Imagine that John Grisham’s The Firm was set in a high-powered political consulting firm in Washington, DC, that, instead of running organized crime enterprises, was out to control the government.
Former Atlantic reporter Matthew Quirk’s powerful debut uses that premise for a high-concept thriller about power, money, and corruption. The 500—the term refers to Washington’s 500 most powerful people—balances nonstop action with believable, appealing, and easyto- care-about characters.
Harvard Law student Mike Ford believes he’s landed the perfect job when he is recruited by the Davies Group, Washington’s leading consulting firm. Henry Davies, the firm’s founder, has access to and the respect of DC’s elite, and a political pedigree that goes back to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. What’s more, Henry hints that he is grooming Mike to be his protégé. Mike desperately wants to rise above his background, which includes petty crimes and a con-man father who is in jail. He wants to stop seeing the world “through the eyes of a criminal” and his clients as “marks.” Now he has a beautiful home, more money than he can spend, and a budding relationship with coworker Annie Clark. But it quickly becomes clear that Mike’s skills at picking locks, burglary, and conning people are precisely why the firm hired him. Mike’s realization that these astute businessmen are also assassins—and what he plans to do about it—are at the heart of this outstanding thriller.
The 500’s high-octane plot features Russian thugs, low-level criminals, and compromised politicians. Yet the plethora of bad guys never seems overloaded. Mike emerges as a realistically conflicted character who wants the good life, but isn’t prepared to sell his soul to get it. Davies says he chose Mike because he was “born to live in the grey,” but Mike has to prove to himself that he is not anchored by his past. The emotion that Quirk imbues in the evolution of Mike’s relationship with his father is heart-wrenching, but never maudlin.
The 500 is a superb debut novel. It also should make an exciting film as the screen rights recently have been purchased by 20th Century Fox.