Bootlicker is Steve Piacente's prequel to his first political thriller, Bella. It takes place in the early 1990s deep south, when African American, Ike Washington, the long-time mayor of a small South Carolina community pursues his higher aspiration of being elected to Congress and potentially being the first back man to be voted into that position in 100 years.
A single tragic incident sets the course of his entire life, that of working for Senator Mac McCauley as a liaison between the Caucasian senator and his district's poor black voters. However, people are unaware of the lingering fear and the dark secret that bind him to the elder statesman.
McCauley was a dedicated segregationist strongly opposed to civil rights during his early career. Simply put, he was a racist. Ike's help, and McCauley's community improvement projects have the constituents convinced that he is a changed man.
Dan Patragno is a former night beat crime reporter who has been assigned to stir up the dirt on Washington, uncover his roots, and reveal the origin of his connection with McCauley.
Bootlicker has a gritty beginning when a tragic murder-suicide sets the stage for an interesting crime drama. However, it is a bait and switch. Patragno is moved to a day job: the politics division.
Those who enjoy politics and race relations may find this book interesting. There are secrets, political manipulations, moral dilemmas, southern justice, and serious consequences to decisions interspersed with interpersonal relationships, the latter albeit superficial.
The writing is technically beyond reproach. Piacente's scenes and descriptions are richly detailed and clearly well thought out. Although the straightforward plot contains some unexpected and disturbing elements, it is slow to develop, and with the exception of specific incidents, the tone has an almost subtle feel for this reader who wanted more punch. Likewise, the cover contains information that tempers the elements of surprise and drama.
Bootlicker poses study questions which are interesting to consider. Likewise a Q and A session with the author provides insight into the book, and its author.