To save his career as a political fixer, Dre has a quarter million in dark money to convince a small town in South Carolina to let a company dig for gold (yes, really), strip mining the local nature preserve and poisoning the water. A grimly hilarious assessment of one microcosm of the American body politic; literary ironies abound. Dre is so desperate to hang onto the world he’s clawed his way into, but he’s also deeply cynical, so much so you’ll be shaking your head ‘no’ while muttering, ‘but he’s right.’ As Dre grapples with his own past, tries to care for what’s left of his family, and maybe even makes a friend, the novel evolves into a bracing portrait of a man trying to untangle the political from the personal to see if he can save what scraps of decency he might have left.— Chris Lee
At Chris's recommendation, I bought a copy of The Coyotes of Carthage, and I’m just completely blown away. It’s the story of Toussaint Andre Ross, a Washington political consultant who is seemingly on the edge of being fired for something that went wrong with his last campaign. Dre’s also lost his longtime girlfriend, and his brother, whom he supports, is wasting away from ALS. He’s sent by the firm’s elderly owner, his mentor, to backwoods South Carolina to convince a town to lease out their beloved mountain to a gold mining operation, all on the thinnest of budgets with just one assistant, who happens to be his mentor’s grandson. His local crew is headed by an Evangelical working-class couple, a headstrong unpredictable guy and his hard-to-judge, pregnant-with-child-number-seven wife. Dre’s plan is to throw a God-fearing, patriotic initiative on the ballot, vilify the single female county exec, and sneak the land grab through. Remind you of Local Hero, that beloved film from the 1980s? Me too! But Wright tackles race, class, and the culture wars in a way that Bill Forsythe’s film did not. So what to make of this book? Is it a thriller? It has a quote from John Grisham. Is it a literary novel? Well, yes, the writing is a dream and Dre is a fully drawn and completely tortured protagonist. But I think the best way to define this book is as an espionage novel - the style, the philosophical dilemmas, and how so much of the plot is internal is positively Furstian. My only warning to you is if you like your stories wrapped up neatly, that’s not going to happen here. But for everybody else, go for it!— Daniel Goldin
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ERNEST J. GAINES AWARD FOR LITERARY EXCELLENCE
“With this splendid debut, Steven Wright announces his arrival as a major new voice in the world of political thrillers. I enjoyed it immensely.” —John Grisham
A blistering and thrilling debut—a biting exploration of American politics, set in a small South Carolina town, about a political operative running a dark money campaign for his corporate clients
Dre Ross has one more shot. Despite being a successful political consultant, his aggressive tactics have put him on thin ice with his boss, Mrs. Fitz, who plucked him from juvenile incarceration and mentored his career. She exiles him to the backwoods of South Carolina with $250,000 of dark money to introduce a ballot initiative on behalf of a mining company. The goal: to manipulate the locals into voting to sell their pristine public land to the highest bidder.
Dre arrives in God-fearing, flag-waving Carthage County, with only Mrs. Fitz’s well-meaning yet naïve grandson Brendan as his team. Dre, an African-American outsider, can’t be the one to collect the signatures needed to get on the ballot. So he hires a blue-collar couple, Tyler Lee and his pious wife, Chalene, to act as the initiative’s public face.
Under Dre’s cynical direction, a land grab is disguised as a righteous fight for faith and liberty. As lines are crossed and lives ruined, Dre’s increasingly cutthroat campaign threatens the very soul of Carthage County and perhaps the last remnants of his own humanity.
A piercing portrait of our fragile democracy and one man’s unraveling, The Coyotes of Carthage paints a disturbingly real portrait of the American experiment in action.
About the Author
Steven Wright is a clinical associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, where he codirects the Wisconsin Innocence Project. From 2007 to 2012 he served as a trial attorney in the Voting Section of the United States Department of Justice. He has written numerous essays about race, criminal justice, and election law for the New York Review of Books.
“Thrilling…. Wright is also an exceedingly adept satirist, and his ability to lift the curtain on the manipulation of data, criminal justice, and the sociological behavior of voters is nothing short of fascinating…. “The Coyotes of Carthage” is a political novel in all the best ways.”
— USA Today
“Riveting…. Those who pick up the book get a view of how the sausage of today’s politics gets made…. And [Wright] does so with a ticktock pace and knockout prose…. [A] propulsive, engaging novel.”
— Washington Post
“[A] darkly funny and bleakly honest debut novel about how elections are bought…. Compelling.”
"Like Ozark meets Miller’s Crossing.... Shocking, funny, and deeply cynical, this is the perfect political thriller to close out a truly terrible year."
"An archly comic and ultimately chilling political novel on the effects of the dark money.... Thoughtful, sharp-edged fare for the upcoming election year."
— Library Journal (starred review)
"Wright explores the themes of loyalty, perception versus reality, corruption, and racism, balancing absurd situations and deep-seated issues with wry, self-deprecating humor.... A sharply contemporary Faustian tragicomedy with parallels to the TV series Scandal."
"With this splendid debut, Steven Wright announces his arrival as a major new voice in the world of political thrillers. I enjoyed it immensely."
— John Grisham
“The Coyotes of Carthage is at once timely and timeless, an astonishing and assured debut. Like two-faced Janus, it looks back at where we’ve been and forward to where we might be going. Steven Wright's novel should be required reading for 2020—or any year in which there’s an election at any level.”
— Laura Lippman
“Steven Wright's Coyotes of Carthage is a novel steeped in atmosphere and laced with menace. It's a political potboiler masking as a buddy drama, a treatise on race and class packaged as a fish-out-of-water tale. Wright's novel is what so few novels are: a page-turner with a conscience, a burner of a read with something to say. If House of Cards and True Detective made a novel, it would be Coyotes of Carthage. It's a great novel and one hell of a debut.”
— Wiley Cash
“This lively, observant novel is a kind of national tragicomedy of manners. Once in a while an American political novel comes along that is part news, part satire, and everywhere full of jolts and wit. The Coyotes of Carthage delivers all that with brilliance and verve.”
— Lorrie Moore
“All politics are local, but in The Coyotes of Carthage, even this small South Carolina town is at the mercy of Washington’s dark money. As a cautionary tale, Steven Wright’s debut can stand beside All the King’s Men and The War Room.”
— Stewart O’Nan, author of A Prayer for the Dying and Last Night at the Lobster
“A contemporary, character-driven, political novel dealing with timely issues.”