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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.

352 pages, ebook

First published April 24, 2018

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About the author

Jake Tapper

13 books686 followers
CNN anchor and Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper joined the network in January 2013. The Lead with Jake Tapper, his one-hour weekday program, debuted in March 2013. Tapper was named host of the network's Sunday morning show, State of the Union, in June 2015. Tapper has been a widely respected reporter in the nation's capital for more than 14 years. His most recent book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, debuted in the top 10 on the New York Times bestseller list.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,090 reviews
Profile Image for Sarah.
785 reviews
April 30, 2018
3.5 stars. Jake Tapper is one of my favorite journalists, and one of my celebrity crushes--that stern face! and watching him hold Kellyanne Conway's feet to the fire! 😍😍😍--so when I found out he wrote a novel I was intrigued, and I downloaded the audiobook as soon as it was available. I was a bit unsure what to expect, given the mixed reviews so far, but I thought this was really fun!

If you enjoy political machinations, history, and thrillers this book is a delightful way to pass some time, and learn a bit of history (I need to find a copy of the endnotes, as they weren't included in the audiobook, so I can see which bits were invented and what was true). Set in 1950s Washington, DC, The Hellfire Club throws in a lot of details about the state of politics at the time, especially McCarthy-ism, all of which was very interesting to me. It also features a whole lot of intrigue around secret societies, communists, anti-communists, backstabbing, blackmail, and a dead woman, as seen through the eyes of a young congressman and his biologist wife.

I might have rounded down to three stars for just the story (which, from me, is not a bad rating), but I'm rating the audiobook and the amount of enjoyment I got from spending 8+ hours with Jake Tapper reading it to me is definitely 4 star worthy! He did a great job with all the different voices and accents!
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 2 books247k followers
October 30, 2019
”McCarthy’s opponents were beginning to gain ground, but Tail Gunner Joe, as he’d been nicknamed by someone, perhaps McCarthy himself, was winning the war of attrition; his adversaries were exhausted. He remained popular with a strong segment of the public, whose support of him seemed impervious to obvious moments of indecency and prevarication. Those who feared McCarthy might never actually go away and that the fever of McCarthyism might never break were growing despondent.”

It’s 1954, and Charlie Marder has been appointed to fill a congressional seat recently made available by the abrupt and controversial death of the previous representative. Of course, it is always difficult being a freshman politician in Washington, but to be someone who didn’t have to win an election to get there is even more difficult. Charlie feels like a lame duck from the moment he arrives. As his friend, fellow congressman Isaiah Street, says:”You spend your first six months in Congress wondering just how the hell you got here and the next six months wondering how the hell everyone else did.”

Charlie, feeling the pressure, is drinking too much and going to too many congressional parties. He is trying to fit in but manages to step on the toes of some of the party leadership and finds himself in hot water. He soon learns that being right about something has nothing to do with politics in Washington. There are so many behind the scenes machinations and Black Ops type research, not to mention the overflowing troughs of money that keep all of it funded and tucked under a veil of secrecy, that Charlie soon finds that knowing the wrong things at the wrong time can put he and his wife in mortal danger.

Here is something I learned about McCarthy in this book that curled my toes. ”There was something about McCarthy that instantly conveyed to people that he liked and cared about them, Charlie could see--and something inside Charlie, he recognized, sought McCathy’s approval. It was a kind of twisted magic.”

Charlie has a conversation with the real life Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who despite being a Republican, was a social warrior in a time when moderate, clear thinking members of the GOP were becoming as scarce as they are today. ”That was a brave thing you did, coming out against McCarthy back in--when was it, 1950? And it’s been pretty dispiriting to see so many of our fellow Republicans sit back and let this...indecency...continue.” Hmm, why does that line have so much reverence for me 65 years later?

I really enjoy the way Jake Tapper inserts real life characters into his plot to interact with his fictional characters. The Kennedy brothers are there, of course, and the odious Roy Cohn. Fish belly complected Richard Nixon is slinking around the peripheries of the plot. President Ike Eisenhower is treading the political waters, waiting for a chance to safely turn McCarthyism into ”McCarthy-wasm.” I like the way Tapper weaves the Puerto Rican attack on the Capitol Building into the plot. Of course, let’s not forget about the powerful men who belong to the Hellfire Club and all the nefarious engineerings and deviant sexual behaviors that are hallmarks of the club. Their theme song? ”You’re the top/ You’re the breasts of Venus/ You’re the top/ You’re King Kong’s penis.” Behind closed doors, Senators are allowed to be as naughty as they want to be without consequences and reassured to be as perverse as they desire to be due to the fact that they are safe from exposure because everyone in the club is compromised.

They also find a way to compromise Charlie.

I keep thinking of the Kevin Costner psychological film No Way Out as Charlie finds himself trapped within more and more layers of deceit. We grow up believing that doing the right thing is always going to win out at the end of the day, but when you are playing against people who lack any kind of moral compass and believe that they are performing the greater good, the deck is stacked against you. Those pulling the strings can convince themselves that it actually is the moral thing to set their consciousness aside. As Charlie gets closer and closer to the truth, he becomes expendable. He is in a race to expose the truth before the truth gets him killed.

The geek part of my soul is so happy with the plethora of fascinating nuances and, of course, the grand events of history that are woven into the plot. The little mentions, like the map back cards at the poker game and dropping the author Paul Horgan’s name, whom I haven’t really thought about in years, bring smiles to my face. To those who want to read this book for the thriller aspects, you won’t be disappointed, but for those readers who enjoy history, the plot will be even more thrilling.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.4k followers
April 23, 2018
Jake Tapper, the tenacious anchor of CNN, the merciless slayer of alternative facts, the dogged deflator of political egos, has written a novel about corruption in Washington. In the scandal-a-day era of President Trump, the news doesn’t leave much room for fiction about our government’s debauchery, but Tapper still heaps plenty of scorn on the king of chaos:

“He’s impossible to ignore. He’s become this . . . planet . . . blocking the sun. And whatever points he makes that have validity are blotted out by his indecency and his lies and his predilection to smear.”

I’m not sure whom you’re thinking of, but that’s Tapper’s description of Joseph McCarthy, the U.S. senator from Wisconsin whose pyrotechnics fueled the flames of communist paranoia in the 1950s. McCarthy is the dark lord of “The Hellfire Club,” Tapper’s debut political thriller, which reminds us that our republic has survived. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Krystin | TheF**kingTwist.
455 reviews1,718 followers
August 31, 2022
Book Blog | Bookstagram

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

You get a pregnant zoologist, a naive congressman, a dead and disgraced politician, corruption and racketeering, a mysterious note, a shooting in the Capitol, lots of talk about communism, McCarthy and JFK, a dead girl, a car crash, even more communism and J. Edgar Hoover and Senate hearings and lobbyists, and the N-word gets uttered a time or two.

There’s a special kind of person who finds history interesting. But it’s decidedly not me, so instead of this being exciting to me, I found it to be kind of tedious, wordy and explain-y. This book didn’t work for me for myriad reasons.

One, I'm not good with history and this novel is super dense on history, interweaving 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. I’m Canadian, but also just don’t care. I get that it's important, but there is enough bullshit going on in the world right now. I don’t have time, or the mental health, to learn about what bad shit was also happening 70 years ago in the United States.

Also, 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.

Like, Oh, what could take a mild-mannered, moral person and turn him into a corrupt, lying, stealing, fuckhead? How could this happen??? 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 this.

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

As I said, I read this because I like Jake Tapper. He knows what he's talking about.

But, I’m self-reflective enough to know this novel was not meant for me. I tried, but no.

⭐⭐⭐ | 3 stars because I'm being nice.
Profile Image for Lori Lamothe.
Author 10 books110 followers
May 2, 2018
4.5 stars

Charlie Marder is a freshman Congressman appointed after his predecessor dies under mysterious circumstances that involve a hooker and a cheap hotel room. He’s also a bestselling historian with a powerful father and a brainy, beautiful wife who is expecting their first child. Despite Charlie’s familiarity with academia’s intense rivalries, he finds himself unprepared for the deep-rooted corruption he encounters in 1950s Washington, DC. After a car accident leaves a woman dead he and his wife Margaret find themselves caught in a web of dark alliances that put the nation itself at risk. As they fight the capital’s political and corporate Elite, they encounter a star-studded cast of powerful figures, including Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Eisenhower, Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Allen Dulles and Margaret Chase Smith.

Jake Tapper’s The Hellfire Club was definitely wrought in the Dan Brown forge. There are high-octane thrills throughout, with enough arcane facts, mysterious codes, Russian spies and secret societies to make the novel an engaging read. Sure, some of the plot twists are unlikely, even outlandishly so, but that’s to be expected in this genre. As for the main characters, I found Charlie more humble and likeable than Brown’s Robert Landgon (who can be flawlessly insufferable with his brilliance and his Mickey Mouse watch). Granted, Charlie does seem a little naïve for a man who has studied the dissolute and the Machiavellian most of his life but he’s a character I'm guessing will evolve in future books. I also liked Margaret and preferred the depiction of her marriage struggles to the fantastical, short-lived romances typically found in political thrillers.

As with all novels – especially first novels – there are shortcomings. At times the novel does in fact seem to be showcasing famous names at the expense of the tale. The plot drags in places, though it picks up in the second half of the novel and the ending is satisfying. Which brings me to my biggest caveat: do not read this book if you’re not into politics. The Hellfire Club isn’t skewed toward either end of the spectrum: as is true in real life, no one party or institution has a monopoly on graft. But politics is the heart of Tapper's book and if you’re reading it solely for the story you may be disappointed.

That said, it was the historical veracity of the book that impressed me most. I’ve read quite a few novels where the backdrop is just that: period dress and a few contemporaneous references thrown in for pseudo-authenticity, as if the author came up with the idea first and filled in the setting afterward. With Tapper, I got the sense the reverse was true—that his passion for the period was the driving force and the plot came later. Even without the pages of notes at the end, The Hellfire Club appears to be meticulously accurate, from Jackie’s recitation of Kennedy’s favorite poem to McCarthy’s habit of eating a stick of butter before drinking himself into oblivion. After reading a few skeptical remarks about Margaret’s passion for the wild ponies of Nanticoke, I decided to check up on this myself and was only a little surprised to discover that Dr. Katherine Houpt was one of the first women to live with the ponies of Chincoteague in order to study them. Tapper’s notes name a book by Houpt's fellow researcher, Dr. Ronald Keiper, but fail to mention that Keiper even named three of the ponies John, Bobby and Teddy after the Kennedy brothers. Who would believe it?

I’m a bit of a history buff myself, so it was great fun to read a thriller and immerse myself in the fifties at the same time. I suspect Tapper will write a sequel and am curious to know which era he’ll choose next. If he sticks with Charlie Marder, I’ll be more than glad to return to the fifties – I’m not sure if the McCarthy era beats the present but it’s a lot easier to read about corruption than to live it 24/7.

Much thanks to Little, Brown & Company and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Taryn.
325 reviews293 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
May 15, 2018
DNF @ 30%.  The sun is rising on March 5th, 1954 as newly appointed congressman Charlie Marder wakes up on a creek bank with his tuxedo covered in mud. Nearby, a car is submerged in the creek and a dead woman lies in a drainage ditch. His memory is fuzzy and he can't remember how he got there. He's in the midst of rationalizing leaving the scene when a car pulls up.

“You may prove to be a great soldier,” Winston Marder said. “Not because you’re tough. Because you’re smart. But sacrifices are made in the field of battle, Charlie. Sacrifices will have to be made.”

"Chapter Two" flashes back to two months prior, which is worlds away from Marder's current predicament! Professor and bestselling author Charlie Marder was just appointed to a congressional seat left empty by disgraced Representative Martin Van Waganan, who was found dead after his indictment for corruption and racketeering. Marder is trying to find his footing as a new congressman, but in following his strongly tuned moral compass he immediately steps on some toes. Getting things done will require a little more finesse than he's accustomed to. His wife Margaret is becoming increasingly frustrated with her husband's concessions to the old guard and she isn't comfortable in "a place where compromise and obsequiousness were as much a part of the landscape as traffic circles and monuments to long-dead generals." She's also frustrated because she's not even two months pregnant and it's already causing problems in her professional life. She still has so much she wants to accomplish!

“Forgive me,” Charlie said. “You know I’m an academic. Sometimes we get caught up in the abstract rather than the reality. These men contained multitudes. They did heinous, unforgivable things. Don’t misunderstand me. But they’re more than their misdeeds, right? FDR sent the Japanese to camps. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Twelve U.S. presidents were slave owners, including the one who’d been the top general of the Union Army!”

Street shook his head. “I don’t know, Charlie. John Adams knew better. John Quincy Adams knew better. Lincoln knew better. Right is right and wrong is wrong. You fought for your country, you married a good woman, you work hard to protect troops from future shitty gas masks. You’re not betraying your principles. You don’t contain multitudes.” He paused. “Do you, Charlie?”

The author Jake Tapper has over 25 years of experience in the political and journalistic arenas. He is currently the Chief Washington Correspondent for CNN. You may have seen him on his TV show  The Lead with Jake Tapper . I chose this book because of Tapper's unique insight from having such close proximity to major political players. I also recently read David A. Nichols's Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower's Secret Campaign against Joseph McCarthy, so I thought it would be interesting to read a fictional story set in the same time period but with some distance from the Oval Office. (Nichol’s book is actually listed in the sources section.)

I loved the interesting anecdotes that were scattered throughout the story. Tapper stresses that The Hellfire Club is a work of fiction, but he utilized a number of nonfiction sources in writing it. I kept stopping to verify odd factoids and was usually pleasantly surprised to find out they were true! Did politician Estes Kefauver respond to accusations of “working for the communists with the stealth of a raccoon” by wearing a raccoon tail hat on the campaign trail? Yes, he did! Even the stories where Tapper took some artistic liberties set me down an interesting path. When I sought to verify fictional Congressman Strongfellow's heroic WWII account, I discovered the tale of the actual Representative Douglas Stringfellow who admitted to fabricating the entire story.

"I don’t think I understood until recently how tough it is to stand up for what’s right in politics. It all looks so easy from the outside. But inside, the imperatives, the forces, the motivations almost always push one toward complicity or silence. If not worse. The system seems designed to grind away our better natures."

I was expecting a page-turning political thriller, but that's not what I got. The opening is strong, but the "big" story still hadn’t gotten going by the end of the first third. To the point that I read, the main conflicts are between (1) Marder and his wife, (2) Marder with himself, and (3) Marder and the more experienced members of Congress. In what I presume is the greater mystery, Marder is trying to decipher a cryptic message left behind by his predecessor; unfortunately, his intern is investigating that mystery beyond our view. The mix of fiction and nonfiction was such that I was actually more interested in the actual historical events and what these political figures were really like. Real-life people in fiction usually don't feel natural to me, so that was a risk I took with this book. However, I appreciated the introduction to some of the outsiders in Congress, like Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both houses of the United States Congress. I thought the dynamics of the Marder's marriage were interesting, but there was something a little too progressive and modern about the couple that kept jolting me out of the era. On the irrational side of things, I was annoyed by both Margaret’s (a zoologist) fascination with ponies and the constant reminders of Marder's goodness.

"When a rat pokes his head up from the sewer, he needs to be hit on the head with a shovel immediately. You cannot just sit back and think, Well, it's just one rat or That's somebody else's problem. Because it's never just one rat, and it eventually becomes your problem." [fictional version of Margaret Chase Smith]

How did a man who prides himself on his ethics end up sitting near a wrecked car and a dead woman while mulling over ways to avoid the consequences? With the myriad of options before him, what path will he decide to take? The Hellfire Club shows the corrosive effects of politics and how even the most ethical person can find themselves making unholy alliances and compromises in pursuit of a virtuous goal. Marder is surprised at how second nature playing the game becomes for him in such a short period of time. This book wasn’t for me, but it made me interested in Tapper’s nonfiction work. His sense of ethics, curiosity, love of politics and history, and respect for those who serve in the military really shined through in the pages I read.

 People and events I learned about in The Hellfire Club:
United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (1954) A Senate hearing about "the problem of horror and crime comic books" in relation to rising youth violence. Collected Transcripts | The Importance of the National Archives
• Margaret Chase Smith is a fascinating woman! As a freshman senator, she delivered the "Declaration of Conscience" speech in response to the actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy. There's an excerpt of the speech below, but the entire short speech is an interesting read. A video of Smith announcing her intention to run for the 1964 Republican Nomination for President  | A touching essay by Senator Olympia Snowe on Smith's impact

"Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism –

The right to criticize;

The right to hold unpopular beliefs;

The right to protest;

The right of independent thought.

The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn't? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in." [excerpt from "The Declaration of Conscience" speech]

United States Capitol Shooting Incident in 1954 - I actually didn't make it to this part of The Hellfire Club, but I read about it in Nichol's book. It amazes me that I hadn't heard of this event until recently! On March 1, 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire in House of Representatives chamber of the United States Capitol, injuring five congressmen. The shooters were pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. :-O (Article)

I received this book for free from NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. It's available now!
Profile Image for Lisa.
276 reviews9 followers
April 28, 2018
Meh. I guess I fell for the photos on Twitter of celebrities reading this book. You got me, Hellfire Club PR campaign!

“The Hellfire Club” has a great beginning that really grabs you, and then falters and meanders for almost all of the rest of the book. It did pick up at the last 16% (I read it on Kindle), but that’s too little too late. For a thriller only to pick up in the last pages of a book is disappointing. If only there had been more of that zippy last 16% writing throughout! This book would have benefitted from a more thorough editor. There were lots of sections that could have been cleaned up to be sharper and better written like the ending.

Aside from that, the thing that bugged me was that there was writing and dialogue that was thoroughly modern. There are so many illusions to Trumpism and issues surrounding it, it took me right out of the setting. It’s not that I am a master of subtext, they are just so overt and glaring, you can’t miss them. It doesn’t appear to be done in a “wink-wink see what I’m doing here” cutesy way either. It’s not that I don’t agree with these parts (I’m a liberal, I do) or that they offend me (they don’t), but they don’t fit with this story.

The main character’s wife decries “This is not normal” when a politician does something unsavory is a few words away from “do not normalize this” a phrase we liberals use on Twitter frequently. A loud, bloviating elected official in the book doesn't believe or care about the issues he grandstands about. He actually used to say the opposite years ago but he switched when he realized yelling about the other side would get him farther. A main character said about him, "and all these people who really believe in the hateful things he says have no idea he doesn't really care about this issue at all." Does that sound like any presidential loser of the popular vote you’ve heard about? There are long paragraphs at the end about how our country will survive charlatans because the checks and balances and free press in our country will overcome the liars. And there are several more examples.

Again, it’s not that I don’t agree with these sentiments, they just don’t really fit here even if Tapper really wants them to. They land like a lead balloon and destroy the film noir atmosphere that had been painted, which took me totally out of the story.

So for me, the beginning and the very end of this book were 3-4 stars. Unfortunately the vast majority of the book was only a “meh” 2 stars. Don’t fall for the very well done PR hype. (Sorry, Jake. I still love you!)

Profile Image for Faith.
1,822 reviews499 followers
May 30, 2018
After reading about 25% of this book, nothing was happening except a lot of name dropping. I gave up at that point. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Maggie.
520 reviews12 followers
January 15, 2019
Y'all. Y'ALLLLL. You need to read this shit NOW. It is so bad it's amazing!

OK so to be fair, I really like Jake Tapper as a journalist on CNN. He's solemn, he's informed, he's measured, and he's experienced. I also respect him very much as an historian, because he knows his shit and is incredibly-educated about issues relating to wars, veterans-rights, etc. His passion and insights are real and credible.


I mean Jeebus, where do you start? OK let's begin with the technical styling. "Hellfire Club" is absolutely juvenile and amateur-levels of writing. And yes, there are simple styles of writing that can make for exciting reads (The DaVinci Code, par example). But Jake Tapper ain't no Dan Brown. The descriptions of action in Hellfire Club are choppy and not logically-translated in real time (some of the one-on-one fight sequences are detailed and seem to stretch for pages, while on the opposite side of the room a character is still pulling a gun out...slowly). The dialogue is beyond stilted-- it sounds like a middle-school play! "Margaret, where are my cuff links?" "I don't know, Jack, I'm your wife not your maid!" "But Margaret, you're also a scientist. How could you not know facts like where my cuff inks are?" "Haha, oh Jack, you're such a silly man, I'm glad that I am your wife and my name is Margaret. And yes I am a scientist, Jack, but I'm also named Margaret." Good God above it's amazing to read. I also have a special place in my heart for how anemic Tapper's vocabulary becomes when he attempts describing women ("She was beautiful, her hair was long and wavy, her dress as sexy and alluring as moonlight on a river" kind of stuff). I particularly appreciated the tiny detail that when two of the characters have sex, the post-coitus talk involves the guy looking for his underwear, and his wife casually saying, "It's on the lampshade, dear."

I. Live. For. Garbage. Like. This.

OK so he's not Shakespeare, I initially thought. I know he's a history buff, so I'm sure he'll bury some fascinating historical nuggets into this bad boy.

Except that he didn't bury anything, and they're not "nuggets". Rather than make subtle throwaway mentions of 1950s life, Tapper goes all in on the WEIRD FLEX approach. Like the time when two characters are in a library and need to check out a book, it's totally legit that one character just RANDOMLY launches into a monologue about how convenient it is to use this newly-patented photocopy technology, and how Xerox is an up and coming new business we should all keep an eye out for (or whatever, I didn't actually give enough of a shit to pay attention to his history nerd jerk-off moments). Or a "casual" mention of Pres. Eisenhower doesn't want to approve the new bill that will make Hawaii a state. Or like how several plot points depend on cutesie little devices like the brand new, state of the art BABY MONITOR the Congressman was gifted by a lobbyist. Or good thing we could see the bad guys at night with these NIGHT VISION GOGGLES that the military is selling to civilians now that the war is over (that's WORLD WAR II, by the way, in case you missed it!). These facts are seriously so sloppily jammed in, I cannot tell you how delicious I find writing this bad.

Maybe the most ridiculous aspect of Jake Tapper's opus is that it doesn't seem to find itself ridiculous at all. The hero's wife is part of a research expedition that turns out to be an elaborate long-game operation run by the Communists as a way to get to her husband, and her husband's father who it ALSO turns out works for the government and is part of secret operations for the president!? SURE! Or the fact that the climax involves the revealing of double agents holding our heroes at gun point beneath the Capitol building while some of them are tied up and the bad guys reveal their elaborate plans? HELL YES! NOT INSANE AT ALL! And of course, like all good stories, we MUST end with our brave patriot driving off in a car with his wife after literally being asked "Where to now?" and not getting an exact answer, just driving into that uncertain future.


Next time you need a palette-cleanser, please treat yourself. This thing is so dumb that it's wonderful. It was not a hate read for me, because I assure you I enjoyed every ludicrous moment.

Can't wait to read the sequel Jake! Or not. I'd also be fine with not reading it or anything like it at all ever again!
Profile Image for Anne.
187 reviews4 followers
April 30, 2018
Sometimes I had to remind myself this story is based in the McCarthy era, not today. Amid the corruption in Washington, concern about the "Reds'" and the lack of morals in a great number of people, is the story of new Congressman Charlie and his pregnant wife Maggie, and how they get caught up in all that's happening in Washington's underbelly. If the names McCarthy and Eisenhower weren't in the last chapter, though, I think most people would believe he's writing about today.

Jake Tapper. Award-winning journalist, nonfiction author, TV show host, talented cartoonist. Now, not only does he write a fabulous thriller, he narrates it with different voices and everything! Congratulations, Jake, on lots of jobs well done. And, I'm looking forward to the next book.
Profile Image for Anne.
301 reviews41 followers
August 11, 2018
This is historical fiction, set in the 1950's.
I think the story was good, and it's obvious that Jake Tapper has done his historical homework.
It blends real politicians -- Lyndon Johnson, JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, to name a few -- with fictional politicians, and real events with fictional events.
So there was a lot of history that needed to be conveyed in order to fully understand and appreciate the story, and that, for me, made the story drag a little.
I think now that all the groundwork has been laid, I think a 2nd book in this series would be much better.
Profile Image for Dianne.
228 reviews41 followers
October 25, 2018
A fascinating tale of espionage within Washington D.C. The secret societies such as the very real Hellfire Club are astonishingly dangerous. President Dwight Eisenhower is quoted with insights into the future of the U.S.A. which have unfortunately developed. Jake Trapper has written a historical fiction novel with valuable footnotes. He includes information about the Joe McCarthy hunt for political opponents and of the efforts to ruin the comic book industry. I really enjoyed the twists and turns of the mystery.
Profile Image for Mary.
260 reviews
September 8, 2018
There's no way to sugarcoat it. This is a really awful book. I kept hoping it would get better, but no such luck. The gimmicky mixture of actual persons and fictional characters simply does not work. The plot is convoluted and nonsensical. The dialogue is unrealistic as are the author's hopeless attempts to throw in his research results from time to time to make his 1954 setting seem believable. I think Jake Tapper should stick to his day job.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
196 reviews1 follower
December 3, 2020
OK so to be fair, I love Jake Tapper as a journalist on CNN. He's solemn, he's informed, he's measured, and he's experienced. I also respect him very much as a historian, because he is incredibly educated about issues relating to wars, veterans-rights, etc. I chose this book because of Tapper's unique insight from having such close proximity to major political players. Unfortunately, he forgot how to be precise and filled the book with a lot of stuff. A murder was committed in the first few pages, it took 150 pages just to get back to the murder. The book started off really slow and although it seemed a bit dull in the beginning. At around the 80% mark, it got more "thrilling" I guess. It is a political mystery, set as historical fiction in the mid-1950s but it's not like "The President is Missing" which I thought was fantastic. The setting of the Hellfire Club is long on history, historical figures, and historical vignettes and the plot is just too slow to develop for me. I kept hoping it would get better, but no such luck. The gimmicky mixture of actual persons and fictional characters didn't work for me.
Profile Image for Bill.
1,592 reviews75 followers
May 29, 2022
The Hellfire Club by CNN anchor Jake Tapper was one of a number of political - type books, both non-fiction and fiction, that my wife bought me for our anniversary. The Hellfire Club falls into the latter category, a historical political thriller set in the 1950's.

New Congressman, Charlie Marder, a WWII veteran and also a published novelist, is placed in a vacant seat by his congressional leadership from New York. The previous congressman had died and the spot needed to be filled. Charlie and his wife move to Washington and Charlie begins his new career.

This is during the time of the McCarthy hearings and Charlie soon finds himself in a new life style, often hard drinking and with lots of political intrigue. The story starts with Charlie returning from a party with a strange woman in his car, an accident, the woman found dead, help from a political lobbyist to hide the incident (of course, Charlie remembers none of what happened), and the follow-on events.

The story jumps back a few months to go through the events that lead up to this accident. It's not necessarily a fun time for Charlie and his wife, Margaret. Their time together shrinks, eve though Margaret is newly pregnant. She heads off to a biological research activity, he heads to other political activities, finds himself often caught in the middle of competing desires.

It's an interesting story, lots of intrigue, some gun fights, some sex, some research into this Hellfire Club and other neat political activities. You'll meet historical people, like McCarthy, Eisenhower, the Kennedys, etc and get a peek at actual events the color the story. Tapper writes well and creates interesting characters and a fast-paced, page-turning political thriller. It reminded me of movies like The Rocketeer and those old serials that used to start off a movie, a great adventure with lots of action and twists and turns. Very entertaining (4 stars)
Profile Image for Christopher Saunders.
865 reviews835 followers
April 5, 2019
Jake Tapper’s debut novel depicts a naive congressman navigating the treacherous terrain of 1950s Washington, from the battles on Capitol Hill to the only slightly less dignified backrooms of its bars, private clubs and secret societies. Also, there’s a murder because you need a plot, hinging on an underdeveloped arc about chemical weapons and corrupt contractors. Tapper certainly did his research, with more ‘50s political figures appearing here than your average Robert Caro book (everyone from Richard Nixon to Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn to Estes Kefauver and Lyndon Johnson puts in an appearance). But Tapper makes the mistake of so many historical novelists, eschewing convincing characterization and plot for a hollow, gratuitous show of learning. There’s not much narrative satisfaction to be found in Tapper listing off the roll calls of Capitol Hill, or his flaccid restaging of McCarthy’s Red-baiting hearings and, bizarrely, the Puerto Rican nationalists shooting up the Capitol, while the historical figures themselves seem more like wax dummies than people. Nor are other efforts at historical flavor particularly successful. For instance: a conservative character compares a bum poker hand to the Warren Court, allowing Tapper to explain what the Warren Court is - never mind that Warren had only been appointed Chief Justice a few months before the story’s events, and the term certainly wasn’t a pejorative the way it would be, say, a decade later. Or another character thinking Stalin was alive in 1954 or Tapper claiming the John Birch Society existed then (it didn’t until 1958), minor but still irritating slip-ups. The murder plot (which, naturally, involves a frame-up of the protagonist by sinister capitalists) is enough to keep the story moving but isn’t especially compelling, either. It’s a pleasant enough mediocrity, light, undemanding political fiction that should satisfy its target audience, but without any depth or staying power.
Profile Image for Tom Walsh.
573 reviews9 followers
May 20, 2018
I chose this novel because of Tapper’s reputation as a journalist. His recent performance on CNN’s State of the Union has shown him to be knowledgeable of the workings of the Federal Government, it’s history, policies and politics.

Reading The Hellfire Club hasn’t diminished my respect for his journalism. He provides valuable insights into the backroom arrangements that turn the gears of government. He shines a bright light on a particularly dark period of American History and the politicians that peopled it. This educational component was the most valuable facet of the book.

Unfortunately, as a novelist, Tapper writes like a journalist. The Five W’s, just the facts, Ma’am! The writing is fifth grade level and any attempt at painting a scene is destroyed by ham-handed cliches and statements of the obvious. Characters are two dimensional at best, cardboard creations who do what the reader expects. This made the reading experience painful. Sorry, Jake. Stick to your Day Job! (cliche!)

The plot has implications for today’s America that should be heeded. Tyranny is never far away. Good people must prevail but there are no guarantees. I’d just like someone else to write the story. Sorry.

PS I listened to the book on Audible and have to say that Tapper’s narration matched his writing. Sad.
Profile Image for Jim Harville.
153 reviews2 followers
December 4, 2018
I liked the historical anecdotes, and I thought the real characters (Kefauver, McCarthy, Cohn, etc.) mingling with the fictional heroes and villains was fun—for awhile. But the message (You think 2018 is bad? Well let me tell you about the Red Scare in 1954!) is a little clichéd at this point. And the last third of the book is a preposterous mishmash of Dan Brown coincidence, twists, and nonsense.
Profile Image for Daniella Bernett.
Author 11 books130 followers
May 3, 2018
A taut, tense thriller steeped in intrigue. Jake Tapper deftly weaves a story about the insidious and corrosive political landscape during the McCarthy era. There are eerie parallels to today's Washington. I couldn't put the book down.
Profile Image for Kay Wahrsager.
152 reviews3 followers
May 31, 2018
Stick to news

Possibly the worst book I’ve read this year. An utterly convoluted tale of Washington, the red menace and ponies. The disjointed plot bounces around and eventually dots connect but the conclusion is absurd.
607 reviews19 followers
September 2, 2018
Enjoyable for the most part, but the cliches wear on you after a few chapters. Not a great book, but a turn-your-brain-off kind of story with certain elements that draw you in and make you want to know how it wraps up.
Profile Image for Steven.
541 reviews32 followers
June 30, 2019
Intense! Extremely thought provoking, and made me interested in the history of the 1950's. This title had me looking up stuff as I read it, which is why it took a while to read, but it was definitely worth the time. I won this book through Goodreads Giveaway and got one heck of a hard to put down and memorable title. I hope there might be plans for a film adaption at some point. It might actually be a title worth turning into a graphic novel at some point. I highly recommend this title.
2 reviews
April 17, 2018
If you love politics, history and Washington, this is a perfect book. It’s easy to read, engaging and fun. Jake Tapper is a great writer and I couldn’t put it down. Definitely add it to your reading list!
Profile Image for Safiya Motala.
57 reviews
May 8, 2021
3.5 stars. It’s really good, but the ending just didn’t do it for me.

The novel is a political historical fiction mystery set in the 1950’s. It starts with a dead body and then goes into the story of what lead there. The writing is engaging and the characters are well developed. The plot follows Charlie, a newly appointed congressman with strong values. The world of politics pushes him into situations that test those values. His wife is unsure who her husband is becoming. Meanwhile, Charlie is surrounded by powerful people with agendas of their own. I loved how well Tapper has brought to life this era and references politicians before they were iconic historical figures.

What lost me was the ending, it felt too rushed. When characters have conversations that answer all the questions building up throughout the novel in just a few pages, it takes me out of the story.
Profile Image for Renay Russell.
203 reviews
August 1, 2018
Being a bit of a fan of Jake Tapper is what originally drew me to his new book but I really liked the political thriller! Worth a read!
Profile Image for Dayna Linton.
21 reviews1 follower
July 27, 2018
An excellent political thriller set in the 1950s during the intrigue and despotism of the McCarthy era.

Admittedly, it was a little hard for me to get started but that is because I’m a news junkie and when I go to bed, I like to escape. That, however, takes nothing away from the storyline nor the writing, both of which were fantastic.

Though a fictional novel, Mr. Tapper includes many historical facts, while weaving a compelling thriller which kept me up late each night.

Jake Tapper has certainly done his research and his characters and their lives leap off the pages to keep this reader engaged from page one to the end.
Profile Image for Deb Jones.
694 reviews78 followers
July 9, 2018
Perhaps even more chilling and thought-provoking than any psychological thriller, a political thriller such as The Hellfire Club instills an uneasiness in the reader. After all, no matter how gruesome or sadistic a serial killer may be, political mayhem affects a society as a whole and has international ramifications.

A principled but politically-naive Charlie Marder receives an appointment to fulfill the term of a long-time House of Representatives member after that man's suicide. Charlie's past experiences, including serving in Europe during World War II, a professorship at Columbia University and author of an award-winning book about America's forefathers have in no way prepared him for what's ahead in Washington, D.C.

Set in the mid-1950s, when Senator Joe McCarthy saw Communists everywhere and Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the political intrigue at that time was beyond imagining, at least for the uninitiated.
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