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A Washington thriller that seems ripped from the headlines, OPPO is about the world of political opposition research and dark money.

Wendy Upton is a highly respected Republican senator who has overcome major life obstacles, including the death of her parents when she was a teenager. Nevertheless, having raised her sister and served in the army, she finished college and law school, and embarked on a successful political career.

The novel opens at the beginning of an election year, with a dozen Republican and Democratic candidates running for president.

"Tom not afraid to expose the underbelly of contemporary partisan politics and the wealthy donors who control the players."

As Upton and her chief of staff, Gil Sedaka, are discussing the day’s upcoming events, Sedaka receives a phone call from the campaign strategist for David Traynor, a Democratic presidential hopeful: Would Upton consider crossing party lines to run as his Vice President? While the two are marveling at the offer, they receive a similar call from the office of Richard Bakke, the far-right Republican who is another presidential candidate. As they begin weighing the proposals, Upton receives an anonymous threat that has the potential to end her career.

The senator hires Peter Rena and Randi Brooks, Washington “fixers,” to conduct oppo research into her background, hoping they’ll locate the source of the threat. They have less than a week to find and quash whatever the negative story is, before it circulates.

Meanwhile, a veteran journalist notices that every political rally is being sabotaged by one of the candidate’s opponents. Is it coincidence, or is someone trying to smear the candidates by showing how rabid their supporters are?

As Rena, Brooks and their team home in on the blackmailer, they are themselves hacked, followed and threatened. Who is trying to bring down their client, and to what end?

Tom Rosenstiel, a one-time Washington reporter and author of two previous thrillers, is not afraid to expose the underbelly of contemporary partisan politics and the wealthy donors who control the players. The picture he paints is alarming, as Super PACs, social media, surveillance teams and dark data threaten to overwhelm our democratic processes. One can only hope that the white hats in OPPO also exist in the real world to combat these gathering forces.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on December 20, 2019

by Tom Rosenstiel