Really Murdering The Capitol

Capitol Murder, by Philip Margolin


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I sometimes read this sort of pulp; it has many readers, and I often find myself wondering what I’ve missed.  Once again, I find I haven’t missed all that much. In such books, the characters are an inch deep, the prose is often more than clunky, and the stories are filled with gratuitous sex and violence. Capitol Murder is no exception. Here, there’s a terroristic plot to kill lots of U.S. citizens, with more-than-mild corruption and intrigue within Federal government organizations. About story specifics I won’t say more.

All this leads me to wonder what draws people to read such books:

  • First, I think, there’s the sex and violence. We Americans, who deny ourselves a lot of sexual impulses, seem inordinately drawn to vicarious, cathartic violence. 
  • Then there’re the gut-level actions and reactions of the characters, these appealing to the baser instincts of readers. We seem compelled, when confronted with unfairness and trouble, to seek out our inner animal and to enjoy those instinctive reactions on the page, rather than cheering for higher-minded responses. 
  • But the primary draw here is the twists and turns of plot. Readers enjoy trying to outthink the writer as he or she unearths plots, murders, terroristic acts, and the like. And Margolin does provide this, along with a fairly accurate depiction of Washington D.C., both political and architectural.

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What’s bad about such books is that they do a good job of inflaming gut-level passions against various governmental organs while paradoxically inflating the U.S.’s moral base against other nations, against supposed enemy groups, and even against various religions. In other words, they’re doing FOX News’ work for them. 

This is hardly literature, working as it does against the elevation of the human spirit. It really does, you see: these books take intelligence, the human capability that brought on the Enlightenment, and employ it in the cause of our baser natures. Still, the level of intelligence at work in such writing is remarkable. I can only bemoan that it isn't put to more constructive use.


My rating: 12 of 20 stars




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