Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Dirty Secret

Title: The Dirty Secret
Author's Website: Brent Wolfingbarger

Author's Page on: GoodReads
Available on Amazon (including Kindle edition) and other sites

Gist on GoodReads: The difference between victory and defeat in the Electoral College comes down to 259 votes in West Virginia. A state senator desperately fights back against a lawsuit that is pushing his family’s company toward bankruptcy.A vice presidential candidate’s adulterous affair threatens to explode in his face and burst into the world’s headlines with devastating consequences. A ruthless billionaire will stop at nothing to avoid facing justice for his crimes. A small town prosecutor stumbles upon a plot to win the election by any means necessary: High-tech manipulation of electronic voting machines, creative interpretation of arcane election laws, bribery, blackmail and even murder.

And Rikki Gudivada and Dave Anderson – two star-crossed former lovers from opposite sides of the political fence – are drawn back together as the battle rages for West Virginia’s 5 electoral votes, racing to solve a murder that imperils the very heart of America’s constitutional system while each struggles over the same question:Is anything more important than winning the White House?

My views:

This teaser on GoodReads just made me want to read this books. It is election season in the USA and the war between the Republicans and the Democrats is hotting up. There is no better time to pick up this book, than NOW. And on having finished reading this book, all I can exclaim is: WOW!!!

Brent Wolfingbager, the author, has managed to capture the undercurrents of the political scene extremely well. Of course, his bachelors' degree in political science, his experience as an attorney which also involved fighting two election law cases appears to have come in very handy.

Remember what happened in Florida between Bush and Gore way back in 2000? To refresh your memory click here.

The main crux of this book is also re-counting, in the quaint State of West Virginia. This is my favourite 'lawyering' paragraph in the book:

"If the board of canvassers is unable to accurately correct such errors made by the said device or equipment and therefore cannot correct th returns to accurately reflect the actual votes cast at such election, the total votes recorded or tabulated on such device or equipment, despite the fact that such vote may be erroneous, shall be accepted as the votes cast."

The tension just intensifies. In this backdrop, thrown together to ensure fairness prevails are ex-lovers lawyer Dave Anderson and newly-appointed Prosecutor Rikki Gudivada (readers back home, will enjoy the India touch). Rikki emerges as a strong, intelligent, highly respected woman who is reaching her forties and yet can make heads turn. She is comfortable in her own skin, and yet, is very much at home in close knit West Virginia.

But, the 'dirty secrets' were not limited to just the recounting of votes, as the GoodReads synopsis well indicates. Multiple plots unfolded at a very fast pace, leaving me gripping and wondering what next.

I only wish that the author (perhaps in an appendix) had provided an idea to non-American readers on how the US votes for its President. Not all may be familiar with the Bush v/s Gore episode which had made world headlines. One also needs to concentrate a bit while reading this book, because of the multiple characters (each extremely well depicted and each having an important role to play) and the multiple plots.

This book is not meant for a casual flippant read. But then, political thrillers, such as these with the right mix of political intrigue, romance, suspense, scandal and even a murder are not written everyday.

If you cannot pick this political thriller now, remember to do so later, it is a book you will not regret reading.

While this book has an American setting, it is one which all readers will enjoy. After all adulterous affairs by politicians, rigging of electronic voting machines, family business entities run by politicians are issues that hit headlines in many countries, including India.


1) Can you explain the process of electing a President in USA to our non-US blog readers?

Americans use an 'indirect' method to elect our President. The two main political parties (the Democrats and the Republicans) each nominate a candidate based on the results of primary elections and caucuses in the various states. Smaller political parties such as the Greens and the Libertarians also nominate candidates who may appear on the ballot in some of the states, but historically, third party candidates have rarely had much of an impact on the final results.

Under the U.S. constitution, we have an institution that is informally called 'The Electoral College' which determines who becomes president. Each state is given a number of electors that is largely based upon the size of its population, and each state has at least three electors. The District of Columbia also has three electors, and altogether there are a total of 538. The number of electoral votes assigned to each state changes every 10 years based on the most recent census results; thus, some states (like Texas) have gained electoral votes since the last election in 2008, while others (like New York) have lost electoral votes.

In November, Americans go to the polls in their respective states and cast their votes, they are technically voting for slates of electors nominated by the political parties’ state executive committees. Those people are the ones who actually elect the president and vice president when they cast their ballots in the Electoral College. Essentially, the presidential candidate who wins the most votes in a particular state will receive that state’s number of votes in the Electoral College, and the candidate who receives a majority of the votes in the Electoral College (at least 270) will become president the following January 20.

One important caveat: There are absolutely no federal laws which require an elector in the Electoral College to actually vote for the candidate he has pledged to support. Although somewhere around 24 states have passed state laws intended to prevent their electors from acting in this 'faithless' manner, the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of such laws. And West Virginia (where this story is set) is one state where no such laws prohibiting 'faithless' electors exist.

For a more in-depth explanation, feel free to check out Wikipedia’s article on the Electoral College.

2) What prompted you, to pen a book? In the realm of writing, what are your immediate future plans?

I’ve always been interested in politics, and my experience handling election law cases served to heighten my awareness as to the myriad of ways that a very determined group of people could corruptly influence the results of an election. Thus, the seed for The Dirty Secret was planted in my brain.

3) Who is your favourite character in this book and why?

I’d have to say 'Silent' Doug Vaughn, the one-eyed Sheriff of Pleasants County. I really love Silent Doug because he is an enigma throughout most of the book. A big, strong, by-the-book law enforcement guy who isn’t much of a talker, he keeps his nose to the grindstone and gets his job done without much fanfare. However, there’s an air of mystery about him – especially when it comes to his missing left eye – and readers tend to be quite curious about him, wondering exactly what role he will play when the drama reaches its crescendo. Slowly disclosing Silent Doug’s backstory, setting the stage where his key role is revealed, was one of the most satisfying parts of writing the book for me.

4) I bet your legal background was of an immense help while writing this book. To what extent was your legal experience helpful?

It was crucial. I’m blessed to have handled a wide variety of cases in the course of my legal career, and my specific experience handling election law disputes, criminal cases and oil and gas matters played a major role in making the book a realistic read. In fact, all of the statutes, regulations, judicial cases and constitutional provisions cited in The Dirty Secret accurately reflect the body of law governing American presidential elections as of February 2012, particularly those which govern post-election legal proceedings in the State of West Virginia.

5) And on a light hearted note, if you were nominated in the running for the President of the United States, what would your electoral message focus on?

Eradicating our national debt, which I think represents the biggest threat to America’s national security. Maybe we should just lock up all the members of Congress in a room full of rabid weasels, and only let them out after they figure out how to balance the budget. Of course, it would probably help matters if the Senate could actually be bothered to pass a budget (balanced or otherwise), which it has pathetically failed to do since April 29, 2009.

6) Which genre of books do you love to read and who is your favourite author?

I have an eclectic taste in books. My non-fiction interests including American and world history, current affairs, biographies and emerging technologies. On the fiction side, I gravitate toward political thrillers, alternative history, science fiction, and some stuff that is hard to classify within a particular genre, like Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle series. There’s no way I could designate just one author as my all-time favorite. But I would definitely include Neal Stephenson, Stephen Ambrose, Stephen Coonts, Harry Turtledove, Ben Coes, Robert Heinlein and Eric Flint as top contenders.

7) Many wannabe writers, who hold full time jobs in other fields complain that they just don't find time to write. How do you fit in your writing, in your otherwise busy schedule as an attorney?

It's really a matter of making it a priority, and thankfully I have a wife who is willing to support my creative writing ventures. Naturally, writing has to take a back seat to my day job as a prosecutor, and to my fatherhood duties. However, after we get home from the kids’ tae kwon do or swimming lessons and they're safely ensconced in bed, my wife will give me a kiss on the check and turn her attention to everything else that needs done around our house (laundry, cooking, etc.) so that I can sequester myself in front of the computer and start cranking out some pages. I'm a very lucky man to have such a supportive wife, and without having her in my corner, there's no way I could get it all done.

(Thank you Brent, for the book and for your interview. I learnt a lot about the US electoral process through your book and your replies to the interview questions)

Author's bio data:
Brent Wolfingbarger grew up in Belle, West Virginia, and graduated from DuPont High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science at West Virginia University before receiving his law degree from the Washington & Lee University School of Law.
After a short stint working for a law firm in Elkins, West Virginia, Brent moved to Charleston and opened his own practice where he spent the next twelve years handling cases in a variety of fields including election law, civil rights, real estate, medical malpractice and oil and gas. He also argued before the West Virginia Supreme Court in extremely complex cases including two election law cases and a medical malpractice wrongful death case involving multiple physicians and drug manufacturers.
In 2006, Brent accepted a position as an assistant county prosecutor, where he spent over five years prosecuting the full spectrum of cases including murder, sexual assault and computer-related crimes. During this time, he actively focused on issues related to the acquisition, analysis and use of digital evidence in criminal cases and he served as a liaison to the West Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force.
Brent lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two children where he continues to work as a prosecutor, evaluating complex allegations of fraud committed by health care providers and durable medical equipment companies against the Medicaid program, and prosecuting violent crimes committed against elderly and disabled victims. In this capacity, he regularly works on task forces involving multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Attorney’s Office.

Source of the Photograph: Downloaded from Flickr and used as per the terms of the Creative Commons License.
The small icon of the WhiteHouse is the twitter image provided - yes, the White House has a twitter account


Catarina said...

As I'm sure you can guess, I love political thrillers Lubna. If I want to be completely absorbed in a book what better than a Robert Ludlum.

Maybe the book you reviewed is worth reading? Sounds like an interesting plot.

Dilip said...

Nail-biting read great for a long rainy weekend!

Nice review thanks Lubna!

Lubna said...

@Catarina: It is a great book. I was amazed.
@Dilip: Yes, it was nail-biting. It also reminded me of the scene in India, even as our election system is quite different.

Susan P. Cooper said...

As usual... I loved your review. This sounds like an interesting and engaging ( and nail bitting) read. I will be adding this to my reading list. :-)

Lubna said...

Thanks, Susan.

Destination Infinity said...

The plot seems interesting, alright. I have always wondered about the political system in the US. How can there only be two parties in a democracy? And how do they decide who gets the ticket? Need to know these things sometime!

Destination Infinity

on the ball parent coach said...

There is nothing like a good fiction book even though we have so much political reality surrounding us right now. Great review!

Jules said...

Political language is something that few are fluent in. The joke (not really) being that there are three types of lies; lies, damn lies and statistics.
Hearing different languages can be musical. But the folks who suffer from 'foreign language syndrome' don't necessarily have a choice on how their voices change.

Thanks for your visit. Be well, ~J

Susan Oakes said...

I really like political thrillers Lubna and this one sounds like a good read. Will check it out.

Lubna said...

@Destination Infinity: Stay tuned for the interview. We shall have the answers.
@Parentcoach and Susan Oakes: Thanks for dropping by. Glad to know you enjoy political thrillers.
@Jules: Well said!

Leora said...


Better to read a political thriller like this one than the numerous comments now showing up in my FB feed: I'm right, you are wrong, and I'm right. Did I mention that my side is 100% the correct one?

Sigh. Thanks for a great release suggestion!

Jeri said...

This one definitely seems like it will hit the spot with election day looming in November. It always amazed me how fired up people get over politics. I am so glad I got to experience the DNC since it's unlikely I will ever live in host city again.

Lubna said...

Leora: It is the same scene in India. People begin to 'hate' each other just because of differing political affinities. I hate visiting social networks during this period.
Jeri: True, people do get charged up, sometimes overly charged up.

Jeannette Paladino said...

Lubna -- first, thanks for your very interesting review. Great idea to follow it with an interview with the author. I, too, am a devotee of thrillers, so I will check out this book - especially timely during our elections here in the U.S.

Lubna said...

Thanks, Jeannette. I am sure you will enjoy this book.