Review: The Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper

“The human soul isn’t sold once but rather slowly and methodically and piece by piece.”



Little, Brown and Company | 2018

Filed Under: A politician, a dead woman and a car walk into a bar drive off of a bridge.

A word of advice, don’t read books that are outside of your interests because you have an intellectual crush on the author.

What are my interests, you might ask? Why did this book fall outside of them? Well, I’ll tell you…

This novel is about Charlie Marder, a newly appointed US Congressman.

He’s married to a zoologist (give me that fucking book) with a baby on the way, marching into Washington ready to make some positive changes guided by his strong moral compass and naiveté. He has taken over the congressional seat of a disgraced politician who was found dead after charges of corruption and racketeering.

Then there are the mysterious elements – a shooting in the Capitol and lots of talk about communism. McCarthy makes an appearance, as does JFK and numerous other real-life players in 1950s D.C. A dead girl, a car crash and more communism, with J. Edgar Hoover and Senate hearings and lobbyists.

A shadowy network of secret societies, a nefarious group known as the Hellfire Club who will stop at nothing to get what they want, soon have Charlie in their clutches. After some codes to decipher and some deep national secrets to Nicholas Cage out of the Library of Congress, Charlie realizes he’s not just trying to save himself, but that the fate of the whole country rests in his hands! Gasp! Shock!

And then the N-word gets uttered a time or two. You know how those racial tensions were back when women couldn’t get abortions and knew their place!

Tapper was obviously going for realism meets adventure and intrigue. But it’s so very heavy on the realism that at times I felt like I was in a history class instead of reading a political thriller.

There’s a special kind of person who finds history interesting. But it’s decidedly not me, so instead of finding this to be exciting I found it to be kind of tedious, wordy and explain-y (that’s the word of the day.)

This book didn’t work for me for myriad reasons, but I’ll just give the top few so that I don’t end up accidentally writing a novel myself.

One: I hated history class. Your girl was not built with an interest in history or timelines or important events. My brain does not have the capacity to keep it straight and understand moments on a linear scale. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate it or the people who keep track of that shit. Someone’s got to do it! But it’s not going to be me.

This book is super dense on the history side of things, weaving actual events and people with fictitious ones. Tapper took extraordinary care in his research, which I respect, but I’m going to be totally honest here – I don’t know anything about this McCarthy era shit. None of it. I do not get it.

For one, I’m Canadian so it’s not something I was ever required to learn about. But two, I also just don’t care. I get that its important blah blah blah, but it’s 2018 as of this writing, and there is enough bullshit going on in the world right now that I have to be assaulted by every. single. fucking. day. I don’t have time, or the mental health capacity, to learn about what bad shit was also happening 70 years ago.

tired pop tv GIF by Schitt's Creek

Two: On that note, politics bores the shit out of me. Just in general. All of it, present or past. It’s dry as all hell and I don’t want to be involved in it. Even with backroom dealings and two-faced assholes scurrying about in the shadows, it’s still boring. It’s only not boring if Syndey Bristow is hanging from the ceiling in a kickass disguise. I have never liked political thrillers (books, movies or otherwise,) mostly because I’ve never been able to follow along with the reasons things are happening. I had to watch the Pelican Brief six times before I got it. So, if Julia Roberts can’t bring me into the fold, no one can.

The vagueness of whispered threats and unspoken consequences has never clicked for me. Most of the time there is an assumption that the viewer is just supposed to understand a metaphorical chess move someone is making for political gain that will mean XYZ in the future. It’s almost pretentious in its self-importance.

Three: The idea of political corruption is dumb. Oh, what could take a mild-mannered, moral person and turn him into a corrupt, lying, stealing, fuckhead? How could this happen? Bitch, please. We all know how it happens. We see it every fucking day. POWER. Power does that to people. There is nothing mysterious or unexpected about the good guy in a political novel doing some bad shit. The corrupted ingenue doesn’t do anything for me.

The character of Charlie Marder was exceptionally bland in his good-guy status, like a bowl of oatmeal wearing khakis.

Blue eyes? Check. Broad shoulders? Check. A nerdy professor? Check. A superpower like a heightened sense of smell that would only be useful in very specific situations? Check. Just trying to do the right thing, goshdarnit? Check.

It takes what feels like FOR FUCKING EVER for all the pieces of the cloak-and-dagger setup to be laid out, so much so that I’m pretty sure there were just way too many storylines wrapping in and around each other, tying me up – and not in the fun, sexy way.

Once the chessboard is set, the “thriller” aspect starts and ultimately turns into what feels like a Dan Brown novel on Xanax mixed with some over-the-top silly moments.

My favourite part is when political opponents get together and all confront each other with dossiers of compromising photos. You got some on me?! But I got some on you!

jason lee smile GIF

Like I said, I read this because I like Jake Tapper. I live for his commentary in these dystopian times. I think he’s smart and politically savvy and honest. All of that shines through in this novel. In this world, he knows what the fuck he’s talking about, that’s for sure.

I’m self-reflective enough to know this would 100% be an interesting read for the right audience. But despite my Tapper love, I am not that audience.

My rating reflects my attempts to be fair, but otherwise, it would be maybe 2 stars?


The debut political thriller from Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent and the New York Times bestselling author of The Outpost — 1950’s D.C. intrigue about a secret society and a young Congressman in its grip.

Charlie Marder is an unlikely Congressman. Thrust into office by his family ties after his predecessor died mysteriously, Charlie is struggling to navigate the dangerous waters of 1950s Washington, DC, alongside his young wife Margaret, a zoologist with ambitions of her own. Amid the swirl of glamorous and powerful political leaders and deal makers, a mysterious fatal car accident thrusts Charlie and Margaret into an underworld of backroom deals, secret societies, and a plot that could change the course of history. When Charlie discovers a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of governance, he has to fight not only for his principles and his newfound political career…but for his life.

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