26 September 2023

Deep State

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Chris Hauty, Simon and Schuster, $32.99.

If Donald Trump’s presidency has brought us one thing it is the concept of the Deep State. In Trump world this is the cabal of government and business interests working secretly to frustrate the presidency, or at least to further their own ends. A character in Chris Hauty’s new novel Deep State describes it as follows:

‘The people who actually control this town, the shadow government, or ‘deep state.’ Call it what you will, they are a hybrid association of elements of government joined with parts of top-level finance and industry that effectively governs the United States without the consent of the electorate.’

Given the free reign business interests have had in modern America it seems that if the Deep State did exist it has come out of the shadows. This has not stopped writers leaning on the concept to create tense political thrillers. Recently we have had the TV series Deep State in which an American megacorporation supported by agents within the CIA manufactures conflict in the Middle East and Africa to create business opportunities. In Chris Hauty’s novel, the forces of the ‘deep state’ have their sights on bringing down a non-compliant president.

Hayley Chill is introduced days before she quits the army. She shows her grit, determination and smarts in a boxing match against a much tougher opponent. From there she gets a job as an intern at the White House, working for the office of the Chief of Staff. America is undergoing a political renaissance with the election of President Monroe, who at first blanch seems like a West Wing style Republican fantasy president and ex-soldier. Monroe “continues to be an iconic presence, the natural born leader America sorely needs in these rancorous and divisive times”. But Monroe’s stance on Russia, and in particular its interference in Estonia, is not supported and a shady group of interests decides to take action.

When Hayley’s boss dies in mysterious circumstances, she is thrown into the middle of the conspiracy. But as an intern her access is limited and she is up against well organised professionals. Hauty ratchets up the tension on Chill, pulling a few near scrapes and reverses as the plot unfolds. The whole builds to an explosive finale which is only let down by a late reveal which takes a swathe of exposition in the final chapter to explain and essentially pulls the rug out from reader’s understanding of the characters and the plot.

Hayley Chill is a classic action hero. She is highly motivated by a willingness to do the right thing, so much so that she manages to inspire others, highly trained and willing to take action when required. Again, though, much of what readers learn about Chill turns out in the end to be form of misdirection which creates an even greater feeling of having been cheated.

So most of its length, Deep State is an effective thriller in which a cabal of high-powered evil doers try to bring down a duly elected President to further their own interests but have to deal with a plucky, skilled, intuitive outsider. But the whole enterprise is brought down by a bunch of tricky reveals which throw the whole story, and the concept of the deep state into a different light, that is not foreshadowed and not earned. That said, the cards are on the table, Chill deserves a sequel.

This and 500 more reviews can be found at www.pilebythebed.com.

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