl out from under the rocks he’s turned over.

Dirty secrets, beltway politics, and divided loyalties threaten as DeMarco’s investigation spirals dangerously out of control, pulling in freelance operatives, intelligence figures, D.C. locals, a sinister chief of staff, and characters from his past in New York. Filled with surprising twists, a captivating plot, and excellent characters both old and new, House Secrets is Lawson’s best book yet.


“Intriguing, multidimensional characters . . . an involving plot and plenty of behind-the-scenes political machinations. It all adds up to one of the best thrillers of the year.” —Jeff Ayers, Booklist (starred review)

“Excellent . . . The action builds to a stunning final twist.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Congressional fixer Joe DeMarco returns in the fourth of Mike Lawson’s brainy, character-driven and droll novels of D.C. politics.” —Adam Woog, Seattle Times

“Every [DeMarco book] is of high quality, not only for the excellent storytelling, but for the insights into Washington life and politics. If I were to compose a list of underrated authors I would put Mike Lawson at the top.” —George Easter, Deadly Pleasures

“Writing a top-tier Washington thriller ain’t easy. Just think of the competition. . . . I’m happy to reporter that Mike Lawson is up to the challenge. House Secrets is plotted artfully, written with panache and has a surprise ending—don’t cheat and peak—that made me roar with laughter. . . . Lawson has a true insider’s insight about real-world spinelessness, venality, and corruption that have taken the place of moral courage and true leadership on Capitol Hill . . . a fine ear for dialogue . . . [and] a good eye for irony. . . . What makes House Secrets so delicious is that even though we know Senator Morelli is a bad apple almost from the get-go, Lawson inserts enough twists and turns into this book to keep readers guessing how it all resolves right up until the incredibly funny last page. Trust me. Don’t cheat and peek.” —John Weisman, Washington Times

“Lawson’s got the goods for bestsellerdom.” —Sarah Weinman, The Baltimore Sun

“Outstanding.” —Library Journal (Five Best Thrillers of the Year)

“[I] consider Mike Lawson my favorite political thriller writer (Flynn, Baldacci and Meltzer will have to go to the back of the line).” —George Easter, Deadly Pleasures

“House Secrets is his best yet.” —Jeff Ayers, The Big Thrill

“The twists, turns, and surprises never flag, leading to a blockbuster conclusion that is letter perfect, one that few will forget anytime soon. . . . [House Secrets is] a wry and entertaining novel about Washington politics.” —Mary Whipple, MostlyFiction.com

“A startling tale, with twists and turns galore. . . . Lawson has created an engrossing, full of sinister characters from both sides of the law. . . . House Secrets is the fourth in the Joe DeMarco series, which is rapidly becoming a favorite for me.” —Maddy Van Hertbruggen, ReviewingTheEvidence.com

“A fantastic tale filled with twists and spins that seem plausible . . . A consistently great series.” —Harriet Klausner, The Midwest Book Review

“Despite his many flaws, DeMarco is a sympathetic character with a self-deprecating sense of humor. This leads to some snappy dialogue . . . Lawson give his readers a clever plot . . . and maintains suspense.” —Dick Saxe, Mystery News

“There’s one thing you can be certain of when you pick up the latest novel by Mike Lawson—you’re in for an excellent story. . . . The joy of Lawson’s writing is how very well drawn his characters are, how tight and well-woven his plots are, and how easy and fluid his writing is. In my opinion, Mike Lawson is truly one of the gifted authors of our time, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading his Joe DeMarco series, now is a good time to start. Each book stands on its own, which is a testament to the skill of his writing, but as a whole, this is one of the best thriller series out there, bar none.” —Fran Fuller, Seattle Mystery Bookstore

“The kind of whodunit thriller you can’t stop thinking about while you’re reading and can’t stop talking about once you’re done. Smart, original, crafted with true insider knowledge, brimming with vivid characters, and a forward drive that just won’t quit. . . . I couldn’t put it down.” —Vince Flynn on The Inside Ring

“[Lawson is] on his game from the first chapter. As a fixer, De Marco has seen his share of corruption and the secrets of the movers and shakers, done his business in the shabby corridors of power. Given questionable evidence, De Marco is inclined to err on the side of caution, but Lawson never lets his protagonist off that easy, forcing him to make tough choices and face down personal demons. As Joe works his inside sources, the reader gets a bird’s-eye view of the Washington machinations he thrives on: leverage, an exchange of favors, the shifting layers of loyalty and opportunity. This thriller is no exception, another solid chronicle of the vagaries of Washington politics and the promises of elected leaders with feet of clay.” —Luan Gaines, Curled Up With a Good Book


One of Library Journal‘s Five Best Thrillers of the Year
An Indie Next List Notable selection (August 2009)
A Library Journal Best Book of 2009


Chapter 1

Mahoney was reclining near the pool, a big blue beach umbrella shading his head. His meaty right hand was wrapped around a frosted glass containing equal parts vodka and tomato juice. Clenched in his left hand, in the V created by two thick fingers, was a cigar. He wore white swim trunks with a red stripe down the side, and partially covering his broad chest and substantial gut, was an unbuttoned aloha shirt patterned with red hibiscuses. His hair was white and full, his legs were white, thick, and hairless, and his large bare feet were pale.

DeMarco thought he looked like a beluga whale that had crashed a luau.

“It’s about time you got here,” Mahoney said.

This complaint was typical of Mahoney. There he was—lying under an umbrella, drinking, doing nothing—while DeMarco had been forced to drive seventy miles in heavy traffic because his boss hadn’t wanted to talk over the phone. Or maybe Mahoney just didn’t want to hold the phone as this could have interrupted his drinking and smoking.

Nor did Mahoney offer DeMarco a seat or a drink. This breach of etiquette could have occurred because Mahoney was oblivious to the creature comforts of his subordinates—or it could have been because DeMarco looked impervious to such ailments as dehydration and heat stroke. DeMarco’s forefathers were Italian and his features reflected his heritage. He was five foot eleven, with heavy shoulders and strong arms. He combed his dark hair straight back, and the first strands of gray were just beginning to appear at the temples. He had a handsome face, but a hard one, and if Francis Ford Coppola had been casting extras for Godfather IV, he would have hired DeMarco on the spot.

So DeMarco stood there in front of Mahoney’s lounge chair, squinting into the midday sun. It was the first of September and the temperature was in the low eighties. As he waited for Mahoney to tell him why he’d been summoned, he glanced up at the large house in the background. DeMarco didn’t know who had loaned his boss the use of the mansion with its pool and its magnificent view of Chesapeake Bay, but he suspected it was someone trying to curry his favor. DeMarco wondered if that same person had loaned Mahoney the woman he could see in the window.

The woman—lithe and tanned—was in her thirties and she was walking back and forth in front of a large picture window, talking on a cell phone. The only thing she was wearing was a black bikini bottom the size of a stripper’s g-string. Her bare breasts, from a distance of fifty yards, were flawless.

Mahoney swiveled his thick neck to see what DeMarco was looking at.

“Yeah, she’s a character,” he said. “And in case you’re havin’ impure thoughts, she’s not with me. She’s the girlfriend of the guy who owns the house.”

Impure thoughts—a Catholic sinner’s expression—and DeMarco bet that Mahoney had been confessing to that particular transgression from the time he was a pudgy altar boy. But was he lying about the woman? DeMarco didn’t know. He doubted if God knew. And the fact that Mahoney could lie so nimbly was not surprising: he was a politician. John Fitzpatrick Mahoney was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, third in line for the Oval Office if both the president and vice president were unable to serve. A truly terrifying thought in DeMarco’s opinion.

“Hey! Stop looking at her tits and pay attention,” Mahoney said. DeMarco reluctantly shifted his gaze back to Mahoney’s blue eyes—the red-veined eyes of a dedicated drinker.

“There’s a guy,” Mahoney said, “an old buddy of mine, an ex-congressman from Virginia. His name’s Dick Finley and he retired about ten years ago. Anyway, a week ago his son died in some kinda weird accident and Dick wants somebody to look into it.”

“Does he need a lawyer?” DeMarco asked. “I mean is he planning to sue somebody?”

DeMarco had asked the question not because he cared about the answer but because he had just looked up at the mansion again—and he wanted to keep looking. The young woman was still on the phone, but this time she saw DeMarco staring at her. She turned to face him so he was treated to a full-frontal view, and then she smiled and wiggled her fingers at him. She was so firm nothing else wiggled. He bet Mahoney was lying.

Mahoney snorted in response to DeMarco’s question. “If he needed a lawyer, Joe, I wouldn’t have given him your name.”

DeMarco was offended though he knew he had no right to be. He had a law degree—had even passed the Virginia bar—but he had never practiced law. He was too busy doing other unsavory things on Mahoney’s behalf.

“It sounds like what he needs,” Mahoney said, “is somebody to turn over a few rocks and see what crawls out.”

There you go, DeMarco thought. That was his job description: rock flipper and bug crusher. Not very flattering but accurate enough.